Put a Cap on Our National Pastime?
Issue 9, Volume 113
As the MLB offseason comes to a close, the differences in teams’ payrolls are starker than ever before. For most professional sports, the offseason is the time for teams to sign free agents and make trades with other teams. In that respect, baseball is no exception, but the contracts for players look very different. In the NFL, the projected salary cap for 2023 is about $225 million, which means that a team cannot pay its players more than $225 million combined. That number might sound like a lot, but in baseball, the largest projected payroll is that of the New York Mets at $384 million. The reason that the Mets’ payroll is so high is that the MLB does not have a formal salary cap. It only has a luxury tax.
The luxury tax was established in 2002. It ensures that a figure is set every year and that any team whose payroll exceeds that figure has to pay a percentage of the excess money. That percentage is dependent on how far over the figure the team goes. The 2023 luxury tax was set at $233 million, so the Mets are $151 million over. As it stands, when taking into account the tax, the Mets will be paying $495 million dollars this season. The previous record was less than $350 million. The New York Yankees will also likely be paying a significant amount in luxury tax, along with the Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres, and Los Angeles Dodgers.
On the other end of the spectrum are teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Oakland A’s. The Pirates will go into 2023 with a payroll of $58.2 million. The A’s have one worth $49.5 million. The Mets spent more on a single deal than the Pirates have spent since 2010.
Evidently, there is a huge disparity between the top and bottom ends of the league, but is that disparity a problem for baseball as a sport? On one hand, payroll size is not automatically equal to a World Series ring. On the other, having the money to pay the best players can make a huge difference. Should there be a salary cap implemented in order to level the playing field?
One argument against a salary cap is that the owners are all billionaires who could spend just as much on their teams if they wanted. The A’s are owned by John Fisher, who is worth $2.2 billion. His team is valued by Forbes at $1.18 billion. He could easily spend more to get a few star players. It is true that Mets owner Steve Cohen is worth $16 billion, but if Fisher wanted to put winning first, he could.
A salary cap would potentially stop large-market teams from signing all the best players and effectively buying the World Series. However, the Mets haven’t won since 1986, while smaller market teams like the Houston Astros and the Kansas City Royals (the latter of which beat the Mets in the World Series in 2015) have. Still, many of the big-market teams make it to the playoffs year after year, even if they don’t make it all the way.
Many of the fans who are pushing for a salary cap are doing so in the hopes that it will make the game fairer for small-market teams, but in truth, it doesn’t need to be. Baseball hasn’t had a repeat winner since the 1999 and 2000 Yankees. In the NBA, three teams have gone back to back, and in the NHL, two have. Only nine MLB teams have not made it to the playoffs in the last five seasons. The only thing that a salary cap would accomplish is the reduction of players’ salaries. While some argue that a salary cap would help level the playing field, the playing field doesn’t need leveling, and even if it did, a salary cap wouldn’t be the solution.