Last winter I wrote an article called “I Hate Parity” where I argued against Major League Baseball ever employing a hard salary cap. The main crux of my argument was that no league dependent on local revenue should restrict the spending of the clubs with superior business plans.
“I Hate Parity” was read over 2,500 times and generated over 50 comments, not bad for an article that didn’t feature scantily clad “WAGs.” Clearly, baseball’s economic structure is a hot button issue.
Between the luxury tax curbing the spending of every team outside of the Bronx and the Wild Card reeking havoc on the playoffs, baseball has more parity today than it has at any other point in the game’s history.
But there is still a problem…
Before last season, the Colorado Rockies had to trade Matt Holliday in order to get value for him, before he left town as a free agent. Holliday was the greatest home grown talent in the Rockies young history and it didn’t seem as if he was unhappy in Colorado.
This season, the Minnesota Twins face a similar situation with star catcher Joe Mauer. Mauer is a Minnesota native who shunned a scholarship offer to play quarterback for Bobby Bowden at Florida State for an opportunity to be the backstop for his hometown ball club.
Major League Baseball has 30 teams with varying degrees of local interest. Teams like the Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays are in extremely apathetic markets (ironically, both teams have locked their young stars to long term deals) that will never generate a ton of local interest, no matter how successful the home team is.
Other small market teams like Minnesota and Colorado do not have apathetic fan bases; they just have the misfortune of playing in a smaller media market. These teams have the potential to build passionate, profitable fan bases, but their fans simply can’t deal with repeatedly losing the face of their franchise.
How can we prevent the murder of potential rabid fan bases without punishing the success of the well run clubs?
Next season the NFL will not have a salary cap for the first time in since 1994. However, in an effort to keep competitive balance, the NFL's CBA includes the following provisions:
1) Every free agent this offseason is a restricted free agent. That means the player is only allowed to leave their current team if that team does not match the best offer from another team.
This would give a team like Minnesota time to assess the best offer for a player like Mauer; if the player is not drastically outside of the team’s price range maybe the small market team reaches deep into their pockets to keep the player.
This would also make big market clubs have to blow small market teams out of the way to assure they get their man via free agency.
2) The top eight teams are not allowed to sign a free agent unless they lose a free agent. This would cause a massive change in how teams do business. Let’s use America’s favorite bully, the New York Yankees, as a theoretical example of how this would work.
Let’s say the Yankees had a disappointing season by Yankee standards. They won 90 games and the Wild Card where they were bounced by the Angels in the first round. Let’s say their only expiring contracts were three sparsely used relief pitchers in an offseason where there are some prized free agents available.
The Yankees would not be able to offer a prized guy until their expiring contracts find a home. Often times, it takes a fringe player a long time to find a suitable offer, (unless Omar Minaya is involved, then all bets are off) so the Yankees, in this case, would be handicapped by time in the race for the top free agents.
This would not exclude the playoff teams from making sign and trade deals, but sign and trade deals require teams to have low cost assets in order to get a deal done.
These measures, in addition to the compensatory draft picks currently awarded to teams who lose prized free agents, and the luxury tax system that baseball currently employs, would do wonders for competitive balance in baseball without restricting the right of profitable ballclubs to spend what they make.
This system wouldn’t prevent players like Holliday and Mauer from leaving the only clubs they’ve ever known, but it would make it more difficult for the big boys to just come in and pluck them away.
Franchises would be able to develop identities that go beyond “big/small market” and that could only make baseball more interesting.