Nightengale: No crying in baseball – salaries exploding – USA TODAY
We are supposed to be outraged that the Detroit Tigers just handed out the richest contract in baseball history to 30-year-old first baseman Miguel Cabrera.
We are supposed to be incensed that the Los Angeles Dodgers’ opening-day player payroll is the highest in major league history at $241.1 million, according to USA TODAY Sports’ annual salary report.
Oh, we might have private grumblings, and some industry eyebrows were raised after the Tigers guaranteed Cabrera $292 million into his 40s.
Yet there is no more crying poor, not in an industry that might hit $9 billion in revenue this year. And there are no owners and executives seeking their favorite news media outlet to lash out at wild expenditures.
DATA BASE: All the salaries, all the payroll
When everyone’s getting filthy rich, there is no Evil Empire.
“I’m not bothered about it at all,” said Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick, whose franchise record-setting payroll of $111 million is dwarfed by the rival Dodgers’. “I think the idea of someone spending more money is fine. You can either spend money on your players or put it in your pocket. The players are deserving of their share of revenue.”
Funny how times have changed now that plenty keep up with the New York Yankees, with a record 15 teams having an opening-day payroll of at least $100 million, including five exceeding $150 million.
“I learned that whenever a team believes its individual needs are to try to field a championship team, whether signing a player or the team payroll, as long as it’s in the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, nobody should be questioning those decisions,” Yankees President Randy Levine told USA TODAY Sports.
It didn’t stop anyone from shredding the Yankees when they were atop the payroll mountain the last 15 years, with Boston Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino famously dubbing them the Evil Empire.
“We’re used to teams … trying to utilize us, whether to distract from their own issues or create a bogeyman where we are in payroll,” Levine said.
Here’s where the industry stands: The Yankees spent $500 million on free agents, lowered their payroll — and were lauded for their business acumen.
“We feel we can win and have a championship team without needing to spend that much money,” Levine said.
What next, Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria telling us they’re just following the Yankees’ mantra?
They could. Five teams are worth at least $1 billion, according to Forbes, and the average team is valued at $811 million.
It’s so absurd that the Dodgers, who have an $8.35 billion local TV contract, with 3 million tickets already sold this season, could have a $500 million payroll without blinking.
No wonder they have $216.5 million already on the books for next year, with another $182 million in 2016.
“It’s not a goal of ours,” Dodgers CEO Stan Kasten said of the record-setting payroll. “It’s a byproduct of our approach to put the best team on the field. There has been criticism inside baseball, but that’s OK. We’re supposed to be contenders every year. We’re the Dodgers.”
Call it the golden prosperity of baseball, where Alex Rodriguez’s $275 million contract seems outdated and the Los Angeles Angels are considered geniuses for locking up Mike Trout for $144.5 million over six seasons — after he’s put in all of two seasons.
Not to suggest that this a perfect system, of course.
“I’d just like it to be distributed a little more equitable than it is, and I would hope we can get to the point where the gap from top to bottom can be addressed,” Kendrick says. “We need to recognize the disparity between top to bottom is dramatic, and over time that’s not a positive thing for the sport.”
Yes, we’re talking about you, Miami and Houston.
The San Diego Padres have a bigger payroll than the total of those two teams. The only player on either team earning more than $8 million is Astros starter Scott Feldman. The Dodgers have five making at least $19 million.
It raises the question, posed by one owner, that if there can be a luxury-tax penalty when a team eclipses $189 million in payroll, why can’t there be a penalty for teams refusing to spend?
“I’m a believer there should be no floor, no ceiling ever,” agent Scott Boras says. “This must be a choice-driven system. When you have a free market, the game itself will set the boundaries. There are no ceilings on your revenues, so why should be there be ceiling on your expenditures?”
Certainly, with or without major changes to the next labor deal, baseball is demonstrating there is no ceiling when it comes to stars, no matter if you’re paying a guy when he’s 22 or until he’s 41.
The $20 million salary is now the $30 million deal, and surely a $40 million annual contract is around the corner.
It’s little wonder, then, that Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander clarified after Cabrera’s deal that it’s not just a good time to be a player but an owner, too. “Which,” he said, “is a good situation for baseball.”
Oh, baby, is it ever.
GALLERY: Top 25 highest-paid players