Growing up in Toronto during the heyday of the Blue Jays run to the back-to-back titles, I was blessed with being able to witness both the building of a championship team from scratch as well as the ability of a wealthy team and city paying big bucks to keep the team together.
While the Blue Jays payroll was at or near the top of the league in '92 and '93 when they won their titles, the differences from top to bottom were nothing like they are today.
Today you have a few teams that pay more in salary than the bottom five teams combined. Because of this, the balance of power in MLB is inherently flawed, and many have said that without a salary cap it will never be right.
I have a solution, one that only the greedy (MLBPA), the egotistical (owners), and the insane (Bud Selig and other MLB officials) could find fault with.
In order for this plan to work the league must return to balanced scheduling. The interleague games can be mixed up so each team eventually plays everyone in the other league, but the 144 games each year that are played in one's own league should be balanced as much as possible.
No more of forcing teams like Toronto, Tampa Bay, Washington to have to play extra games against big market teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, and Phillies. Return to the good old days, before the strike when everyone played everyone about 14 times a year, give or take a few games here and there.
Once scheduling has returned to this format the rest of the plan can kick in.
A day, late in spring training, should be designated the "division date." Say, for argument's sake, that day is March 25 each year. Any date would do, but the later in spring training the better—the reasons why will be outlined shortly.
On this date each team's 40 man roster's salaries are tabulated and the divisions per league are set as such:
AL's top five payrolls make up Division A. AL's next five payrolls make up Division B. AL's lowest five payrolls make up Division C.
In the NL it is only slightly different, with the league's top five payrolls making up Division A, NL payrolls next six making up Division B, and NL's lowest five payrolls making up Division C.
Like the old NHL, the Divisions can be named after former superstars who made the game what it is today. I don't think anyone would object to playing in any of the Ruth, Gehrig, Williams, Koufax, Mays, or Banks divisions.
Following this format allows teams like the Yankees to feebly spend as much as they want on their roster, but they know going in that this means that they are going to be in a division with other big spenders, and therfore, other likely superstar teams.
This format also allows two small market teams, one from each league, to make the playoffs each year. With the wildcard, this could even turn out to be two small market teams each year if things worked out that way.
So now fans in all markets can enter a season thinking that their team has a legitimate shot at the playoffs. Yes, they would have to play against a team from the large market in the playoffs, but in a short seven game series, the payroll doesn't matter as much, just ask the 2003 Yankees and Marlins.
I know the haters are going to argue this, and I know the main argument is going to be that a team can wait until after this deadline to sign a player or players and then have a large payroll in the small payroll division.
There are two rebuttals to this argument.
The first is that by doing this, the team making the late signings is (a) banking on there being superstar players waiting out the system, and (b), these guys are signing so late in the spring that they may need a month or more to get into the groove, thereby hurting the team in the real standings.
See A-Rod this year for confirmation on this point.
The other rebuttal is to simply make the "deadline date" after the trade deadline. On August 1 the divisions are determined. A team wouldn't even know what place they are in until that time, which could create an interesting trade deadline, as GMs would have to speculate a lot before making any deals.
This second option also handles the second main argument against this, which would be that a team can be in the small market division, realize they are going to make the playoffs, and then make enough deals to put them on par with the large market teams in the tougher division.
The MLBPA will argue that this is a de facto salary cap, but it really isn't, as one team can spend $1 billion on salaries if they wish, there is nothing to stop them from doing that here—so long as they are willing to be in a seemingly tougher division.
The owners will argue this whenever one of their teams ends up as the lowest payrolled team in their division—but that really isn't an argument, now, is it?
Selig and MLB itself will argue simply because they hate change even if it is for the betterment of the game. They proved that in their refusal to handle steroids, then turning it on the players (and possibly colluding against Bonds) and many other times throughout the used car salesman's run.
Based on the 2009 payrolls the divisions would be as follows:
AL Division A (Ruth Division)
New York Yankees (38-31), Boston (42-27), Detroit (38-31), LA Angels (36-32), Seattle (35-34)
AL Division B (Gehrig Division)
Chi-Sox (33-36), Cleveland (29-42), Toronto (38-33), KC (29-39), Texas (37-31)
AL Division C (Williams Division)
Baltimore (32-37), Minnesota (35-36), TB (37-34), Oakland (31-38)
NL Division A (Koufax Division)
New York Mets (35-33), Chi-Cubs (34-32), Philadelphia (36-31), Houston (32-35), LA Dodgers (46-24)
NL Division B (Mays Division)
Atlanta (33-36), San Fransisco (37-32), Milwaukee (37-32), St Louis (39-32), Colorado (37-33), Cincinatti (34-34)
NL Division C (Banks Division)
Arizona (29-41), Washington (20-47), Pittsburgh (31-38), SD (30-38), Florida (35-36)
I would think that fans of teams like Tampa Bay and Florida would be happy to have their teams in first place instead of fourth or third, respectively. And fans of the Giants and Rockies surely would prefer to have their teams be only a game back from a peer in St Louis instead of 8.5 or 9 back of the Dodgers, respectively, who are spending $18 million and $25 million more respectively.
As far as I can tell, this plan increases interest in the game for most teams and creates a parity seen only in the NFL (the sport that seems to run the best as a pastime and a business) which will lead to a postseason that includes underdog teams that we can cheer for.
Not once in a while, but every single year!
Coming from a town that used to draw 50,000 fans to every home game and was the first to break the four million fan barrier, but now struggles to bring in half that number because the fans know the team isn't a real contender, this way of renewing interest would be a blessing.
The only drawback I can tell is that the powers that be in MLB will be upset that someone dares to question their sanctitude of lies and cheating.
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