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Bad optics: Major League Baseball’s organizations

How will big winter signings be greeted after widespread layoffs for organizations around the league?

2019 World Series Game 1 - Washington Nationals v. Houston Astros Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has forced normal people and sports leagues to endure tough financial times. Nobody is asking anybody else to feel sorry for professional sports teams’ owners or players. But as fans often are, we’re ready to be critical of organizational optics.

Let me explain: Many organizations have slashed personnel payrolls by letting a host of workers go, from stadium workers to front office and on-field personnel. This was done to be cost-conservative. Revenues were obviously greatly reduced in 2020 for organizations in Major League Baseball because the greatest revenue-bringer, gate money, wasn’t available. Overhead is high to run an organization, so nobody was really surprised that mass layoffs were becoming common across the league. Now that free agency is here, organizations are in a bit of a public relations bind.

Because of organizational restructuring, many employees have lost jobs — some of which will only be short term, others will be devastating and perhaps permanent. So now, teams are trying to plug roster holes and at least a handful of those players are going to receive a sizable payday. While many fans likely won’t care that employees are being laid off left and right and then a middle reliever is signed for millions of dollars, other fans will assuredly take issue with it.

Front offices will still be cost conscious this offseason, certainly. We’ve seen it already. The Cleveland Indians didn’t pick up relief pitcher Brad Hand’s $10 million option for the 2021 season. More than that, he cleared waivers unclaimed, meaning that none of the other 29 MLB teams were willing to pick up a serviceable reliever in Hand for eight figures.

But let’s make this relevant to the Washington Nationals. The Nats have restructured the coaching staff — something unattributable to the pandemic’s financial strain — but they also laid off a dozen front office employees, according to The Washington Post. It may be true that some front office departments were retaining a superfluous amount of personnel and that the pandemic’s strangulation of the budget only necessitated a change that was inevitable and necessary.

But the fact of it is that fans see major layoffs en masse with plenty of organizations around the league. Seeing the axing of 15 or more personnel only to pay an exorbitant amount for a free agent might not sit well with fans — or, at the very least, certain pundits. Not to mention the fallout from stadium worker layoffs. It’s true that concession workers, ushers, and the like weren’t needed this year, but it made sense to many that owners would throw their valuable, low-level employees a bone and help them through challenging times.

In a recent Federal Baseball roundtable, I made a “bold prediction” regarding free agency when I said they’d pick up the divisive starting pitcher Trevor Bauer. Low level players in free agency will see massive cuts to what they might’ve made in a normal year, but the cream of the crop players will still rake in huge amounts of money this offseason.

After all, there’s nothing better than winning to cure fan despondency and disillusion.

At the end of the day, baseball teams are businesses. Those in charge can do as they please with their money. Fan calls for equitable solutions in trying times don’t need to be heard. Owners can put up their blinders on and ignore everything on the periphery of winning baseball games. That’s absolutely their call. But I think it’s worth entertaining the idea that fans, in some form or fashion, will be uncomfortable with one player receiving so much money while so many other people have had to attend the unemployment roll call, so to speak.