Baseball Needs a Salary Cap

By Alex Leichenger (Sports Editor, Columnist) [?]

Published: January 4, 2009 and Updated: April 30, 2009
Original LA News Desk Content

The Evil Empire is up to no good again.

After a baseball season that saw the frugal Tampa Bay Rays triumph in the contentious American League and saw the beyond-frugal Florida Marlins remain in playoff contention until its final weeks, the sport's newfound parity had to make Commissioner Bud Selig grin.

But after missing the postseason for the first time since 1993, the New York Yankees apparently decided enough was enough.

The Yankees have reacted to a disappointing season and $88 million in bad salaries coming off their payroll by not just spending, but by taking the free-agent market captive. It was expected that they would throw a mammoth contract (7 years, $161 million) in the direction of pitcher CC Sabathia. It was expected that they would overpay for injury-prone pitcher A.J. Burnett (5 years, $82.5 million). But the Yankees had to go one step further, seizing Mark Teixeira at a price-tag of $180 million over eight years. The Yankees now have baseball's four highest-paid players on their roster: Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira, all of whom will be receiving checks worth over $20 million for the upcoming season.

When discussing the Yankees' free-agent binging, forget the clichés about whether it is fair to society for men to be paid millions of dollars for swinging a stick of wood at a leather-covered piece of cork. The argument does not even apply when it comes to the Yankees. The real question is whether the Bronx Bombers are fair to the rest of Major League Baseball. And the answer is no.

A fundamental question about professional baseball persistently lingers: Is it a business or a sport, first? Ideally, the answer would be that, at its core, baseball is a sport, something about competition, about love of the game, and about seeing which team or individual emerges as a champion. However, as revenues in leagues such as MLB continue to soar and business sponsorships continue to become as integral to the success of a league as the athletes themselves, it is impossible to deny that the economics of sports are equally important as the quality of competition. Nevertheless, the millions of baseball fans in the United States care much more about the win and loss column than the financial statement of their favorite teams.

The players care about both aspects of the game. Obviously, they are concerned about their money and, as any viewer of SportsCenter can attest, they always talk about how their sport is indeed "a business." At the same time, any viewer of the World Series or any other league's championship can witness the pure joy on the face of an athlete when he/she prevails as a winner.

The last two paragraphs apply to the issue regarding the Yankees because of the stark philosophical differences between owners and fans about sports. Most owners of teams get involved in sports for the potential profit, and most fans get involved because there is nothing they enjoy more than victory.

Baseball needs a salary cap because it separates these two interests while still appeasing each of them. A common argument against the salary cap is that a salary cap would hurt the owners who actually want to win because it wouldn't let them spend all the money they have on their teams. But there are flaws aplenty in such an argument. New York is a booming market where streams of cash will always flow from outside sources to the city's teams. If the Steinbrenner family had purchased the Oakland Athletics or the Kansas City Royals instead of the Yankees, they would likely not be able to spend over $200 million on their baseball team each season. They would not be able to secure the funds for a sparkling new stadium. They would not have the ability to elevate ticket prices because nobody would buy them. To put it simply: the Yankees have an unfair competitive advantage because of the city they play in. They have a far greater likelihood of consistently reaching the postseason simply because of the money that is available to them. If baseball had a salary cap, money would become less of a factor in the success of the product on the field, but allow owners who made a smart business investment to still reap the benefits of a profit off of it.

When the current MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in 2011, Selig should recommend a salary cap of roughly $150 million, and expect every team to be under the cap by 2016. A salary floor of roughly $50 million should also be established to ensure all teams are at least competitive to some degree. With a window of $100 million for teams to allocate for their players, the competitive balance in baseball would be far better. The window is small enough to tame the outlandish free-agent contracts being handed out nowadays, but it leaves more than enough flexibility to reward the owners who care about winning as much as the fans do, plus enough flexibility to punish the owners solely in it for the money.

An agreement that can please both the fans and the owners? Now that's a concept that should truly make everyone involved in baseball grin. Unless, of course, you're the Yankees.

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  • Dodgers Hat Guy, on 01/21/2009, said:

    I definetly agree that baseball is becoming too money-oriented, and the Yankees do have an unfair advantage. Your proposal is great, but as salaries rise with the years, won't too many players' salaries start hitting the cap, preventing them from recieving fair payment in relation to their abilities?

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