As Tom Tango astutely notes in his blog, Major League Baseball owners have figured something out. They've hired general managers who are, to an extent, holding the line on what many have complained are outrageous player salaries.
Opening-day payroll projections are in, the Associated Press reports, and owners are doling out nearly $3.5 billion to the ballplayers. It sounds like a lot, and of course it is, but — with owners yearly revenue exceeding $8 billion in 2013 and rising — MLB players are going to get an ever-diminishing slice of the sport's economic pie. If the owners make $8.5 billion in 2014, the players' share will fall to nearly 40 percent — collusion-era numbers. This isn't teams getting together illegally and holding down salaries like they did in the 1980s (at least we think it's not). It's just owners getting smart. Finally, at long last. At least for now.
My prediction? MLBPA will be begging what the other league unions fought against and MLBPA itself fought against forever: a fixed share of the revenue slice. It’s a new world order, and whatever principle the MLBPA had against getting a fixed share of the revenue slice (i.e., let the free market figure out the right share), that principle can’t possibly be strong enough to pay for. Because that’s what they are going to do. I can make the case that free agents are STILL overpaid, which means there is still even more downward pressure on salaries in the long-run. Does the MLBPA still want to fight on principle?
In other words, a salary cap. Maybe not a hard cap, but some kind of fixed percentage. Marvin Miller is preparing to roll over in his grave.
The value of clubs keeps rising, most recently because of a TV deal that has made every team richer. Individual teams, though not all of them, also are striking it rich with their local TV markets. Conditions that allow those windfalls probably won't last forever, but it's the state of the game now.
The Los Angeles Dodgers will pay their opening-day roster about $235 million, taking the lead from the New York Yankees, who come in second at $203 million. Houston is last at $45 million, but at least it's not $22 million like it was, more or less, in 2013.
Thanks to ESPN's Darren Rovell for making this handy list of team payrolls using the AP's info. Use it yourself to see where your favorite team ranks.
Players are making a lot of money, but so are the owners. As Tango says, you can always argue that the players are overpaid. But they're not, based on the history of how the pie has been served. Will they continue to let the market dictate what share they get?
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