High-payroll teams dominating like never before; more notes
An unprecedented six potential playoff teams among top eight spenders
The best and worst teams money could buy this season
Is there anything to the rumors that the Nats are eyeing Showalter?
The biggest-market, biggest-spending Yankees just wrapped up the AL East crown and appear to be a threat to steamroll teams in October. The Red Sox, the Yankees' only slightly poorer rivals to the north, are in such fine overall shape that they showed only marginal interest in a series in which two wins would have guaranteed a playoff spot, and one would have prevented a Yankees divisional clinch.
It's been that kind of sunny season for almost all of baseball's biggest spenders. The Haves are just kicking the Have-Nots all over the diamonds.
It makes sense, of course, but it usually doesn't happen quite this way. Money doesn't buy everything. But this year it almost seems to be good for a free pass to the playoffs. As things stand now, an unprecedented six potential playoff teams are among baseball's top eight spenders. Never has payroll been such a determinative factor in making the playoffs as this season, and that's especially true if the Tigers hold off the feisty, small-market Twins in the AL Central.
The Yankees, with baseball's highest payroll at $202 million (figures used here are Opening Day payrolls adjusted for acquisitions), are baseball's best team.
Teams with payrolls No. 4 through 8 are all playoff-bound as of right now: the No. 4 Red Sox ($127 million), No. 5 Tigers ($119 million), No. 6 Angels ($116 million), No. 7 Phillies ($115 million) and No. 8 Dodgers ($103 million).
The only teams currently in playoff position that aren't among baseball's eight biggest spenders are the Cardinals and Rockies, who rank 13th and 18th in player payroll, respectively. The Braves, who with a $99 million payroll rank 10th, still have an outside chance to overtake the Rockies, particularly with four more games remaining against the Nationals disgrace. If the Braves do make it, it will only turn this season even further into "The Year of the Big Spender." Although the Twins, who rank a lowly 24th in spending at $68 million, still have hope of overtaking the Tigers, which would make it a slightly less lopsided payroll scoreboard.
The only teams in the top eight of payroll that won't be in the playoffs are baseball's two most disappointing teams, the Cubs (who are second at $136 million) and the Mets (third at $135 million).
The effect of money on team performance, of course, has been noticed by everyone in and around baseball. But no one seems especially worried about it. "I'm fairly satisfied this year is an aberration," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said by phone. "I still think the basic tenets we have in place will lead to the best competitive balance we've ever had."
Luxury taxes and revenue sharing have helped balance the playing field for a decade and a half, and Selig readily points to the fact that half the teams have made the postseason within the last half decade.
A couple owners have mentioned the issue of payroll imbalance in recent interviews, but there's been nothing that points to any strong movement toward a salary cap or anything as drastic as that. MLB probably knows the strong union would never go for a cap. And since baseball has had slightly better balance than football or basketball in recent years, a cap probably isn't necessary, anyway.
"There is (no movement) afoot. I've heard from no one on this issue," Selig said. "We'll look at a lot of things (when the contract expires). But I'm very comfortable where we are."
Here is my list of the teams who used their money best ...
Best teams money could buy
1. St. Louis Cardinals, $95 million. Their payroll jumped a few million with the midsummer pickups of Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa, but they have proved well worth it, as well. There's very little wasted money here (Khalil Greene's $6.5 million is an exception), from the top Albert Pujols ($14.4 million) on down.
2. New York Yankees, $202 million. Sure, they spent a king's ransom. But their roster is filled with kings. Alex Rodriguez ($33 million), Derek Jeter ($21.6 million), Mark Teixeira ($20.65 million), CC Sabathia ($15.3 million), Mariano Rivera ($15 million) and Jorge Posada ($13.1 million) all earned their pay, and A.J. Burnett ($16.5 million) could be primed to do so in the playoffs based on recent performances. Nick Swisher ($5.4 million) has been an absolute steal by Yankees standards.
3. Colorado Rockies, $75 million. Only Todd Helton's $16.6 million salary seems oddly high (though Garrett Atkins' $7 million salary is no bargain). Everyone else looks like a good deal, including Brad Hawpe ($5.5 million), Troy Tulowitzki ($1 million) and Ubaldo Jimenez ($750,000). Virtual steals include Ian Stewart ($404,000), Seth Smith ($403,000) and Franklin Morales ($402,000). The icing is that the Cubs basically paid for half of Jason Marquis $9.8 million salary by taking the since-released Luis Vizcaino.
4. Los Angeles Angels, $116 million. Their talented and balanced team produced another title at reasonable cost. They tried to sign Teixeira and Sabathia with offers of at least $20 million annually, but as of now only a trio of outfielders Torii Hunter ($18.4 million), Vladimir Guerrero ($15 million) and Gary Matthews Jr. ($10.4 million) are over the $10 million mark. How about this for a cost-effective infield? Third baseman Chone Figgins ($5.8 million), SS Erick Aybar ($460,000), 2B Howie Kendrick ($465,000) and 1B Kendry Morales ($1.1 million).
5. Boston Red Sox, $127 million. Other than a couple players (possibly J.D. Drew, $14 million), a case could be made that everyone now on their roster is worthy of their salary. They've drafted well, and locked up a number of young stars. How's Dustin Pedroia at $1.75 million or Jon Lester at $1 million?
6. Los Angeles Dodgers, $103 million. A couple summer pickups just barely nudged them into the top eight, supplanting the hopelessly mediocre Astros. Manny Ramirez ($23.8 million), Jason Schmidt ($15.2 million) and Hiroki Kuroda ($12.4 million) are the only ones over $10 million. Randy Wolf ($4.9 million) and Orlando Hudson ($3.4 million) were bargain pickups last winter. Matt Kemp, Chad Billingsley, James Loney and Clayton Kershaw all make in the mid-$400,000s, which still couldn't buy much in L.A.
7. Texas Rangers, $68 million. A lot of very good young players should make them a force for years. How about Scott Feldman for $435,000? Or Nelson Cruz for $408,000?
8. Philadelphia Phillies, $115 million. The World Champions deserve credit for spending big following their championship. But their roster is still full of good deals, including Chase Utley ($11.2 million), Raul Ibanez ($7.1 million), Cliff Lee ($6 million), Cole Hamels ($4.3 million) and J.A. Happ ($450,000).
9. Florida Marlins, $36 million. They make about what A-Rod makes. A vast majority of the team makes six figures and their highest paid player, Hanley Ramirez, is a steal at $5.5 million; he'd be worth four or five times that to a major market team. Superb job by their execs.
10T. Minnesota Twins, $68 million. They lost Johan Santana and Hunter but maintained a nice team on a tight budget. Justin Morneau ($11.6 million), Joe Nathan ($11.2 million) and Joe Mauer ($10.5 million) are the eight-figure players, all of whom are worthy. Nobody in the rotation even makes a mil, except the just-acquired Carl Pavano.
10T. Detroit Tigers, $119 million. They've got a few high salaries (Magglio Ordonez at $18.9 million, for example), but they also have a formidable team. As evidenced by their liberal draft strategy, they are always willing to pay for untested talent. Rick Porcello's a great deal, even with him being close to the highest-paid rookie ever ($2.1 million).
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