Red Sox, Yankees, Mets… Good teams with a lot of talent. The salary almost undoubtedly will also cross your mind, as over the past half-decade or so these teams have had a whatever it takes financial mentality.
As it stands, there are ten teams in Major League Baseball who each will be paying their players a grand total of $100 million or more. The most well known spenders of all, the New York Yankees, have broken the $200 million mark. The list of these teams are as follows:
New York Yankees
New York Mets
Boston Red Sox
Chicago White Sox
Los Angeles Angels
Los Angeles Dodgers
Am I the only one that winces a bit when I see some of the teams that are on this list? Five of these teams don't have winning records and only three of them, the Angels, Cubs, and White Sox, lead their respective divisions.
The White Sox hold only a half game lead over the surging Minnesota Twins, a team that has won 19 of their past 24 games and are paying $64 million less than Chicago. Baseball is shedding it's former skin as a league where rich, big market teams could flex their muscle in the free agent market each off season by grabbing up all the big name players. It just doesn't always work that way anymore.
After he won a ring in 2004, the Mets signed Pedro Martinez. Pedro had been plagued by shoulder injuries over his last few years in Boston, yet the Mets signed him to a four year $53 million contract before the 2005 season. So what did the Mets receive for this investment?
The answer is one good season and three poor ones. He has only made 66 starts in his four injury-plagued seasons. Throwing around money foolishly has never worked. Very rarely does an organization throw together a championship team all in one off-season, although many keep foolishly trying and failing miserably.
If you want another example, you might ask Todd Helton about all the wasted years in Colorado. The Rockies continue to pay out lengthy contracts to injured players. This list includes Denny Neagle, who received $31.5 million between 2004 and 2006, despite not playing a single game. Mike Hampton is also on this list after signing an eight year, $121 million contract before 2001. The Rockies have paid Hampton $49 million and he only pitched in 62 games for the Rockies.
Today's game is beginning to be governed by a system of brains over financial brawn and the teams that haven't adjusted yet are being left behind. A prime example of a team being left behind is the Seattle Mariners, paying $117 million this season to their players, despite being 17.5 games out of first in American League West in early July.
Another team not getting their money's worth: the 2008 Detroit Tigers. A team with so much hype during the off-season, you could taste the championship in February.
A few games before the All-Star break, they are just trying to stay over .500. The daunting offense that they were suppose to possess, having traded for heavy hitting third baseman Miguel Cabrera and solid hitting shortstop Edgar Renteria before the season, has in fact showed itself to be merely okay.
Meanwhile, the pitching staff should have been bolstered by the arrival of Dontrelle Willis, a star in Miami. The Tigers already possessed several superstars in the rotation and bullpen, yet have faltered so far this season posting a 4.49 ERA (seventh worst in the Majors). As for Willis, he's in Double A working out some control issues. He was absolutely horrific this season with 21 walks compared to 5 strikeouts in 11.1 innings, while posting an ERA over 10.
It's not just the failure of the high paying teams that inspires me. It's the success of the smaller market teams. No team is a better example this season than the Tampa Bay Rays.
Playing in a stacked division that hosts the Yankees and Red Sox, they have never won the division since they were instated in 1998, nor have they ever had a winning record. During all of those losing seasons, they were building a franchise to endure. This team has taken a commanding 4.5 game lead in the American League East over the defending world champion Red Sox.
The Rays, however, have a payroll that ranks second lowest and roughly $90 million less than Boston. They have proved that with solid play on both sides of the ball that they are no fluke and they are sticking around, at least for a while. The key to their success has been waiting for young players to mature and bond into a solid team with great chemistry.
Over the past few years, another good example is the other Florida team, the Marlins. This team has endured losing great players every off-season, unable or unwilling to sign them at the money amounts that compete with teams like Boston, New York and Detroit, to name a few.
However, every season they hang in for most of the season, giving big money teams like the Mets and the Braves a run for their (excuse the pun) money. They do it every year with a low payroll. This year, they have the lowest in the Majors at $21 million, nearly half of the Rays. As of tonight (7/6), they stand three games out of first in their division.
The key is this: today's baseball is more than ever about development of the farm system and about wisely spending money. Having money doesn't hurt, but it doesn't help either if it's spent unwisely just to make a splash. Good managers and even better general managers are more of a commodity now. I think I speak for baseball fans everywhere when I say "it's refreshing."