The Issue is the Gap, Not a Cap

3-10-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Baseball is deadlocked in a pissing match, and I have to be honest, the winner won’t make a lick of difference for 75% of teams in the league. Sometimes a win on paper never makes its way to reality, and that’s exactly what it appears the players are fighting for while the owners protect an indefensible stronghold.

The CBT threshold is the defacto ceiling for MLB spending. It really doesn’t matter what the league intended it to be. I say that because if you like to believe the worst about the owners, you believe they intended this to be a soft salary cap, and if you don’t, you believe they wanted it to be a funding mechanism for small to mid market spenders. Essentially you’d have to believe the league thought multiple teams would blow right past the barrier willfully and hand buckets of free cash to the have nots.

Either way, there’s no denying what it’s come to be. A soft salary cap that few teams are willing to pay the penalty for crossing and even fewer are capable of reaching.

While I watch the players fight to get the threshold increased I can’t help but point out, it isn’t going to help. Make it 230, 240, hell, make it 300 million, and it simply isn’t going to change much.

The Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Giants, Angels, Rangers, Phillies, Mets, Dodgers, and Padres could all approach it, and I think they’ve fairly proven no more than one or two will actually exceed it. So, the Players aren’t really fighting for much here. Let’s say the owners give in and give the players that 268 figure they keep tossing around, on paper that’s a league wide increase of roughly 1.6 billion.

Sounds huge doesn’t it?

Well, that assumes every team is going to spend more, which simply won’t happen. Hell that number itself pretends everyone was at the threshold already. So let’s say it’s an increase in penalty free spending space.

If the teams like I mentioned above can spend more into that area, it’ll mean some additional spending on payroll I suppose. Even the Dodgers would have a bit of room left, so of course there will be more spending.

Part of what was missed with the whole CBT threshold experiment though, all it was ever, was a top of the mountain. One that many teams can’t reach. In fact it’s incentivised many clubs that knew they could never come within 75 million of it to stop trying to get as close as they could.

Think of it like this. You enter a race with all your neighborhood friends, let’s say there are 30 of you. It’s a bike race with a bunch of hills and relatively challenging. Let’s assume everyone works out so they’re all relatively capable of finishing, of course some will be in better shape. To even the scales someone puts a cap on how much money you can spend on your bike at 1000 bucks.

Everyone sets off to train and get their bikes and on day one, Mike the fittest dude in the neighborhood who does an hour on his Peloton before you brew a pot of coffee goes out and gets a 1000 dollar lightweight fiberglass bike with 10 gears and starts flying around the plan that night.

1000 was an insane spending limit most of you thought, and on top of that you needed a week just to save up and get that 200 dollar model you had your eye on so you can’t even start training, at least not on the bike you’re going to use.

Some of you try. You go get a 750 dollar bike the next day and start working your ass off to give it your all. Some just decide right then and there you aren’t going to win so why not just hold onto your money and go get a Target 125 dollar model just to say you ran the race. The most you had anyway was like 250 so what’s the difference?

I mean if you’re in the 750 group you always have a chance that Mike hits a Turkey crossing the road and you’ll be right there to take the win. The 125 group, well, I guess you get to laugh that you somehow finished ahead of Mike that one time and spent way less.

That’s the system MLB has created in a nutshell. A system that allows for spending, but only has a select few who can do it and creates some who won’t try.

Now, nobody is going to tell Mike he has to help get a better bike for the folks on the low end, but next year comes up and instead of 30 wanting to participate, now there’s only 15. Mike and some of the 750 guys are like man this isn’t as much fun, in fact part of the race course will be closed because an entire block of the neighborhood doesn’t want to see bikes on their street.

This is a silly example, but this is a whole lot of what is going on with this league.

They’ve created a system that for the first time in history openly recognizes there are “small markets” and “big markets”. It’s in the language folks. It’s funny because in all the time I’ve been writing about baseball the most consistent push back I’ve gotten from readers is about my assertion that the Pirates are a small market club.

Part of me really appreciates the acknowledgement, another part of me is furious that instead of fixing the situation they instead chose to just put it on paper. All a couple days after a “city” the size of Monroeville (Green Bay) just committed 150 some million to one guy for two years in the NFL.

Oh there are other problems these two sides have to hammer out, and oddly this issue isn’t even one they’re trying to fix, not yet anyway. I could almost excuse the loss of baseball if I felt it was headed toward fixing the one thing that would actually improve the game for everyone. Alas, we’re arguing about 5 million more in room to spend so 2 or 3 teams can spend a bit more. 10 million more for young players that come from central spending and don’t raise payroll. Silly rule changes that in a normal league would be what the fans actually cared about.

Nobody talks about what is needed to really help the league and the players. A floor and increased revenue sharing. And yes I know why, because that’s a cap system. It’s also what would get the players exactly what they want, a bigger, provable slice of the pie. And it would eliminate Small vs Big entirely. You may be sick of hearing it, you may believe it’ll never happen, that makes it no less true.

Baseball is no longer the national pastime. Oh it might be for you, I suspect if you’re reading this that’s likely. Nationally, it’s just not. I follow this game closely as I’m sure you do, and without FanGraphs I couldn’t tell you the names of 3 players in Cleveland. It’s not the game it used to be because when economics changed and baseball became a business instead of the child’s game you grew up watching, the league lacked the fortitude or vision to ensure the most basic responsibility of all Sports Leagues, a level playing field.

When baseball comes back, I’ll watch. Most of you will too. But I’ll know it’s still broken. In fact I know beyond a shadow of doubt we’ll be having almost exactly the same fight in 5 years.

The players right now by the best estimates I’ve seen make about 42% of the league’s baseball generated revenue. In five years, I’d be shocked if that number exceeded 45%, even with all the seemingly player friendly proposals. Every other major league sport in the country the players make 50% or greater.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, the players will look at this CBA when it’s done and feel like they scored a huge win, but all they’ve done is given the few teams who could afford it a bit more room.

In fact of everything that frustrates me, the impotence of this CBA coupled with losing games takes the cake.

That said, when it seemed they were close to agreeing on deadline night TWICE now, the league has dropped a bomb on the players last second. First time it was rule changes, this time it was an International draft. Kinda feels like sabotage doesn’t it? Maybe they don’t want a deal. Maybe they just want to break the union.

Maybe I’d care if I had any belief they’d fight for the right thing, instead I think they’re just fighting to let that number stay at 42%, not what fans want or need.

Every year it gets one year closer to too late. Ask your grandkids if you don’t believe me.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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