MLBPA Boss Fehr: Don't Expect Salary Cap
In past couple of months, there's been a steadily growing buzz about implementing a salary cap during the next collective bargaining agreement between players and the MLB's 30 owners. The idea of a salary cap has been a common refrain among a number of the league's mid-market owners, but the idea received a renewed push when Red Sox owner John Henry and President Larry Luchino (a longtime Orioles man) endorsed the idea last month.
So, what are the odds of major league baseball finally instituting "cost-certainty" via a salary cap during the next set of negotiations with the players' union? Not too good, if you believe the quotes yesterday from Fehr himself, via MLB.com's Barry Bloom.
"We've been down this road before and we saw where this led us," Fehr said. "We spent an awful lot of time after the strike and again in 2002 and 2006, tying revenue sharing to the competitive balance tax and the free-agency system. It's difficult for me to envision a situation where we'd make a wholesale change in the system. It's nearly impossible for me believe that the players would be in favor of a salary cap."
It's worth noting that negotiations on the next collective bargaining agreement probably won't start until the 2011, so there will be at least a couple more seasons for owners to keep talking up the idea of a salary cap. Still, it seems profoundly unlikely that the idea will gain enough traction to push toward critical mass, which might require another player holdout or strike.
You'd think after the way the last one went, baseball would avoid that kind of nuclear standoff at any cost, and it probably will. Still, there's an equally significant factor that might undercut the idea of a salary cap: Some of the smaller-market owners, who happen to be the people a salary cap would be most designed to help.
Major League Baseball, as currently constructed, has a drastic gap in competitive equity in the free market, a fact made crystal clear nearly every year by the Yankees. While New York's teams can afford to splurge hundreds of millions of dollars on free agents, teams like Kansas City and Pittsburgh often feel obliged to dump their top talent at its apex to avoid having to pay those players the salaries they deserve.
The idea behind the ethicacy of such a system is that, if a team builds from within well enough, it can earn more money through ticket sales, a TV deal and eventually become a "big market" team. There are always going to be geographic flaws in such logic, but there is some underlying truth to the concept.
Yet one of the very owners whose team should be amidst that transition is banging the drum against a salary cap because, essentially, he doesn't want his salary bills to balloon any more than they already have.
Who's that mystery man? Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg. Here's what he told the Tampa Tribune's Marc Lancaster last month:
"I don't know if it would help us. I'm not a believer in a salary cap. I believe in a salary structure, and unfortunately the word 'cap' has got a connotation to it. You cap salaries, that's great. But if there's a minimum, I can't afford to run my business. So then you have to share more revenue, but teams don't want to share more revenue. If we think about it, not about money but about competition, I think we could come up with the right answers."
More revenue sharing? That's not going to fly. So, is Sternberg really saying that the floor of a salary cap would be too expensive for the reigning AL champions to afford? It seems like he is, just as the Rockies might have made the same claim a year prior while holding the NL pennant.
It's all part of the strange oligarchical demographics of baseball's ownership groups. The question now is which strain of thought will win out. What do people think? Will we see a salary cap in the next collective bargaining agreement? Should we? Would it be good for game or just slow teams' development?
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