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The response of baseball owners to the Yankees' unprecedented free agent spending spree continues as another owner has joined the call for a salary cap. The difference this time is that the owner does not represent a small market club as did most of those who pushed for a cap in the past and as did Mark Anastasio of the Milwaukee Brewers who was the first to call for one this time around. Count Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane in the salary cap camp. In fact, he believes one would already be in place were it not for the opposition of the players union. “We would love to have a salary cap, but the (players’) union has been very resistant to that,” McLane said this past week.
Of course, opposition by the players union is a formidable obstacle to the imposition of a cap since it can't be imposed unilaterally but must be a part of a collective bargaining agreement. The Players Association believes that the Yankees free spending drives up salaries throughout baseball, although I'm not convinced that is really the case. I'll concede that the salaries of the stars have risen out of all proportion to any reality, but what about those on the middle rungs? When all the money is being doled out at the top, is there enough left to spread around the middle?
Opposition to a cap generally also takes the form of: "baseball has competitive balance, so who needs a cap? Just look at the number of different World Series participants, the number of small market/small payroll participants and how long has it been since the Yankees won it." All of these points are valid but they miss the fundamental point. It is bad for the game when the Yankees, and to a somewhat lesser extent the Red Sox and the Mets, are essentially guaranteed right of first refusal to any free agent that hits the market. Sure, the Rays can happen in any given year, but no team can build consistent and long-term success when its best players can leave for pinstriped shores in three years or so, just when they are hitting their prime.
The reason there have been so many different World Series competitors is that no team is able to build consistency and maintain a roster over an extended period. The Rays may actually be an exception to this as they have aggressively attempted to sign their young players to long-term deals, but unless Tampa Bay gets a new stadium built, and soon, even those attempts will fall apart in a couple of years. Without a cap to rein in big spending teams, there is no hope for small market teams to keep their best players beyond free agency, or at least more than a couple of them. That cannot be good for the long term competitive health of the game no matter how many ways New Yorkers try to spin it.