Column: Padres’ Peter Seidler, baseball’s risky spender: ‘There’s a risk to doing nothing’
These are supposed to be the magical weeks of optimism. No team has lost a game yet, not even an exhibition. As a fan, you can dream that this is the year your team roars into the World Series, or sneaks into the playoffs, or delights in seeing its touted prospects blossom into stars.
Not this spring. This is the spring with a villain: the guy who made his city fall in love with baseball all over again.
“We’re here to win a title,” San Diego Padres owner Peter Seidler said in a meeting with reporters Tuesday.
This is what you want to hear from the owner of your team. Instead, this is what you are hearing from too many owners this spring: The sport is broken. The economic system is broken. If your team cannot win, your owner just might want you to know he does not believe it is his fault.
“What the Padres are doing, I don’t 100% agree with,” Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort said.
The Rockies have been in business for 30 years. They have won exactly zero National League West championships.
The Rockies are not planning on challenging the Dodgers this season. The Padres are.
“They have dominated our division for more than a decade,” Seidler told The Times later Tuesday. “We hope and expect that the decade going forward will not include such domination, that we’ll be able to stand next to them and play some great baseball.”
J.T. Watkins, a video coordinator suspended by MLB for his part in the Red Sox sign-stealing scandal, will help the Dodgers form game plans for hitting.
Commissioner Rob Manfred, the person ultimately responsible for selling the sport, lauded the Padres for their talent before saying they would lose money and questioning their sustainability. Hey, fans, buy your tickets this year, because the Padres might not be able to afford to keep this team together for long!
“It’s not about catching lightning in a bottle,” Seidler said.
The owners of the Rockies, Cincinnati Reds, Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox have spoken out this spring about the economics of the game. The owners of the Oakland Athletics and Pittsburgh Pirates have spoken with their consistent lack of spending. None of those six teams finished above fourth place in their divisions last season.
The Padres rank third in player spending this year. They played in the National League Championship Series last year. They have capped season-ticket sales this season, on pace to set a franchise record for attendance.
As a kid growing up in San Diego, Joe Musgrove received an award from All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who might have been the perfect player for that market: bilingual, raised on both sides of the border, great on the field and in the community.
Under past ownership, the Padres traded Gonzalez, claiming they could not afford to spend $20 million on one player. This year, the Padres have five players making $20 million — same as the New York Yankees, more than the Dodgers. The Padres’ star quintet: Musgrove and fellow pitcher Yu Darvish, shortstop Xander Bogaerts, third baseman Manny Machado and outfielder Juan Soto.
“I’ve played for teams that don’t spend money and send the same stuff out there every year,” said Musgrove, who played three years for the Pirates. “I’ve played for teams that do spend money. And there’s a clear difference in the teams that are standing at the end of the year.”
The Padres played in a small market with Gonzalez. They play in the same small market now. And that, really, is the source of the antipathy toward Seidler.
New York Mets owner Steve Cohen spends the most money and attracts most of the attention, but his team plays in the largest market in North America. What can you do about it? Cohen is George Steinbrenner for a new generation.
Seidler is the one making so many other owners look bad. The Rockies play in a bigger market. The Pirates play in a bigger market. The A’s play in a bigger market. So does every team outside Cincinnati, Kansas City and Milwaukee.
How can he take such a financial risk?
“When we talk about risk, there’s a risk to doing nothing,” Seidler said.
He studied what might happen if the Chargers left San Diego, leaving the Padres as the only major team in the market. The Padres are taking in so much money now that they will have to share some with other owners, but Seidler does not believe that playing in a one-team market explains why.
“I think our business performance would be the same whether or not the football team was here, or any other team for that matter,” he told The Times. “We have a great product, great ballpark, great food. If we weren’t winning, people would not be showing up.
“We were going to do this regardless, and I expected a very similar outcome.”
He says this is not about pumping up the payroll for a couple of years in an effort to win the World Series, then stripping down the payroll. In his denial, he uses two words that spooked a previous generation of Padres fans.
“There will not be a fire sale,” Seidler said.
He also says this is not about pumping up the payroll, then flipping the team for a profit and letting the new owner decide whether to strip down the payroll.
“Myself and my family, we will own this franchise for the next 50, 75 years,” he said, “hopefully more.”
The killjoy owners agreed to this economic system not even one full year ago, in ending the lockout they imposed. The players did not get routed, as they did in the previous labor agreement, but they did not get all they wanted either. Players did not get to arbitration or free agency any earlier. Top free agents still risk losing value because a team cannot sign them without forfeiting draft picks.
There have been a number of rules changes for 2023. Here are the most important ones.
In the clubhouse, players and coaches often talk about not airing dirty laundry, and not pointing fingers. The owners should learn from that. Bicker if you will in private, but sell the sport in public.
As he met with reporters Tuesday, Seidler fielded a question about sustainability.
“People love that word,” he said with a smile. “Let’s find a different one.
“Do I believe our parade is going to be on land, or on water, or on both?
“Putting a great and winning team on the field in San Diego year after year is sustainable.”
It might work. It might not. But the Padres deserve thanks for trying to grow the game, not a side eye from some of their fellow owners.
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