First, there is the inept fumbling of the MLB playoff system. By allowing four teams to compete for wild card playoff spots, it means that many teams are in the playoff hunt, so they are less prone to trade good talent to better teams. If they still have a chance, they will ultimately trade less.
The second thing that happened was the luxury tax – a smart move – that has allowed smaller-market teams to pay their players more and compete with the rest of the league.
The evidence of this change came last week as the trade deadline approached and there were still marquee players on the trading block. Years ago, teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, or Mets could have engineered a trade much sooner for the playoff run.
On Sunday, the Kansas City Royals traded for Reds’ starting pitcher Johnny Cueto. The Royals may not have traded three good prospects for a star pitcher 10 years ago, since there would be no reason for it. The Royals were not a competitive team and signing Cueto would only mean that they would have to re-sign Cueto later on for big bucks. Good luck with that, since they had no money. Today, however, they can make a deal and stay at the top of their division.
For Met fans that are angry with the team not trading for anyone, the reality is that it’s just not as easy to make a trade as it used to be. The trade market is narrower than it once was for big-market teams like the Mets, Yankees, and Red Sox. The Mets can still make trades, like all teams, but now that so many teams have their eyes on a wild card spot, the chances are not exactly the same as they used to be.
The playoff re-alignment makes the game less serious, and appeals to people that already do not care about baseball. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the old system that created a fourth playoff team, but one decent side effect is that teams trade less, which ultimately is a good thing for the fans.
Why should a player like Cueto only wind up in New York or Los Angeles or Boston? Now other markets are a part of the conversation.
The luxury tax was one of, if not the only, good idea that emerged from the major leagues in recent decades. It slowed up calls for a salary cap, while allowing for teams with smaller payrolls to have some capital.
The luxury tax is also what makes us take a closer look at owners. How often over the winter did we hear about what Hal Steinbrenner might do in order to avoid the luxury tax? It’s a smart move that has made the league more competitive.
Still would have been great to see Cueto in New York, though.