posted 2011-02-23 13:00:06

To Cap or Not to Cap? Money-Spinning MLB Off-Season Brings Renewed Calls for Salary Cap

To Cap or Not to Cap?

Money-Spinning MLB Off-Season Brings Renewed Calls for Salary Cap

Stephanie Boriskin

Contributing Writer

If you could tear yourself away from football and basketball this winter for even a minute, you'd know about the millions of dollars Major League Baseball teams spent this offseason. Colorado Rockies' shortstop Troy Tulowitzki took the grand prize, signing a 10-year, $157 million contract.

But he wasn't the only player to sign such a lucrative deal. Former Tampa Bay Rays' leftfielder Carl Crawford inked a $142 million contract for seven years with the Boston Red Sox. The Washington Nationals signed outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract. And starting southpaw Cliff Lee wasn’t far behind as he left the Texas Rangers for a five-year, $120 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Of course these signings were fun to watch unfold and were lauded by the fans of the teams that made the acquisitions. And while it might be everyone’s dream to work only 162 days a year and make $100,000 each day, you have to wonder what this offseason will do for baseball in coming years.

Those deals increased the average player's yearly salary to $3.3 million a year, according to CBS Sports. That’s up 2% from the previous season. That number might not seem like much, but it’s a total increase of 12% since 2007, the last year the annual salary was under $3 million. Even more startling is the 25% increase since 2005.

Baseball is the only major sport in America without a salary cap. The National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and even Major League Soccer and the National Lacrosse League have this limitation in place.

By limiting either individual signing amounts or total team salary, salary caps effectively give teams equal monetary power when recruiting players, thus preventing cash-created dynasties.

Even with salary caps in place, teams are not obligated to spend a certain amount of money on players. To the chagrin of some fans, there are owners who choose keep a low budget with an eye on the bottom line. Generally, though, teams that operate closer to the cap enjoy more success.

Take the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. The Lakers have the highest payroll this season at over $91 million. They're also the proud owners of the fifth best record in basketball at 37-16.

The Boston Celtics, meanwhile, have the league’s second highest payroll at almost $84 million and the second best record at 38-14. And out of the 64 championship series played to date, those two teams have won over half, with 17 victories a piece.

Now, that's not to say teams only win if they spend. The San Antonio Spurs, who currently lead the NBA with 44 wins and eight losses, are spending over $20 million less than the Lakers this season. The Miami Heat, tied with Boston for second place, have a payroll of almost $20 million less than the Celtics.

This also applies to baseball. The entire roster's salary of the reigning World Series champs, the San Francisco Giants, totaled less than $100 million last season. Compare that to the $206 million payroll of the New York Yankees, who lost in the American League Championship Series.

So if it's possible to win without spending all this money, why do it? If the Giants and the Heat can have awesome seasons, any team can do it, right?

Well, the truth is, teams of such caliber don't come around often without the money to make it happen.

This baseball's offseason could be the beginning of the end of teams placed in divisions with fiscal powerhouses like the Yankees or Phillies, not because their present players aren't good, but because they could be outbid on any player they need going forward.

It's looking like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks of the world are going to have to rely on crafty trades and smart draft picks to compete. Here's hoping those draft picks won't leave for more money when the time comes.