Salary caps make poorer teams worse off

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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.

The Phillies plan to spend money and “maybe even be a little bit stupid about it”

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In an age in which even baseball’s richest teams talk about tight budgets and keeping payroll low, it’s pretty rare to hear anyone connected with a front office talking about freely spending money. Phillies owner John Middleton, however, offered up something rare about the team’s approach to free agency.

“We’re going into this expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it,” he told Bob Nightengale or USA Today. He then added, “we just prefer not to be completely stupid.” That save aside, it was a pretty unusual sentiment these days.

“Stupid” could certainly mean Bryce Harper, who the Phillies have long been expected to pursue. It could even mean Harper and Manny Machado. Why not? At the moment the Phillies’ payroll for 2019 is looking to be just a shade above $100 million, so even adding, say, $70 million to that would not put them in an unreasonable position compared to other competitors. And that’s before you figure in any sort of back-loading or deferred money that Harper and/or Machado might agree to.

Or, even if they didn’t get one or both of those guys, they could spend that same kind of money on multiple free agents. Patrick Corbin? Marwin Gonzalez? A handful of others? We counted down the top 100 free agents last week and any number of them could be acquired given the sort of payroll flexibility a large market team like the Phillies appear to have. It merely requires the will to do it. A will which, it seems, John Middleton possesses.

How novel.