Major League Baseball gets a lot of flack for its unwritten rules, inaction against cheaters, television blackouts, and inability to market top players. Yet, what MLB gets the most hate for is its unwillingness to change.
The designated hitter has been around since 1973 and has been adopted by every single level of baseball… except the National League. Pete Rose never cheated, but still, 35 years after his retirement, he’s banned from the MLB Hall of Fame for gambling on games. The most egregious example of this lies in the league’s policy on team spending. Every major sports league in America has a salary cap. The NBA implemented theirs in 1984. The NFL followed suit in 1994. And the NHL was a little behind the curve, implementing their salary cap in 2005. That’s over a decade and a half ago. But Major League Baseball has yet to install one.
Yesterday it was announced that Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Dustin May would miss the rest of the 2021 season to undergo Tommy John surgery. Much like his hair, May is a flamethrower, one of the most talented young arms in the big leagues, and was sporting a 2.74 ERA and 13.7 K/9 across 5 starts this year. That is ace material. There are 15 teams in the league without a single starter with that low an ERA. If your team lost a player like May, how would you feel? Devastated? Yeah, probably devastated. I have a lot of friends who are diehard Dodger fans. When news broke about May’s injury, their first thought wasn’t “Oh no! We lost a great pitcher.” It was “I’m really not that worried about it.” Most fanbases wouldn’t have that luxury. The Dodgers and their fans merely moved on as if nothing happened, because they still have three former Cy Young winners, another young stud of an arm, and a 24-year old former phenom with a career 3.16 ERA waiting in the wings.
Those three Cy Young award winners combined are paid more than 12 teams in Major League Baseball, according to Spotrac. When a team can just shell out cash to solve any problem that comes their way, it no longer feels like a competition of “Who’s got the most talent?” but rather “Who’s got the deepest pockets?” Now, even if a team spends a lot, they still need to hit on each of their signings. Spending big money on someone who doesn’t pan out is a death sentence, right? If you were any other team, yes. But for the Dodgers, not an issue.
Despite earning more in 2021 than he has any other year in his career, David Price has put up horrendous numbers in a Dodgers uniform. Thus far in 2021, he’s actually racked up a negative wins above replacement rating. He’s the second highest-paid player on the team. His teammate, AJ Pollock, has played in just 166 games for the Dodgers since he joined the squad in 2019. In that time, he’s put up a combined WAR of 1.6 (2 is considered a low number for a single season). He’s the sixth highest-paid player on the team. Just those two players combined earn more than everybody on the active rosters of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Orioles, or Miami Marlins. How are any of those teams supposed to compete?
Since 2010, all but two World Series winning teams have been in the top half of the league in terms of payroll. Neither of the winners were outside the top-20. Having a lot of money is a huge advantage in any situation. You think Bruce Wayne would be a member of the Justice League if he didn’t have $9.2 billion burning a hole in his pocket? No chance.
Major League Baseball has a lot of problems, but none bigger than the disparity of wealth between teams at the top and bottom of the league. Is it possible to win without spending oodles of cash? Yeah. They made a whole movie about it. However, it becomes much harder.