3-2-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
Since MLB locked out the players I’ve said something repeatedly.
If you cost me one game, you better make it count.
Well, they’ve cost us games, and yes, now I’m moving the goal posts.
I’d have been underwhelmed if MLB signed what was on the table yesterday, but I’d have been ok with it too. Status quo isn’t going to fix what ails this game, even with variations built in, but if it was done and cost fans no games, I was prepared to accept it and move on. Even as I know the issues that created all this contentiousness in the first place still exist. Even if I knew we’d simply be talking about the exact same issues in 5 years, I’d have swallowed it and moved into the season willing to accept the will wasn’t there and imbalanced baseball is better than no baseball.
Point is, now you better make something better.
This has already and will surely lose some fans as it is. So even if the best case scenario at this point plays out and they meet in the middle on everything left up for grabs, now you’re looking at a system that’s even worse for teams like Pittsburgh, and that certainly isn’t going to win fans back to the game.
Look, despite what you see on the never ending virtue signalling box we call social media, there simply aren’t a lot of fans who are going to tune in because those players finally got more money. I’m making no statement here about what they deserve, who’s right or wrong, I’m just stating a fact, none of the increased payroll across the league is going to sell one ticket. Especially as designed by the players themselves. Add to the CBT threshold and the few teams that can fathom touching it will simply continue to sell the same tickets they always did, and their TV deals will still bring in what they bring in.
Nobody is going to turn a game on Thursday night because that rookie now makes 700K instead of 535K.
I stress again, it’s not about right and wrong, it’s about actually fixing what’s wrong with the game. You know, the quiet part that up until yesterday I’d never seen uttered by an MLB executive.
You could tell he almost thought better of it too if you were watching.
To me, there still must be a few in between steps before MLB would consider trying for the nuclear option. Much of this lockout was spent laying down elements of a legal argument though, even if many didn’t catch on. Specific words like “Last, Best Offer”. Proposals like a floor and lower tax threshold that packed additional revenue sharing mechanisms, even when quickly pulled off the table were part of an effort to illustrate that they listened and pulled it, even if they wanted it. It was more about getting the formal proposal on the record than achieving it.
5 million dollar incremental creeping toward the other side shows a willingness to compromise, which also will help when mediation eventually takes place. On and on.
When I say make something better I mean measurably better. I can already hear two things before I even finish this piece. “They aren’t going to get a cap, don’t say it!” and “A cap system is what they need to do!”
I get it, and I think I’ve made my feelings very clear on what path I think the game should take. I still don’t think they have the fortitude to go after it though, so let’s talk about some things MLB could potentially try to solve this impasse, and yes, I’ll call it that even if Rob Manfred isn’t ready to use the word in a legal sense. Specifically what I think could get a deal done, and potentially make the Pirates lot in life a bit better.
The players want it increased drastically and they want it increased because if they’re honest they know a few teams would spend more. MLB (well, at least 10-11 teams) want to make sure it doesn’t go up and make the spending gap that much bigger. It also hasn’t increased, not even to a level that keeps up with inflation. And I mean normal inflation not where we are right now.
I raise it. I raise it to 245 million. I leave the penalties right where they are too. Thing is, the Dodgers already don’t care about it, so it’ll change little for them. Everyone else will just avoid it but it’ll give them a bit more breathing room.
Now, those 10-11 teams aren’t going to take this lying down, in fact that’s why we are where we are. And pretending the tax is going to lead to more spending on the low end is silly. Let me explain why.
When you set your budget at your house, do you plan to spend based on your average paycheck or do you go all Chevy Chase and spend your bonus before you get it? I mean, I know which one smart people do.
If you are dependant on teams making a conscious decision to exceed the threshold in order to fund low spenders, I’m not sure how you expect A. the teams exceeding it to not wake up (in fact, welcome to where we are) or B. the low spenders to count on it as funding they can forecast and use as steady income.
So there must be some kind of mechanism in place that forces more spending on the low end, and more importantly, funds it.
Low End Spending
First of all, the increase in league minimum salary, even if it stays at 700K will bump up the payroll for every team. Even teams who right now are close to the tax threshold will likely now exceed it if it isn’t increased further.
We should also admit, there are several teams that are not spending what they could. That’s an elusive number. You can go by the revenue sharing numbers but right now there is no mechanism to demand where those dollars go. For instance, if the Orioles feel it’s better for them to invest 20 million dollars into training facilities than buying a year of JA Happ (pretending for a moment he’d sign there anyhow) who’s to say they’re wrong? It’s not like Happ is going to put them in the conversation, he’d just raise payroll and maybe give them a few more wins.
To me, this is easily handled by the floor that would typically come with a cap system, but if we really must dance around it, I’d say there has to be some provable mechanism built in that forces 80% of sharing to be spent on payroll, or that dollar figure rolls over into the next year and the percentage increases by whatever amount they fell short in the previous season. So if they spent 70%, next year it will be 90% get it?
If that number gets every team to a payroll of roughly 160, it’s not perfect, but it’s better and I’d argue, for everyone.
Pre-Arbitration Bonus Pool
The owners are at 30 Million, the players are at 100 Million, or 105 Million depending on where it landed. Regardless, this is totally new spending and whether you think it’s right or fair doesn’t really matter, that’s fact. In other words, it doesn’t matter how wrong you think it is that players who come up and win Rookie of the Year don’t get big paydays, it’s still new spending.
Spending that as I understood it would be funded by each team equally funding the pool.
So, let’s say Oneil Cruz comes up and just goes off, wins the Rookie of the Year. The Pirates would pay him his 700K minimum salary and under MLB’s latest proposal he’d also get money from this bonus pool to compensate him for being exceptional. They’d also award him a year of service time which I think you can understand would hurt a team like Pittsburgh.
If this thing was set at 100 Million the pool would cost each team 3.33 Million, at the league’s proposed level it would cost 1 Million per.
Neither of those sound crazy right? The players want this to effect roughly 125 players, the league wants 30. This part confuses me, because I’ll be honest, at 125 I think you’d see players that had precious little real impact wind up making more than some borderline veteran replacement level players. Not sure that’s what you want either.
I’d nix this for a couple reasons. 1, I don’t see it working as they expect. In other words I don’t see it causing teams to call guys up faster if anything because we should always assume a loophole will be exploited, I see it actually leading to more players being held back if only to cause chances of winning ROY to become minimal. If I can keep your at bats down, I’ll take you right out of the conversation. To me this just creates another thing based on trust that won’t be worthy of that feeling.
If they don’t nix it. I say make it 30 million and progressively split it amongst the top 10 Rookie of the Year finalists in each league. Win it and get a 2 million dollar bonus, and so on and so forth. And I’d eliminate the penalty to the team. Maybe a compromise there could be making their last year of arbitration a restricted free agent year. That usually gets more money for the player, and it’d be earlier but not insanely so.
We touched on it a bit up there where I proposed a percentage based approach to spending it, but it’ll need increased and/or the league’s already universally shared funds for streaming and national tv need disproportionally (and I’d add temporarily) distributed in order to fund that spending. Temporarily because over time this number is going to increase and at some point it will become unfair to teams that right now are the fat cats. I’m not looking to save some teams by crippling others, I’m looking for balance.
See what I did there?
I’m sure you do, I basically created a cap system without ever uttering the words. It’s not as aggressive as I’d be if I were simply looking to implement one, that’d be much easier to write up. Players get 50-55% of revenues. Cap and Floor would be no more than 25 million apart. Revenue Sharing would ensure every team could afford it complete with accountability.
Even what Baseball has right now, well, had anyway, was a cap system. A toothless cap system. An ineffective cap system, but a cap system nonetheless.
We get lost thinking this has to be what the NFL does, or what the NHL is doing, but in reality, the world is your oyster.
Start with these principles:
1. Players and owners are partners, both deserve to make money
2. Media markets matter, and payroll disparity creates a constant environment of trying to keep spending down
3. Baseball is unique, the system should be too
I’m not looking for anyone to take this piece and expect it to be implemented, I’m just trying to illustrate that there is room to actually come out of this with a better system for everyone, even if nobody says the words salary cap.
Someone very smart who I worked for years ago taught me something in a meeting one day. I started a sentence with “I hesitate to mention…” and he interrupted me quickly. He said “Gary, never start a sentence with that phrase. It immediately makes me feel you don’t think it’s to be broached”
He’s right, and salary cap has become that for this league. So find a way to create the same effect without the words.
This can be done, and eventually if the league as we know it is to survive, it will. I can think of no better time than when you’ve already cost us games.
Make it count MLB, or we’ll hold you accountable, one way or another.