Baseball always had its long cycles of dominant teams that mature, milk their success for years then gradually succumb to age, injury, horrid contracts, minor league systems eviscerated by win-now trades, internal conflicts and life in general.
But we may have to wait a long time to see three teams as rich, adored in their home markets, still loaded with name stars but so very much in trouble.
Just months ago, baseball changed its playoffs to include two more wild cards. The justification: So teams besides the perennial powers, especially these three money-minters, could hope to play in October. Pity was focused on teams condemned to play in the AL and NL East, such as the Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles, Nationals, Braves and Marlins. Help ’em dream.
Now, it’s the BoSox, Yanks and Phils who look like the ones in dire need of wild cards. Philadelphia and Boston are in last place while New York only escapes that distinction because of the Red Sox. Circle the date: The top three payrolls combined have a losing record.
Don’t say “goodbye” to these household-name teams; they have the most wins in baseball over the last nine years. But feel free to say “see you around,” as in, see you around second, third or fourth place but not much on the top of the heap for several years.
Over the last 10 years, the Yanks (975 wins) and Red Sox (932) have dominated the sport — in marquee magnetism as well as wins. In the last five years, the Phils have joined them in raw intimidation, with five straight NL East titles and 42 more wins than any other NL team.
However, all three franchises have had bad luck in choosing this precise moment to lose their edge. Their money doesn’t spend as well as it once did. MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement has already inhibited spending with luxury tax penalties. The payrolls of the Yanks, Phils and BoSox increased by only 1.5 percent last offseason; the Yanks acted like paupers.
Long ago, this trio had their huge bumps in revenue from regional cable TV money and new or renovated ballparks. Now, every seat is full and every TV dollar extracted. They earned their sellouts. But you don’t get a new Yankee Stadium or create the New England Sports Network every day — or even every generation. That bonanza era has leveled off.
Meanwhile, the Marlins just got a splashy new park. Vast regional sports network dollars motivated the Angels and Rangers to make monster bids for Albert Pujols, Yu Darvish and C .J. Wilson. Prince Fielder ended up a Tiger.
More teams, including the Astros, Nats, Padres and especially the Dodgers are due for big TV money increases. Just when the old powers need to reload, the sport’s rising teams still have fresh revenue streams to expand.
The most basic reason the Yanks, Red Sox and Phils have had mundane springs can be found in the simplest location: the disabled list. The better you are, the harder you probably play. The further you advance in postseason, the more games you endure, year after year. Parades have a price.