Major League Baseball spring training is underway and some of the biggest concerns about spending by teams headed into the MLB season have now been addressed, with roughly $1 billion spent on new player contracts within the last two weeks.
On Thursday, all-star outfielder Bryce Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, the largest contract in MLB history in total value, though not per-year salary. The week previous, the San Diego Padres doled out $300 million over 10 years to Manny Machado. The Colorado Rockies also resigned Nolan Arenado to an eight-year, $260 million contract; the New York Yankees gave outfielder Aaron Hicks a seven-year, $70 million deal; and the St. Louis Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas received four years and $68 million.
But bigger problems persist for the MLB: Attendance is down, games are still too long, and the gap between the richest and poorest teams remains wide, leading to a lack of competitiveness from many teams .
Eight major league teams experienced double-digit attendance losses in 2018, led by the Miami Marlins' 52 percent decline — the laggard was no surprise, as the Marlins traded both 2017 National League Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees and Christian Yelich to the Milwaukee Brewers (who went on to win the 2018 National League MVP award) before the season began, as part of the beginning of a long rebuilding process.
Several currently successful teams embraced a rebuilding process, such as the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros and 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs. The Padres will be another test case this season: The team inked the Machado deal after amassing what is widely regarded as one of the best farm systems in baseball, but also after close to a decade of consistently poor results on the field — the team has not had a winning record since 2010 and has not made the playoffs since 2006.
Like the Padres' 66-96 record last season, there have been several other teams who have drowned in losses, mostly from stripping talent away, attempting to rebuild younger and cheaper rosters. The Baltimore Orioles went 47-115 last season; the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds have both had five or more straight losing seasons since 2014.