MLB Owners and Players Association at Odds Again as Rumors of Salary Cap Swirl

Steven Higgins
Staff Writer

With Spring Training kicking off, baseball fans across the country begin to gain excitement as a new season approaches with renewed hopes of success for their favorite teams. However, the owners and Players Association have been making headlines for the wrong reasons. Both sides seem to be continuing what has been a rocky relationship over the past few years as they are very far apart about implementing a salary cap. Just last offseason the two sides were in a lockout which took a strenuous three-month negation process between both sides with threats of a shortened season if a new labor agreement was not reached. The latest occurrence is just another bad sign for baseball fans as the current agreement is only a four-year deal and is set to expire in 2026.

One of the highest paid players in baseball, and new New York Yankees captain Aaron Judge (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Apstein/Sports Illustrated)

The debate for a salary cap has been reignited after the $4.2 billion spending spree in free agency spending this offseason with nearly half coming from three clubs the New York Yankees, New York Mets, and San Diego Padres. Commissioner Rob Manfred has expressed support for a salary cap over the past few weeks. This came after big market teams’ payrolls surged in recent years making it increasingly more challenging for small market teams to compete. He highlighted his concerns regarding the widening spending gap between organizations’ spending and the economic system that was agreed upon, just last winter. Manfred added that he believes the league has revenue disparity issues which leads some, mainly smaller market clubs to constraints on how much they can spend every year. When you look around the league at how much is being spent by each team, he does raise a valid argument.

Heading into the 2023 season, seven teams are spending over $200 million on their rosters and nine teams’ total payrolls are under $90 million. The seven teams all play in relativity large markets such as New York and California with high expectations for the teams to make deep playoff runs, while those at the bottom of the league are in small cities with low expectations for their teams. Additionally, the gap between the top-spending Mets payroll of $336 million, led by billionaire owner Steve Cohen is nearly $300 million more than the lowest-spending Oakland Athletics, furthering the competitive balance issue among teams as the bottom-tier teams are at a disadvantage due to the financial constraints they have.

New York Mets multi-billion dollar owner Steve Cohen (Photo courtesy of Mary Altaffer/The Guardian)

Despite the glaring wealth gap among teams, Players Association Director Tony Clark has made his stance on the topic of a salary cap very clear, it is never going to happen. Clark believes that a salary cap would place restrictions on player value and prohibit a market system the league currently has. He also added that he believes teams go through cycles of competitive periods which leads to more spending as there is increased fan attendance and more revenue is coming in. Although Clark does raise a reasonable argument, baseball is the only major sport in the United States that does not have a hard salary cap. The league has also discussed a salary floor in the past but this would be challenging to implement given that some teams might not have the cash flows to support the spending requirement, making a salary cap a more feasible option.

The ongoing salary cap discussion between the players and owners will surely be interesting to follow as it has been debated for decades dating back to the 1994 labor strike which canceled the World Series that year. Given how far both sides a similar situation could be likely if it is formally proposed so it will be intriguing to see if they can reach any sort of agreement in the near future.


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