The Atlanta Braves are a terrible baseball team this year. The path to relevance for them will run through the draft and international free agency. Unfortunately, they’re not just hitting the reset button on their roster, as Justin Gorman explains the unbelievable arrogance of the Atlanta Braves.
Despite a recent three-game sweep of the Miami Marlins, let’s make no mistake about the Atlanta Braves’ strategy this year – they are tanking. There is no rule against tanking, but this team has been cutting payroll and trading current MLB players for prospects, and they’ve been at it for awhile. This is the final year the Braves will call Turner Field home, and they will begin play at their shiny, new SunTrust Park in 2017. It is probably safe to assume, similar to the Anaheim ball club, they will change their name to the Atlanta Braves of Cobb County.
At least referencing the county in the name would be the fair thing to do, as the residents of Cobb County have already passively funded the construction of the stadium. More about the $400M in public funding can be read here, and how the Cobb County Commission made that funding happen in the dark can be read here. That much public funding without so much as a vote is going to generate some lively discussion.
The Braves’ ownership and front office has accumulated an enormous stockpile of prospects, setting themselves up for several years of success (in theory) to align with the opening of their nascent ballpark. However, they have done so by completely compromising their short-term competitiveness. Even in rebuilding years, many teams are able to field a moderately competitive team in the majors while allocating a larger percentage of its focus to minor-league development.
Not so with the 2016 Atlanta Braves, whose 25-man roster consists of one bonafide household name in Freddie Freeman, a group of young players with a lot of promise who will help solidify a core (Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, Matt Wisler, Mallex Smith), and an inordinate amount of packing material. The bullpen includes Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, Eric O’Flaherty, and Alexi Ogando. This team is so bad that Jeff Francoeur, Kelly Johnson, and AJ Pierzynski are all considered roster-worthy. These Atlanta Braves are sending a number of cardboard cut-outs to play every night, perhaps giving Turner Field and Downtown Atlanta one last middle finger.
The timing of the announcement that the Braves are going to start selling shares of stock starting Monday, April 18, is even more laughable than their roster. The only other US major sports teams that are even owned by a publicly-traded company are the New York Knicks and New York Rangers, both owned by the Madison Square Garden Company. Our neighbors to the north have a couple examples also – the Toronto Raptors, Maple Leafs and Blue Jays, as well as the Montreal Canadiens, are all owned in some form by a publicly-traded company.
Perhaps the most well-known (and kitschiest) of all examples is the Green Bay Packers, who occasionally sell “shares” of the team. These shares are widely known to be nothing more than a souvenir, and those who own said souvenirs do not have any voting rights in any team decisions. At least the Packers shares are pretty up-front about their motives – they are not really an investment, unless the owner is invested in sentimentality or memorabilia.
Unlike the Packers, the Braves are selling legitimate shares of stock, which are being carved out of the larger portfolio of Liberty Media, their ownership group. They say that the intent is to “reflect – or track – the economic performance and value of the team.” Those same teams that were referenced above measure their economic performance and value through their performance on the field – if a team is successful, they typically sell more tickets, more merchandise, get bigger TV deals, can afford higher payrolls, and so on and so forth.
In the past few years, the Braves have pulled a fast one on the Braves fans, the City of Atlanta, the residents of Atlanta, the residents and taxpayers of Cobb County… the list goes on. There have only ever been a few publicly-traded sports teams in the United States, because they do not make sense from an investment standpoint. They should perform better on the field in the future based on their rich minor-league system, but there are myriad safer places to invest your money.
This Atlanta Braves team is not even worth a penny, and anyone running out to buy shares tomorrow can be safely accused of taking a sucker bet. Liberty Media is creating yet another cheap media ploy to distract attention from its grossly underperforming 25-man roster. I am as much of a financial adviser as the DJ that appears in those commercials, but when I look at a company who is – to ANY degree – relying upon the performance of AJ Pierzynski for short-term success, I would rather spend my money on just about ANYTHING else.
Justin Gorman has written about a nasty reliever, baseball contracts, an illegal delivery, and the case for expansion.
Follow Justin on Twitter @j1gorman.