Baseball's Best Teams in a Salary-Cap Era: Put Your Cap On
There are no two words in the Major Leagues that illicit more controversy and emotion than "salary cap." The breadth of responses ranges from "it will destroy the players' union" to "it will save the game." A salary cap is viewed as the savior of the small market team or counterproductive to the free market system and watering down competition.
At the moment, fans and those involved in baseball need not worry about a true salary cap and the ramifications of such. There is a soft-cap in place with the revenue-sharing concept, but it's a far cry from what is used in the National Football League. With the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Union ending in 2011, those discussions are looming on the horizon.
If a salary cap is instituted, it will change how teams do business and allow some different teams the chance to step up and claim the spotlight in baseball along with the perennial powers.
President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest and his front office are among the best in finding raw talent, working with their reps and getting deals done. He consistently works with low payrolls and puts together a competitive team, having a World Series title and four winning seasons in the past six. In an organization that hesitates to pay its blossoming stars, a salary cap would assist management with keeping costs controlled and keeping its homegrown farm talent in the organization after their rookie contracts expire. The Marlins' efforts have resulted in gains for other teams across the league who have the payroll to sign their homegrown talent (Detroit 1B Miguel Cabrera, Boston P Josh Beckett)
Every year, Oakland General Manager Billy Beane does so much more with so little. He's made moneyball the in-thing, but he wrote the blueprint as to how small markets not only survive, but thrive, with timely but reasonably priced free-agent signings and productive farm development. The A's routinely re-stock their farm system, trading away past-prime talent for prospects which would be ranked among the top 10 prospects in many other organizations.
Tampa Bay Rays
They faltered this year after their 2008 ALCS appearance, but after stealing SS Jason Bartlett and SP Matt Garza from the Twins, those two pieces became an integral part of their team plans for the future. The Rays have a stocked farm system and have the best organized recruiting efforts of all MLB teams in Latin America. If they had the income parity of the Sox and Yanks, they'd have taken those two teams right down to the wire for the AL East title. Float a cap, and they could become just as scary.
Boston Red Sox
General Manager Theo Epstein would succeed with or without money. For whatever reason, players want to come play in Fenway and if not for the CBA, would take less money to do so. Epstein makes deals that regularly go against the grain. While some fail (SS Julio Lugo), some brought championship rings (SS Orlando Cabrera for SS Nomar Garciaparra). The Red Sox put time and effort into developing a farm system that consistently produces starters that succeed in the majors through quality drafts and expanding their efforts internationally.
General Manager Mark Shapiro took over operations of the perennial loser in 2001 and set about changing how the organization found and developed it's talent. His efforts delivered two division titles. Trading away talent for prospects has led to the Indians enjoying depth at the farm level; they are one of a half-dozen teams whose prospect lists genuinely run 12 to 15 names deep. The Tribe have similar problems as the Marlins; their inability to pay those top prospects once they make it big in the Majors.
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