February 17, 2004

A Rare Baseball Post

It used to be said that one of the primary reasons the New York Yankees of the middle of the last century were so dominant was because their farm systems had so much talent on them. The Yankees were able to plug holes and draw on incredible pools of talent to replenish themselves while at the same time depriving the rest of the league of a lot of talent that could be used against them. The Yankees scouting was so good and their farm system so deep that it was speculated that the Yankees AAA club might have been the second best baseball team in the world for a while, and the Yankees were able to keep it that way because of the reserve clause.

In these days of free agency and player movement, it was often been posited that there would never be another dynasty like the Yankees of the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s primarily because the Yankees could never lock up so much talent in their farm system again. Unfortunately, I think we are headed for just another such dynasty, because in these days of free agency and player movement, MLB itself has effectively become the New York Yankees farm system.

The New York Yankee’s payroll of $180M heading into this year is more than 50% larger than the number two team in payroll, which, incidentally, happens to be the New York Mets at $116M. The New York Yankee’s payroll is 130% larger than the league’s median payroll of $80M. The New York Yankee’s payroll is larger than the bottom five teams in payroll in the league put together (Kansas City, Milwaukee, Montreal and Tampa Bay).

Other teams can afford high-priced players, but their margins for error are very slim, as St. Louis, Texas, Cincinnati, Baltimore, and even the New York Mets have discovered. No one can afford to make high priced mistakes like Aaron Boone and just shrug them off and keep acquiring even more high-priced talent like the New York Yankees.

Arguments about respecting a free market are not relevant here. Oh, I respect free markets and you should too, but arguments about unfettered free markets in this context should pit MLB against the NFL and the NBA, not the New York Yankees against the Kansas City Royals. The NFL understands this quite well and the salary cap has gone a long way to provide a fair, equitable way to keep the playing field level within the context of the NFL. The NBA sort of understands, but has kind of mucked it up a bit with the draft lottery and the Larry Bird rule (I hope I have that right – I haven’t paid any attention to the NBA for years). The NHL is a whole other ball of wax not relevant to this discussion. Every sports league thrives on competition. If it isn’t competitive, it isn’t going to be very successful. If you want to argue that we don’t need a level playing field as measured in dollars in MLB, then why not argue that the NCAA shouldn’t limit the number of football scholarships that Notre Dame can give out or the number of basketball scholarships that Duke can issue?

George Steinbrenner and Yankee fans may like a rigged game pitting their team of All-Stars against the league, but it is not a good thing for baseball. In the long run, it is not a good thing for George Steinbrenner or Yankee fans either as more and more teams are forced to fold up because no one will show up to watch their team compete for second place.

Posted by Charles Austin at February 17, 2004 11:28 PM

No team can hope to compete with the Yankees on dollars spent, but for the Brewers to announce a salary cut when they did was outright suicide. They had an exciting end to what was overall the best season since the strike, and they tell the fans "Next year won't be as good."

Posted by: triticale at 08:59 PM

Everything old is new again. The phenomenom of rich teams using poor teams as player development tools has a long history. One of the most notorious examples involved, yes, the Yankees and the then Kansas City A's during the 1950s. Here is an article in Baseball Almanac on the topic. The article documents 16 trades between those 2 teams in 6 years. The 1961 Yankees team, which usually makes most lists of the top teams of all time, had 10 players who came directly from the Athletics, including Roger Maris. The A's tied for last place. There was also apparently a direct business relationship between the Yankees owners and the A's owners, and the former helped arrange for the latter to buy the A's.

Most such examples are not so conspiracy-laden, but there is a long history of this sort of thing.

Posted by: MG2 at 01:03 PM

The Mets last year had an incredibly high salary. They were mathematically eliminated by the end of April. They were almost mathematically eliminated for this year too. They are probably still paying Mo Vaugh, Jeremy Burnitz and Roger Cedeno. Those three together had about 8 more home-runs last year than I did. And I don't play baseball.
I think that what the Yankees do best is keep talent off of other teams. They raid opponent's rosters for their best players.
That and they have Joe Torre.
Before Torre they spent a lot on their roster and they pretty well stunk.
They give Torre good players and he makes the most of them.
The Mets get good players and allow them to turn to mush.

Posted by: Veeshir at 09:02 AM