Kenny Williams, general manager of the Chicago White Sox, foresees a doomsday for Major League Baseball, and the harbinger of this coming apocalypse is none other than Albert Pujols. In an interview with Chuck Garfien of CSNChicago.com yesterday, Williams went on a rant of sorts, decrying the ever-escalating salary demands of players like Pujols and complaing about how those demands undermine fair competition amongst the 30 teams in the game. Quoth Kenny:
For the game’s health as a whole, when we’re talking about 30 million dollar players, I think it’s asinine. We have gotten to the point of no return. Something has to happen. And if it means the game being shut down for the sake of bringing sanity to it ... to franchises that aren’t going to stop the insanity ... I’m all for it.
Lockouts are on just about everyone's mind these days, what with the NFL apparently headed for one and the NBA possibly careening down the same road in the near future as well. So it's understandable that Williams' mind may be pondering the possibility for baseball. But to willfully support bringing the game to screeching halt to impose a salary cap? And to say so just as spring training is getting underway, when fans are ramping up their collective enthusiasm for baseball? You're a brave, brave man, Kenny Williams.
Naturally, one's initial reaction to Kenny's comments might be, "But ... but ... you just gave Adam Dunn a four-year, $56 million deal. Granted, that's hardly the $30 million a year that you're criticizing, Kenny. But the White Sox still have the highest estimated payroll in their division ($125.2) and the fourth largest in the American League overall, according to Baseball-Reference.com." (One's reactions tend to be very long-winded.) To his credit, Williams recognizes this disparity and says he'd be willing to give it all up tomorrow:
I personally, from a competitive standpoint, would love to be on an even playing field with everyone. But it’s really difficult for me to complain too much when we still have a higher payroll than some of the others.
Other critics may cite that Kenny appears to be complaining more about inflation, which is virtually inevitable. But go back and read that last comment again. It seems silly to think that a GM who's guided a team to a World Series and has fielded winning teams much more often than not wouldn't be cognizant of the inevitability of rising prices. He's talking about competition -- about mid- to small-market teams essentially being priced off the field before a pitch is thrown. And if we know anything at all about Kenny Williams, it's that he's an ultra-competitive guy.
Now is bringing about a work stoppage in baseball to impose a salary cap that would the game affordable for "... families, for guys who are hard-working guys busting their [butts] everyday to take their kids to a ballgame..." worth the resulting bad blood and loss of jobs and revenue?
That may be where Kenny goes too far. After all, players such as Albert Pujols are few and far between. Is there anyone else coming up behind King Albert who will likely command the 10-year, $30 million per year contract he's demanding? If anything, it seems like more and more teams are, wisely, seizing the opportunity to lock up young players to long-term deals that will likely limit their expensive free agent years. See Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies. Or look right here in Chicago at Alexei Ramirez of the Sox and Carlos Marmol of the Cubs.
Williams has a valid point. There is a growing gap between the monied, mostly large-market teams who can buy out nearly any player who hits the market and the many, tight-budgeted, medium- to small-market teams who seem to depend largely on plain, old good luck to draft themselves into competitiveness or otherwise resign themselves to toiling in downright futility. The system isn't particularly fair and does warrant some changes. But, speaking purely as a fan, can we please make those changes calmly and rationally -- during the off-season?