The Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2021 payroll is currently set at $234,839,000, the highest in MLB. The Cleveland Indians’ 2021 payroll is currently set at $36,555,000. Trevor Bauer is set to make more money in 2021 than every player combined on the Indians, Orioles, and Pirates, respectively. This is a problem. Would a MLB salary cap, as well as its corresponding salary floor, solve issues like this?
Yes, yes it would.
But you shouldn’t hold your breath.
What a salary cap would do for MLB
MLB is the only major professional sports league that doesn’t have a salary cap, hard or soft. The NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLS all have one. No two leagues are identical in how they choose to enforce their salary cap, but the overarching concept is the same; each team gets a range of money to spend on players every season.
Baseball has a pseudo salary cap in their competitive balance tax. The current threshold is set at $210 million. Any club whose payroll exceeds that pays the luxury tax, which grows every season the team remains above the threshold.
This makes it more difficult for the big market teams like the Dodgers and Yankees to buy championships. I guess. Teams have shown a willingness to simply fork over the tax money if they’re in the World Series every year. But paying so much extra cash every season takes a toll.
The real benefit to a MLB salary cap is the salary floor.
Say they keep the salary cap at $210 million. Make it a hard cap, whatever. No team can spend a penny over $210 million per season. Let’s put MLB’s salary floor at $150 million. Teams like the aforementioned Indians, Orioles, and Pirates would have to shell out some big contracts in order to hit that floor, even though they’re rebuilding. Guys will get paid. That’s a good thing. One player shouldn’t be making more than entire teams.
But…It’ll Probably Never Happen
Leagues like the NBA and NFL have a much smaller range in terms of revenue. The most profitable MLB teams on the other hand, produce about three times as much revenue as those on the other end of the spectrum. A salary floor would hurt small market teams that are holding less chips at the table.
A wider salary range might be a solution, but it’s gonna be a bitch and half to get small market owners to agree to that. Teams like the Rays and Athletics, who have shown that you can compete without breaking the bank, reinforce the penny-pinching strategies a lot of teams have tried to imitate. Focus on player development. Don’t spend on free agents. Embrace analytics. Wins could follow if this is done correctly, so it’s unlikely a lot of teams would be down to spend money just because.
Let’s not forget about Ol’ Rob Manfred. When in doubt, just assume he’ll make the worst possible decision and say the most tone deaf possible thing when it matters most.
So no, I doubt a MLB salary cap is happening in the near future.