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East Carolina Hall of Famer and
former baseball coach Keith LeClair.
 (Photo: ECU Media Relations)

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From The Dugout

By Keith LeClair

Itís cap time for MLB

I am not an expert on how the salary cap works and all the ins and outs of its existence, especially in the NFL, but one thing that is distinctly noticeable is that the cap has brought parity to pro football. Before the season starts you can honestly say that just about every team has a chance to make the playoffs (OK, maybe not the Detroit Lions). Unfortunately, that cannot be said about Major League baseball.

Before the first pitch is thrown in spring training you almost always can count out at least ten teams. So, is this good for the game of baseball, or will MLB have to make some drastic changes before some of the lower market teams go bankrupt?

Take a look at the Milwaukee Brewers, for example. They just recently put the team up for sale, and sadly to say, the only chance they have to succeed is if a rich owner comes in and wants to spend some money to win. I am not saying that teams cannot win with a low payroll, but the chances become much more of a challenge. I would say the Oakland A's are the one team that seems to be able to compete against the big boys year in and year out by using their farm system to help replace players lost through free agency.

I know some would say that a free market causes competition, but sadly enough it leaves out half the organizations. Yes, I know the argument can be made about the Marlins winning the World Series on a payroll less than a third of the Yankees. I believe thatís why so many fans wanted the Yankees to lose, because it was like David fighting Goliath.

So what happened in this off-season? The Yanks and Boston go out on a spending spree to bury the chances of the likes of the Florida Marlins ó or a big market team like the Orioles ó to buy their way back into the race. Honestly, as a fan, I do not know which players went where until the first month of the season has been played. And when the trading deadline comes, it starts all over again with the big spenders wheeling and dealing again to raid the small market teams of any good players they may have for a few minor leaguers and cash.

I am afraid the game is losing its fan base because of all this and some changes have to be made. The only shot a smaller market team has right now is developing players through its farm system and hopefully hitting the jackpot on a trade from one of the players they have developed, but cannot afford anymore. What happens to these rising superstars when free agency hits? They fly to greener pastures for millions upon millions of dollars and leave their club to start all over again.

I believe the majority of fans want a competitive and balanced league, not one that is lopsided before the All-Star break. Just look at the NFL playoffs and the parity they have year in and year out. Itís very seldom that you see the same teams fighting for a chance to play in the Super Bowl.

Wouldnít it be nice to see a level playing field in Major League baseball? I think so and here is my two-cents opinion on how to fix the problem.

First, I would set the salary cap at $50 million per team and allow each team to designate one franchise player that would not count against the cap up to $10 million. For example, take Manny Ramirez out of the Red Sox out. Only $10 million of his $20 million salary (or thereabouts) would count towards the cap.This way, your marquee players will still be making the dollars they should, but it would cut the cost of paying average players who hit .250 and pitchers that are sub-.500 from making millions.

This would then put an emphasis on the development of the farm system and keep players in your organization for longer periods of time. This would drastically cut free agency from becoming nothing more than a bidding war. Itís out of control when youíre paying guys $20 million a year to play baseball and the fans who make $10 an hour pay for it. This way, owners could cut prices at the ticket office and in the concession stands to where fans could afford to take their family to a baseball game and not spend $250.

Second, I would move up the trading deadline to June 1st so there are no more rent-a-player deals. Like Sidney Ponson going to Giants for the stretch run only to resign with Baltimore at end of year. This would avoid the fire sales like you saw the Pirates and Cubs make during the Cubbiesí playoff run.

The way the trading deadline is set up now, teams have to make trades to even stay in the race. The Mariners this past year elected not to make any trades and they got left in the dust when September came around and the GM got fired because of it. I say when teams leave spring training, thatís basically the players youíre going to go to battle with until the last pitch is thrown. If by June 1st you have a need and your farm system cannot fill it, by all means go make a deal, but do not trade your whole team away in August because youíre out of the race. By having this trading deadline it would allow more guys to be called up and given a shot they have worked so hard to deserve.

Last, I would put a $2 million cap on the draft and reduce it to 25 rounds and put more emphasis on signing more free agent college seniors to fill minor league rosters. If teams feel there are some marquee guys in the draft they want to sign, make them give those players Major League contracts and count that money towards their salary cap. What this will do in the draft is allow teams to base their selections on which kids who can help their organizations instead of on which ones they can afford.

Too many times, players are passed up in the draft because a small market team has the number one pick but has to settle for a lesser player based on money. Itís absurd to allow high school kids dictate which team is going to draft them by what kind of bonus money they are demanding.

I would also move the draft back one month to July 1st and make high school seniors, college juniors and junior college freshmen declare themselves for the draft like basketball and football. Those kids would then enter the draft without the option of coming back or playing at the collegiate level.

The only other twist that could be made is to allow high school seniors that were drafted lower than expected ó or low-balled ó to enter junior college, but not be eligible for the draft again until their second year. This would radically change the system and basically get signing bonuses back under control. I just think 18-21 year-old kids getting signing bonuses for over $5 million before they even play a professional game is utterly ridiculous.

I know I have thrown a lot out here in one article and that some changes would most likely need to be made in my proposals, especially in the salary cap dollar amount and the idea of making kids declare themselves eligible to be drafted. But thatís a start, at least for now, and gives us all something to think about.

The chances of this happening are slim to none, but thatís my opinion on the salary cap. I know I proposed some drastic changes that certainly would need to be tweaked, and thatís where you all come into play. What changes would you make to the system? If you have some suggestions just email me your thoughts.

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02.23.07 10:27 AM


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