It is time. Time to take on a behemoth. The giant, lurking issue that polarizes baseball fans.
Should there be a Salary cap in Major league Baseball?
Lets start at the ground floor. Baseball is the only of the 4 major sports (that is, if hockey still qualifies as major) that does not have a cap. Now that, in itself, is not a good enough reason to change. However, it does raise the issue of "why" those leagues chose to adopt a salary cap. Was their (the owners) goal to hurt their sport? To destory it? Or to improve it?
The owners wanted more popular leagues, since more popular easily equates to more profitable. So why does MLB resist? I know the players are the major roadblock, but why would they not want a more popular league as well? Why do they hold to a system that has been discarded by others?
Our first stop on this delving into the depths of the MLB is with a popular objection to Salary caps: Baseball doesn't need it. Small market teams are doing just fine. Oakland has been able to compete. So has Florida. In fact in 2007 3 of the final 4 teams were in the bottom 8 in payroll. Spending more money does not mean success!
To anyone who wants to hold onto these ideas, you may want to stop reading. It gets pretty ugly, and pretty obvious from this point on.
Let's look at the last 10 years.
The highest paid team has made the playoffs 90% of the time.
The lowest paid? 0%
The highest paid team in the league averages 95 wins.
Lowest paid? 68
Must be coincidence, huh?
As for the objection that spending more does not necessarily mean that you win more, try this:
While it is not absolute, there is a VERY strong correlation between how much you spend and how much you win (An r^2 value over .5 indicates a stong correlation). Teams that spend more, win more. Teams that spend less, win less. While there are exceptions, that is the rule. Exceptions do not disprove the rule. If you believe that they do, just imagine Ichiro going 0-5 in the same game that a minor league call-up goes 3-4. That would not make the minor leaguer a better hitter than Ichiro. It is an exception.
If you want to point to Colorado, Cleveland, and Arizona in 2007 as evidence that low payroll teams are doing just fine, make sure you look at the big picture. In 1999, the 6 highest payroll teams all made the playoffs. The final 4 teams were from the top 6 in payroll and the World Series was between the highest paid AL team and the highest paid NL team. Think we'll EVER see a World Series between the two lowest paid teams in the league? Devil Rays/Marlins in '08!!!
Split the league in half. Top 15 payrolls vs. bottom 15.
Of the 80 playoff spots in the last 10 years, 62 of them were taken by teams from the top 15 (77.5%), 18 by the bottom 15 (22.5%).
Only once has a team from the bottom 15 won the World Series. The other 9 were the top 15.
1-9??? That's like the record of guys who bring knives to gun fights. Come to think of it, that's a fairly apt analogy. The guy with the knife may win once in a while, but we all KNOW that the game is heavily stacked against him. Small market teams are not doing just fine. They're getting plowed by teams with superior firepower.
Now that we've covered that objection, let's get to some specifics. The Luxury tax is a baby step in the right direction, but still woefully insufficient. While the tax may reign in George Steinbrenner from putting together a $300 Million team in 08, it does nothing for the smaller market teams. The Devil Rays have a projected 2008 payroll of about $7 Million. That would be the lowest payroll since the 1988 White Sox. Teams are receiving money from the Luxury tax, but they don't have to spend it. Owners can pocket it and go about their day richer for having been a cheapskate. Basically, the Luxury tax is also a "run a crappy team bonus." It's not too different from when a BCS football school schedules a 1-AA team to get its head kicked in on opening weekend. "Hey, if you suck enough, we'll pay you to come get mauled!" It's very amatuer-ish of a Pro league to be run in that manner.
There must be a salary floor to force the cheap to be competitive if you are going to cap the spending of the high rollers.
The final piece of the puzzle would be to put a firm limit on how much a team can spend on players, start it out high, around $200 Million, and just let teams adjust to it. There's no need to make the cap restrictive at this point. We don't want teams having to cut all of their marquee players just to placate this requirement. That would hurt baseball. Long term, the spending limit and forced team minimums can be adjusted towards each other to give small market teams an actual chance at running a competitive team.
This plan would greatly benefit baseball. While many disagree with me, it's hard to dispute that a healthy league that garners the most interest is one that is competitive from top to bottom. Top heavy leagues are not popular. The fans of the Yankees, Red Sox, and other teams that spend freely probably object to this plan, but most likely that is because they enjoy being the 800-lb gorilla in the room making the playoffs every year, being the magnet team for All-Stars, and dictating the player market. For the large majority of the fans, there is simply no way for their team to be consistently competitive.
New York/Red Sox fans, if you want a team to be proud of, you should be encouraging the poor level of play to improve. Is it really that impressive to gun down unarmed teams? I would think you would want the greatest competition possible, so that when your team emerges from the battlefield, it is a real accomplishment.
Baseball has been surpassed by football as the most popular sport in America. I do not think that it is because football is intrinsically a better game. Rather, it is because the NFL has realized competition is the key to interest.