MLB Needs a Salary Cap, Half Measures Won’t Work

8-19-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Ahh CBA time.

Time for relentless leaks of proposals meant to get a reaction from one side. Sometimes to get fans to react. Everyone wants to be right, everyone wants to be seen as the downtrodden.

MLB proposed a salary minimum of $100 million funded by new tax on teams spending $180 million.

I’m not going to waste much time on this. It’s a faux cap, and worse, it’s essentially something that will create European style soccer relegation. It basically just creates a new zero.

This won’t happen, and even if it did, it wouldn’t fix the problem.

Some of you in this market see that salary minimum and get all excited and think Nutting will get his or he’ll sell the team. If you think that’s what this is all about, stop right here and pretend this is your plan. I’d caution you though the funding mechanism is quite literally built on the ability and willingness to ignore the faux cap.

I feel like I’ve written about the need for a salary cap so many times nobody could possibly want to see it again, but many have asked me to, and this can’t be ignored, more than anything, nothing short will truly fix the game.

What’s Broken Really

First of all, it’s not the Dodgers. Most people will simplify it to one team being able to spend that much money but they’re following the rules. They’ll pay the luxury tax they owe, and they can’t have 30 players on their roster or something. I don’t blame them one bit.

You can do all the creative math you want to illustrate that every team could spend whatever, but it’s simply nowhere near equitable. You can talk about how much more Bob Nutting could spend, and you’d be right. What you can’t do however is fool anyone into thinking a team like Pittsburgh could survive one season of going over the Luxury Tax threshold, even if you believe they could get there in the first place.

Could they get there though? Sure. Go find me a bunch of players who want one year 25 million dollar contracts, because they certainly couldn’t sustain it for two years. Oh you’d find them, Kevin Pillar would love to take 20 mil for a season. I’m sure once the payroll is up there they’ll be in the series.

Oh the Dodgers develop better. Sure do. They also get to hide any failures they do have and more than that, when they develop someone, they get to pay him 25 million per over 8 years. If they’re wrong about that player they can afford to just cut him and move on. Places like Baltimore spend a decade recovering from trying and signing one bad player.

The Pirates swing and miss on a couple first round picks like Cole Tucker and Will Craig and set the organization back for a decade. LA misses on a couple first rounders and they just trade someone young and good for Mookie Betts and an aging star pitcher they don’t need.

Have a hole, trade one of your highly developed prospects you don’t need for someone else’s star who might not even play every night for you.

This is all about local TV money, and it’s not something that even has potential to equal itself out. In other words, Baltimore can’t reasonably be expected to get a TV deal in the galactic neighborhood of LA or NY. Tampa can’t either, nobody said you couldn’t find a way to live with it, but they have next to no allegiance to their market and fans reward this first place team with 5,000 member attendance figures on the reg.

The League talks about expanding, but talent is already spread thin (you know, some teams can afford to have David Price in their bullpen), and markets who could actually compete are even thinner.

What’s the Fix?

A real salary cap SYSTEM. A hard cap SYSTEM. Why stress system? Because any one of the three components alone is a failure. Any two of them are a failure.

Set it wherever you like. 200 Mil, fine. 215? That’s fine too.

Resist the urge to tell me there needs to be a floor. These things literally don’t come without one. This is the insurance that the revenue sharing dollars are going back in. The spread from top to bottom can’t be more than 20-25 million.

It’s a balance. All three work in tandem.

Let’s see, what else do you guys say to me all the time? Oh, I know, parity. Parity already exists because it’s not like the Dodgers or Yankees win every year, in fact they rarely do. Right. They don’t, once you get into the playoffs anything can happen. Some teams don’t have to tear down to the studs every ten years for a 3-4 year window that gets them a ticket to the dance. Oh and that’s if there isn’t a misstep, see Tucker and Craig.

Right now Cody Bellinger is a comparable baseball player to Gregory Polanco. Bellinger makes 16.1 million and Polanco makes 11.6. Which team is hurt more? The inequity shows up for most people in the final salary figures, but the reality of the situation is that it shows up in every decision made by these teams.

It keeps some from giving a guy that extra year or two to close a deal because they can’t risk having the player be a paperweight in his age 37 season.

If you can’t see the need, you don’t want to.

The Hard Cap keeps the talent base balanced. The Hard Floor keeps teams from hording money that was shared in good faith. And finally the sharing makes it possible for every team.

At the end of the day, everyone makes more money because markets that don’t ever compete can and markets that already do still can.

The Players Will Never Agree

Right. It’s 100% true.

This has always been and always will be about the owners. If they want a cap, we’ll have a cap. I’ll explain that a bit more but first let’s take the real news from this leak, the league (aka owners) are finally acknowledging there is a problem. Now that doesn’t mean enough of them agree on the proper way to fix it, or that they possess the will to get it done, but simply proposing something like this at least acknowledges there is a problem here and to have it reach this point, it’s not just the small market teams who see it.

Now, this isn’t going to be some proposal where the players are happy and sign on. You can tell them to look at the NFL and how much Patrick Mahomes makes but it won’t matter. At the end of the day, they’ll see it as artificially controlling salaries. The amazing thing about pro sports is how the unions convince 99% of the players to keep things cool for the 1% who get those top end rates.

If the owners want to institute a salary cap system the only ones who need to agree are them. Build it out so it makes economic sense for everyone just like every other professional sport has (although the NBA has one that stopped short) and lock the players out.

This might cost you a season, but in the long run it will save the game, and help it grow.

The players aren’t going to accept the leaked proposal, they’ll see it just the same as the actual cap I just put forward. Now knowing you’d have to lock them out to get it done, it certainly can’t be for some fake fix to the problem.

You Just Want the Pirates to Win!


This isn’t a guarantee in any way.

Look at the NHL. Loads of teams that can’t get out of their own way. A salary cap doesn’t make a team good at doing the work. What it does is make every team in the league capable of cultivating a star and keeping him.

In other words, this isn’t solely to see one team do better. It’s because competition should be based on organizational excellence rather than demographic advantage. A smart GM should be limited by his or her own skill set, not hamstrung by his ability to stretch a dollar.

This agreement needs to fix a ton more than the economic system in MLB. They need to find a better way to compensate minor league players and they need to deal with the amount of time players are tied to a team after debuting. These are changes that can’t be done without a system that makes it possible. See as much as you admire the Rays for working under this system, take away a year or two of control over young players and it all crumbles like a house of cards.

There is a very real need to make MLB a more viable option for young athletes. This is key for expanding the game and it’s key for players to be able to believe they won’t eat PB&J for 4 years and sleep in their car just for a shot that after another 5 years they could really get paid somewhere. Again, wanting a salary cap isn’t about screwing the players, it’s about improving opportunity by providing more landing spots and potentially making the path less punishing.

What this is about is that in a real league that actually has equity, your complaints about Bob Nutting should be more about his hiring abilities than his wallet.

Is it Going to Happen?

Probably not. The stomach for shutting down a league that just went through losing an entire season for the most part I just can’t imagine being that strong. But if the players come to the table looking for a bigger piece of the pie (having virtually no clue how big the pie is with closed books) it could happen.

A strike or threat of a strike won’t scare anyone in the league, they’d love this to be the player’s fault. But a strike also won’t solve the problem. A lock out on the other hand would set the table.

If it doesn’t happen, I expect a bunch of placating moves. Expanded playoffs to get the small to mid market teams to shut up and be happy with a chance that .500 gets you a playoff appearance to sell to your market. A year less control on young players. Things like that.

The problems won’t go away, they’ll just shift.

If you want real change, I’m afraid it doesn’t come without giving up something we all love for a while. If that’s not a price you’re willing to pay, stop pretending you want a cap, cause it isn’t gonna happen without it.

I’m going to go forward covering this team one way or another, and I believe what they’re trying to do is the best path under this system, but man it’d be nice to believe a team like Pittsburgh or Baltimore was on the same competitive level as every other team instead of waiting and praying for the stars to align.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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