Baseball is a funny game.
I’m not talking about the stretching routines, tight pants, or the silly superstitions; but rather the business side of the game. Baseball is almost totally void of loyalty these days. It is no surprise to see a franchise player win a championship, only to jump ship for a fat contract in a rival town the next season. The contracts of the current era are so lucrative and unearned, that all it takes is one solid season guarantee that you’ll be able to buy F-15s for each of your immediate family members come Christmas time. Too few teams have too much money. It’s time for a cap.
Every year there seems to be a new record setting contract. A-Rod, Manny, and C.C. Sabathia are not just cleaning house, they’re buying brand new mansions whenever theirs gets dirty. It’s sickening, considering I just forked over a solid two paycheques to play beer-league this summer, and my toes still stick out of the spikes that I’ve been using since way before junior ball. At least these three players can assure a certain level of excellence at their positions, but what about the new comers who have the gall to demand massive quantities of cash for their inconsistency?
We all remember Josh Hamilton’s astonishing performance at the 2008 Home Run Derby, breaking records and tearing the hide off every ball that dared venture anywhere within the strike zone. He knocked in over 90 runs by the All-Star break that year and was on a destructive pace. What happened afterword is no surprise. The red hot Hamilton was thrown in a cold shower and the guy cooled off faster than a pizza pocket in a meat locker. He produced 60 less runs in the second half of the season and suddenly he was old news. What gets to me is that he is rejecting offers from the Rangers for contract extensions. While details of the contract have been kept confidential up to this point (Saturday), the Rangers have gone on record saying they’ll use the contract of 2B Ian Kinsler as a guideline. Kinsler, a solid player who hit .319 with 71 RBIs and 26 stolen bags in 2008, is signed to a modest $3-million contract in 2009, his fourth year in the MLB. We could only wonder how badly Rangers owner Tom Hicks low-balled Hamilton on the contract offer, and time will tell how far Hamilton will take that low-ball and club it out of the park.
Whether Josh Hamilton deserves what he is gets is a double-edged question. In relation to the other run-producers in the game, perhaps his numbers will merit the money he is awarded. On the other side of the fence, you could just as easily argue that his slowed production in the second half, small sample size of statistics and sophomore status in the MLB would not translate to a gigantic long-term contract in the flavour of Mark Texeira. My opinion is that it has gone way out of control. You should earn your contract, and it seems that players are banking on every club’s desire to roll the dice. They’re not just paying the players, they’re paying the consequences. For every big-time contract, there is a big-time bust. Mike Hampton rings a bell.
So where do these salary explosions originate? Well, like Tom Hanks said, there is no crying in baseball, unless you’re a fan. As long as fans are willing to suck it up and spend immense dollars to watch, why shouldn’t players get paid? The fans ultimately decide whether the league shrivels or shines, and right now it’s pretty bright. Stadiums are full, merchandise is selling, and the Yankees are selling seats at the price of a gently used Honda. All is well in Bud Selig’s kingdom.
But wait, Billy Mays, that’s not all! Things are not going to get better any time soon. These days, where a star’s salary is measured in Florida Marlins payrolls, there is always solace to be taken in the fact that you can get a couple of cheap years out of a phenom prospect. By market standards, an ace like Tim Lincecum should be making a king’s ransom, but being a fresh face he’s still pretty affordable (give it another year or two and you’ll see him in pin-stripes). However, as long as viruses like agent Scott Boras are representing crops of talented youth, the game will continue to plunge into financial imbalance and disparity. A horror, really, seeing as how the big fish like New York and Boston are using small market clubs as farms, which in turn is destroying any team’s dream of retaining their stars and remaining competitive over several years. `
Baseball needs to learn from the NHL, NFL and NBA, all of whom successfully function under a cap. Though anti-cap arguments often point to the disappearance of dynasties under a cap environment, I would have to point to the Lakers and Patriots as exhibits A and B. Besides, ever since the Yankees owned baseball in the late 90’s and 2000, there have been no repeat winners. Please, MLB, ditch the Captain America act and adopt a salary cap. It’s not communism, I swear.