Since the Yankees last won the World Series in 2000, baseball has enjoyed a period of nearly unparalleled parity. Thirteen different teams have made it to the World Series over the last eight Fall Classics, and only the Yankees, Red Sox and Cardinals have made more than one appearance this decade.
This year, though, baseball will see a reversal of this drive toward playoff equality. In all likelihood, the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Angels, Phillies, Cardinals, Rockies and Dodgers will be in the hunt for a World Series trophy, and seven of those teams have made it to the Fall Classic already this decade. The only exception is Joe Torre’s team in Los Angeles, World Series-less since winning the trophy in 1988.
By itself, these repeat visits to October aren’t a problem for baseball’s drive toward equality. Some teams will just be better than others, and this year seems to be the culmination of a very good decade. Yet, look at what happens when we take a look at the MLB salary list. Below is a shortened version of CBS Sports’ MLB payroll information. I’ve included the top ten teams and the two playoff teams who miss that cut.
Outside of the Rockies, every team in the playoffs this year is among the top 12 most expensive teams in baseball. Six of them are in the top ten, and the three of the four teams that aren’t making the playoffs — Mets, Cubs, Astros — were plagued by either terrible management or terribly costly injuries (or both, in the case of the Mets). Once again, the rich will get richer in baseball, and the poor will continue to play out their 162-game seasons facing an uphill climb to October.
With this data in hand, two questions come to mind: Does it matter? Will MLB try to do anything about it? As a Yankee fan, it’s tough for me to complain about this state of affairs. While baseball has tried to rein in the Yanks’ free-spending ways, the revenue sharing/luxury tax model has been largely unsuccessful. The Yankees are happy to dole out the money because they can afford to, and putting a winning team on the field is profitable for the Yanks and their various marketing and broadcast ventures. Until and unless baseball institutes a salary cap, the Yankees will spend their way into October, and I won’t care one whit.
The second question is more troubling. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire on Dec. 11, 2011, and already, rumors of a tougher negotiation have surfaced. Neither side is too happy with the state of drug testing in baseball, and the owners are well aware that, in a post-Moneyball era, the parity of the early 2000s is starting to slip away.
I don’t know where baseball goes from there. Labor unrest would be terrible for the game but so would seasons where the same eight or ten teams are competitive. While some franchises — the Pirates and the Royals come to mind — are simply mismanaged, others do not have the resources to compete. Problem or not, it’s certainly baseball’s 800-pound gorilla in the room, and it’s not going away any time soon.