A few years ago, one of the noted differences between NFL and MLB economics was the issue of parity. The NFL had it; MLB didn’t. Well somehow, despite the fact that A-Rod makes more than the entire Marlins team put together, the league can actually claim parity.
The only division race that seems to be a given is the AL West. The NL East and NL Central each have 3 teams within 2 games of each other. In the NL West, only 1 game separates the top 2 teams. The AL East has 3 teams within 3 1/2 games of one another. And in the AL Central, there are only 5 1/2 games between the 1st and 3rd place teams. That’s equality.
Even though the top players are signing record contracts every offseason, teams that didn’t make a big splash in free agency are still winning. And small market teams like the Marlins and Rays are not just remaining competitive; they’re fighting for division leads. Even Oakland, despite being 9 games back, is 4 games over .500 after trading away 3 starting pitchers in a matter of months.
So how did it happen? I think it’s because this time, the All Star Game counts. Just kidding.
An obvious answer is that the revenue sharing and luxury tax have helped significantly. And I do think that has helped. But I think the answer to the question goes a little deeper than just finances, and it requires me to do something I never thought I’d ever do.
Thank the Yankees.
Even typing those three words pains me. But I think they unknowingly created a working example for all teams to learn from. They had no problem winning championships….until they started assembling an All Star team every year. Weird.
In the process, they helped owners and GMs everywhere realize that you don’t have to shell out six-figure contracts to win a championship. Rather, you need to invest in drafting and developing young talent. And when the Yankees got away from that philosophy and regularly traded away top prospects, they learned that having the best team on paper doesn’t always equate to having the best team on the field. They showed that free agency is great as a compliment to a team, but not as a foundation.
And the game is better for it.
More teams are willing to take the time and effort to develop good players. More teams have become competitive, which means more fans have something to cheer for. They’ll have more reasons to come to the game, and the team will have more revenue to work with. More money for the team means that when necessary they can actually can go get that missing piece through free agency. It all starts with building a foundation on your own.
Are there a number of factors that have led to more teams staying in the race? Of course. But I think the change in philosophy has been one of the biggest. Teams learned that you can’t always go out and buy the best bat or arm. You have to be able to develop your own players.
Thanks to the Yanks, we learned that sometimes when you spend a little less you can still get a lot more.