The New York Mets and Yankees Need Not Look Far for New Blueprint

James HulkaAnalyst IJuly 3, 2008

Let's get one thing straight: the NBA is the only sport that has a salary cap.

A player's salary is determined by his draft order and years in the league. The NFL and the NHL don't have salary caps. They have team payroll caps. We've seen what payroll caps do.

The NFL has issues with players holding out, but the fact that a cap is in place does create a much more competitive league overall. It doesn't allow franchises to buy championship teams.

That brings us to the Yankees, and more recently, the Mets. The Knicks are still that way in basketball, and their Madison Square Garden co-resident used to have that same philosophy—throw millions of dollars at a player with individual talent.

For the decade between the Rangers' Stanley Cup win with Mark Messier at the helm and the lockout a few years ago, the Rangers tried to entice just about every middle or high-profile free agent to sign a lucrative deal to play in New York.

The chemistry never really worked, as the Rangers missed the playoffs seven straight years, despite having names like Eric Lindros, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Mike York, and Theo Fleury on their rosters.

The lockout and ensuing hard cap the NHL put in place forced the Rangers to build a team, not buy one. Sure they've added some big-name players, but they realized that they couldn't add everyone out there.

The front office had to pick and choose guys who were productive, and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each of those free agents to see if they'd mesh with the team.

Jaromir Jagr is an excellent example.

He was a huge disappointment in his time with the Washington Capitals. But when surrounded by some excellent wingers and an athletic, talented young goalie, Jagr reclaimed his place among the best players in the game with the Rangers after the lockout.

During the three seasons before the lockout, the Rangers averaged 32 wins and 76 points per season. In the three seasons since the lockout, the Rangers have averaged 43 wins and 97 points per season, making the playoffs three years in a row. They even went 8-1 in the conference quarterfinals for the last two years, despite being the lower seed in both series.

The Rangers let Jaromir Jagr go this week, as they signed Markus Naslund to be his most likely replacement on the Rangers' first line. Jagr is still a great player, but the Rangers realized they could get someone with almost equal talent and a few years younger for the same price or a little less.

They've been astute with trades during the season and in the offseason, finding talent, players who fit roles, and other players who fill needs.

The recent trade with the Blue Jackets is an excellent example of dealing from an area of strength to fill an area of need. They realized a logjam of talent on the defensive side could get them some young talent on offense to fill vacated roster spots.

Most importantly, they've developed some of their own talent instead of trading it all away.

George Steinbrenner, for years, traded away his best prospects to get veteran players on the trading block, with little regard to chemistry or cost. The Rangers had the highest payroll in the NHL before the lockout, and they basically spent $60 million plus to win 40-45 percent of their games.

The Yankees have made the playoffs the last few years, but this decade they've spent well over $1 billion and have not won a championship.

Memo to George and Hank: It's not your birthright for you and Yankee fans to win a World Series every year. You paid $126 million for a steroid-using first baseman who strikes out a lot and can't play defense. You paid $100 million already, with $300 million more to come, for a talented player who hits like Rafael Belliard and shrivels up like a prune once the playoffs arrive.

You just re-signed a 36-year-old catcher for $13 million a year who is slow and can't throw anymore. The first two I mentioned—never won anything.

The cross-town Mets are trying to follow the Yankees' blueprint. Their payroll has skyrocketed with the plans of getting the best players with little or no regard to cost, either through trade or free agency.

This year, the Mets traded four prospects to the Twins for a pitcher who (as of this weekend) was 7-7, and is on the books for an average salary of about $22 million for the next seven years. And, as of today, the Twins are five games better than the Mets, and only two games out in their division.

The two New York baseball teams overvalue free agents, thinking one or more of them will buy a championship. The Rangers did spend a lot of money last summer on Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. The big difference is—these guys were proven winners, and the front office still left the team with talent around these guys.

I was at the last game of the Mets-Diamondbacks series in mid-June. Santana pitched seven shutout innings, only to see the bullpen blow a four-run lead in the eighth and lose in extras. After the game, all the Met fans were blasting the bullpen and were throwing out names of the ones who they felt should be traded.

The Rangers still have enough talent left because they don't trade away the farm for a player like the Mets and Yankees have. The fans can say, "Trade him" all they want, but it doesn't sink in that, if said player is that bad, what other team would want to acquire him for someone better?

Having talent to call-up from the minors is an important option to have on the table. You can trade prospects every so often, but you don't send them all away.

The point here is—the New York Rangers changed their approach to building a team, most likely because the cap forced them. The team payroll is less than what it was four years ago, and lo and behold, they've been to the playoffs three years running.

Henrik Lundqvist is only 26, and he is already one of the best goalies in the league. The Mets and Yankees need to follow their example.

I also don't hear the hockey players whining about "$5 million a year isn't enough". Please, I love baseball, but hockey players exert a lot more energy and their bodies take a much bigger beating than baseball players do during the course of a season.

This probably won't happen unless Major League Baseball adopts a similar hard cap to the NHL. With the airheads like Donald Fehr running things at the MLBPA, unfortunately, I don't see this type of revelation happening any time soon.

I'll leave my full opinion on how ridiculous athlete salaries are for another time, but in the grand scheme of things, no athlete should be making more than $4 million a year in salary. Simply put, they're not that important.

Give credit where credit is due. Glen Sather, Tom Renney, and the Rangers are building a team the right way. Sadly, they are the only team in New York City (Giants, Jets, Devils, and Nets are New Jersey teams) doing it the right way.


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