Practically speaking, the idea of a salary cap in baseball is dead. Deader than vaudeville. It blew up the game in 1994-95, and the owners and Selig blinked rather than try it again in 2002. Since then the money has been flowing, competitive balance has been better than most people will admit, and the owners seem to have very little desire to fight that fight again. It’s not going to happen.
But that won’t stop some people from calling out for it. Every time the Yankees sign someone people scream salary cap. Every time a homegrown star leaves a small market team they do the same. I can assure you, I get at least one comment or email a week from someone that contains a sentiment akin to “. . . this will continue to be a problem until baseball has a salary cap.” Otherwise smart people claim to shun baseball based on it not having one. From what I can gather, the thought process goes “Football popular. Football have salary cap. Baseball have salary cap too or me no like baseball.”
But guess what: the salary cap doesn’t help. To the contrary, they have made matters worse. That according to Matt Ozanian of Forbes, who has studied the matter and reports that salary caps have “served to make high-revenue teams enormously profitable and low-revenue teams unprofitable, or marginally so, relative to their rivals. The growing distortion in profitability has resulted in a bigger gap in team values.” The rich get richer? Wasn’t that supposed to be the problem salary caps designed to solve, not the outcome they sought to promote?
But even they weren’t bad ideas economically speaking — which they certainly are — they’re awful from an aesthetic perspective as well. They insert unsightly, unwieldy, and downright complicated concepts like “franchise tags” and “expiring contracts” into the sporting discourse. Sure, that stuff is comprehensible — every team can hire a cap guru if they felt the need and most of us could get our heads around caponomics if we had to — but it’s just depressing business. One team trading its dead weight to another team is simply dreary. I mean, we hate it now when some teams make great efforts to acquire all the best players. How would we feel about it if they spent a lot of time trying to get the worst, most overpaid ones? Blah.
Anyway, I know some of you have been brainwashed into thinking that salary caps = fairness and parity. If you have, please take a closer look at the linked article and the NFL, NBA and NHL as a whole and ask yourself if their systems really make things better than baseball’s admittedly imperfect system.