MLB Season Overview: Off-season money dominates

Money doesn’t buy championships, but it certainly helps.

Eight of the last 12 World Series winners had a salary in the top 10 in Major League Baseball during the season they won. Exceptions: St. Louis Cardinals of 2011, Kansas City Royals of 2015, the tainted Houston Astros of 2017 and Atlanta Braves of 2021. Of the winners, the Royals are the only ones considered a small market club.

So when the MLB campaign for 2022 starts on Thursday – the 99-day lockout ended in time to keep the season of 162 games – expectations will be highest for the teams at the very top of the payroll. They are a mix of the usual suspects (Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and Yankees) and newcomers (Mets) – all from the big markets. They are the teams that have been at the center of controversy in several ways, ending almost three decades of peace in the sport.

The resurgence of the once thrifty Mets adds new momentum to the New York and MLB baseball hierarchies of the 30 owners of MLB clubs, is named after him. Meanwhile, the owner of the ever-warring Yankees, Hal Steinbrenner, is horrified by the idea that he has to keep up with Cohen.

“I can’t control what resources other owners or other teams have and what they will do with those resources,” Steinbrenner said last month. “I make the same commitment every year as my family, which is to do everything we can to present a team of champion caliber and try to win the World Series.”

But the Yankees have not won a World Series or not even appeared in one since 2009. The last Mets title was in 1986, but their last trip was in 2015. The Dodgers have appeared in three of the last five, winning in 2020

These three clubs, all of which are expected to pay the luxury tax this season, top the projected ranking of MLB salaries on the opening day. According to FanGraphs estimates for luxury tax purposes, the Dodgers ($ 293 million) are leading, followed by the Mets ($ 287 million) and the Yankees ($ 262 million).

“It’s great for New York fans to have two competing baseball teams,” Steinbrenner said.

Steinbrenner was one of seven owners on the MLB Labor Committee to negotiate a new collective agreement with the players’ union. For months, the countries have been arguing over the economic basis of the sport. An important reason for the tension: MLB is the only major men’s professional sports league in North America with no hard pay limit. In the NFL and NBA, revenue is split between team owners and fixed-rate players.

But in MLB, where players ‘salaries are public but owners’ incomes are not, teams can spend as little as they want. They can also spend as much as they want – as long as they are willing to pay competitive balance taxes, which are seen as a soft cap by some teams and hard by others. The union has successfully negotiated the biggest luxury tax jump from one employment agreement to another, with the first threshold moving from $ 210 million in 2021 to $ 230 million in 2022. However, to achieve this, players agreed to a new one. , a fourth threshold at $ 60 million above base.

This is not a problem for Cohen.

“Listen, $ 290 million is a lot of money to spend, and I’m fine with it,” he said last month. “I don’t feel so limited that I can’t live with him.”

Even before the pandemic affected sports revenue, players complained about the teams’ behavior. Despite record contracts in recent years, total costs have fallen.

In 2021, $ 4.05 billion spent on salaries is the lowest for a fully completed year in 2015, according to the Associated Press. Only two teams – the San Diego Padres and the Dodgers – paid the luxury tax. Nine teams spent $ 92 million or less on salaries. The average salary at MLB was $ 1.15 million, down from a record high of $ 1.65 million in 2015. And the average career span was about four years, with salary arbitration providing significant increases usually not starting. until the player has accumulated three years of service time.

However, these numbers are expected to increase in the current agreement, as the parties have agreed to raise the minimum bet in the league, which most players make, from $ 570,500 in 2021 to $ 700,000 in 2022. There will also be a bonus of $ 50 million pool for top young players who do not yet qualify for arbitration. This off-season owners spent more than $ 3 billion on new player salaries, breaking the previous winter record set in 2016.

“The MLBPA has historically wanted a market-based system,” said Commissioner Rob Manfred, referring to the players’ union, the night the new deal was signed last month. “During many negotiations, this was their main goal. Markets give market results. And I think the changes that have been made to this agreement have moved dramatically in their direction on topics like the CBT threshold. “

During the labor talks, the owners – who ran a business worth about $ 11 billion a year before the pandemic – argued for ways to limit high-end spending and improve the sharing of talent or money between clubs. The players, a more diverse group whose members are not all millionaires, wanted a freer market, improved competition between clubs (and thus more costs) and a running economy run by top clubs.

“The teams with the highest market costs mean that the system works well. This has not been the case here for a long time, “Francisco Lindor, a member of the High Trade Union Committee, told the Mets’ Spanish shortstop.

He went on to say that the Bronx team had spent less in certain years to nullify its luxury tax status: “The Yankees have also stopped spending for a while. And that means the system didn’t work the way it was supposed to. We hope that with this new CBA there will be new costs for teams and especially those in large markets. “

The new teams opened their checkbooks this winter. After keeping their salaries relatively low in recent years, Texas Rangers have committed to more than half a billion dollars. They gave a 10-year, $ 325 million contract to shortstop Corey Seeger and a seven-year, $ 175 million contract to second-baseman Marcus Semien. The Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies have joined the Dodgers and Mets to secure more than $ 200 million in new contracts this winter.

“It’s important for the industry as a whole – and I’ve said it before, so it’s nothing new – no fan should come to spring training thinking that their team has no chance of winning a division, no chance of entering the playoffs. Steinbrenner said. “This can only be bad for the industry as a whole. So I supported the competitive balance and the measures to try to deal with that even in this agreement. “

But some clubs do not seem ready to compete for the playoffs, which have expanded to 12 teams out of 10. Some – even those in the big markets (Auckland Athletics) or those receiving revenue sharing from others (Pittsburgh Pirates) – are recovering and dropping players and salaries. The growing gap between the lowest and highest cost teams worries people like Lindor.

Example: Lindor teammate Max Scherzer, who will earn $ 43.3 million this season after signing with the Mets, is expected to win more than the expected day on the payrolls of the following teams, according to Cot baseball contracts: Baltimore Orioles, Leca athletics and pirates. The Cleveland Guardians are not far ahead of Scherzer, with estimated salaries of $ 52 million. Lindor separated them all and compared them to the Mets’ payroll.

“That’s a $ 200 million difference, and you haven’t seen that before,” said Lindor, who was replaced by the Cleveland Mets before last season and then signed a 10-year extension with $ 341 million to stay. He added: “When teams win, they make money. They say they don’t make good money, but they make good money. The industry continues to grow. ”

At one point in the labor negotiations, MLB offered a firm minimum wage of $ 100 million – the first for the sport – in addition to a lower $ 180 million luxury tax threshold that included higher switching rates. Some players were open to the idea of ​​setting a minimum wage for the team, but were uncomfortable with the accompanying, heavier limit.

Despite the project lottery, which was created to help teams deliberately lose in hopes of winning No. 1, Michael Leroy, a professor and sports expert at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said baseball “is still is a sport that will suffer from severe inequalities in the cost of quality players. ”He pointed to the smaller NFL market teams battling in the playoffs.

“Teams that want to eat will continue to eat,” he continued. “And that will affect the overall economy of the sport. I think finance, management can live with that. And they also have enough freedom to allow the Dodgers and Yankees and anyone else who wants to go out and really compete in the free agency market to do so and pay the tax. So I think it’s pretty much the same, only with a higher threshold. And I also think that the money will be distributed even among the players in the middle by opening this cap, so you will have fewer players under one million dollars. “

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