Baseball’s Labor Market: From the Ground Up?

From the Baltimore Sun:

Instead, envision the baseball impossible: Neither the New York Yankees nor the Boston Red Sox make the 2005 playoffs. Neither one represents the American League in the World Series. …

But there’s another squad lurking in the shadows, one that could challenge anyone, including the Red Sox and Yankees: the Minnesota Twins.

“They are good,” said Boston manager Terry Francona, whose team, like the Twins, holds spring training in Fort Myers. “They’ve always made very good moves. They have a great minor league system.”

Teams can assemble players through free agent acquisitions, trades, and their respective farm systems. Rather than hitting the free agent market in the offseason, the Twins have chosen to build their teams with their farm system. Their scouts identify good players who can learn the system and the minor league system that teaches how to play “the Twins Way”. So when they are brought up to the majors, they have the skills, relatively rough though they may be, to fit in with the rest of the team and to contribute. In other words, they acquire the human capital necessary to compete for the Twins.

Still, if developing one’s own players has been so successful for the Twins, why don’t more teams do it to the extent the Twins have done? Offhand, I can think of a few reasons:

1. The home team’s fans prefer not to watch a glorified Triple A team grow into a major league contender.
2. The probability that the players won’t gel are too low.
3. Teams don’t want to spend all the development costs to train players who will eventually end up playing somewhere else.
4. If the team’s owner seeks enjoyment as well as cash, the owner may not want to rub elbows with up and maybe-comers.
5. The team’s fans don’t care that much about players who came up through their farm system.

It helps playing in the weak AL Central, but winning the last three division championships suggests the Twins are doing something right.

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Author: Phil Miller

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