Yes, we know some baseball owners have been whining and moaning about the need for a salary cap in the wake of the Yankees’ winter spending spree. Brewers owner Mark Attanasio was the first to stand on the soap box and declare: “At the rate the Yankees are going, I’m not sure anyone can compete with them.” Astros owner Drayton McLane offered similar sentiments. A’s owner Lew Wolff tried to pass off his support of a cap to the betterment of the sport: “Parity is what we’re looking for.”
I’d estimate the chances of baseball adopting a salary cap at zero. The owners wanted it back in 1994, and we all saw how that turned out. There’s no chance they risk another labor stoppage over the cap issue. It’s dead and buried, despite a handful of owners crying about the big, bad Yankees. Yet it’s an issue that’s sure to come up plenty this season, especially if the Yankees get off to a hot start.
A few baseball writers have joined the small chorus in favor of a salary cap, but the San Francisco Chronicle’s Bruce Jenkins makes a compelling case against a cap. He brings up a number of old arguments, but he lays them out in an easily digestible manner. It means a lot coming from a guy who writes about the Oakland A’s, a team with a relatively low budget. He notes the parity we’ve seen in baseball over this decade:
This decade has given us the very essence of baseball parity. Recalling the seven World Series matchups prior to Rays-Phillies, we find Boston over Colorado, St. Louis over Detroit, White Sox over Houston, Boston over St. Louis, Florida over the Yankees, Anaheim over the Giants and Arizona over the Yankees.
In other words, seven different winners in eight years, and only three teams even appearing twice over that span. Do we see the Yankees winning any of those World Series?
Jenkins also isn’t afraid to call out owners on their own foolishness. I couldn’t agree any more with this paragraph:
But let’s not hear owners – people who, ostensibly, built a fortune through smarts and good sense – crying, “Oh, somebody save me from my mistakes.” Teams fail because of their own stupidity and ill-advised transactions, not because they’re short on cash. What the Rays pulled off was no miracle, nor was it an aberration. That was just a flat-out superior team, built on dimes, nickels and guile.
He then goes onto compare baseball to the NBA, where they have a (largely ineffective) salary cap. Teams often trade contracts, not players. Their trades are also more complicated than necessary due to the cap and the rules regarding salary swaps. He correctly notes that only a handful of teams really compete in the NBA each year, and that in the past 30 years baseball has seen 20 teams win it all, while the NBA has seen nine. Yes, nine, as in, can count them on two hands.
I think Craig at Shysterball has a nice take on the issue:
Sure, no matter what the economic situation is, the Royals would never have been able to sign CC Sabathia. But without a salary cap in place at least there is an enemy to complain about in the Yankees or their skinflint owner or their brain dead GM or what have you. What do Kansas City bargoers complain about if there is a salary cap? Section 1.5(A)(1)(i)?
Such a discussion wouldn’t even be worth the beer.
Me? I think that the lack of a cap allows teams a greater flexibility in building their teams. Using Craig’s example, if the Royals think they’re one piece away from a serious title run, they can break the bank and bring in a big-name superstar, either via free agency or a trade. With a cap you can be one piece away and stuck right there, because the cap prevents you from make a team-benefitting move.
There’s also something to be said for playing to your strengths. We heralded the A’s after the release of Moneyball because they used their strength in statistical analysis to find inefficiencies in the methods of evaluating talent. That strength is considered by some to be more virtuous than that of money, since many of these teams can never have a level of capital equal to the Yankees. Yet it’s still a strength the Yankees posses. They pay the price for it, too. As many have noted, signing CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira guarantees nothing for the Yanks. They have to pay dearly, in terms of money, in terms of long-term commitment, and in terms of draft picks. Since their greatest strength is the dollar, they’ve chosen to use it in the best possible manner. If they chose to focus on the draft, but didn’t have a particular strength in drafting amateur players, that would be a mistake.
I know we’ve harped on this topic a lot this winter, perhaps too much. Yet I think it’s a topic worthy of robust discussion. There are some in favor of a salary cap in the name of parity, but an overwhelming amount of evidence suggests that no further parity would be created by instituting a cap.