Your annual (erroneous) "baseball needs a salary cap" column

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The venerable Frank Deford writes the same column that has been written
every year since time immemorial
: baseball needs a salary cap if it
wants to stay competitive:

Because baseball begins as life afield is renewed, tra-la, you can
always count on two things this time of year. One: In trees, the sap is
rising. Two: in baseball, the sappiness is rising. Yes: As sure as the
flowers are a-bloomin’ again, every team has a chance. Well, that’s true
in the NFL, the NBA and the NHL, but baseball is more like Dancing With
The Stars. It’s understood from the start that some competitors just
don’t have a prayer.

I’ll grant that mid-market teams are at a disadvantage in signing their
own would-be free agents and I’ll grant that life kind of sucks if
you’re an Orioles or Blue Jays fan, but beyond that Deford’s column is unmitigated hogwash. What baseball teams “don’t have a prayer?”  I’d say Washington, Pittsburgh, Houston, San Diego, Baltimore, Toronto, Cleveland, and Kansas City are it. Every other team could, with a bit of luck, make the playoffs this year.  Now tell me how many NBA teams have a real shot at the title. If you say more than five you’re dreaming.

Baseball may not be optimally-competitive, but the notion that a salary
cap will make it so — or that the leagues with salary caps are more
competitive — is plain wrong.  The NBA has had two teams dominate the
Western Conference for a dozen years despite a salary cap. The Red Wings
don’t seem to be on a level playing field with my Columbus Blue
Jackets. The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts have more AFC championships in the
past decade than the Yankees have AL titles.

The notion that there is
greater parity in football, basketball or hockey than there is in
baseball is a
totally unsupported assertion, and even if there were support for it, the evidence that such parity is due to a salary cap as opposed to, say, the greater significance of injures (i.e. the NFL) or playoff systems in which everyone who doesn’t utterly suck gets invited (NHL and NBA) is a topic that has been wholly unexplored and remains utterly unsubstantiated.  What has been substantiated, however, is the notion that the three other major sports leagues are suffering either serious labor trouble right now, serious economic trouble or both.

There’s an old saying that one should not make the perfect the enemy of the good. Baseball is not perfect, competitively speaking. But it is good. Much better than most people make it out to be and much better, I would argue, than exists in any league with a salary cap. Which, now that I think about it, means that there isn’t any “perfect” out their to begin with, no matter what Frank Deford says.

Magic Johnson says the Dodgers will win the World Series

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Baseball, as we so often note around here, is unpredictable. Especially when it comes to the playoffs. You can be the best team in the land for six months but a few bad days can end your season once October hits.

In 2001 the Seattle Mariners won 116 games in the regular season but lost the ALCS to the Yankees, four games to one. In 1906 the Cubs won 116 games in a 152-game season and lost the World Series. In 1954 the Indians won 111 games in a 154-game season and lost the World Series. In 1931 the Philadelphia A’s won 107 games and lost the World Series.

More recently, with the advent of expanded playoffs, the chances for the team with the best record to win the World Series have been pretty dang terrible. Since the beginning of the wild card era, only five times has the team with the game’s best record gone on to win the World Series: The 1998 and 2009 Yankees, the 2007 and 2013 Red Sox and the 2016 Cubs. That’s it.

At the moment, the Los Angeles Dodgers have baseball’s best record. They’re 71-31 and sit 12 games up in their division. Their playoff chances are almost 100%. The above examples notwithstanding, if you had to make a prediction as to who might win the World Series, it would not be unreasonable to pick the Dodgers. Sure, you’d want to make sure they got Clayton Kershaw back by early September or thereabouts to make it a safer prediction, but it’d be a totally defensible pick. Maybe even the one most people make.

But it’d be the utmost in magical thinking to presume that one could make such a prediction with any degree of certainty, right? The Los Angeles Times, however, passes along some Magical thinking:

Magic Johnson called his shot Thursday night, and he wasn’t shy about it. The Dodgers’ co-owner did not hesitate when he predicted how the team would finish this year.

“The Dodgers are going to win the World Series this year,” Johnson said. “This is our year.”

The headline calls it a “guarantee.” I don’t know if I’d call it that — I think it’s more of a confident prediction — but it is a bold statement whatever you call it.

If I had to pick one team at the moment — and we could assume a healthy Clayton Kershaw — I suppose I would make them my World Series favorites too. And, yes, if I had an ownership interest in the Dodgers, I’d probably say what Johnson said.

But given the example of history, I think “field” would be a much safer bet.

Mariners trade Steve Cishek to the Rays for swingman Erasmo Ramirez.

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The Tampa Bay Rays have acquired reliever Steve Cishek from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for reliever Erasmo Ramirez.

Cishek had appeared in 23 games this season for Seattle after recovering from major offseason hip surgery. He’s 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA, with a 15/7 K/BB ratio in 20 innings. He’s a setup man right now, but he has experience as a closer, saving 25 games for Seattle last year and as many as 39 back when he pitched for the Marlins in 2014.

Ramirez has appeared in 26 games for the Rays and has started eight games. He’s 4-3 with a 4.80 ERA and a 55/16 K/BB ratio in 69.1 innings. This will be his second stint with the Mariners, having played for them from 2012-14.

Sort of a surprising deal given that both Tampa Bay and Seattle are competing for a wild card spot, but needs are needs.