Now that the Yankees have "bought" their way to another championship, I'm seeing some of the traditional hand-wringing and complaining about how to deal with the financial imbalance in the game (mainly on Twitter, America's source for truth!). I'll admit that it's hard to be a fan of a "small market" team and have to watch the big spending teams in the playoffs every year. Oh sure, the baseball gods throw us a bone or two every year with Minnesota or Tampa Bay or Oakland, but there is typically a big market flavor to the playoffs every year.
But I'm not here to whine about that. I understand why it happens, and I also understand that it is not impossible to overcome it, if you are smart. However, lower revenue teams are at a definite disadvantage, if only because they have less of an ability to absorb mistakes. Even though the Yankees signed players like Carl Pavano and Jason Giambi to large contracts that didn't really pan out, they still averaged 97 wins a season from 2001-2008 and made the playoffs in 7 of the 8 seasons. The Reds signed Eric Milton to a similar contract as Pavano and that set the organization back 3 years, at least. My point is that, despite the fact that intelligence can top money in some cases, money still gives some teams a perhaps unfair advantage.
So, what can be done about it?
I'm not a big fan of a hard salary cap because I think the ultimate result of that is that it allows owners to simply pocket more cash. Plus, I still think you'll have owners who spend the minimum amount and take home the maximum amount of profit. I do however think there needs to be a way to encourage players to "spread the wealth" of talent around the league. Unfortunately, I haven't heard an idea for that that sticks with me yet.
Here are some other ideas though that I think might help out the little guys:
1. International Draft - Force all players that want to enter the league to enter through the same process, regardless of where they were born. This would prevent the best international players from going simply to the highest bidder and would also help teams work their way into the overseas markets like Japan.
2. Division realignment - I think teams could become more interesting to free agents who are looking for a shot at the playoffs if the decks weren't so stacked against them. I'm not sure of the exact way that realignment would best work, but if it is based off of market size or done in an EPL type fashion, it could give smaller teams a better shot at overcoming their larger opponents to get to the playoffs.
3. Hard slotting for draft picks - I believe the NBA has a fairly strict range for what a draft pick can make based on where they are drafted. This won't completely take away signability issues, but it will make it easier for teams to know what they are getting into when they find out their draft slot and hopefully allow them to take the best player available instead of the best player they can afford.
4. Rework the luxury tax - I think only 4 teams pay the luxury tax each year, and honestly it doesn't seem to be a deterrent to any of them. On the other end of the spectrum, there are teams that are keep their luxury tax income strictly for profit. Force teams to invest that money back into their organizations or they have to forfeit it. And if they could find a way to discourage the rich from spending so damn much on their teams, that would be nice too. :)
These aren't all great ideas, and I'm not sure any of them are realistic (outside of #1). If you have any ideas that might work better, I'd love to hear them.