"The millionaires' game!"
Those were the words a close friend of mine used a few months back during a casual discussion we were having regarding the game of baseball. In three words, he managed to capture the essence of the growing disconnect between the fans and players of Major League Baseball. With guaranteed contracts, high-priced signing bonuses, and extravagant incentives for mundane achievements, players' salaries have become a bloated joke, a joke not lost in the minds of the game's dearest, most dedicated fan base.
Last season's signing of first-round draft pick Stephen Strasburg by the Washington Nationals was a good example of this reality. Strasburg is a talented pitcher. There is no question that the kid has a potentially productive career ahead of him in professional baseball.
However, with all that said, Strasburg is by no means deserving of a four-year contract worth $15.1 million. Why is this a bad contract?
Strasburg is guaranteed at least $3,750,000 per season for the next 4 four years, regardless of whether he is hurling on a Major League squad or a Minor League squad. That kind of contract seems to inhibit the true incentives for productivity and effort. Of course, this is by no means an indication that Strasburg will be a lousy pitcher with a lazy work ethic. However, is that line of thinking far-fetched considering MLB's recent history with overpriced ballplayers?
Take for example the infamous 2004 contract the New York Yankees and pitcher Carl Pavano signed.
Pavano signed a four-year contract that was worth $39.95 million!!! A pitcher who had averaged less than eight wins a season as a starter for the Expos and Marlins was being paid nearly $10 million per season with the New York Yankees!!!
And what did Pavano do during his four-year stint with the Bronx Bombers? He proceeded to win nine games TOTAL!!! Nine GAMES!!!
My goodness...if I had known that teams could pay pitchers $4.5 million per win, I should have aggressively tried to continue my baseball career after high school. I kid, I kid! I am satisfied with my current line of work.
In 2006, the Chicago Cubs signed free-agent outfielder Alfonso Soriano to an eight-year contract that was worth $136 million! Essentially, Soriano is making at least $17 million per season!
The original purpose for the big contract was to improve the Cubs' postseason prospects. Since the signing, the Cubs have accumulated an 0-6 record in postseason baseball games with Soriano going 3-for-28 in the six playoff games combined!!! In 2009, Soriano led the entire league in errors for left fielders and was demoted in the batting order by his own manager, Lou Piniella, due to lack of productivity!
I can go on and on with other examples of overpriced ballplayers, but that would defeat the purpose of this piece in the first place.
The call of the moment now is REFORM.
The luxury tax has proven itself to be a big joke. The Steinbrenners of the game can simply blow over the cap limit without feeling the slightest pinch in their trust funds. What Major League Baseball needs now is a salary cap—a strict salary cap in the model of the NFL.
Teams that violate the cap should not only be severely fined, they should have their draft picks stripped and immense player contracts cancelled! This is a necessary step to encourage parity in the game, restore the confidence of the fans whose main desire is to see the game played the way it was supposed to be, and foster a new attitude for the next generation of ballplayer that places emphasis on "the love of the game" over the "love of the fame."
If this call for reform is neglected, pennants will continue to be bought by the priciest teams [*cough* Yankees *cough*], parity will continue to wither, and fans' confidence in the glory of the game will be greatly diminished with never-ending tales of overrated ballplayers making a killing with little drilling.