One of my favorite baseball topics is the lack of correlation between payroll and success. The luxury of having one of Major League Baseball’s highest payrolls does not necessarily mean that a team will win the World Series, or even make the playoffs.
Look at the fate of the teams with the five highest payrolls entering the 2014 season, according to USA Today.
1. Dodgers, $241 million. They won the National League West, but despite playing in one of baseball’s weaker divisions, they won just 94 games. The pretty individual stats among the players made it seem like they were a 100-win team, easy. And, as noted, fell in the divisional series to St. Louis.
2. Yankees, $209 million. Fell four games back of making the playoffs.
3. Phillies, $180 million. Finished in last place in the NL East.
4. Tigers, $163 million. With near-silent bats, swept out of divisional series.
5. Red Sox, $154 million. Finished in last place in the AL East, a far cry from last year’s World Series championship.
So, not only did three of the top five largest payroll teams fail to make the playoffs, two ended the regular season in last place in their division.
You can add futility for the next five, too, because two of those clubs, the Rangers and Blue Jays, missed the post-season — Texas paid its fans back with the worst record in the American League. The Angels, whose bats were completely silent in the playoffs, were swept out by the Royals. And since the Giants and Nationals faced each other, one of those clubs was eliminated — and it turned out to be DC.
So throwing money around is no sure way to build a winner. Being smart is. The Pirates and Athletics were 26th and 27th in payroll, respectively, but made the wildcard games. The Mariners, aced out of a wildcard spot on the last day of the season, were 21st.
What you do with your money is more important than how much you spend. Who would you rather have playing CF for your team today, the Angels’ Josh Hamilton at $17.4 million this year, or Lorenzo Cain, $546,000? Hamilton will return to the Angels next year, just because, and provide another 10 home runs and 44 RBIs like this season. Cain hit .301 and knocked in nine more runs, and he seems to be more known for speed and defense.
You can find cheap comparisons like this all over the place. Hamilton is easy to pick on after the Royals made him look like a befuddled stiff. But the fact is that Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander are all sitting home now. Cain, Brandon Crawford ($560,000), Mike Moustakas ($549,000), Ryan Flaherty ($512,000), and Kolten Wong ($500,000) are still playing.
Somehow, though, you get a sense that those entitled teams with bloated payrolls just kind of walked into the playoffs and expected to win. It was the younger, aggressive ball clubs that knocked them out. Perhaps the general managers making decisions during the off-season will take notice.