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Should the player’s union pursue a payroll floor?

MLB, MLBPA Announce New Labor Agreement Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

At the risk of belaboring a point, Travis Sawchik has a piece up at Fangraphs that’s a followup to Jeff Passan’s article at Yahoo, which I linked the other day. Sawchik posits that the player’s union perhaps should pursue a salary floor, which almost certainly would have to come with a cap. Sawchik takes as his starting point a passage from Passan’s article: “Teams are smarter. They know how terrible free agency is.” As Passan and Sawchik both note, the union’s success has been built heavily on allowing owners to spend wildly on free agents, a tendency that’s been facilitated by the absence of a payroll cap. (I don’t know why it’s always referred to as a “salary cap,” as that’s obviously inaccurate.)

Sawchik also notes that the percentage of MLB revenue devoted to payroll dropped from 56% in 2002 to 38% in 2015. That’s a much larger drop than I realized and something the union ought to be up in arms about.

Of course, the single biggest problem with the idea of a cap and floor is the huge spread in revenue between top and bottom in MLB. Because MLB media revenues are so decentralized, that spread is far greater than other sports. It’s hard to have a meaningful cap and floor when the payroll potential for lower revenue teams is probably less than half what it is for the richer teams. I don’t see how this could happen without much greater revenue sharing, which would be bitterly opposed, probably to the point of litigation, by a number of teams, as well as the union.

Anyway, I think Sawchik’s piece is worth reading.