Sep. 26, 2016
The Future of Baseball
The year 2021. Five years from now, Nike could popularize self-tying shoes or Google will develop the self-driving car. The United States of America is certainly going in a good direction and when 2021 comes there shall be even more advancement in technology.
However, in MLB, 2021 might be a year of distaste and conflict between the owners and players.
Wednesday, the MLB owners, and players ratified a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). This CBA will expire in 2021, and can be viewed as a “band aid” to hold labor peace between the two parties. There were many issues that were not addressed including an international draft and the parity in team’s payroll.
In 2016 the Los Angeles Dodgers had the highest Opening Day payroll, $223 million, and the Houston Astros had the lowest, $69 million. That is a difference of $154 million. This is because MLB does not have a salary minimum or maximum that teams can spend on players. MLB is currently the only major North American sports organization without a salary cap or salary minimum.
Because of this parity, team that have the highest payroll like the, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Los Angeles Dodgers, will always have a chance to be competitive and can sign the the top free agents. Therefore, small market teams will end up losing or trading away their best players because they become too expensive.
A perfect example is the Andrew McCutchen trade rumors. McCutchen has two seasons left on his contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates are in the bottom five in payroll in baseball and cannot afford the $20 million salary that McCutchen will command on the open market. This means McCutchen, who is the face of the franchise, will end up leaving in free agency.
Another disadvantage for small market teams is their ability to sign decent pitching in the free agent market. Edinson Volquez, who posted a 4.44 ERA last season, signed a two year, $11 million contract this offseason. For a small market team whose payroll is $80 million, that would be about 14 percent of their payroll, for a below average starting pitcher. That market scheme is just not realistic for small market teams.
The only way small market teams can contend is to build their farm system and develop their own talent in that farm system. This will work for about a three or four year window, but then it is difficult for teams to continue to be competitive since their farm system is being depleted and players leave in free agency. Compared to large market teams that can build their farm system and spend it free agency, small market teams have a huge disadvantage.
Going forward, small market teams will continue to struggle to maintain competitive where large market teams will still be able to sign the top free agents during the new CBA. Therefore, by 2021 MLB could decrease in popularity, especially in smaller markets. Owners will finally realize that the spending gap is not good for the game and fight to eliminate it.