The lack of a salary cap if you don’t play for a huge market
The National Football League has parity with its teams, thanks to salary caps. With MLB teams, it’s a case of the haves and have-nots. Thanks to increased cable contracts, this is changing a little, and teams can sign some of their players long-term early. But there are still massive payroll differentials between teams like the New York Yankees versus small-market teams like the Tampa Bay Rays.
The top-spending teams have overall payrolls over $200 million, while the lowest-spending teams might be spending as little as $60 million. And when you look at the actual 25-man roster for the players currently on the team, versus those who have been released, injured, or traded to another team where the old team is paying the salary, you have the San Diego Padres paying just $29.4 million for their 2017 25-man roster. Since MLB has a $535,000 major league minimum salary, that means most players are making close to that amount. At just $4.5 million, Wil Myers is the team’s highest-paid player.
Compare with the defending World Champion Chicago Cubs, the team with the highest 25-man payroll in baseball. They have 12 players who make more than Myers in 2017, most notably Jason Heyward at over $28 million. And Heyward had an awful 2016 in his first year with the team, batting just .230.
That’s one of the benefits of being able to spend more—the ability to buy a player like Heyward and not have it prevent you from spending on other players, or from being able to compete. It can also help teams fill in gaps, like when the Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman in 2016. The baseball haves can do a lot more than the have-nots.