Would a Salary Cap Improve Baseball?

Earlier this week, Dubner wondered what kinds of changes might make Major League Baseball more interesting to the modern T.V. viewer.

A number of you suggested instituting salary caps. This chart comparing team performance with total player salaries over the 2008 season, by data visualization guru Ben Fry, does seem to suggest a link between higher pay and sluggish performance.

But does it?

Check out Fry’s charts for the 2005, 2006, and 2007 seasons as well.


rice is a main ingredient in beer;
beer prices go higher;
people get mad;
stop driving to beer store;
fuel supply rise;
price drops...

Keith Weintraub

I would create two or three divisions comparable to what they have in the English soccer leagues.

At the end of the season the worst 3 (?) teams in the higher division get "relegated" to the lower division and the best 3 in the lower get put into the higher division.

The higher divisions get more of the TV revenue and play many fewer games against the lower divisions.

That way we don't have to watch mis-match games during the season.

There could be a championship for each division as well.


Hey can you guys take a look at the ethanol versus food issue that seems to be getting legs.

There is a crises apparently happening in the commodities market for grains, especially rice and corn.

I suspect rampant speculation in the commodities market bankrolled by the profits in the oil industry is contributing to 1) high gas prices at the pump and 2) shortages in corn and rice.

There appears to be an accepted common wisdom that ethanol is now discredited because it competes with food. Which is bad.

My problem with this is it appears to me that the US domestic corn production has increased tremendously in the last 10 to 15 years to provide high fructose corn syrup for the soft drink industry to flavor softdrinks, because the US domestic sugar industry is being protected from foreign sugar. It just seems with all these factors that the reality is the US could support increased usage of ethanol in gasoline, without making people starve. Have you looked into these issues from an economic point of view and a debunking of "conventional wisdom" I appoligize if you have already commeted elsewhere.



Perhaps a better research opportunity was right in public view last weekend; many newspapers ran articles describing how the rapid rise in guaranteed money paid to top NFL picks has changed the value of the draft chart. The Boston Globe, for example, ran a version of a new chart that shows the highest value for trades being somewhere around pick 12 or 15 - don't remember exactly.

The questions are right there: will the huge guaranteed amounts paid to unproven players be a better catalyst for bad teams to improve? Will the new draft chart values affect the type and value of trades, meaning that teams might want to avoid trading for first round picks, especially from potentially bad teams, because they don't want to invest $20M in an unproven player? It would be interesting to go through the failure / success rates of players before and after the guaranteed money increases became so large. Are teams more careful? Are the drafts more or less predictable?


Daniel Reeves

"To make millions playing a game when people are starving is sick and disgusting."

You're disgusting. You'd veto people's choices of how to spend their money. Don't blame the athletes, blame the consumers! By the way, nice zero-sum logic.

Richard Steele

As a supporter of English football, aka soccer, I suspect part of the problem of viewing baseball, is the marathon length of games; a salary cap doesn't seem the way to create or sustain interest in the televised version of the game. For those of you familiar with football/soccer in Europe, many of the top flight leagues are largely dominated by a handful of clubs, e.g. Manchester United, Liverpool, Real Madrid, etc. The fact that this is so has never diminished the appeal of the game. The very idea of so-called parity by the use of salary caps would prove fruitless. Besides, unlike pro sports in America, their are many ways to achieve greatness in European football/soccer, via UEFA competitions, various league cups, such as the FA cup, Carling cup, etc. These concurrently played competitions make the European soccer season a more compelling story, a story that is played out in two 45 minute halves without tv timeouts and endless stops to the clock that make American sport s viewing a tedious experience. Baseball needs a faster pace, less commercials between innings and post-season matches that are not scheduled in the dead of night.


F Pena

Championship level competition is Darwinian. Every Team Trying their best to defeat the other teams. PERIOD.If your teamm needs the League to interfere with your opponents (CAP) or force them to subsidize you(REVENUE SHARING)then your does NOT belong in the league let alone claiming to have won a championship. All the sports leagues need to cut teams that don't have sufficient fan bases to sopport them. The competition in the NFL,NHL,NBA are rigged and they have fake campionships.

Dale Tyler

As an Oriole fan for years I am just tired of seeing so many good players being bought by the Yankees. It would be nice to have more Ripkins, Robinsons, and Palmers who stayed with one team. Even better reward the Team with having a good minor league program. Fans could follow players from the minors up to the majors and you would have loyal fans. I remember going to a Oriole game and I think more Yankee fans where there than Oriole fans (in the 50's).

One other thing there should be a LAW period. If a team moves the name of the team stays with the city. All sports.

Gary Smith

Asking fans in New York or Boston about a salary cap ismeaningless. Ask the rest of the countrysfans, such as in Pittsburgh, Cinn, K City etc..sPORTS IS ABOUT "fAIR PLAY"., AND A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR ALL. The other three major sports havea cap, and it works great. Do you think many fans think the Yankees have earned their pennants recently..They bought them. America used to be about fairness for all, in the sport we call "Our NationalPasttime", should we expect any less??




I dont think a salary cap would solve the problem of fairness, I think you need to add a 2 teams to make it 32 teams. Add 2 playoff spots so there is 12 of 32 who can make the playoffs and instead of restrict a players earnings realign teams based on payroll spent. example:

Yanks, Red Soxs, Mets, Phils in one division and Teams like the Pirates, Nationals, Indians, Reds in another. This would ensure teams with lower payrolls can be represented in the playoffs. As you spend more you change divisions. This would keep the schedule fresh and teams like the Pirates and Royals would have a chance to play in October.

check out the plan at:



You guys are all missing the point. Salary cap would make the yankees less dominant and bring the pirates up to a respectable team because the other ones arnt as stacked. The salary cap isnt about spreading the economy but making the sport seem like meeningful games throughout the season. The red sox and yankees start the season knowing there going to probably be in the playoffs where if it gets evened out you have true races all over the MLB . Also im tired of seeing people bitch about gass prices and other problems on a baseball directed question.


Id think we'd all agree that good sports are about competition. Not dominance. Sure there are arguments against a salary cap. But 150M contracts are unsustainable. If the Yankees are driving up salaries and further dominating the free agent market, how is that good for baseball? You can draft whatever players you want. But when their contracts expire, how do you compete if the Yankees are offering the sum of the rest of your players' salaries? You cant.
There were three big names on the free agent market this winter. For each, the Yankees outbid every other team in the MLB. For nearly 400M in contracts. How can monopolizing free agency be good for anyone?
Will the market eventually correct itself? Or will the big teams continue to thrive off their lesser??

Terry Vitiello

I love your unconventional approach. Loved Freakonomics.
Also, agree with this post. 6 of top 7 spending have steep red lines. Bad.
Our take is to forget free agency and instead develop talent by improving technique. No one pays attention to technique yet it is the most important aspect of player performance.
Better technique also means significantly fewer injuries which saves teams money of Dr. bills & rehab.
My associate Dr. Michael Yessis has the sport-science proof to support this position.


One could point out that less kids play baseball now a days than they did 40 years ago. Kids today, generally speaking, get outdoors FAR less today. But could that mean a higher population watching TV than there was 40 years ago? Less kid baseball players, less baseball fans?
But kids do play soccer, American kids have the largest youth soccer leagues in the entire world. And yet, we have a mediocre interest in the sport. Perhaps there is more reality shows, youtube, & internet has slowly killed the baseball watching population? When baseball was thriving in the 20's thru the 70's there certainly was less going on in a MUCH slower paced world. Perhaps we can conclude that 'video killed the baseball star'? Or that people cater their attention to the faster pace of basketball and football?