Payroll Disparity and the MLB Playoffs: The Division Series

mlb-playoffsLast week, I wrote two articles concerning money and the Major League Baseball playoffs, one asking who Cleveland Indians fans should root for – the team their heart wants to win or the one that best benefits the Tribe in the long run – and a second article looking at what teams advanced to the Divisional Series, all based on payrolls to start the 2014 season as listed on Deadspin.

Now that the Divisional Series have ended, let’s revisit this idea and see what teams remain as it relates to payroll.

American League
  • Baltimore Orioles ($107.4M/Ranked 15th in MLB) vs. Kansas City Royals ($92.0M/19th)
National League
  • San Francisco Giants ($154.2M/7th) vs. St. Louis Cardinals ($111.0M/13th)

The only team we have remaining in the lower half of payroll is the Royals, this year’s darlings of the postseason. (Personally, I am pulling for the Orioles, but I would be happy either way.) The Royals are also the only remaining playoff team that hasn’t broken the $100M barrier.

To go back to the original article, would the Royals winning it all hurt the Indians? Would this give MLB the excuse to continue operating without a salary cap?

Would the Royals winning it all help the Indians? Team President Mark Shapiro was asked about offseason plans and he said, predictably, that they will explore every option to make the team better “other than probably the highest level of free agents.”

But the Indians started 2014 with a payroll of $82.5M (good for 26th overall), so they’re not that far behind the Royals, in terms of salary.

Of course, just looking at the Royals payroll is not sufficient. There’s a reason they are the postseason darlings: The never go to the postseason! They went twenty-nine consecutive years of not making the postseason! They’ve been a promising team for several years now, but could never put a whole season together.

stadium_money_pitIf you look at the average payroll of the remaining teams, it’s $116.2M. If you remove the Giants (highest) and Royals (lowest), you have an average of $109.2M. The average ranking? 13.5. Does anyone think the Tribe will start 2015 anywhere near either of those numbers? No.

Even for them to match the 2014 Royals, they’d need to increase payroll $10M. Does anyone see that happening, either? Heck, we’re sitting here hoping they can move Michael Bourn’s contract just so they can afford to get someone better and keep the payroll the same.

This is what frustrates Indians fans, that they go into every season at a big disadvantage all based on payroll. They won 92 games in 2013 and couldn’t get in the playoffs (If you’re talking about the one-game playoff against the Rays, see my original article on this topic). This year, despite setting the record for most strikeouts in a season, they saw their win total drop by seven.

I’m sure the front office will say, “Well, we played bad defense,” (they did). “And if we cleaned that up, we’d have won more games,” (They probably would have).

They’ll probably point to the team being in the race in the final week of the season, though, to be fair, that was only mathematically. When you have to win out ten games to make the one-game playoff round, you’re not realistically in it, 2013 aside.

imagesThis is why MLB needs a salary cap, so that the fan bases of most teams don’t have to go long stretches without seeing even a chance at the postseason. Which takes me back to my original premise: While our hearts want the little guy to win, we need the big guys to win so that baseball stops pointing to anomalies as an excuse to keep the status quo to pander to the big market teams.

With new commissioner Rob Manfred coming in, might we finally see a salary cap? Unlikely. The teams who want to maintain the current system, the teams that benefit the most from it, are MLB’s biggest earners, and so MLB will continue on this same path until the one voice that matters more than the voice of money finally gets fed up and takes a stand: The voice of the fans.

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