With steroids now dominating the headlines in baseball again, the sport needs a new public relations makeover. Could a salary cap be just the gesture the sport needs to get back in the good graces of the American people? The idea has been knocked around for years, but now even big market teams like the Red Sox are throwing support toward the idea.
(No, no, not that kind of salary cap)
Of course, the Sox are only interested these days because of the new stadium down in New York, which is going to put massive amounts of cash in the pockets of the Steinbrenners — and allow them to spend even more on salaries. It’s not insane, even, to think that the Yanks would run their payroll up to $300 million or more in the next few seasons.
So, is there finally hope for the Royals?
Maybe. In an interview at the Red Sox spring training complex in Fort Myers, owner John Henry says that the cap has suppport across the spectrum. The BOSTON GLOBE was there:
“I think that the so-called large market to small market is united in one aspect — united may be too strong of a word — but I think we all agree that competitive balance is an issue. If there was a way to put together an enlightened form of a salary cap, I think everybody among the owners would support that.”
“I think it’s quite possible if you put together a partnership between the players and owners. Going forward, I think it’s something that should at least be explored.”
The Sox owner then said that he’s adamant in not replacing Fenway Park, which will continue to put the team at a disadvantage financially in comparison to the Yankees. That’s probably the reason why Henry now thinks the cap is a good idea, more than helping teams like the Royals and Pirates become competitive.
However, much of the last decade has shown that it’s entirely possible to have fleeting success with a low payroll. It’s certainly very tough to sustain it on a limited budget, but it’s not a small payroll that has prevented Kansas City and Pittsburgh from putting together competitive teams. It’s signing guys like Doug Mientkiewicz and Reggie Sanders and thinking that’s somehow a good use of resources.
There’s no doubt that a tight payroll is a disadvantage, but good executives find ways to build competitive teams anyway. So much of the richer teams’ money goes to paying bloated salaries to guys who are past their prime (see: Damon, Johnny), while teams like Tampa are building with young guys whose salaries are low and under control. It’s almost become expected that one or two of the LOWER payroll teams are going to make a run at the World Series every year.
So do we really need the change? The Yankees haven’t won a title since 2000. The loaded Mets and Dodgers haven’t even made it to the World Series this decade. Different teams are making deep runs every year. If these teams want to spend $200 or even $300 million a year to not even win it all (and engage in the revenue sharing that comes along with that), why not let them?
Still, it’s hard to argue that cap systems work. The NBA and NFL (and now NHL) have competitive balance that reaches to all market sizes. With teams all receiving roughly the same resources, it really is all about management and organization. And while guys like Billy Beane have shown that it’s possible to build a good baseball team with spare parts, it’s a tough proposition. And when those attempts fail (like in K.C., Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati), it can take decades to dig out of the hole.
One thing a cap doesn’t do, though, it put competent people in charge of organizations. Would the Orioles front office suddenly turn into a bunch of geniuses because they couldn’t get outspent by their division rivals as much? I mean, they did throw tons of money at a washed-up Javy Lopez a few years back.
There’s also a little something called the players’ association. They’ve held firm against any idea of a cap. But if there’s any time when players can earn some goodwill with the public, now’s the time. But is that enough of a concern to get guys to give up the dream of a $40 million annual paycheck?