Zack Greinke, David Price And Everything Wrong With MLB’s Future

A whirlwind free agent period in Major League Baseball has found Zack Greinke and David Price, two of the most coveted arms available, on new teams. And while turnover is usually a good thing when it comes to stoking fan interest, the signing of these two prized pitchers is actually a stark example of why baseball is headed into an uncomfortable, unsustainable future.

As reported by ESPN, Zack Greinke officially signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for six years and $206 million dollars, capping off a hot stove offseason bidding war between the Diamondbacks and their NL West rivals the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. The deal will essentially pay Zack upwards of $34 million dollars a year, topping the recently snagged Boston Red Sox ace David Price, who will earn $31 million dollars a year over seven years.

The intrigue over who would ultimately land Greinke made for some interesting fodder among baseball fans and insiders alike with positions shifting almost daily, right up until Zack put pen to paper with Arizona. And that kind of offseason news is what drives business for major sports franchises – just ask the NFL who have made it an art becoming a year round sport.

David Price Free Agent Signing [Photo by Maddie Meyer / Getty Images]But it isn’t the free agent turnover that has many baseball insiders worried about the future of the sport. It’s simply the ungodly amount of money being thrown around by teams basking in the glow of new TV deals that are masking the hidden issue of declining interest among today’s youth that has Commissioner Rob Manfred worried about his sport’s longevity.

A recent article in the Washington Post summed the issue up best.

“Baseball, for decades now the national pastime only through the nostalgic lens of history, is a thriving business,” the author wrote. “[But] on opening day of the 140th season since the National League was founded, baseball’s following is aging. Its TV audience skews older than that of any other major sport, and across the country, the number of kids playing baseball continues a two-decade-long decline.”

Further, the average age of the baseball fan continues to sky rocket, while other sports, the NFL and NBA specifically, continue to keep their fan base median at a healthy age.

“According to Nielsen ratings, 50 percent of baseball viewers are 55 or older, up from 41 percent 10 years ago. ESPN, which airs baseball, football and basketball games, says its data show the average age of baseball viewers rising well above that of other sports: 53 for baseball, 47 for the NFL (also rising fast) and 37 for the NBA, which has kept its audience age flat.”

Mike Pelfrey Free Agent Signing [Photo by Hannah Foslien / Getty Images]Ultimately, this is the silent killer. High priced TV deals are lining the pocket of owners who think everything is hunky dory with the sport. And while MLB has done a remarkable job of expanding into new technological areas like iPhones and iPads, it needs to be ever vigilant if it hopes to recapture the aura that it once had.

Not that everything is doom and gloom either. Variety reported that this year’s World Series ratings were up 6 percent from last year’s seven-game series, fueled no doubt, from the fact that the New York Mets attracted a larger East Coast audience to the show.

“When comparing only the first five games of a World Series, this year’s was the most-watched in six years (since the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies drew 18.7 million through five).”

The ultimate irony of course, is that neither the Royals or the Mets have exceptionally high payrolls. Instead they have young stars like Matt Harvey and Lorenzo Cain that have infused new life into an aging sport. And in the end, MLB’s ability to market their stars, including high priced acquisitions like Zack Greinke and David Price, is the only way they’ll be able to keep their sport thriving among today’s youth.

[Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images]