With an easy 8-1 win over the Cubs on Saturday night, the Cardinals claimed their 50th victory in 74 games. As MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch notes, they’re the quickest to 50 wins since the 2005 world champion White Sox, when they started out 50-22.
Other relevant notes, per Langosch: in the last 50 years, only 18 teams have reached 50 wins before losing their 25th game. Of those 17 teams (excluding this year’s Cardinals, of course), four won it all: the ’05 White Sox, the 1998 Yankees, the ’86 Mets, and the ’84 Tigers. 13 of those 17 teams reached 100-plus wins. Only two of them failed to reach the playoffs.
The Cardinals currently own an eight-game lead over the second-place Pirates, by far the largest lead in any of the six divisions. All this, despite losing Adam Wainwright, Matt Adams, and Matt Holliday to injuries.
Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Cubs, Red Sox, and Yankees exceeded the competitive balance tax (more colloquially known as the luxury tax) threshold for the 2019 season, set at $206 million. It will rise to $208 million for the 2020 season and $210 million in 2021.
Teams that exceed the CBT threshold pay a penalty on the overage, which is compounded depending on how consistently they have exceeded the threshold. The base penalty is 20 percent. If a team has exceeded it in a second consecutive year, the penalty rises to 30 percent. Three or more consecutive seasons yields a 50 percent tax on the overage. Furthermore, teams that exceed the CBT threshold by $20-40 million see an additional 12 percent tax. Above $40 million brings a 42.5 percent penalty which rises to 45 percent if the team exceeds the CBT by more than $40 million in a consecutive year.
The luxury tax has acted as a de facto salary cap. Front offices typically have gone out of their way not to exceed it, especially in recent years. The Cubs, Red Sox, and Yankees are each widely believed to be looking to stay below $208 million in 2020.
In pursuit of payroll efficiency, the Cubs are believed to be willing to listen to offers for catcher Willson Contreras, third baseman Kris Bryant, outfielders Kyle Scharber, Albert Almora, and Ian Happ, as well as pitcher José Quintana. The Red Sox are believed to be pursuing trades of outfielder Mookie Betts and/or J.D. Martinez. Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is also believed to be available. The Yankees, meanwhile, haven’t been linked to any of the top free agents. Accounting for projected arbitration salaries, their current 25-man roster is above $190 million already.
As we have been discussing the ongoing labor tension in baseball lately, one wonders if the CBT threshold might also be changed within the next collective bargaining agreement. It has served ownership well, giving them something to point at as a reason not to invest as much into putting together a competitive and entertaining product for fans.