Dodgers' TV deal negotiations show how tough Pirates' situation is

Denis Poroy

To see the Dodgers' proposed new TV deal dwarfs that of the Pirates' would be an enormous understatement.

The LA Times reports on the negotiations between the Dodgers and Fox Sports West on the Dodgers' massive new TV deal, in which the Dodgers would receive $6 billion or $7 billion over 25 seasons, or $240-280 million per year. Of the total amount, the Dodgers would only evidently have to pay about $1 billion into revenue sharing.

Jeff Passan and Wendy Thurm provide context. Basically, the Dodgers' deal is about twice the size of that of the Angels. It's about 15 times the size of the Pirates. Other teams, like the Rangers, Astros and Padres, already have massive TV deals. The Phillies probably will within a couple years, and so will the Rockies, Diamondbacks and Mariners. The Pirates' deal, which pays $18 million per year, doesn't expire until after 2019, and they obviously won't command a Dodgers-type deal even when they are able to negotiate.

The only silver lining here is that two of the Pirates' NL Central rivals, the Cardinals and Brewers, are in similar situations.

This makes the Pirates' small-market plight seem that much more difficult to deal with, and it lays bare just how difficult it is to be a small-market team. I'm trying to imagine how much it will matter in practice, though. MLB has already changed the draft and international-market rules in ways that initially seemed to punish teams like the Pirates, but in the future, those rules might actually protect the Bucs from other teams making it rain on every teenager who can pick up a glove. (The Rangers were already doing this in the Dominican Republic in about the same way the Pirates were doing it in the draft, and the new deal put a stop to both of them.) And with major-league free agents, the Pirates are already almost completely irrelevant. Deals like the Dodgers' ensure the Bucs will stay that way.

The main new problem I see with growing income inequality among teams is that, if the gap continues to widen, it may become very difficult for the Pirates to sign pre-free-agency stars like Andrew McCutchen to long-term deals. Those deals typically come at a discount because of the amount of cost certainty the team takes on, but if a small-market team can't afford to get anywhere near what a young star would get on the open market, he'll have less incentive to sign a deal like the one the Pirates gave McCutchen last offseason.

In any case, a salary cap is the obvious answer to all this, and the Pirates will have to operate at a gigantic disadvantage until the league gets one. There's no indication that will happen anytime soon.

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