Payroll Disparity and the MLB Playoffs: The League Championship Series

mlb-playoffsEach round of the playoffs, I have broken down the teams that participated and where they ranked in terms of spending. The original concept of this was to show the effect that payroll has on Major League Baseball. The reason I look at it here and not in other sports is for the unique fact that MLB has no salary cap. Each team can generate their own revenue and spend as they see fit.

For a fan of a team in a smaller market – The Cleveland Indians – it is frustrating to watch the team struggle every year because they can’t compete with an equal level of talent.

What I want is for Major League Baseball to do what the other major sports have done: Institute a salary cap. A salary cap creates parity and parity creates hope for the fan bases. Hope is what fans hold on to in sports, and without it….well, what’s the point? Why watch something you love get beaten over the head with a club?

However, I don’t see the owners approving a salary cap without the public getting involved. Why? The usual reason: They’re all making money. If revenue dips because the team is bad, then they just lower expenses. A salary cap, as well as a salary floor, would force owners to work hard to compete as they will be forced to spend money to make money.

MLB is growing as a whole, and the owners will cling to this fact as an excuse to stay with the status quo. They would claim that insisting on a salary cap with probably create a work stoppage, something that happened or threatened to happen when Donald Fehr was running the players union. (I would like to point out that Mr. Fehr, who stepped down as the executive director of the MLBPA to become the NHLPA’s executive director, is the only executive director to ever be involved in two different work stoppages.)

Baseball took a financial hit for that, and this is why they say they can’t do it. And it’s utter garbage. The owners said the same thing about testing for steroids. But now we have testing. What changed?

Public opinion. The customer base, so outraged to see lifetime records falling because guys were using drugs, drugs that are illegal in the U.S., to juice their bodies and their numbers, began making a stink about it. The owners pointed to the players, who would not give in when this issue came up before. But the players, who were able to shrug it off in the mid-1990s, now had to face a public that was angry. These players had to look at the mob and say, “Well, I don’t want it in baseball either.” That or suffer the wrath. And so what do you know? Steroid testing was introduced.

What I want is a public angry at the payroll disparity in baseball just as they were with steroids because that’s the only chance of a salary cap getting instituted. The players won’t do it, not with guys like Albert Pujols making $23M just for 2014. In comparison, the Indians payroll in 2014 was $82.5M. Pujols pay in 2014 is 28% of the Indians total payroll.

stadium_money_pitLos Angeles has two Major League franchises that have a combined payroll of $369.2M, or 4.5 times the Indians payroll. I don’t think fans should be punished because of where their parents decided to set down roots. Yes, you can move to a big city, but really? In order to cheer for a team? And, excuse me, but even if I moved to LA, I’m not going to forgo the Tribe to cheer for the Dodgers or Angels. The Tribe have my heart because this is where I was born and that is who I grew up rooting for.

The owners are getting paid, the players are getting paid, and the fans of the low-spending teams – like the Indians – are getting screwed. That’s why I want the public to start demanding a salary cap. It’s our only chance of ever getting one.

 But now that the World Series is starting, it’s important to point out that payroll helps you get to the playoffs, but it does very little once you are there. Look at the Detroit Tigers. They were 4th in payroll at the end of the season, at $163.1M, but were swept out of the first round of the playoffs. Why? Easy: Their bullpen was terrible. It had been all year, but their offense was able to mash weaker teams and they won the AL Central.

Once you’re into the postseason, it’s how you spent your money, rather than how much money you spent, that matters the most.

So here we are. The World Series starts tonight, and we have the San Francisco Giants, who finished the season with the 6th highest payroll with $128.24M against the Kansas City Royals, who finished the season with the 18th highest payroll, at $90.48M.

(On a side note, both of those teams were ranked lower, as were the Tigers, despite not increasing payroll, a sign that some of the bigger spenders started dumping payroll when they saw they were out of it.)

Some people will look at those numbers and play this as David versus Goliath. I disagree with that because of all that I said before, but such a storyline creates an emotional reaction and an emotion reaction translates into more viewers, and more viewers translates into more advertising money.

But since the networks are going to play that card to get the emotional reaction they’re looking for, so will I. Except for me, instead of an increase in money, I’m hoping to increase my team’s chances of succeeding every year.

What I need to happen, and what I need to keep happening, is for Goliath to win the fight. I know it’s our nature to pull for the little guy, and why not? Most of us are the little guy. And if all things were equal, which they obviously are not, I’d probably pull for the Royals as well.

imagesDoes payroll really matter at this point? Well, you could say yes because the bigger payrolls have the bigger players. But remember what I said about how the money is spent. Half of the AL teams in the Top 10 – Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays – all played in the same division spent the season beating up on each other.

A fun fact for those who hate Goliath is that none of those teams made the postseason at all.

No, payroll matters still, but less so. It now comes down to the players and how they perform, how one team’s strengths matches up against the other team’s weaknesses.

I wish that I could say, “Go Royals,” but I cannot. Not for the sake of the Indians. So here you have it: Go Giants!


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