How much is that playoff berth in the window?

No additions to the playoffs, please
Joe tries to write about another team

Since the Yankees last won the World Series in 2000, baseball has enjoyed a period of nearly unparalleled parity. Thirteen different teams have made it to the World Series over the last eight Fall Classics, and only the Yankees, Red Sox and Cardinals have made more than one appearance this decade.

This year, though, baseball will see a reversal of this drive toward playoff equality. In all likelihood, the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Angels, Phillies, Cardinals, Rockies and Dodgers will be in the hunt for a World Series trophy, and seven of those teams have made it to the Fall Classic already this decade. The only exception is Joe Torre’s team in Los Angeles, World Series-less since winning the trophy in 1988.

By itself, these repeat visits to October aren’t a problem for baseball’s drive toward equality. Some teams will just be better than others, and this year seems to be the culmination of a very good decade. Yet, look at what happens when we take a look at the MLB salary list. Below is a shortened version of CBS Sports’ MLB payroll information. I’ve included the top ten teams and the two playoff teams who miss that cut.


Outside of the Rockies, every team in the playoffs this year is among the top 12 most expensive teams in baseball. Six of them are in the top ten, and the three of the four teams that aren’t making the playoffs — Mets, Cubs, Astros — were plagued by either terrible management or terribly costly injuries (or both, in the case of the Mets). Once again, the rich will get richer in baseball, and the poor will continue to play out their 162-game seasons facing an uphill climb to October.

With this data in hand, two questions come to mind: Does it matter? Will MLB try to do anything about it? As a Yankee fan, it’s tough for me to complain about this state of affairs. While baseball has tried to rein in the Yanks’ free-spending ways, the revenue sharing/luxury tax model has been largely unsuccessful. The Yankees are happy to dole out the money because they can afford to, and putting a winning team on the field is profitable for the Yanks and their various marketing and broadcast ventures. Until and unless baseball institutes a salary cap, the Yankees will spend their way into October, and I won’t care one whit.

The second question is more troubling. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire on Dec. 11, 2011, and already, rumors of a tougher negotiation have surfaced. Neither side is too happy with the state of drug testing in baseball, and the owners are well aware that, in a post-Moneyball era, the parity of the early 2000s is starting to slip away.

I don’t know where baseball goes from there. Labor unrest would be terrible for the game but so would seasons where the same eight or ten teams are competitive. While some franchises — the Pirates and the Royals come to mind — are simply mismanaged, others do not have the resources to compete. Problem or not, it’s certainly baseball’s 800-pound gorilla in the room, and it’s not going away any time soon.

No additions to the playoffs, please
Joe tries to write about another team
  • Rebecca-Optimist Prime

    After 1994, I’d like to think that both sides would do whatever possible to avoid a stoppage, but then I remember the 04-05 NHL lockout and my faith in humanity dies a little.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      I would bet on no work stoppage but lots of acrimony. No more Donald Fehr is probably good for baseball but not necessarily good for the MLBPA.

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    The Mets, Cubs, and Astros paid a combined $373,820,403 USD for their 2009 seasons.

    I just threw up a little in my mouth. Wait a second…

    (borrows tired and trite cliche from sports journalists across the country)

    You know how we spent $400M this offseason? Yeah, I’d rather have CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Mark Texiera for the next 5-8 years than the 2009 Mets, Cubs, and Astros.


  • Tom Zig

    What are the chances a salary cap is instituted after the current CBA expires?

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      Somewhere between zero and zero.

      • Tom Zig

        Good to know Joseph. But what if the salary cap charge is lead by John Henry and Lucky Larry Lucchino. You think 28 other owners would hop on board?

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Henry and Lucchino are smart enough not to lead that charge.

          They bemoan the current state of baseball on their Twitterfeeds because they know that’s the narrative their fans like to hear, but they have no real actual interest in changing the current system. Behind closed doors at the negotiation table amongst the other 28 owners, the Steins and the Sox cabal are the best of friends.

          • Tom Zig

            John Henry’s complaints is exactly what I was referring to. So you’re telling me it is all just a bunch of hot air?

            • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

              Hotter than Roger Clemens’s balls.

        • Upstate Nick

          I doubt the sox would go for something like that, they also have an incentive for spending lavishly on free agents – keep NESN ratings up and keep selling out Fenway. What they, and probably the rest of baseball, would go for is a much, much higher luxury tax to bring the Yanks down to the $130-150M club.

        • Joseph Pawlikowski

          I think you have it backwards, Tom, as the two guys above me noted. The Yankees and the Red Sox are the least likely teams to favor a salary cap.

          The owners have always wanted a salary cap. The players have never wanted one. That’s why they feuded in 1994. The players won, and I don’t think that’s a defeat the owners can rebound from.

          • Tom Zig

            I was just curious to see if John Henry would actually do something instead of just public whining. Which I hope he just continues with his current course of conduct. It doesn’t make sense for the Red Sox to want a salary cap and it makes even less sense for the Yanks.

        • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the idea as everyone else has been. If a salary cap were to be instituted, what would it be? The equivalent of somewhere around $120-$130 million/year in 2009 dollars? How much is that going to hurt the Red Sox, based on their current payroll?

          If a salary cap were to be created, the only team it would significantly affect would be the Yankees. I think the Red Sox’ interests are probably more closely aligned with the rest of MLB’s on the salary cap issue than you guys are allowing for.

          • whozat

            A cap comes with a floor. Many owners would hate a floor, because it would cost them lots of money. So, it’s not going to happen.

            The Yankees’ spending advantage is not so much beyond the Sox’s that they’d be willing to take a hit to take a strategic financial shot across the Yankee bow. It’d be like cutting off one big toe to cost the Yanks two.

            • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

              But… They might not be taking a hit at all. If the Sox are faced with a choice of (a) shaving $2 million off their payroll while shaving $81 million off the Yankees’ payroll and simultaneously and forever nullifying the Yankees immense financial advantage, or (b) keeping the current system in which they have the 4th highest payroll and the Yankees have the highest payroll by almost $70 million… I’m not so sure they’re going to be sitting next to the Yankees on the “no cap” side of the table. A salary cap would be pretty devastating to the Yankees’ business model, and it wouldn’t affect any other team in near the same way.

            • jsbrendog

              exactly. its not the cap that is prohibitive. it is the floor. more teams would be against a floor than would be for a cap in my estimation

              • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

                That’s fair enough and I know you’re responding to whozat here and not me… But just to clarify, I don’t think the floor is relevant when discussing whether the Red Sox would support a salary cap proposal, which is what I was responding to.

                The floor would surely send a bunch of owners into fits of rage and I doubt they’d support it.

  • Tom Zig

    Steps to becoming a successful team:

    1. Don’t draft David Parrish in the first round
    2. Don’t draft Eric Duncan in the first round
    3. Don’t draft Bronson Sardinha in the first round
    4. Don’t bid on Kei Igawa.

    Wait a second, we did all that.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      You missed one:

      5. Have enough money to compensate for your mistakes.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      The Yankees: Awesome enough to overcome terminal dumbness since 1973.

    • pat

      Don’t forget CJ Henry!

      • Benjamin Kabak

        CJ Henry turned into Bobby Abreu. I’d say that worked out pretty well.

        • pat

          I’ll turn you into Bobby Abreu. We’ll see how well that works out.

          • jsbrendog

            you’re a towel


    The problem is that parity is always connected to players’ salaries when it is incorrect to assume that there is a causal relationship between players’ salaries and competitive parity independent of any other variables.

    For example, in a 30 team league wherein only 8 teams make the playoffs, there is always going to be a limit to how many different combinations are possible. While there are arguments for including another wild-card team, I don’t expect anyone is going to argue for the absurdity of NBA playoffs, in which half the league makes the postseason.

    The more important issue, however, is that the issue of salary caps and parity is most often reported from the owner’s perspective. Why should the players, who sacrifice their bodies and, at times, their future health, have to agree to a wage-freeze, while owners are able to claim the difference as profit?

    Consider the NFL, which is an extreme owners’ league. Few players have any guarantee on their salaries and little support after they retire. But, there is “parity.”

    It can be difficult for fans to sympathize with players who earn millions of dollars for playing a game, but the demonization of the union and the players that takes place in the media almost never raises the issue of what the owners earn in profits from the players.

    If there was a cap, which I would oppose as a fan and if I were a player, then I would insist that there was also a minimum team salary level which would have to be met every season–in other words, no taking distributed revenue out of the system, a la the owners of the Marlins or Twins–as well as a profit cap in which any revenue above and beyond the team salary level as well the revenue necessary for running and maintaining the organization and stadium went into development into the local community. Only then might a salary cap be “fair.”

    But, it would still not guarantee parity.

  • gary busey’s face

    While I do agree that having a large payroll gives you room for error, and while I do concede that playing in a large market and/or having a large payroll seems to correlate somewhat with franchise success, I have a hard time with statements like this:

    While some franchises — the Pirates and the Royals come to mind — are simply mismanaged, others do not have the resources to compete. Problem or not, it’s certainly baseball’s 800-pound gorilla in the room, and it’s not going away any time soon.

    I’m not sure which ones you’re referring to. In my opinion, each franchise represents a unique case. Please clarify which franchises you feel are the victim of a lack of resources, not mismanagement or stupidity.

    And again, I recognize that a lack of resources leaves less room for err.r

    • Tom Zig

      Wouldn’t the pirates and royals count for both mismanagement and lack of resources?

      • gary busey’s face

        Yes. I’m asking for specific franchises which simply don’t have the resources to compete. He seems to imply that there are well-managed, poorly-funded franchises. I’m not saying that there aren’t, I’m just wondering which ones he has in mind.

        • Rick in Boston

          I would think the Twins would be considered well-run but poorly-funded, although that might change with the introduction of the new ballpark and the hope that the increase in revenues/end of the Carl Pohlad era of ownership would allow them to move to a higher payroll while staying successful.

        • Benjamin Kabak

          Well-managed poorly-funded franchises include:

          • Tampa Bay Rays
          • Texas Rangers
          • Oakland A’s (usually but not this year)
          • Florida Marlins (Although how poorly-funded they really are remains to be seen. Considering their historic payroll record, they have been among the more successful teams in baseball lately.)
          • Minnesota Twins (but poor funding appears to be ownership’s choice)

          That’s a non-exhaustive list. The Indians would generally be there too, but their payroll is 15th in baseball. That’s not really poorly-funded.

          It just depends what you believe poorly-funded to be. But a good number of teams are well-managed and would be very good with access to $85-100 million payrolls.

          • gary busey’s face

            Yeah. You could probably pick off the Marlins and the Twins from that list. As you noted, poor funding for the Twins is ownership choice, and that might change in coming yrs w/ the new stadium. And the Marlins are their own unique case.

            My wider point is that there is a broad narrative about how small market teams cannot compete, and when you narrow it down to franchises that are truly handicapped by a lack of revenue, and not mismanagement, the list is very, very short.

            It might be a false dichotomy, but its just a thought.

            • Benjamin Kabak

              I’m not sure I’d pick the Marlins off the list though, and while they’re certainly a unique case, no one goes to the games. They have a fun, exciting and good team this year, and they are 29th in attendance.

              The other factor too are the decently-funded, decently-managed teams that are seemingly spinning their wheels. Where do they fit in?

              • gary busey’s face

                The Marlins are an interesting case; they seem to be very good at evaluating talent and exceptionally poor at retaining it. This appears to be the choice of management.

                The other factor too are the decently-funded, decently-managed teams that are seemingly spinning their wheels. Where do they fit in?

                Hopefully as speedbumps on our drive to 27?

                • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  The Marlins are an interesting case; they seem to be very good at evaluating talent and exceptionally poor at retaining it. This appears to be the choice of management.

                  I don’t think it’s the choice of management, I think it’s a reality of their market.

                  Miami may just not be able to support a baseball team. It’s not a baseball town. They build a great product, but Miamians just don’t want to sit in Joe Robbie/Pro Player/Dolphins/Landshark Stadium for 3 hours in 90° weather watching them.

                  Perhaps their long-awaited new ballpark ( can fix things, but at the moment, they just can’t afford to keep these guys. They don’t draw fans.

                • Ed

                  I feel bad for the Marlins when I think about the terms of their lease. Even if they drew more fans it wouldn’t matter much as most of the money generated would go to the stadium owners.

                  I stop feeling sorry for them when I remember that they had the 1st or 2nd highest operating profit of any team in each of the last 3 years. link

                  31.4% of their revenue was profit last year. Very, very few businesses turn a profit like that.

              • Ed

                The other factor too are the decently-funded, decently-managed teams that are seemingly spinning their wheels. Where do they fit in?

                In that situation, shouldn’t you expect to be mediocre?

        • Tom Zig

          well-managed, poorly-funded

          The Rays?
          The Orioles are beginning to have a semblance of management

          • Benjamin Kabak

            Seattle had the tenth largest payroll this year. Not poorly-funded at all.

            • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

              Nintendo just lowered the price on the Wii by $50.

              I can only conclude that this means that the Mariners are a super-small market team that can’t afford to make payroll.

              • jsbrendog

                now sony should buy the rangers and microsoft the a’s. that way we can have console/western division wars.

                • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  now sony should buy the rangers


            • RustyJohn

              Not poorly funded, but still dealing with the chaos Bill Bavasi left behind. They have some 20+ million coming off the books this year and the only Bavasi dud they’ll have left is Carlos Silva. Look for the Mariners to improve while spending less thanks to the Jack Z era.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Good point.

        A few errors for us means we miss the playoffs for a year, or maybe make the wildcard instead of winning the division outright.

        A few errors for the Royals and Pirates can mean not finishing with a winning record for 3-5 years (or worse).

  • bottom line

    FIst off, one year of big-market success coming hard on the heels of rather broad play-off participation does not require a policy reaction.

    Secondly, I wonder why exactly itis deemed a miscarriage of justice if the teams that spend the most win the most? The reason, simply put, that teams can spend is that they have larger (and perhaps more engaged) fan bases. It is fan support that dictates revenue.

    On a utilitarian basis, baseball should properly reward those teams that have the most (and most fans. The US Constitution, by analogy provides for a bicameral legislature:Yes, in the Senate N. Dakota has much pop as California. But in the House, power reflects population and is accorded to the most populous states.
    In baseball,by contrast (and other sports as well), everything is done to deny the interests of the largest fan bases and the successful teams they enable.

    • the artist formerly known as (sic)

      In baseball,by contrast (and other sports as well), everything is done to deny the interests of the largest fan bases and the successful teams they enable.

      **crickets chirp**

      Well I…ah…had no idea this was the case…

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Your first two paragraphs were spot on.

      The third was a trainwreck of dubious assumptions, poor analogies, specious reasoning, and false narratives.

  • bottom line

    Wow, talk about your mixed metaphors, Tommy

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      A) Please use the reply button.
      B) Where’s the mixed metaphor? To what are you referring?

      • bottom line

        On second thought, the phrase beginning “a train-wreck…” isn’t a mixed metaphor. Dubious, maybe, but not mixed.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Thanks. Yeah, it wasn’t.

          Seriously, though, that last paragraph was brutal. No, baseball does not have a utilitarian need or want to reward the teams with the most fans, the bicameral nature of the US Congress is not an apt analogy or parable for baseball, and the North American pro sports leagues do not intentionally deny the interests of large market or successful franchises. No to all of that hyperbole and dubious reasoning.

          • bottom line

            I politely stand by what I said.

            All organizations face issues of representation. But the US Congress and the UN chose to balance sovereign power (the states, sovereing nations) with mechanisms that reflected size and population. Baseball has in at least the last 30 years been run to reflect the interests of small market franchises. The amatuur draft, revenue sharing, luxury tax are all designed to that end. Only the countervailing power of the union has likely kept baseball from imposing a salary cap.

            Baseball can organize itself as it chooses. I’m only saying there other models. And baseball has simply used majority franchise rule to thwart the interests of large market fan bases.

            (It would be interesting to know at one point the large markets have an absolute majority of fans– I’m guessing it might be with as few as eight teams.

            You can argue that these fans have no greater right to success. Fine. But it’s tough to deny that this is precisely the position MLB has taken. There is simply no mechanism to enfranchise the fans of the major cities.

            And why would there be? Baseball has been run by a man obsessed with the small market “narrative.” I have sat in rooms with the man and heard directly just how parochial his viewpoint and interest are.

  • Mitch

    Benjamin –

    I have to take issue with one of your points, the idea that the revenue sharing/luxury tax model has been unsuccessful in creating parity. I would argue the exact opposite. Revenue sharing and the luxury tax (of which the Yankees have paid almost exclusively since it was instituted) has directly led to teams like the Rays, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Twins and A’s being able to spend enough money to make their teams playoff caliber over the past 14 years.

    If you look back to the most recent pre-1995 world series here are the participants with payroll rank in parentheses:

    1993 TOR (1) v. PHI (18)
    1992 TOR (1) v. ATL (7)
    1991 MIN (15) v. ATL (19)
    1990 CIN (19) v. OAK (3)
    1989 OAK (5) v. SF (6)
    1988 LAD (2) v. OAK (16)
    1987 MIN (12) v. STL (14)
    1986 NYM (8) v. BOS (4)
    1985 KC (9) v. STL (14)
    1984 DET (10) v. SD (15)

    Notice that in the 10 year period prior to revenue sharing only 2 world series did not feature a team in the top 10 in payroll and only 4 of 20 teams were not in the top half of payroll figures.

    In the past 10 years under revenue sharing 3 World Series did not feature a team with a top 10 payroll (2005, 2006 and 2008) and once again 4 teams were not in the top half in payroll: ’01 Marlins (27), ’03 Marlins (26), ’07 Rockies (25) and ’08 Tampa Bay (29).

    It is also significant that the more recent teams not in the top half of payroll were much lower on the payroll scale than those from the 10 years prior to revenue sharing. What all 4 of those teams had in common was their ability to produce talent from within their organization. It helped that they were bad for a while and had high draft picks, but it helped even more that they were able to invest revenue sharing/luxury tax money into scouting and draft compensation so they could acquire the best players available to them.

    In my opinion the Revenue Sharing/Luxury Tax model has been extremely successful. More teams have a chance to make the playoffs without spending a ton of money and each team’s individual value has increased because of the extra streams of revenue that revenue sharing/luxury tax provides.

    On the flip side, unlike in Football or Hockey, teams that have been able to maximize their revenue streams like the Yankees and Red Sox are not prevented from spending their money on players, they’re just forced to share the wealth with the poorer teams if they go over a certain level.

    • RustyJohn

      I forgot how good those early 90s Toronto teams were…damn.

  • JobaWockeeZ

    How much does the luxury tax on the Yankees affect smaller teams like the Marlins?

    • Ed

      Zero. I forget exactly where the money generated from it goes, but it goes to things like retirement benefits for former players. Possibly also to programs promoting baseball to kids. None of it directly effects the game on the field.

  • toad

    I think some perspective is helpful here.

    The advent of free agency did not suddenly make the Yankees the dominant team in baseball. They were, if anything, even more dominant before free agency – winning 20 WS and losing 9 in the 72-year span from 1903 to 1974. Further, all those WS appearances came after 1915, when Jacob Ruppert bought the club and started spending money on it. Sound familiar?

    And there have always been teams that were perennial losers and others that enjoyed fairly consistent success. If it were all parity except for the Yankees most teams would be in the .495-.505 range over their lifetimes.

    What I’m saying is that the Yankees have a financial advantage from being in NY, and if they use it they do well. Signing free agents is one way to do that, but if you cut that off the money will find another way.

    • Jobbawarkey

      Yeah, I don’t think we should spend less. I think others should spend more. Don’t have the market for it? Games not selling out? Too bad so sad.

  • Jobbawarkey

    Some owners pocket the revenue sharing instead of spending on the team The Yankees spend on the team, spend on the team, spend on the team and pay the luxury tax and revenue sharing and don’t complain.

    Selig was so proud of parity which meant he was glad to see the Yankee dynasty end. If the Yankees win it all this year, they will have bullseyes on their pinstripes. Others are mad that the Yankees refuse to be reigned in.

    But they play in the biggest market in baseball and there are HUGE expectations of a team that has more championships than any other sports team in the biggest market in the world.

    So when other teams have the history, the market and the expectations, and spend to meet those expectations, keep the market happy and make the history proud, there will be parity.