Play Ball: MLB’s Gig Economy and Lessons for Other Employers
“The Dodgers are the Uber of
baseball,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s
Tom Verducci in the magazine’s February 11, 2019 issue. He meant that the Los
Angeles Dodgers, who have represented the National League in the World Series
the last two seasons, have achieved remarkable success by borrowing the idea of
short-term contracts from the gig economy.
The gig economy has affected baseball
teams and players in many of the same ways as it has American employers and
workers. More jobs are available to more people albeit only part-time and possibly
for lower wages. The Dodgers have nearly perfected the art of navigating the
gig economy. For instance, during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, no Dodger started
140 games at the same position or pitched more than 175 innings while the
Dodgers have employed at least 52 players at the major league level in each of
the last four seasons.
The Dodgers’ shift to a gig economy
approach has opened the doors to less experienced players and may mean less
playing time for veteran players. The Collective Bargaining Agreement between
MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association drives this result to
some extent. Players may not enter free
agency until they have reached six years of service time in the big leagues. Moreover,
aside from a few exceptions, players are not eligible to have their salaries
determined through arbitration until they have achieved three years of service
time. That means that MLB players are
entitled only to the league’s minimum wage, which is $555,000 in 2019, for the
first three years of their playing careers. The CBA also empowers the teams — rather
than the players — to make the decisions to suppress service time, allowing
teams to keep players through their prime years.
lessons for a modern workplace appear to be that the gig economy approach allows
for development of talent at a lower cost.
It may, however, also mean that the veteran talent that a workforce
needs is not there. Recall the Dodgers
lost to the Astros in the World Series in 2017. Much was made of the new talent on both teams but a difference maker was
the presence of Carlos Beltran on the Astros, a seasoned veteran upon whom many
of those young players relied for advice. Bottom line is the gig economy can do
a lot to promote development of talent, but don’t forget the veterans who can
guide a company all the way to the ultimate goal. Also, it is great to see the veteran finally
get the ring.
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