Anthony Rizzo says teams are treating luxury tax as a salary cap

Anthony Rizzo
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images
31 Comments

First baseman Anthony Rizzo was eager to talk about a labor issue as spring training begins for the Cubs in Arizona. Per Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, the three-time All-Star said of the competitive balance tax (more commonly known as the luxury tax), “I think the luxury tax wasn’t meant to be a salary cap, and teams are treating it like that. Are you sacrificing winning a championship to be under the tax threshold? Who knows? We don’t know that.”

Rizzo’s own team has been concerned with the competitive balance tax threshold, set at $208 million for the 2020 season. They’re currently north of $210 million, which would result in a small tax on the overage of about $2 million. A pittance, really. But the Cubs only signed to free agents to guaranteed major league deals this offseason: outfielder Steven Souza and reliever Jeremy Jeffress. The Cubs won the World Series in 2016, but slid backwards in the years since, losing the NLCS in 2017, the NL Wild Card game in 2018, and missing the playoffs last year.

Rizzo said, “You’ve seen it the last two years with us: We haven’t gone out [and signed big free agents],” Rizzo said. “But the few years before that we’ve gone out and signed megadeals.”

The Red Sox are another team guilty of viewing the CBT threshold as sacrosanct. After winning a championship in 2018, the Red Sox disappointed with a third-place finish last season, resulting in the dismissal of Dave Dombrowski. The club focused on shedding payroll, trading Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers in order to clear about $50 million, dropping their total payroll to under $190 million.

Rizzo noted this, saying to Wittenmyer, “So you see one end of the spectrum, [the Yankees’] signing of the richest deal ever with Gerrit Cole; that’s what the Yankees do as long as I’ve been alive. And on the other end, trading away [Betts] to shed payroll when you have a team that just won a World Series. It’s weird.”

The CBT is not as complicated as it seems. Each year, a threshold is set as per the collective bargaining agreement. Last year was $206 million, this year is $208 million, next year is $210 million. Teams that exceed the threshold for the first time pay a penalty, but only on the overage. Teams exceeding the penalty in consecutive years pay increasingly more expensive penalties. Teams that exceed the CBT threshold by a lot also pay a surtax. Specifically, it’s broken down like this:

  • Exceeding CBT threshold frequency
    • Once: 20 percent tax on overage
    • Two consecutive seasons: 30 percent tax
    • Three consecutive seasons:  50 percent tax
  • Exceed CBT threshold amount
    • $20-40 million: 12 percent surtax
    • More than $40 million once: 42.5 percent surtax, Rule 4 Draft pick moved back 10 places
    • More than $40 million two or more consecutive seasons: 45 percent surtax, Rule 4 Draft pick moved back 10 places

Keeping in mind that every team is worth over $1 billion, even the penalties for being a habitual CBT offender are a relative pittance. The Red Sox are the third-most valuable franchise in baseball at $3.2 billion, according to Forbes. The Cubs are fourth at $3.1 billion. It’s more complicated than this, as that value is not entirely liquid, but the teams that have self-imposed austerity measures are not exactly scrounging around the couch cushions for quarters to help keep the lights on.

Rizzo is right that teams are treating the CBT as a salary cap. The penalty for going over is, for the most part, the price of a modest free agent reliever. But front offices have held the CBT threshold as sacrosanct despite the league setting year-over-year revenue records. With so many avenues for revenues to come in, teams do not need to build a championship-caliber club in order to be profitable. Thus, they can point to the CBT threshold and shrug their shoulders as they slash payroll, maximizing profits in the process. The results have been a stagnant free agent market for baseball’s middle class, unnecessary wholesale rebuilding efforts, and a degradation of the on-field product.

Rizzo said, “How much this game is making, it’s not [out of line] for us players to speak up. There’s billions, and then there’s millions. There’s a big difference between the ‘b’ and the ‘m’.”

Rizzo is one of a growing number of players now conscious of baseball’s labor landscape. The players made concessions in order to get largely superficial gains in the last CBA like travel accomodations. The owners rejoiced as they gained even more control over the sport as a result. The players have since recognized their error. I have been writing about baseball for nearly 13 years and this is the most labor-conscious I have seen the players. Greed and overreach on the part of ownership may be their undoing. One imagines the competitive balance tax and other labor-unfriendly rules are not long for this world after December 1, 2021, when the current CBA expires.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

atlanta braves
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images
7 Comments

ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.