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More than 150 scouting jobs were lost due to the pandemic and an industry-wide emphasis on data, analytics and cost-efficiency
This offseason was the most brutal in recent memory for the scouting industry.
At the beginning of the 2019 season, teams employed 1,909 scouts across their amateur, professional and international departments. That includes all manner of scouts, from special assistants to directors to crosscheckers to pro scouts to area scouts. In 2021, that number is down to 1,756. All scout head counts referenced in this story were sourced from team media guides and the annual Baseball America Directory.
There are a number of factors at play here, not the least of which is the continuing coronavirus pandemic, which led to a 60-game major league season and canceled minor league season in 2020. The lost revenue across the sport led to pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs in teams’ business, scouting and baseball operations departments.
The pandemic wasn’t the only factor, though. For years, the proliferation of data and technology and the corresponding cost savings led several teams to make massive cuts to their scouting groups. Entering the 2019 season, for example, the Astros employed a combined three people with the titles pro scout, advance scout, special assignment scout or special assistant.
Just 10 years earlier, Houston’s total number of people with those titles was 42.
The Astros are the most famous example, but they’re far from alone in reducing the scope of their scouting staffs.
From 2019 to 2021, seven teams reduced their scouting staffs by double-digits across all departments. The Rays and Brewers were each down by 10 scouts, the Dodgers and Giants each were down 13, the Cubs were down 20 and the Angels and Mariners were down 23 apiece.
The decreases by those teams don’t paint the whole picture. The Dodgers and Rays, still have 71 scouts apiece, tied with the Royals for fifth in the game. The Reds, Red Sox, D-backs and Yankees each employ more than 75 scouts throughout all levels.
By and large, scouting departments are still much larger than they were in 2009. That year, teams employed a combined 1,332 scouts, or 424 fewer than today, even after the pandemic-fueled downsizing.
Just four teams employ fewer scouts today than they did in 2009 thanks in part to significant growth in international scouting departments. The Astros are down 43 people in scouting. The Orioles are down 11. The Angels are down seven, and the Mariners are down five.
Many of the scouts let go during the cuts over the last year are older and more experienced, meaning they commanded high salaries.
Dave Yoakum of the White Sox—a founding member and 2010 inductee of the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame—was in his 29th season with the organization when he was let go. Brad Sloan of the Red Sox had been a scout for 40 years at the time of his dismissal.
Pete Mackanin, one of just eight people to have played, managed and scouted with the Phillies, was let go in 2020 as well. The Phillies also let go of special assignment scouts Howie Freiling and Dave Hollins. Freiling had been a minor league manager or scout since 1991. Hollins won a pennant with the Phillies in 1993 and had been a coach or scout since 2004.
Even though scouting staffs are still well populated compared with where they were in 2009, there’s a concern that even when the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror, teams may still opt to downsize their departments in the name of more cost-efficient methods, like video scouting or analytically driven evaluation, in place of people.
“It’s not just the game. It’s our country writ large. There’s such a death of expertise. It doesn’t matter to people anymore,” one scout said.
“. . . It doesn’t matter to people who are hired or who are hiring, because they just think they can do it better. There’s just there’s no respect for people who have been there and done it.
Seven MLB organizations have added to their scouting departments or maintained since 2019.
Blue Jays +5
Red Sox +0
And there are seven MLB organizations that have cut 10 or more scouts since 2019. Numbers include directors and assistant directors of scouting departments, special assignment scouts and assistants, pro, amateur and international departments and are based on media guides.