No, the Red Sox signing Pablo and Hanley is not proof that baseball needs a salary cap
It’s like friggin’ clockwork. A team signs a big free agent or two and someone argues that baseball is doomed without a salary cap. It’s always baloney -- baseball has had greater competitive balance without a salary cap than any of the other three sports which have them -- but people have repeated it enough over the years that everyone believes it.
The latest to repeat it is Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. What set him off? The Red Sox signing Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, claiming that “the wealth of the Boston ownership and the loyalty of Red Sox Nation has allowed it to work the system,” and that it’s a game “where only the uber-rich can compete.” Then he trots out perhaps the most famous and tired pro-salary cap cliche there is, claiming that teams like the Indians “have no realistic chance” at winning the World Series due to payroll discrepancies.
- Did Hoynes watch the World Series? The one that ended less than a month ago? The Royals were in it. Really, they were. And the Indians, just a year ago, were in the same position the Royals were in: wild card winners from the AL Central.
- Does Hoynes know that the Red Sox lost 91 games last year? That’s one fewer loss than the Astros and the Twins had. Yes, Boston is rich and yes, they won the 2013 World Series, but I’m not quite sure how “team that came closer to losing 100 games than it came to finishing at .500 spending money to get better” is some sort of threat to the system that should inspire such pessimistic fatalism. The old argument used to be that rich teams always stayed good and poor teams always sucked and there was no hope for them to get better. Nice that we’re moving the goalposts here.
- Speaking of goalposts, does Hoynes realize that the Cleveland Browns play in a league with the salary cap? Quick question: how many Indians fans would’ve traded the last decade of their team’s experience for the last decade of the Browns? You don’t have to answer now. I’ll wait.
- Does Hoynes think the Indians had no chance to sign Ramirez or Sandoval? Well, maybe they didn’t. But does Hoynes know that the Sox signed Ramirez to stumble around left field and that the Indians happen to have Michael Brantley playing left field and that he got a ton of MVP votes this past season? The Indians would’ve lost the bidding for those guys if they entered it, but they didn’t enter it because THEY DON’T WANT OR NEED THOSE GUYS. Meanwhile, the Tribe may have one of the best rotations in baseball next season. One the Red Sox would kill to have.
This isn’t the silliest salary cap rant I’ve ever seen. No, the all time champion there was John Feinstein, who in 2010, without any apparent irony, gave a full-throated “we need a salary cap!” rant because the Yankees traded for Austin Kearns. AUSTIN KEARNS was the bridge too far. Alrighty then.
But it is silly. It ignores the fact that the Red Sox, no matter their promise for 2015 -- and their winning is by no means guaranteed next season -- lost a lot of baseball games last season. And two years before that. And that the Indians won a lot of games in 2013 and were quite competitive in 2014.
It also ignores the fact that 27 different teams have played in the 48 Super Bowls with 18 of them winning it while 27 different teams have played in the last 48 World Series with 20 different teams winning it. And that this trend holds for more recent years as well. And I won’t even get started on the NBA which has a salary cap and, suffice it to say, is not a bastion of competitive balance.
I will not go so far as to say that baseball’s system is perfect. It’s not perfect. But to the extent it needs fixing and to the extent we’re assigning blame for its imperfections, the imposition of a salary cap will neither address the former nor will its absence stand as a reasonable culprit for the latter.