MLB taxi-squads were introduced and used last year as a means to accommodate COVID. Good for the quality of baseball, what happened to them?
Author’s Note: The idea for this column came from a comment e-mailed to me by Paul Pickhardt, a Yankees fan who was responding to yesterday’s story about the Yankee’s struggle to decide between Jay Bruce, Mike Tauchman, and Tyler Wade in making their final roster cuts.
Paul’s idea to make MLB taxi-squads permanent is, I believe, one that is good for the game and its fans, and therefore worthy of further explanation and review. (Steve Contursi)
MLB Taxi-Squads: An Uphill Battle From The Start
Let’s begin with a caveat that’s true with anything introduced to Major League Baseball as new. The merits of the change in terms of how it affects the game as played on the field and/or its entertainment value to fans is of little consequence.
Instead, any proposal is measured first and foremost by its financial impact on team owners and how it will affect their pocketbooks as well as their shareholders.
In theory, if team owners could field (and pay) a team of ten, fifteen, or twenty players, they’d do it faster than it takes Mookie Betts to run first to third on a hit-and-run.
Fortunately, the Major League Baseball Player’s Association (MLBPA) exists to thwart but not always circumvent the greed of MLB, an $11 billion per year enterprise that enjoys (except for last year) ever-rising revenue and profit.
What Is A Taxi-Squad?
The NFL has had taxi-squads for years. Essentially and if you will, MLB taxi-squads become the sport’s National Guard, trained and ready to step in emergencies to help a team in need.
Briefly, they enable a team to have X number of players, in addition to the allotted number of active rostered players, available on any given day to be “called-up” for action in a game.
This year, major league teams can have as many as 26 players on their active roster. An MLB taxi-squad would add as many or fewer (subject to negotiation) as three players.
At each team’s option, these taxi-squad members can travel with the team or be stationed nearby in easy reach of the parent club when needed.
Using last year’s MLB taxi-squad rule, each player is slotted as a member of that team’s Triple-A Roster and paid accordingly. More on that in a minute.
MLB Taxi-Squads: What’s There Not To Like?
MLB taxi-squads give managers and general managers flexibility as a means to put a player on the field who is 100% versus a player who tells his manager, “I can go today if you need me, Skip.”
Or, in another scenario, a team’s bullpen has been racked and ruined over two previous extra-inning games, and a manager needs a fresh arm to steady the tide – without using an option on the player being called up!
Options are important because when a player is exhausted of options, he can no longer be sent down without the peril of losing him to another team claiming him or being forced to trade him before exercising the option to release him.
This, for example, was/is the choice facing the Yankees with Mike Tauchman, a valued piece on the team otherwise, but in baseball, vernacular is “out of options.”
Footnote And Sidebar: The Yankees report today that Luke Voit, the Majors’ reigning home run leader, will miss at least the first month of the regular season after an MRI exam revealed a torn meniscus in the Yankees slugger’s left knee.
There but for the grace of God (thus) goes Jay Bruce, who makes the team by default.
Needless to say, though, neither the Yankees nor any other team embroiled in these last-minute roster decisions should need to have matters of fate decide what’s best for the team, the players, or the fans who support their team.
MLB Taxi Squads: Belligerent And Greedy Owners
By now, as fans of baseball, you’ve already guessed where this is going on here.
One little tidbit from last year’s taxi-squad rules that somehow the MLBPA agreed to says all we need to know about MLB team owners’ greed.
Last year, players on the taxi-squad were paid Triple-A wages, usually between $290-$950 per week plus a per-diem of $108.50 for each day.
Some of these players were treated to a lifestyle in The Show, staying in luxury hotels instead of the local Holiday Inn Express. They were also allowed to “strut their stuff” when called on instead of taking four at-bats in Triple-A.
But no matter how you slice it, none of these MLB taxi-squad players made or broke a team owner’s profit margin last year. Nor would they have if paid the major league minimum of $570,500 (2021).
Much like MLB’s resistance to a universal DH (removed from the NL purist argument), unquestionably, the entertainment value of watching a pitcher hit versus (say) DH Supreme Nelson Cruz is no contest, except for the matter of paying a DH what he is worth.
Regrettably, the MLBPA will probably go all-in on the universal DH when negotiations resume with MLB/Owners in December.
Why? The player’s union puts its veterans (likely DH’ers) ahead of the up-and-comers or fringe players who are more likely to be members of an MLB taxi-squad when it confronts MLB in negotiations.
Can There Be A Turning Of The Tide?
Can there be a turning of the tide that puts the health of baseball and fans’ interests – first?
MLB managers and general managers certainly have a stake in the game. They want and need flexibility above all else in determining who can play and who can’t on any given night.
But in their way (perhaps) are the very owners we’re talking about, and why would these underlings confront them at risk of their job(s)?
A better way is through the media. Here I find a paltry of articles, much less editorials when searched on Google seeking support or even discussion for that matter on the topic of MLB taxi-squads.
What Say You, A Fan Of Baseball?
Issues like this get buried for lack of exposure, not necessarily by support from fans of the game.
Soon, many of us will be entranced once again by daily box scores, standings, and league leaders. An addiction that suits us best as an escape from our daily lives and rituals.
But immersed beneath that are the issues swept under the rug for want of facing them under the tow of David fighting Goliath – are issues as simple and straightforward as adopting MLB Taxi-squads.
An innovation that – what? – would add less than $2 million to a team’s payroll, versus an industry that hauls in $11 billion each season…
Strength is in numbers… herein is a plea to share this piece in the hope that someone or something more powerful than Reflections On Baseball and the MLBPA (one would hope) will bring the issue of MLB taxi-squads and other baseball and fan interests to the forefront…