By now I assume most people who follow this blog or sabermetrics in general have read the recent interview with Billy Beane, in advance of the release of the movie version of Moneyball. Beane is quoted:
"What you'll find is that the window for a small market team will grow smaller and eventually go away completely," Beane said. "We had seven years. Tampa Bay -- and they are very, very smart -- has made it to the playoffs two out of the past three years, and may not make it this year, and then what? To have any kind of window will take building a team organically, having to have something like 80 percent of your roster [homegrown]. That is extremely hard.
"Eventually it becomes like Premier League soccer, where the teams that spend the most money are the teams that win every year. They'll all come from the top quartile in payroll."
Even after a modest 2011 season, Tampa will have captured 2 of 4 AL East titles against the biggest payrolls in baseball. And anyone who follows minor league systems is aware that Tampa is set up to be competitive for several years, as is Kansas City and possibly Pittsburgh.
But I can't argue that MLB isn't becoming Premier League Soccer. Nobody in the MLB has spent nearly as much this season as NYY, Boston, and Philadelphia. Not coincidentally, these are the 3 best teams in baseball and honestly nobody else is even close to them.
The 2011 off-season will likely include another buying frenzy by NYY. With Posada coming off the books, and Swisher likely not getting his option picked up, the Yankees will have close to $25 million of "fun money" to throw at a top flight pitcher. Or Prince Fielder to DH and back up Tex. Or whoever they want. We know they can afford anyone they want, and likely so can Boston.
A few days ago I was arguing about the economics of baseball with my buddy, who is a Yankees fan and a Steelers fan. Obviously he came of age in the late 70s during the era of Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson, Terry Bradshaw, and Mean Joe. Of course he sees nothing wrong with the economics of baseball. His favorite team is pretty much booked for the playoffs every season. But what blew his mind is when I explained to him that if the NFL shared revenues as inequitably as MLB did, his Pittsburgh Steelers would have no shot to compete. He would be watching the Jets, Giants, Pats, and Cowboys take all the talent every season.
Watch any small market team play a home game against Boston or NYY, and listen to the "home town fans" cheer for the visitors. Can you imagine Kansas City fans cheering the Yankees in the early 80s with George Brett at third base? That most fans these days seem to be either NY or Boston fans is not a good sign for baseball in general. Making 60-70% of the teams irrelevant on a national basis speaks to a product with serious underlying issues.
I'm not a salary cap guy. I don't think it solves the issues baseball has. What is needed is real revenue sharing, so that the Yankees and Red Sox can't profit with $175-$200 million payrolls and Pittsburgh can't lose money with a $50 million payroll. Forget luxury taxes and caps. Just share the money and let the game grow.
I love the game of baseball, but the NFL is a much more interesting league to me. If the Bucs fail this year, I know it will be because they weren't as smart as the guys up in Foxboro and Pittsburgh. It will never be because we can't afford to match the payrolls of the northeastern teams. And that gives me hope as a fan that we can do anything this season and in future seasons. In baseball, I'm not so optimistic.