Why Baseball Needs A Salary Cap: One Year Retrospective

Written by on March 18, 2020

Photo Credit: usatoday.com

Note: Despite the coronavirus shutting down sports, I wanted to release this article as a means of entertainment, rather than hold onto it for months. Thank you for your support! 

At some point, I knew I was going to revisit the topic of why Major League Baseball needs a salary cap. You can click here to go read the article I wrote last year. 

Today, we know more than we previously did a year ago.

Going into last spring, MLB teams wouldn’t spend on some of the premier free agents with players and agents griping, and collusion being bandied about after a couple of slow off-seasons. 

Veteran players weren’t getting their money, and several teams seemed to be using the luxury tax line -as funny as it sounds- as a defacto salary cap.

The luxury tax is a predetermined number that taxes teams a certain amount of money for exceeding the threshold. There are a few separate tiers for the luxury penalties, which became even harsher for those who stay in the tax area for multiple consecutive years. 

Fast forward to the 2019-2020 off-season, and it’s a different world. Reports came out of even more financial windfall for MLB, and a few teams who normally refrained from bidding the past few winters on guys like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Jake Arrietta and others opened their checkbooks as a sense of normalcy returned to the Hot Stove Season. 

Baseball’s most well known super-agent Scott Boras scored his clients over $1 billion in guaranteed money, seeing World Series hero Stephen Strausburg resign with the Washington Nationals for seven years and $245 million, IN DECEMBER! Usually, Boras waits until late winter to get his guys signed. 

That wasn’t all. The other Washington hero and homegrown product Anthony Rendon landed the same exact pact (minus deferrals) from the Angels.

The Evil Empire: Yes the Yankees, decided to break the bank and sign Gerritt Cole, coming off one of the most dominant runs we’d ever seen in Houston, to a nine year, $324 million pact. 

A number of clubs in the large markets outside of Boston and the Dodgers went big for the cream of the crop of this newly signed free agent class, with those two teams being wary of the luxury tax.

The Small Markets

Now, a few smaller markets did make some moves with some decently sized, but not hefty contracts. Those teams didn’t have a ton on the ledger or were looking to finally push into the contenders tier. 

And then, there’s the Indians, Athletics and Rays. Three of the best-run organizations in baseball with no ability to gun for the top tier players on the market because of payroll constraints due to the markets they inhabit.

The Indians in particular have superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor under control for two more years. The problem is that the team can’t afford (or as some say, won’t pay) Lindor a big contract to keep the face of the franchise anchored to Cleveland beyond the remaining time the team has control over him.  

The Tribe dealt former ace Corey Kluber and all of his salary to the Texas Rangers for a redundant fourth outfield type in Delino DeShields and an intriguing fireball bullpen arm in Emmanuel Clase, who will start the season on the injured list. 

The Indians’ payroll has decreased each of the past two years despite the continued success. Last season, the Indians won 93 games with injuries galore, trading Trevor Bauer and letting Michael Brantley walk. Yet, 93 wins is still considered a failure for the Tribe because they missed the postseason for the first time since their 2015.

Teams like the Indians have to be creative in order to sustain success and compete, and that starts with having great players, such as Lindor, for the first few years of control and then watching them head off to greener pastures. 

With revenue increasing and small market clubs unable to supplement a current core or extend their best players, we see other teams essentially use the Rays, Indians and Athletics as an extra talent pipeline for the rich. 

The Salary Cap

The owners don’t want to give up their monopolies. That is a fact. The revenue sharing in the NFL and NBA is basically non-existent in MLB. That is part of what is preventing the implementation of a salary cap. Why would the richest owners want to give their other competitors a chance? 

The players are against it as well, fearing it will limit future earnings for the guys who end up reaching the open market. They have no incentive to concede and give in to a salary cap, be it a soft or hard cap with a minimum spending floor with the clubs splitting revenue up more evenly, so smaller markets can spend like their big market counterparts. 

Though if players want to keep their money and actually have teams willing to spend and pay them, then shutting down MLB clubs by virtue of them not being able to field a team to keep the lights on would hopefully be enough to move the needle. 

There will come a point where fans become so apathetic as to why they should care about a game where only a few clubs can truly afford the best talent. Yet, as long as pockets are being stuffed, the small market owners won’t rebel and push for a more equal footing to spend with big brother. 

Indians owner Paul Dolan’s words on the topic of Francisco Lindor’s time in Cleveland being extended beyond its current status during an interview with The Athletic last year still ring clear. When asked if the club would resign the star, his response was summed up into two words: “Enjoy him.” Enjoy him because they won’t spend to keep him around beyond 2021. 

That shouldn’t even be the case for a prime superstar who we all know, barring a surprising development, will end up leaving Cleveland. 

Andrew McCutchen, Barry Bonds, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, David Price, Francisco Lindor, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mark McGuire. 

Time and time again, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and others have watched star after star either walk away or flipped to another team for some type of compensation because they can’t support those massive contracts. 

Why should fans be allowed to stomach this? 

The answer is they shouldn’t.

We as humans tend to be greedy, and the greedy gain power, and they don’t want it to slip away. 

Can’t we put greed aside and see a sport that is generally declining for what was America’s Pastime? 

A salary cap may be the catalyst the league needs to bring fans back to the ballpark and become invested or reinvest in the game of the rich. A team like Cleveland should be able to extend their own stars or sign some new ones. 

Until the fans across all of the league stop investing in their teams, baseball will continue to decline. All because there is not a salary cap to level the financial playing field. 

Sean Fitzgerald is a member of the Black Squirrel Radio Sports Department and a Sports Coordinator. He co-hosts Pass the Mic Sports Talk. Follow him on Twitter @fitzonsportsbsr for insights and occasional livestreams.

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