Is not having a Salary Cap a True Advantage in Baseball?

Of the big four in sports (Baseball, Basketball, Football and Hockey), baseball is the only one to not have a salary cap in place. Salary caps are designed to level the playing field in sports and to not allow the higher market cities, the New York’s, Chicago’s and L.A.’s to rule the landscape and give outrageously rich contracts to players. Although it has worked to breed more parity in the three leagues that do have a salary cap, baseball has had just as much parity with teams like the Yankees and Mets shelling out record deals and falling flat either in the playoffs or not even making them at all. The truth is, The Mets have been notoriously big spenders for years and haven’t won the World Series since 1986, while even people who don’t follow baseball know that the Yankees are the richest team in baseball and haven’t won the World Series since 2000. On the flip side, teams like the Florida Marlins, Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays have some of the lowest salary caps in baseball and have seen great success by playing their type of system, frugal spending, smart scouting and drafting and having a solid farm system in place. With that being said the question has to be raised, does baseball need a salary cap? The Milwaukee Brewers principal owner, Mark Attanasio believes so. He was public about his outrage over the New York Yankees spending spree in the off-season. The Yankees signed three legitimate superstars to three mega deals. First they reeled in former Brewer ace C.C. Sabathia for a record seven year, 161 million dollar deal, the richest free agent pitching contract in baseball history, then signed pitcher A.J. Burnett to a five year, 82.5 million dollar deal. To top off the month they signed power hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira to a whopping eight year, 180 million dollar deal.

The Sabathia signing may have been the one that stung the most. He was tremendous for Milwaukee last year when they traded for him at the trading deadline and Attanasio was prepared to offer him a 100 million dollar deal, but was outbid by over 60 million dollars by the Yankees. “They are on a completely different economic playing field; I paid $220 million for my team; now they get three players for $420 million.” told Bloomberg News in a separate telephone interview. This latest spending spree is no guarantee that success will come this season. Many teams have had mega off-seasons only to not make the playoffs. A team that comes to mind is the 2008 Detroit Tigers. They traded six high end prospects to the Florida Marlins for one time electric pitcher Dontrelle Willis and power hitting first baseman Miguel Cabrera. Once they were settled in Detroit they were given huge contract extensions, Willis’ a three year, 29 million dollar deal and Cabrera an eight year, 153.3 million dollar deal, respectively. Willis has been nothing but a bust, unable to find the strike zone whose career is dying before the Tigers eyes, while Cabrera has been nothing short of an MVP caliber player, winning the American League home run race in 2008. The Tigers also traded Jair Jurrjens, an up and coming pitching prospect, to Atlanta who flourished with the Braves and Gorkys Hernandez a speedy outfielder, in exchange for aging veteran shortstop Edgar Renteria, who was a miserable fit and was let go after one season in Detroit. In a forgettable season in Detroit, the theory that you can’t buy a championship was never made clearer with a roster that exceeded 130 million dollars of salary, one of the top five highest in the majors. The result was a team that went 74 and 88 and was last in their division. This was obviously the bad side of the salary cap theory. A look at the good side shows a team like the 2003 Florida Marlins. They had a payroll of 54 million dollars, ranking 21st in the majors. They had a young hungry team that sprinkled in veterans and young players and a dynamite pitching staff. They still to this day never overpay players, which in turn hurts because they lose many of their best players to free agency to the before mentioned “big market” teams to mega contracts. Some of the players they lost include catcher “Pudge” Rodriguez to the Tigers, pitchers Josh Beckett to the Boston Red Sox and Carl Pavano to the Yankees and first baseman Derek Lee to the Chicago Cubs among others. Of these players, only Beckett has won the World Series.

This has been the baseball side of it, but one subject that doesn’t get as much publicity, especially in good economic times is the sheer openness of these owners to throw so much money at men playing a sport only half a year. Many people around baseball, including Florida Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest have seen the spending sprees of teams like the Yankees ludicrous. Many do wonder openly, that in an economy that has hit the breaks with people worried about where there going to sleep tomorrow night, or if they can feed their kids and themselves adequately, how do salaries continue to rise? An honest question indeed, maybe general managers will take a step back and realize, maybe less is more.