Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tampa Bay Rays need to spend some cash

The head of the baseball players' union is not happy with the Tampa Bay Rays for sharply reducing payroll. Neither am I.

Sure, I’m happy that the Rays are not as strong a team as the one that beat the New York Yankees out for the American League East title last year (not that it mattered since the Rays lost to the eventual AL champ Texas Rangers right before the Yankees did). And the Rays’ eagerness to cut payroll meant the Yankees could sign Rafael Soriano to be the set-up man for Mariano Rivera without the Rays trying to persuade him to continue closing games in Florida. But it also meant that the Rays let Carl Crawford run toward the Red Sox and that huge pile of cash without putting up any kind of a fight, tipping the AL East in Boston’s favor.

To a certain extent, I do understand the economic reasoning behind the payroll slash. The Rays couldn’t draw decent crowds to their decrepit stadium even with an exciting, young team that pounded the Yankees and Red Sox several times over the last two years. That has to be frustrating for ownership, which has been begging for a new stadium for years.

But what is infuriating about the Rays’ decision is that they will still get their share of the luxury tax dollars that the Yankees will pay out for continuing to reinvest their vast revenues in their baseball club. Hank Steinbrenner may be a total blowhard, but he’s absolutely right to be frustrated watching these other teams hoard the cash he has to send in their direction.

Major League Baseball is going to have to figure out a way to force these small-market teams to spend all the cash they receive from the big-city giants on players and compel them to pay administrative and other expenses out of their own pockets. It looks like they can count on the full support of the players’ union for any attempt to implement minimum payroll or spending levels during the next collective bargaining session. I’m sure there will be resistance from the Rays and other baseball clubs in similar predicaments, but baseball is a better game when there is parity on the field.

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