Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Baseball’s Bigger Problem NOT Rooted in NY

The Yankees won another game of Monopoly this offseason, signing Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Andy Pettitte to upwards of $71.5 million for 2009. The Yankees did pass GO; the Yankees did collect 200 (million) dollars in payroll and luxury tax penalties for 2009.

Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner brothers bought up Park Place and Broadway (which ironically surround the ‘luxury tax’ space on the monopoly board), and are now able to sit back and collect a bounty of countless millions in profit.

This expression of power and wealth has predictably formed a tidal wave of anger and frustration among every other ownership group in baseball. Some are even calling for at least a soft salary cap.

I will make it perfectly clear that I completely agree that the Yankees throwing around dollar bills like a drunken sailor at a strip club is ludicrous. However, they do not represent the true problem within Major League Baseball.

The “small market” teams across the league have been pocketing the Yankees and Red Sox’s millions for many years, beginning with the implementation of revenue sharing and luxury tax programs.

Small market teams have also greatly benefited from the Yankees’ shared memorabilia sales, as well as extreme increases in attendance during Yankees’ road trips.

Intended to help level the playing field, and allow teams to sign and keep their young talent, these programs have been exploited by certain owners to fatten their own wallets.

A perfect example is a team like the Minnesota Twins, who were previously run by Carl Pohlad (RIP). This was a man whose net worth was 2.5 times larger than George Steinbrenner’s.

Instead of using this wealth to his advantage, Pohlad refused to open his wallet. He instead elected to allow key players to walk in free agency, or to be traded for a bevy of prospects.

He also ignored the team’s needs in years when ONE key addition could have made the difference in achieving a World Series Championship.

Another small market team, the Florida Marlins, put most of their roster on sale in the last six months. They deport their established young talent like immigrants with expired green cards, depending on other team’s prospects to become stars for them. At which point, they will simply perpetuate the cycle instead of locking these players up long-term.

The Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays, and Washington Nationals are proving to be the exceptions to the problem, and are showing that the programs can work if teams use them correctly.

Although not monumental signings, the Royals did spend almost $65 million for Gil Meche and Kyle Farnsworth in free agency over the last year, making clear efforts to improve. They went on to recently extend Zach Greinke, a rising young star in their rotation, to a four-year contract worth $38 million.

The Rays were able to lock up Evan Longoria to a long-term deal, and inked World Series adversary Pat Burrell to a two-year deal. Before signing Burrell, they entertained adding veteran Jason Giambi to their youthful lineup. Tampa also showed a commitment to making a significant playoff run by adding payroll at the deadline last season.

Finally, the Nationals put together a monstrous package for Teixeira’s services that would have paid an annual salary equal to nearly half of their total payroll from 2008. Although clearly aided by a new ballpark, the programs also assisted these plans.

We all know that the Yankees are in their own financial universe, and rival fans love to refer to them as the ‘Evil Empire.’ They could make Bill Gates feel broke.

The issue here is that the Yankees are being blamed for a perceived lack of parity that does not exist.

There have been 7 different champions in the 8 seasons since the Yankees last title. The Astros, Rays, Marlins, Rockies, and Diamondbacks have made the World Series during this span. All of these teams are considered in the lower tier of MLB budgets.

A ‘hard’ salary cap will never get past the player’s association, so you are better off saving your prayers for a playoff system in college football. The extra draft picks and revenues passed down from big to small market teams are the key to creating parity in today’s game.

Run your team correctly, and you will reach the top of your sport. Spend the filtered down money you never even earned, and keep your young stars. Accept that you aren’t the Yankees…but maybe, just maybe…you can become the Rays one day.

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