There are many major league observers—of which I am one—that have stated continuously over the years that without a salary cap baseball was in danger of seeing the separation between the teams reach the division seen in European Football. Despite public protestations to the contrary by MLB executives, that the number of different World Series winners in the past decade proves that the game is on solid ground, this year the expected separation of powers has occurred. And since a salary cap in baseball is as likely as a Chicago Cub World Series parade the owners need to devise a strategy in the upcoming labour negotiation that will even out the playing field–and not tick off the players.
With the labour agreement coming to an end in December—and without any of the rancour that existed in the NFL and continues to exist in the NBA—baseball owners need to alter the present payroll structure in order to give the majority of teams hope for playoff success. As it is the Phillies, the Red Sox and the Yankees are dominating, and will continue to dominate based on their annual player payroll. They will capture half the number of playoff teams each year. The other 29 major league teams are left to fight it out for the remaining three playoff spots. These negotiations need not be about penalizing the three elite teams for their excellence but presenting them with a few more obstacles in their path.
After all how good would the Pirates be if they could work with the Yankees $200 million payroll?
The idea of adding one playoff team for each league is a start.
Very simply the players association is the biggest and baddest bear at the table—the owners know from eight straight labour thumpings that their best interests are served by not making the players association mad. That’s what happens when owners long believed that baseball was their complete domain—and that the players were indentured slaves. It is a long way from that sort of prehistoric thinking to today. The owners know that, unlike the other professional sports in North America, not even a lockout would frighten the players into accepting a one-sided deal. So the baseball owners need to make the adjustments to its game in miniscule ways. Baby steps.
Baseball is becoming less competitive—and if fewer teams have a reasonable chance at post season play then attendance will drop. Attendance has been dropping, not significantly enough annually to cause concern, but since a high of more than 79 million in 2007 baseball has seen more than a six million drop since. And when you drill down into those numbers it states that the greater numbers are being produced by the biggest spenders. Philadelphia, Boston and the Yankees annually have high attendance figures because they spend the most in payroll and can produce the better team. So it comes down to a chicken and the egg routine—how can baseball give more to lower income teams in order to bump up the payroll and create fan attendance without pissing off the big boys? Or the players?
The biggest concern late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner had with the lower income teams was that they would take his money and not invest it in their team—that the owners would pocket the money. This angered Big Stein to the point where he fought against the luxury tax unless baseball could ensure the money would be used on the product, and not on month long vacations for the team’s executives. But as much as the Yankees like to think that every dollar they earn is their own, to do with what they wish, they need another team to play against—and preferably a marketable team. After all, how much would Yankee fans be willing to pay to watch an intra-squad game?
This year has been an eye-opener for baseball. With the NFL starting up as usual in September baseball needs pennant races to keep fan interest from switching sports, but this year there won’t be many chases–if any at all. Attendance will be affected. Money will be lost. Changes have to be made.
When the previous agreement was made baseball used the term “baseball’s golden age”. Attendance was climbing—all was well. The luxury tax was introduced simply to keep the Yankees from going hog wild—the luxury tax threshold for 2011 is $178 million. Being a multiple abuser of the threshold the Yankees pay a 40% tax on anything over that figure—this year the Yankees will pay $12 million in tax. A spit in the Yankee bucket
This year the Red Sox will spend $163 million and the Phillies $165 million. Both teams are under the threshold and won’t be taxed but spend more than $20 million than any other team. The threshold needs to drop significantly beginning next year. This is an issue the owners must solve themselves before presenting to the players. Can they convince the big boys that a threshold of $150 million or less is needed to protect the game?
And then can they convince the players of the same?
…There seems to be a separation of powers going on in the NFL as well. Pre-season prognostications from various sources are elevating the same teams into championship calibre. It looks as if the AFC has three definite Super Bowl contenders—Steelers, Jets and Patriots, while the NFC has three of their own—Packers, Eagles, and Falcons. My pick is Packers over the Patriots.
…The Blue Jays continue to deny that Adeiny Hechavarria will be moving to second base but signing Yunel Escobar to an extension locks up the position so unless Hechavarria is traded he will have to be moved to a new position. The Jays can have a veteran as a safety net to assist him while he settles in. And with the solid line-up the Jays can hide him at the bottom of the order.
…The trade of Aaron Hill and John McDonald for Kelly Johnson is confusing. Moving Hill isn’t so bad but the acquisition of Johnson is a head scratcher. Johnson is a free agent after the season, as Hill would have been once the Jays relinquished club options, so the move doesn’t help the club going forward. Unless the Jays believe Johnson is a perfect complement for Hechavarria and think they can sign him in the off-season.
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