Peter Gammons: Succeeding commissioner will be faced with further evening playing field

Bud Selig's successor will have

Bud Selig’s successor will be faced with this “monumental task”.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after the 2016 season, and while one of Bud Selig’s many accomplishments at his retirement will have been to have navigated the sport for more than 20 years without a labor stoppage, his successor will be faced with a monumental task: further even the playing field.

“This winter we’ve seen an alarmingly widening gap between the large and small markets, the haves and have-nots,” says one small market general manager. “I think we all understand the nature of free agency.” Obviously, small markets like the Rays or Royals cannot play on a Tanaka, or retain a Clayton Kershaw on a five year, $150M deal with a two year player option, or even think about Robinson Cano. Teams with miniscule regional television rights deals like the Braves worry about retaining their own players; the Braves get $20M a year through 2026—the Dodgers $340M, the Angels and Rangers $150M, the Phillies more than five times Atlanta’s take—and now must worry about being able to afford superstar closer Craig Kimbrel and homegrown stars Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, who hit the free agent market at 26 and 27, respectively.

This current labor deal was struck with the idea of limiting teams’ ability to spend $20-40M on the draft and in the international markets. Under the old system, the rebuilding Cubs, the Rangers, Red Sox and Dodgers might outspend their smaller rivals five times over.

But there is little differentiation between bad teams in big markets and well-run teams in small markets. The Cubs, Astros (no. 5 market) and Mets consistently pick far ahead of the Rays, for instance. “There has to be better access to amateur talent in the next agreement,” says another general manager. “The division is increasing, not diminishing.”

The succeeding commissioner will also have to find a way to alter the system for determining competitive balance picks. “The Cardinals are very well run,” says one GM, “but they always have two picks before a lot of lesser teams get their second selection. It really doesn’t make sense.”

Small market teams need amateur and international talent to develop and offset the natural predatory nature of free agency. Can Tampa sign David Price when he becomes a free agent after the 2015 season? Not likely. Price is a premium pitcher who eight years after being drafted by the Rays has the right to get what he can get; similarly, eight years after being drafted by the Red Sox, Jacoby Ellsbury played seven seasons in Boston, helped the Red Sox win two World Series, all for approximately what he will make per season with the Yankees, which the Red Sox would take every time for whoever they draft this June.

But the system now rewards big market teams like the Astros, Cubs and Mets for not winning with better access to amateur talent than the Rays, who have won 90 games five of the last six seasons.

  • crrris

    The evidence for this gap consists entirely of the inability of the small-market teams to sign free agents after their six years of cost control are up. But is that a bad thing? Why would the Rays want to spend nine figures on David Price as he gets older and more brittle? The market for those kind of players is such that you have to wonder if the system doesn’t actually favor the small-market teams. And that’s even before we consider the ability of small market teams to extend guys a bit past age 30.

    The posting system certainly favors the rich now, and if you trust international prospects who come in at young ages, then that’s a disadvantage for small market teams. But even there, for every Darvish there’s an Irabu or two.

    • Paul D

      I agree. What is left out of the article is the effect of testing for PEDS. Big market teams with big cable TV contracts are spending that big money on aging players. Those players performance declines will occur much more quickly than what we have historically seen.

  • Hudson Valley Slim

    Why not a firm salary cap like other sports? And perhaps a minimum. I suppose the good thing is that despite the huge advantage, the big market teams don’t win the Series year after year. But (unless mismanaged like the Mets, Cubbies or Astros) they will make the playoffs regularly.

  • EddieD_Boston

    My feeling is minor league cities should stay minor league. If Tampa doesn’t support their team Tampa doesn’t deserve the Rays, a model franchise.

  • http://bosoxinjection.com/ Earl Nash

    Commish should be independent and not the owner’s puppet.
    For now, let Vin Scully pick the person, or just do it himself.
    ABB
    Anybody But Bud