Cheap Seats

Baseball needs to rethink guaranteed salaries

I’m beginning to accept the fact that Major League Baseball isn’t ever going to have a real salary cap and it’s probably never going to have a true revenue sharing system.

But I wonder if a more incremental move might have a similar effect of putting the brakes on runaway salaries.

I propose that Major League Baseball change its rules to disallow clubs from trading away salaries. Oh, they’d still be able to trade players. But if a team like the Anaheim Angels gives a 32-year-old hitter a 10-year contract and decides three or four years into the deal to dump said player, it still has to pay the remainder of the contract -- and it has to pay the amount immediately.

Hopefully, such a rule change would prevent teams from passing out irresponsible contracts because they no longer would be able to get out from under the bad deals.

The Marlins gave a pile of money to Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle about a year ago in backloaded deals that allowed the players to be pawned off to Toronto. Basically, the clubs wrote a check they knew they couldn’t cash and then pawned the bill off on another team desperate for a talent infusion.

Miami got a boatload of prospects. But the loser is the fan who is forced to pay higher ticket prices because of ever-increasing big league salaries.

I’m guessing that not only would the Marlins have exercised some financial restraint if they knew they couldn’t dump their big dollar contracts. But the Yankees might have thought twice before paying Alex Rodriguez $275 million over 10 years and the Angels might have been given a bit of pause before signing 32-year-old Albert Pujols to a decade-long contract.

Also, Major League Baseball needs to get rid of these contracts that contain clauses which allow players to opt out of the deal.

Players need to make up their minds if they want security of a long term contract or the high dollars of a short term deal. The only chance smaller market teams have to sign prime players is to offer long-term deals that buy out years of their free agency in exchange for a lower average annual value. Signing an opt out deal is basically an insurance policy for players that says if they get hurt or lose their skills that they’ll still be paid handsomely to sit at the end of the bench.

If a player signs a seven-year deal for $100 million with an opt out after three years, it’s only going to be a three-year deal -- unless said player tears an elbow ligament or blows out a knee. Otherwise, they’re going to hit the open market and leverage even more money from their old team or another club interested in stealing away a rival’s talent.

There’s really no advantage to a team passing out deal with escape clauses -- other than to give the player the incentive of a potential golden parachute. Clubs are betting against themselves because they know if the player is performing well that he’s going to leave. So they’re essentially signing them to contracts they’re hoping not to honor.

General managers call these sorts of deals “being creative.” But I call them bad business. Players already get the massive benefit of having their contracts guaranteed no matter how poorly they perform or if they’re hurt. So it’s only fair that the teams who pass out big money deals know exactly how much they’re going to have to pay and for how long they’re going to have to pay it. Once the gray areas are eliminated between the black and white of a contract, maybe owners will find some sanity.

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