Jan
20

Reinforcing a point: Baseball does not need a cap

By

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.

Categories : Front Office

30 Comments»

  1. Manimal says:

    I don’t understand why teams can’t trade picks. If you get tons of compensation picks, but need immediate results, why can’t you trade it for a major league ready player?

    • A.D. says:

      Because you can loose draft picks, I guess right after FA end teams could have several months to trade picks going down the stretch.

  2. Manimal says:

    And about salary caps, even if there was a cap and a team had a choice between the yankees and a small market team, the history of the yankees wins almost every time. The yankees are just an unstoppable force in MLB.

  3. Lanny says:

    baseball is the healthiest sport out there. it actually takes place in a free market system and the teams that are actually run best win. whats more american?

  4. Why you don’t need a salary cap:

    Over the past ten years MLB has had a greater variety of champions than the NFL, NBA and NHL.

    If that’s not parity, I don’t know what is.

    • 27 this year says:

      you know, a lot of that could also have to do with the fact that baseball is truly a game where you need a lot of good players. Like the NBA, Lebron or Kobe is good to carry a team of decent players. In MLB, Pujols was not even worth 10 wins yet in football, certain individuals carry a major weight on whether the team ultimately fails. However, in baseball, one player can’t carry you as evidenced by Arod and Pujols (who won once)

  5. Mike Pop says:

    I love how he called out the owners. He is absolutely right.

  6. The Evil Empire says:
  7. pat says:

    Good management wins championships not a 75 win team spending 9 million dollars on f*cking kyle farnsworth. Trading a pile of hot garbage for scott kazmir wins championships (or at least gets you close)Trying to screw aaron crow out of a few hundred grand and losing him is horsesh*t. Drafting a closer with no draft eligibility left with your first round pick when you’re basement dwelling al west JOKE is the reason some teams will always be mired in the turd factory.
    I’m so sick of hearing this bullcrap argument about salary caps when the real problem is the unmitigated d*ouchebaggery in some front offices.

    • jsbrendog says:

      drayton moore and dave littlefield = bro’s of the year?

      • pat says:

        Haha throw in steve phillips and u got the brofecta. I like to think being the general manager of a professional sports franchise is alot harder than it looks. But then this happens- Andruw jones comesoff a season where he hit .222 and obp’ed like .318 and you give him a 2 year 36 million dollar contract? You know it’s pretty bad when the player is like yo just gimme 5 mil and we’ll pretend this never happened. I just don’t understand how it can be painfully obvious to a bunch of internet dweebs (us) that your draft picks are complete sh*t yet you complain about the salary discrepancies. That kinda stuff really gets my goose ynaamean?
        I’ll leave you with this to ponder-
        Matt Millen

  8. VOIII says:

    The argument comparing the NBA to MLB does not hold water for two reasons…It is not a Hard cap and as 27 TY has stated 1 or 2 players can carry a team of 5 to the championship year in and year out.
    To compare you have to look at the NFL which has a hard cap for 15 years… During those 15 years there have been 11 champions… Only 1 less than the prior 27 years…The hard salary cap has brought parity. But in my opinion has watered down the NFL . You can no longer build a team for long runs at greatness as the salary cap will eventually force good or even great teams to sell off their players. I would much rather watch a great team be knocked off by another team than watch them be forced to break up what they worked so hard to build.

  9. Bob Ruffolo says:

    Even if there did need to be a salary cap, it’s too late now.

  10. gio says:

    Fun fact: Until last season when the Red Sox did it, no team since the 2001 Yankees had won a playoff game in the year following a World Series title. Six straight years.

  11. Hawkins44 says:

    If the Yankees go out and win the world series this year the rhetoric for a cap will be deafening….. I think any logical person can see that there is no reasonable argument FOR a salary cap…. furthermore, let’s argue hypothetically that a salary cap is instituted and the Yankees can no longer spend more than 110 million on their on the field payroll. You don’t think for a minute that the byproduct of such a ruling would be two fold:

    1) Everything that has been said on this blog – less flexibility for small market teams with a salary cap floor, less parity, etc….
    2) The Yankees spending obscene amounts of money on young talent in the draft….we’re talking about 1 million dollar signing bonuses to 10th round picks as all their financial might would go into their farm system. Does giving millions of dollars to prospects trump giving it to proven baseball stars? Me thinks no.

    The best part is the one counter argument I hear all the time – how successful the NFL is with their cap. I believe that you can’t compare the two sports as the economics of how they make money are totally different from a ticket revenue and TV contract perspective…. furthermore, you wait and see, the next five years could be bloody for them as their collective bargaining agreement is up and a lot of owners don’t like the status quo. Don’t change baseball, the 6 billion dollar juggernaut!

  12. [...] Joseph P at River Ave Blues wrote a great piece on why baseball does not need a salary cap.  Honestly, his reasoning seems so concrete, I’d invite someone to try and beat it.  He makes a phenomenal point that each team should play to its strengths and the fact is a salary cap limits a team’s ability to make big moves when they need to.   I’d continue on and say that its not our fault that the Yankees can make the moves they do. [...]

  13. [...] Major League Baseball does not need a cap  /  Few mentions of Pudge this winter [...]

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