MLB’s Need for a Salary Floor (And a Cap, too)

Written by on March 30, 2021

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I wasn’t expecting to write something related to my original, “Why MLB Needs a Salary Cap” article and the “One Year Retrospective” article from last March.

But, we now need to revisit the topic sooner than expected. It’s not been long since the San Diego Padres extended 22-year-old superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. to a 14-year deal in excess of $340 million. 

As far back as even a year ago, I viewed the potential implementation of a salary cap as a means to limit wild spending for large market spenders such as the Yankees and Dodgers to level the playing field for all. 

I’ve been going about it the wrong way, particularly since we’ve now been living through this hell of a pandemic, and found some new perspective: MLB needs to start fixing inequities by implementing a minimum salary floor that a team must spend for its payroll and addressing the lack of revenue sharing. 

Don’t get me wrong; Cleveland, Oakland and Tampa Bay have done wonders on small budgets. The problem is they can’t seem to get over the hump because when a player becomes too expensive to pay or unable to sign long-term (see Francisco Lindor, Josh Donaldson and David Price), these players get dealt and more often than not, that player was likely the final piece to get them over said hump. 

In the retrospective article last March, Lindor was one of the prime cases. He was traded in early January along with fan-favorite Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets.

Most Indians fans knew losing Lindor was a possibility but dumping Carrasco hurt a lot. The fans cheered on “Cookie” as he battled Leukemia and endeared himself to the Cleveland fanbase. 

And as much as fans want to blame the Dolan family for being cheap, it came out that not only did Cleveland offer the superstar shortstop, who is known as “Mr. Smiles,” a $100 million deal early in his career, they offered him $200 million dollars

If Lindor signed that deal, what happened between the Colorado Rockies and Nolan Arenado would likely be the end result. 

Now, you might be wondering why would I deviate from the focus on a salary cap in my previous articles? 

I think it still should be implemented at some point, but this pandemic has shown fans something they knew but didn’t want to deal with: Teams would rather dump salary and rake in profits than actually do what is necessary to win. 

This statement is more true for the Chicago Cubs, who ended up shipping out Yu Darvish to the Padres. Darvish had a top three finish in the 2020 NL Cy Young voting. 

I’m not oblivious to the pandemic creating some of this crunch. However, it shows how top talent is only affordable in large markets, with the exception of St. Louis… and San Diego (man, the Padres have had a great winter!).

Having a $100 million dollar salary floor with revenue sharing would allow teams who aren’t currently spending to be more competitive.

You might be thinking, “Sean, why would the players agree to a salary floor?”

I can give you a few reasons why. 

First, there’s the free agent market. Admittedly, the 2019-2020 offseason was banana’s for the first time in a while.

Billions of dollars were spent compared to previous years, something the MLB Players Association was not happy about prior to that offseason, when little spending occurred. 

With a $100 million floor that would incrementally climb, the MLBPA can help solve some of the anti-competitiveness problems and actually get the players in their union good paying contracts, so that’s a start!

The second reason is players like Lindor, who legitimately would have liked to stay in Cleveland, might have more of a shot of sticking around when owners are forced to spend. With a homegrown superstar locked in for the long haul, you won’t be a talent development machine for the Red Sox, Yankees or Dodgers.

Lastly, remember the Cubs dumping salary? Boston has done the same thing previously with Mookie Betts and David Price, and other teams have traded star talent away because it benefits the bottom line. Teams should not be trying to field a non-competitive roster. We should not have teams like Cleveland and Pittsburgh with payrolls sitting around $35-50 million by some estimates. 

Trevor Bauer, a former Cleveland pitcher, will make as much, if not more, than his former employer’s entire team payroll this year at $40 million. If he opts into the second year of his deal, he’ll earn $45 million. Both figures make him the highest paid player in baseball for a yearly salary. 

It would be a tough sell to the Dodgers, Yankees and other rich teams to actually give up their monopolies, something I acknowledged a year ago. But when I alluded to the possibility of contraction without saying it, that possibility seems far more likely to occur now than a year ago. 

We know MLB has not had the best success in marketing their players to the world, especially when the consensus top player, Mike Trout, draws confused looks from non-baseball observers compared to LeBron James, Tom Brady and Kevin Durant. 

Marketing baseball is especially hard to do when guys like Lindor, Blake Snell and others are not going to be around for the long-term, so why should fans care? 

Baseball is dying, and it’s time to try and fix it. It’s unfortunate I don’t see these fixes happening until teams are contracted, and by then it’ll be far too late. 

Sean Fitzgerald is the Black Squirrel Radio Sports Director and co-hosts Pass the Mic Sports Talk. Follow him on Twitter @fitzonsportsbsr for insights and occasional livestreams.

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