Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed their ace pitcher, Clayton Kershaw to a seven-year deal for an estimated $215 million, an average of over $30 million per year.
The Dodgers were lauded for tying up arguably the game’s best pitcher up contractually for his prime years, ages 25-32. They weren’t paying outrageous cash to a player currently in his 30’s, like the Angels’ deal with Albert Pujols and the Yankees’ second contract with Alex Rodriguez.
However, the signing once again highlights baseball’s biggest problem: The disparity between big market teams and the middle and small markets.
Yes, the talking heads will point to the Twins’ deal with Joe Mauer (8 years, $184 million) and the Reds’ contract with Joey Votto (13 years, $263 million) as proof that mid market teams can keep star players for a long period of time.
But can those teams put a competitive team around those stars over a long-term if they are paying one player that large of a percentage of money spent on salaries?
There is no question the sport is flush with cash, despite what the Indians claim, and salaries continue to climb and climb.
Could teams like Cleveland, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh have signed Kershaw to that same contract? The answer is probably not.
Baseball has put luxury taxes in place to be able to keep smaller markets in the mix, all you have to do is look at Tampa’s situation with former Cy Young winner David Price as an alternative.
Price may not be as accomplished as Kershaw, but he is close.
The Rays signed a one year deal with Price for $14 million this season, but the expectation throughout the game is that Tampa will deal Price sometime before the 2015 rather than let him walk away because they can’t afford to pay one player the $25 million per season that the lefty will get on the open market.
There just isn’t a reward for non large market ballclubs to be able to develop and keep the talent they have developed.
It’s funny when baseball writers talk about the four World Series won by the Yankees from 1996 through 2000, and they talk about how the cornerstones of the team were homegrown: Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera.
The point they are missing is could any non-large market team have been able to keep four players in the organization for most of their careers?
All you have to do is look to Cleveland for that answer…no!
In the early 90’s, the Tribe drafted Albert Belle, Jim Thome, and Manny Ramirez, and traded for Sandy Alomar, Carlos Baerga, and Kenny Lofton before they spent any significant time in the major leagues.
Then GM John Hart took the then revolutionary step of offering long-term deals to young players to keep them under Cleveland’s control for an extra year or two beyond the free agency service time, but one by one, they left the organization, with Alomar staying the longest–11 years.
The Tribe made a legitimate huge offer to keep Ramirez, but he turned them down to head for Boston after the 2000 season.
Belle and Thome left as free agents, while the others were traded before they reached that point.
We see similar story lines every year in the majors, when will the small market team pull the trigger on a deal which will send a player becoming a free agent for younger, more controllable players.
Someone is going to say that the Yankees lost Robinson Cano to Seattle this winter, but when was the last time something like that happened? Usually, New York just keeps Cano.
To us, we still think paying a pitcher $30 million a year isn’t the most sound idea, not matter what their age. They are simply too volatile in terms of performance.
Hart once said the difference between the Yankees and other teams is that New York can afford to make mistakes. If Kershaw gets hurt (which we hope he doesn’t), it’s not that big of a deal for Los Angeles.
It would be crippling if it happened to the Royals, Brewers, Indians, or Reds.