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Fitz: Baseball has a money problem that needs to be addressed

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Baseball is a terrific game. It’s difficult to play, yet wonderful to watch. It’s full of history, strategy, thoughtful, patient, occasionally exhilarating and fun to follow for months.

But the business of baseball is completely idiotic. Particularly in comparison to the other three major sports. Football has a hard salary cap of $156 million; all 32 teams can spend up to the same amount. Green Bay can compete with New York. They pool all the TV money and divide it evenly amongst the clubs. It is our most popular sport.

The NBA has a salary cap (with exceptions that allow teams to exceed this number) of $94 million and a floor that teams must spend at least $85 million. The Warriors, Lakers, Knicks all compete by the exact same rules. San Antonio is working on a 20 year run of greatness. Minnesota and Utah are the next teams on the rise chasing the Warriors. Drafting, salary management, development of players are key to success.

Hockey is the same as football. $71 million hard salary cap. San Jose can play Pittsburgh for the Stanley Cup. Draft picks, developing players and managing payroll are key to being good year in and year out.

But baseball has a system that makes zero sense. The Dodgers have a payroll of $261 million while Tampa has a payroll of $69 million? And this is the same sport? A level playing field? Fairness? Competition? Please.

Here is a look at some of the bigger disparities in the league:

1          Los Angeles Dodgers                          $261,746,454

2          New York Yankees                              $223,712,528

3          Boston Red Sox                                  $212,996,160

28        Miami Marlins                                      $77,895,620

29        Milwaukee Brewers                             $74,381,336

30        Tampa Bay Rays                                 $69,743,072

At the beginning of the year, anyone with a brain knew that there might be seven teams competing for five playoff spots in the National League: the Giants, Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates, Nationals and Mets. The Marlins have replaced the Pirates but there really isn’t any playoff “race.” Eight of the teams in the league are terrible, chose to be terrible and their payrolls at the beginning of the year gave a clear indication they would be terrible. And at Monday’s trade deadline, the terrible teams gave away any decent players of value for the hope of more “prospects” down the road.

The top 12 payrolls feature 10 of the playoff contenders. Only Cleveland is a legitimate postseason threat from the non-monied teams. Take a team like the Giants with the 7th highest payroll. Big spenders get an advantage in free agency (i.e. Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzjia, Denard Span), the ability to retain their own players (Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford) and then get to cherry-pick the garbage teams each year at mid-season with the trade deadline (Eduardo Núñez, Will Smith, Matt Moore). Sure, this is great for the Giants, but it makes baseball the dumbest of all major sports.

Allow me to let you in on reality. If any prospects become good players, they will be leaving as free agents for the teams with money as soon as they can. You may have a Kansas City aberration every once in a while, but there will never be any sustainability of good play from the weaker financial teams for any length of time. How are the Royals doing this year anyway? How many players have they lost to economics the over the past two seasons? (hint: one, among many, is pitching for the Giants).

This reached absurdity when Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers was traded. He is a 30 year old All-Star catcher, a difficult position to find anyone of talent, under contract next year for only $5 million and the Brewers dump him. Does Milwaukee even belong in the major leagues? Do their fans have any hope for a better future? Can they ever be Green Bay or San Antonio with this current system? Nope.

If you add up the entire payroll for all baseball teams and divide by 30, the “average” payroll should be $130 million per team. It’s very simple to make baseball relevant again: a salary cap of $150 million and a salary floor of $110 million. Limit the high end teams from just outspending their opponents; force the miserly teams to get into the game and make their rosters competitive. Players would make more money in this system than they do currently. Front office acumen for drafting, developing and properly paying players would decide the quality teams. And baseball would stop being a regional sport where only a third of the teams should be playing the season in the first place.

Baseball needs to fix its economic disparity immediately. It has the oldest fan base of the major sports, declining playoff ratings and general disinterest in the sport from an entire youthful generation. These should be alarm bells for the stewards of the sport. Toss in the stupidity of playing 162 games ending with a one-game playoff and then a best-of-five playoff round and the postseason format is just as ridiculous as the salary system in the sport. The game is tremendous in so many ways, but the business of baseball is an absolute swing and a miss.

 

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