From the moment reports began to surface that 25-year-old Japanese righty Yoshinobu Yamamoto was signing a 12-year, $325 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers — a record in both length and value for a Major League pitcher, following on the heels of the previous record contract they’d given to Shohei Ohtani — the old complaints began to come flooding back.
Baseball’s lack of a salary cap leaves smaller market teams in the dust, at the sort of financial disadvantage unheard of in sports with a salary cap. With Yamamoto, Ohtani and Tyler Glasnow in tow, you might as well just hand the Dodgers the Commissioner’s Trophy now — and for years to come. Handing $325 million to a player who’d yet to throw a single pitch in the Majors was rank insanity, the sort of greed run amok that was ruining the sport. Baseball, in conclusion, was broken.
To which I say: Quit complaining.
Yes, baseball’s payroll disparity is real — the Dodgers just spent more on payroll than the entire AL Central combined did in 2023 — and yes, it’s bad for the sport that the overwhelming majority of teams around the league have been resigned to fiddling on the margins this offseason. But the fault for that doesn’t lie with the Dodgers, or the Yankees, or any of the sport’s other big-market powers; it lies with baseball’s obstinate owners, who would much rather coast along on revenue-sharing and manage their team like a real estate investment rather than make a good-faith effort to put a competitive product on the field.
A salary cap is simply not happening; it’s a non-starter for the MLBPA, and understandably so. But what the league really needs isn’t a salary cap — it’s a salary floor. For too long, overcapitalized (or just downright skinflint) owners have been able to squat on their franchises, watching the valuations on their investments climb up and up while not bothering to bring in any meaningful talent. If the Dodgers’ offseason spending spree puts the heat on owners who can’t afford to reach a minimum annual payroll — $150 million, maybe? — then that’s too bad. They should sell — at a very enviable price, mind you — to someone who can.
If MLB had a significant salary floor, individual salaries would continue to rise and there would still be a disparity between the big-market franchises and the small ones. But the small ones would be forced to pony up to an acceptable level, even when they’re rebuilding. Some owners will cry poor that, saying their markets can’t sustain such an increase. But what they’re really saying is that owners in those markets wouldn’t be receiving as large of a profit as they have in the past, or as larger market teams do.
Again: MLB teams are not losing money. Professional sports teams are not losing money. Not with all the other revenue streams that include technology, broadcasting and the gambling industry. There are plenty of eligible billionaires who would like to own a sports team and can actually afford to do so in a way that doesn’t alienate an entire fan base.What Major League Baseball needs are more owners who want to win at all costs and not owners who are trying to keep down costs. These types of ownership groups have emerged in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Toronto, New York and Texas, and there’s nothing stopping them from emerging in, say, Seattle and Baltimore and Minneapolis. All we’re doing by dissuading a team from spending a premium on the best talent in the world is encouraging mediocrity.
Plus, all of this hand-wringing obscures a very important point: The Dodgers broke the bank to bring in Ohtani and Yamamoto because they had to. This team just got waxed in three games in the NLDS by the Arizona Diamondbacks — the 84-win, middling payroll Arizona Diamondbacks, who’ve responded to that run by making meaningful additions in free agency like pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez. You could also argue that they still aren’t even the most talented team in their own league; the Braves likely have a deeper offense as things stand, and the Dodgers still have plenty of questions to answer in their rotation — and risk that things might go sideways again in the fall of 2024. Los Angeles entered this winter with real holes to fill and limited options to fill them credibly; they did so, at great cost but also at great risk. Acting as though we might as well not even bother playing the season out isn’t just defeatist but flatly inaccurate.
And let’s not pretend that spending big is a foolproof way to crack baseball’s notoriously fickle postseason — just ask the Yankees and Padres in recent years. Meanwhile, the Orioles just won 101 games in the regular season with a bottom-of-the-barrel payroll. Rather than supplementing that young core of talent in free agency and via trade, however, Baltimore has more or less sat on its hands. Why? Because the Angelos family is more concerned with shaking down the city for land development deals than they are with actually investing in the on-field product. One of those is profitable for the handful of people on the top, and it isn’t the one that’s in fans’ best interest.
Maybe the Dodgers will waltz to a World Series title next season, with Ohtani launching 50 homers and Yamamoto capturing the Cy Young. But all that will do is give fans a new villain to rally around, and everyone something to talk about — two things that have historically meant more interest in the game, not less. And hopefully, with any luck, it will also help convince fans that the problem isn’t in Los Angeles or New York. It’s with the other filthy rich owners who refuse to follow their lead.