By: Elliot Pototsky — Correspondent
With the 2021 MLB season underway, there are several teams whose rosters look quite different from last year.
In the offseason, Cincinnati Reds’ ace Trevor Bauer left for Los Angeles to join an already stacked Dodgers team, and before last season’s trade deadline, the Tampa Bay Rays’ ace Blake Snell was acquired in a blockbuster deal by the San Diego Padres.
And the moves were not done.
In the same offseason, the Cleveland Indians traded Gold Glove Shortstop Francisco Lindor to the New York Mets, and the Colorado Rockies traded Gold Glove Third Baseman Nolan Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The reason for these moves revolves around the concept of big-market teams versus small-market teams, and specifically how both types of teams affect one another.
Senior Jordan Saks says the MLB has a terrible system put in place so only the big-market teams have a real shot to win the World Series. “Last year the Tampa Bay Rays miraculously made the World Series despite the little money they had,” he said. “However, in the future, they cannot retain any of their players because they don’t have the money to sign them.”
Saks says that the MLB is one of the only sports leagues that has not implemented a financial cap system to make the teams more fair and competitive. “For some reason, the MLB has not done that yet, and they need to,” he said.
When asked about the big-name players who have recently been on the move, Saks says that Mookie Betts and Bryce Harper are the most notable. “Both of these guys were willing to stay with their teams if they were willing to pay up,” he said. “Small-market teams lose their stars because they have no money to pay.”
Both the Nationals and the Red Sox had the money to pay their superstar franchise player, but neither team was willing to pay the price.
Senior Hayden Freedland says that the big-market teams completely dominate the MLB and they rarely seem to have losing seasons. “They always have the cap to sign all the big-name free agents and international prospects,” he said. “It doesn’t give lower payroll teams much of a chance to compete.”
Freedland says some big-market teams can “buy” championships, rather than developing their young players like small-market teams have to do. “Teams like the A’s and Marlins are filled with young talent and rarely spend money on big names,” he said. “It is refreshing to see teams with homegrown talents compete at high levels.”
Freedland says that it is extremely rare for a player to stay on a small-market team their entire career. “The franchise icons that teams bring in on long-term deals are always traded,” he said. “The big-market teams always end up with the big-name players.”
Freedland says the MLB should consider a cap, exactly how the NBA and NFL have one. “It would allow for more teams to have a chance at competing for a title or making the playoffs,” he said.
Freedland says there are significantly more international prospects in the MLB, so limiting how many a team can sign and how much they can spend would also help. “It would prevent teams like the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox from signing the top overseas talent,” he said.
Sharon High School graduate Jack Zinman says there is no doubt that big-market teams have dominated the MLB, especially when it comes to free agency. “Every offseason, small-market teams are struggling to compete and catch up to these teams solely because of the budget they are running on,” he said.
When it comes to building a championship team, Zinman says it all depends on who is in the front office since different executives across the league specialize in different areas. “Chaim Bloom was a mastermind in Tampa Bay, building a championship roster the hard way,” he said. “He built an impressive farm system which developed extremely well and signed players with the potential to small deals.”
Now the Chief Baseball Officer of the Red Sox, Zinman says that Bloom still acts like he is on a budget even though Boston is one of the biggest markets in the league. “The big-market executives don’t need to work as hard to find the hidden talent in the minor leagues as they can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on players,” he said.
Throughout the years, the Red Sox have never been a team to shy away from handing out big paydays. Unfortunately for small-market teams, big paydays are rare commodities that lead to the inevitable loss of a star player.
Some call it a betrayal. Others call it business.
Next to hockey, Zinman says that baseball has the most loyalty. “You see players signing 10-13 year contracts to stay in the same city for pretty much their entire careers,” he said. “Since there is no salary cap in baseball, there is no need to take a pay cut, hence the reason you see so many big deals happen.”
Zinman says that because baseball is a team sport, hardly impacted by one or two stars, there are not as many players that want to join a contending team as we see in the NBA and NFL. “There are rarely back-to-back champions and there is usually a new World Series matchup every season,” he said.
Even so, some MLB teams are becoming favorable destinations, whether it is due to the climate, the culture of the team, or the amount of money they can make.
This is why big-market teams can take advantage of the league. Zinman says that it would be extremely tough to implement a salary cap in baseball, partially due to the number of minor league players that the franchise now has to pay.
Zinman also says that if the MLB implements a salary cap, small-market teams would have an immediate advantage. “They would be able to sign anybody they want and the big-market teams would have to fight to go under the cap as they have players making thirty to forty million dollars a year,” he said. “The Padres are paying 800 million dollars for their infield.”
Whether or not the MLB even discusses putting in a cap system remains to be seen, but it is evident that the league is unbalanced when it comes to the amount of money each team has to spend.
Overall, a team’s financial situation does not determine the amount of talent it can acquire. Though it may be more difficult for a small-market team to find and groom talent, a well-run organization will be very capable of putting together the necessary pieces to form a team that can contend with the best of the best.