One of the biggest misconceptions in baseball is when people refer to teams such as the Seattle Mariners as small or mid market teams. A casual fan exclaims "The Mariners are going all pitching and defense given their lack of funds." The Mariners may have a fairly unique winning strategy, but that is in spite of their market size, not because of it.
The Mariners consistently carry a payroll of $100 million plus, metropolitan Seattle has a population of over 3.5 million people and they get support from the entire pacific northwest, including British Columbia.
Small market teams do not make blockbusters trades acquiring pitchers a year removed from a Cy Young award; small market teams are the ones always trading the superstars.
The Mariners are a sizable global brand, and they have a moderate amount of supporters anywhere.
Here's my Guide to Market Size in Major League Baseball:
Huge Market Teams
New York Yankees
Need I say more? The New York Yankees last season spend more than $200 million in payroll, more than $65 million more than their closest competitor, the same-town New York Metropolitans. This puts them in a category of their own.
Large Market Teams
New York Mets
Sure, market size hasn't directly related to sucess in standings when describing the Mets, but they have still spend inordinate amounts of money chasing free agents and the like, payrolling $145 million last season. Every offseason the Mets seem to make a big acquisition and they maintain a substantial global brand.
Boston Red Sox
Whether or not Red Sox Nation really exists, they spent $122 million on players last season, easily enough to get into this category. The Red Sox never have a weakness, a result of Theo Epstein's ability to get the players they need while being more efficient at spending money than the Yankees.
The Cubs have a huge following and a large city to play in with a historic ballpark. They spend the third highest amount of money last season, $10 million less than the New York Mets. The Cubs don't strike you as a team that goes after a large amount of free agents, as they seem to sink money into the wrong kind of players. Carlos Zambrano makes $18.75 million, Alfonso Soriano makes $17 million, Ted Lilly makes $13 million, Kosuke Fukudome makes $12.5 million, Carlos Silva makes $12.25 million...the list goes on.
The Detroit Tigers rarely sign huge free agents, but they sign tons of good ones (Jose Valverde, Johnny Damon...), plus they make a fair amount of trades, giving away Curtis Granderson a few months ago for a decent bounty. Result: At $119 million, the Tigers are a certain large market team.
The Angels are as prolific free agent signers as it gets when not discussing the Yankees. With a payroll of $119 million, they have signed in the past two seasons Torii Hunter, Hideki Matsui, Brian Fuentes, Bobby Abreu, Fernando Rodney, Joel Pineiro and others.
The Phillies play in a big city and have a pretty good following nationwide, allowing them to spend $111 million dollars in payroll. They make big trades (think Roy Halladay) and sign difference-making free agents (think Raul Ibanez, Placido Polanco).
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have a big global brand and play in a big city, but they don't quite live up to their reputation when it comes to spending millions on players. With a total payroll at $100 million, they just make the list of large market teams.
Seattle Mariners: see first three paragraphs above.
Above-Average Market Teams
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox for the most part grow their own talent and make a fair amount of trades, maintaining a $100 million payroll.
The Braves are America's Team, having their games nationally televised on TBS. The Braves currently have a $95 million payroll and could probably up that to $100 million.
Houston is a larger market than people realize and the Astros consistently payroll $100 million plus. They currently employ a big three in Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, who make almost $50 million combined this season.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals make enough moves that some consider them as large as market as the Phillies or Cubs, but the truth is that despite having such a prolific team, they only carry $87 million in payroll.
Average Market Teams
San Francisco Giants
The Giants are almost a bit above average, signing 2002 Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito a few years ago in a humongous deal. However, that deal has far from worked out and has hampered the franchise, strapping them of free agent cash. They have an $82 million payroll.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals are are an average market team. What? Yes, with a payroll of $81 million, the Royals have signed fairly significant free agents the past few years despite their playoff futility.
The Reds recently signed Cuban superstar Aroldis Chapman for a significant price, but overall they are an average market team with a payroll of $73 million. However, I have seen tons of people around Toronto wearing Reds hats recently.
The Diamondbacks are very smart in spending money, as all their players make less than $7.5 million for a total of $73 million. They recently signed Adam LaRoche to a large contract, solidifying their spot as an average market team.
Spending $73 million in payroll, the Rangers have signed Vladimir Guerrero, Rich Harden and others just this offseason. They benefit from the large metropolitan area of Dallas-Fort Worth.
Toronto Blue Jays
I've mentioned it before, if management believes they can win, the Jays will become a large market team, but right now, they are an average market, spending $72 million in payroll.
Below-Average Market Teams
The Nationals do go out and get players (Adam Dunn, Jason Marquis, Chien-Ming Wang), but without a high payroll ($62 million), a global brand, or winning records, they stay below average in market size.
The Indians, like the Nationals will sign players occasionally (Kerry Wood, Russell Branyan, the past two years), but they aren't winning and never carry a high payroll, currently standing at $66 million.
With the recent Joe Mauer extension, and the big Jim Thome deal, the Twins are threatening to break out of their small-market template, but for now, their $67 million payroll is good to label them as such.
The Rockies, with a $72 million payroll, play in a fairly large city, but don't carry a global brand.
The Orioles made three big splashes this offseason, signing Kevin Millwood, Garrett Atkins and Miguel Tejada to big deals, but it still leaves them with a $61 million payroll, good for only 26th in the majors.
The Pirates tend to trade away players before they begin to make serious money (see: Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, Jason Bay; beware: Andrew McCutchen), leading to them being categorized as a very small market as they only spend $25 million in payroll.
The Marlins most-paid player (Hanley Ramirez) makes only $5.5 million and only eight players are due to make nine figures this season, leading to only a $35 million payroll.
San Diego Padres
To trade or not to trade? The Padres are the latest victims of the franchise player small-market problem, as Adrian Gonzalez will soon be on his way out regardless of his connection to San Diego. With a payroll of $37 million, it's hard to see how they can re-sign him to even a very modest deal.
The Athletics carry a fairly large global brand, being immortalized by the publishing of Moneyball and the fame of GM Billy Beane.
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