Regulating the (Baseball) Economy

The beginning of April is always a good time of year. The weather starts getting better, summer starts moving closer and closer, and baseball season begins. And with the season comes the reintroduction of an age-old argument: does baseball need a salary cap? A couple of weeks ago my colleague, Maroon-News Assistant Sports Editor, Harry Raymond, wrote that baseball needed no such thing. He said that baseball has parity, and that the same teams do not win the World Series every single year. Now if I told you that Harry was a Yankees fan, would you be surprised? His team currently outspends the second richest team by $71 million dollars; that gap is larger than the payroll of eleven MLB teams. Harry writing an article on a salary cap in baseball is like Alex Rodriguez writing an article about the need for stricter steroid testing in baseball, they simply do not understand the plight of the weak. I’m an Oakland Athletics fan, one of those franchises that spends less than $71 million per year, and I am here to tell you that a salary cap in baseball is a must.

The argument that baseball has parity is what everyone goes to when trying to defend the lack of a salary cap in baseball. They always look at the teams in the playoffs and show how MLB has more variation in the playoffs than the other sports. This theory, however, has more holes in it than Swiss cheese. First off, both the NHL and NBA have sixteen of their thirty teams make the playoffs. Ignoring the fact that both leagues let in too many teams (I’ll get to that in another article), the fact is that the variation among the teams in the playoffs is not going to be that great. What I mean by that is, if a team gets a top seed one season, chances are, at worst, they will fall to a 7 or 8 seed the next year. In those sports it is simply too hard to became that bad so quickly. In baseball, where only eight of thirty teams make the playoffs, variation is much easier to come by.

Secondly, anyone who says that the MLB has more parity than the NFL is Mike Tyson-level crazy. That is simply not true. In my opinion, the best thing about the NFL is that any team has a chance to make the playoffs in any given year. Just last season the Miami Dolphins went from being 1-15 to winning the AFC East. Ask any Pittsburgh Pirates fan if that is possible in the MLB and they will either say a) “Wait, there is a professional baseball team in Pittsburgh?” or b) “I’ve had season tickets since the 1993 season and have yet to see a playoff game.”

My third point, and the one that I feel is most important, is the fact that most of baseball’s parity is what I like to call “fake parity.” What I mean by that is many of MLB’s smaller-market team’s contend, or even make the playoffs, for one or two years before having to let all their players go and then struggle again. Thus, people can point to many different teams being in the playoffs, but the bottom line is that the rich teams are always contending while the poor ones can only enjoy a few years of success. A perfect example of this was the 2003 Kansas City Royals. Some of you may be under the impression that the Royals simply always lose, but back in 2003 they had a very successful season under Tony Peña, contending in the AL Central until late September. Unfortunately, early in the 2004 season the Royals were forced to let go some of their top players, such as reliever Jason Grimsley and center fielder Carlos Beltran, fearing they would lose them as free agents. As quickly as the Royals had become a contender they dropped back down into the realm of the 100-loss teams.

In my opinion this is the biggest issue that baseball faces without a salary cap. Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets and Tigers will almost never have bad seasons. When their players get old they let them go and simply sign the next best player available. And those available players always happen to come from the smaller-market teams. Over the years my Oakland A’s have lost Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Dan Haren, Jason Isringhausen…the list goes on and on. Had I been talking about the Yankees, each one of those players would have been signed, because the Yankees can spend as much money as they want without a cap.

I won’t just complain about this problem without a solution though. I think that Major League Baseball should announce that they would be instituting a cap beginning in the 2014 season. That gives every team five years to get under the cap, more than enough time to wheel-and-deal. Exceptions can be made for contracts that last beyond 2014 such as the one the Yankees will be playing to the minivan formerly known as CC Sabathia in 2015. With a cap instituted, fans of teams like the Royals, Pirates, Reds, Nationals and other perennial losers will have a reason to cheer again. Some New York fans may not be so happy, but in the long run the increased attendance at every park will prove the cap to be a success for baseball. Instituting a cap is truly a no-brainer; it’s all up to you Bud.