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On Payrolls

I swear, I didn't want to be the guy that keeps harping on payroll discrepancies in baseball.  But then I discovered one of the depressing things about payrolls.  And then the great Joe Posnanski got in on the act, pointing out that baseball has a tendency to hide dominance - that even if you put together a team made up of the best players in baseball, that team still might lose 45-50 games during the season, and still might not win the World Series. That's just the way it's set up.

So I went ahead and did some number crunching (well, number adding, at least). Using the USA Today payroll database, I went through a decade's worth of payrolls. (Please, no arguments about whether the decade is over this year or next year. It's 2000-2009 for the purposes of this post.)

You won't be surprised to find out that the Yankees top the list; they had the largest payroll in every single season, and all told spent just over 1.67 billion on player contracts over the decade. Only three other teams (the Red Sox, the Mets, and the Dodgers) cleared the $1 billion mark.

I'm not sure that I'm doing justice to how big that gap is, though.  The Yankees spent only $9 million less than the Cubs and the White Sox combined. The Yankees spent more than the Nationals, Pirates, Marlins, and Rays - FOUR OTHER TEAMS - combined.

A little closer to home: take the Red Sox payroll, the second-highest payroll in the league.  Now add the Twins payroll. THAT is what the Yankees spent; they could afford to buy the Red Sox roster, and add in the Twins roster, every year.

And now, let me address the "money can't buy wins" argument, which is what Posnanski tackled so ably. No amount of money can buy an undefeated season, and the playoffs are such a crapshoot that the best team doesn't always win.

So I ask you to instead look at it this way.  Consider this:

  • The top 13 teams in payroll over the last decade each won at least one division title. Only six of the other 17 teams won even one.
  • 43 of a possible 60 division titles were won by these same 13 teams.
  • 57 of a possible 80 playoff berths were won by these same 13 teams.
  • The Mets and the Mariners were the only teams in the top 13 that didn't go to the playoffs at least three times in the decade, going twice each. Out of the bottom 17, only the Athletics, Twins, and Diamondbacks made the playoffs at least three times (and the D'Backs had payrolls north of $85 million two of those years).

What I'm trying to say is this. There are, in general, two ways to compete in baseball.  You can get lucky with young talent, like the Twins and Athletics. You can hope for one or two good years, like the Rays or the Marlins or the Brewers.

Or you can spend lots of money.