I haven’t watched much of the MLB playoffs. To be honest, I haven’t watched any of it, outside of catching the box scores at night and watching the highlights in the morning. When the playoffs started, I mentioned I was rooting for Oakland, even though the chances of them winning it all were slim. Ever since 1994, only one team with a payroll in the bottom half of the league has won the World Series, and that was the 2003 Florida Marlins. It’s looking like that streak will be continued another year.
Oakland was eliminated tonight by the Detroit Tigers, who came in to the year with the fifth biggest payroll in the game. In the National League, the Cincinnati Reds were eliminated by the San Francisco Giants, who had the eighth biggest payroll in the game heading in to the year. Baltimore and Washington both fought to stay alive and force a deciding game five. Those two teams are the only two with payrolls in the bottom half of the league, ranking 19th (Baltimore) and 20th (Washington) heading in to the year.
It’s not ground breaking analysis to point out that the teams that spend more win. But it’s also not as simple as “the more you spend, the more you win”. There’s a huge disparity in baseball. When I talk about the top half in team payroll, I’m talking about 15 teams with a payroll of $88 M or more. Nine of those teams are spending $110 M or more, and four came in to the year spending $150 M or more. When I talk about the bottom half, I’m talking about a lot of teams who, at best, can spend in the $80 M range.
The Chicago Cubs were the number 15 spenders coming in to the season, with a little over $88 M. The Cubs can spend far more than that. In fact, this is the first year they’ve opened the season with less than $100 M in payroll since 2007, when they spent barely under $100 M on Opening Day. In the last three years they’ve been between $125 M and $147 M on Opening Day.
That $88 M range is the floor for a team like the Cubs. They get to that point after they watch Carlos Pena and Aramis Ramirez depart as free agents. Meanwhile, teams like the Pirates, the A’s, the Reds, the Rays, and other smaller market teams can only dream of spending more than that $88 M mark. Those teams can spend up to $80-90 M in a season, but not every season. They usually only spend when they have a team put together that can contend. At that point they’re only spending for a short window of time before dropping the payroll back down.
Oakland was dominated by Justin Verlander tonight. Detroit is paying Verlander $20 M a year from 2012-2014, as part of a five year, $80 M contract. Imagine how well Oakland would do if they could afford to pay a pitcher that much. Imagine if they could just afford to pay a pitcher. This is a team that dealt Gio Gonzalez, one of the best pitchers this year, right when he was eligible for arbitration for the first time. They also dealt Trevor Cahill. After all of that, they opened the season with a $52 M payroll. That’s where they live — in the $40-60 M range, occasionally spending in the $70 M range for one season.
With Oakland gone, I’d have to turn my rooting interests to Baltimore and Washington, even though those two aren’t really small markets like Oakland (the DC area definitely isn’t a small market, and Baltimore has an owner who in the past has tried to be George Steinbrenner Jr.). But I don’t place their chances high. I wouldn’t be surprised if both were eliminated, which would set up the championship series to have four teams that entered the year in the top nine in spending. That’s $110 M or higher in Opening Day payrolls, and that’s a figure that small market teams could never spend.
It’s useless pointing all of this out. Baseball isn’t going to do anything about it. As long as an Oakland makes the playoffs, and as long as the Yankees don’t win the World Series every year, MLB can tout parity. But that doesn’t exist. There might be parity in baseball, but it’s only among the big spenders. If you’re not capable of spending mega dollars, you don’t stand a chance. That’s why I have no interest in the playoffs. It’s hard trying to get excited about a movie when you already know how it ends.
Links and Notes
**Wednesday was a camp day at instructs, and they only had a situational game, which is pretty boring to write about. Yesterday they were on the road, so I took the day off, went across the state to visit my dad, and hit up some local food trucks. That resulted in a burger called the Mark Twain, which was a cheeseburger with peanut butter and jelly. It was pretty awesome. On a somewhat related note, I’m going to die before I reach 50.
**The Pirates are home tomorrow, and I’ll be back in Bradenton with coverage of the game.