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.

Yoenis Cespedes says he does not plan to opt out of his contract

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 04: Yoenis Cespedes #52 of the New York Mets reacts after he hit a two run double in the eighth inning inning against the Miami Marlins during a game at Citi Field on July 4, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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Yoenis Cespedes is in the first year of a three-year, $75 million deal with the Mets that includes an opt-out clause leading into 2017. It’s a great situation for him. If he was hurt or ineffective this year, hey, he still gets $75 million. If he rakes he can go back out on the free agent market this November and see if he can’t do better than the two years and $50 million he’ll have left.

Cespedes said today, however, that he does not plan to exercise his opt-out this winter:

Speaking through an interpreter, Cespedes stayed on message, saying his focus is on “helping the team win so we can hopefully make it to the playoffs.”

When asked by The Record’s Matt Ehalt if he intended to honor all three years of his current $75 million contract, without opting out, Cespedes flatly said, “Yes.”

The beautiful thing about baseball contracts is that the Bergen Record is not a party to them and thus statements made to them about the contract are not legally binding. Cespedes can most certainly change his mind on the matter — or just lie to the press even if he fully intends to opt-out — and nothing can be done to him. At least nothing apart from having someone write bad things about him, but that’s gonna happen anyway. The guy can’t play golf without someone who has no idea how to Cespedes’ job say that he “just doesn’t get it.”

So, will Cespedes opt-out? He’s certainly making a case that it’d be a wise thing to do purely on financial terms. He’s hitting .295/.365/.570 with 25 homers in 98 games. And those numbers are dragged down a bit by the fact that the Mets kept playing him through an injury for the second half of July.

Maybe Cespedes just likes New York and maybe he’s happy with his two-year, $50 million guarantee and won’t opt out. Maybe he doesn’t want to deal with the drama and uncertainty of free agency again, even if he would have no trouble finding a job. Maybe he thinks that he’ll fall short of the $25 million average annual value he’s looking at for 2017 and 2018 if he opts out, even if he does get a longer deal as a result.

We have no idea and we have no say. But it’s not hard to imagine that, if he keeps hitting and especially if he helps the Mets get into the playoffs, he’d be leaving a ton of money on the table if he doesn’t test the market once again.

Oakland A’s officials taking a tour of a possible waterfront ballpark site

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 19:  A Maersk Line container ship sits docked in a berth  at the Port of Oakland on February 19, 2015 in Oakland, California. International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) longshoremen at the Port of Oakland took the day shift off today to attend a union meeting amidst ongoing contract negotiations between dockworkers and terminal operators at west coast ports. The port closure, the seventh one this month, has left 12 container ships stuck at the dock with no workers to load and unload them. The ILWU members at 29 West Coast ports have been without a contract for 9 months. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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The Oakland Athletics’ ballpark saga has gone on for years now, with false starts in Fremont and San Jose, lawsuits and seemingly interminable talks with the City of Oakland over a new place on the current Coliseum site. That’s all complicated, of course, by the presence of the Raiders, on whose address — be it Oakland, Las Vegas or someplace else — the A’s future is still largely contingent.

The city has tried to get the A’s interested in a waterfront site for several years now. There are a lot of problems with that due mostly to zoning and regulatory matters, as well as proximity to transit and other practical concerns. The artist’s renderings are often pretty, but it takes more than artist’s renderings to make a good ballpark plan.

But no one is giving up on that and, it seems, even the A’s are willing to at least listen to such proposals now:

Oakland A’s co-owner John Fisher is expected to join officials Thursday for a hush-hush tour of the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal, a cargo-loading area near Jack London Square that Mayor Libby Schaaf tirelessly promotes as “a fantastic site for a ballpark.”

Guess it ain’t so “hush-hush” anymore. As with all Oakland ballpark stories, however, feel free to continue snoozing until someone gives us a real reason to wake up.

Note: The above photo is from the Port of Oakland. I have no idea what the proximity of the working part of the city’s port is to where they’d build a ballpark, but I used this picture because I love the story about how George Lucas spotted those things from an airplane as he was leaving Oakland or San Francisco or whatever and used them as inspiration for the AT-AT Imperial Walkers in “Empire Strikes Back.” Which may be a totally aprocyphal story, but one I love so much that I told it to my kids when we flew in to Oakland back in June and will choose to believe despite whatever evidence you provide.