The Braves demoted Ronald Acuna and it's a reminder that baseball is still a business
Ronald Acuna deserves to be on the Opening Day roster
Acuna's demotion has nothing to do with performance and everything to do with business. The 20-year-old hit .432/.519/.727 during the spring with four home runs and stolen bases. Yet the Braves stand to benefit from making their roster worse by farming out Acuna -- that's because two weeks in the minors equals an additional year of team control:
Let's roll through the main talking points: no, the two weeks won't make or break the Braves' season; yes, every other team would've (and will) do the same thing; no, this isn't technically against the rules unless the intent can be proven; yes, the union should be mad; no, the union didn't do a good job protecting against service-time manipulation in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement; and so on. The Acuna demotion still stinks for the sport for the same reasons this winter has -- it reinforces that baseball is a business, and baseball is at its most enjoyable when that fact is obscured.
Throughout the winter, the slow free-agent market was chalked up as evidence teams had wisened up. No longer were general managers willing to throw money at old free agents -- paying for past performance is what the cavepeople did. The problem is that it's hard to reach free agency at a "young" age. You have to be good to hit six years of service time before being done (or mostly done) with your expected prime. Alas, those youngsters most likely to do it -- like Acuna -- have their earning potential suppressed with these unnecessary demotions. It's not, then, that teams don't want to pay old players -- it's that teams don't want to pay any player more than they must.
Call it smart management, but let's be clear: "smart management" really means "saving money." In the Braves' case, "smart management" means entering the season -- their second in a brand-new ballpark -- with a below-average payroll. The Braves have $38 million committed to payroll for the 2019 season, and just $1 million beyond the 2021 season. They don't have to resort to "smart management" to build a competitive team. But they are anyway, because that's baseball in 2018. The game is worse off for it.
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