Of all the major sports in America, Major League Baseball is the only sport without a salary cap. Payroll inequality has never been more apparent in the league. Some people think it’s hurting the game, while others would point to smaller market teams succeeding and higher payroll teams faltering as proof that it’s not all about the money.
The team with the highest payroll, by far, is the New York Mets. Before paying any luxury tax penalties, the Mets have a payroll just shy of $350 million dollars, according to Spotrac. This not only is the highest payroll in the game this year, but the highest payroll in MLB history! The Yankees, Padres, Phillies, and Dodgers round out the top 5. Interestingly enough, none of these teams currently lead their divisions, and the Mets and Padres would miss the playoffs entirely if the season ended today! Meanwhile, teams like the Rays, Orioles, Reds, and Marlins would all make the playoffs, and none of these teams are any higher than the 22nd highest payroll.
So, at least for this year, we have arguments suggesting payroll isn’t everything. Of course, the farm system, injuries, and playing up to expectations always comes into play. However, teams like the Dodgers and Yankees have been competing for World Series championships every year since at least 2000, and that’s in large part because of their high payroll. On the other hand, teams like the Royals, Pirates, and Athletics have largely been terrible for years because they can’t afford to pay top talent. As is the case with many different topics, the truth typically lies somewhere in the middle. There’s no question that having a larger salary helps teams overcome their own deficiencies by simply buying better players over time. However, there’s no replacement for an elite farm system and drafting quality players.
At the end of the day, not having a salary cap makes baseball unique. It’s no different than every stadium having different dimensions. It’s what makes baseball endearing to fans worldwide.