Blog Entry

On baseball's payrolls, parity

Posted on: May 18, 2011 2:11 pm
By Matt Snyder

One of the biggest hot-button subjects in baseball for the better part of the past 15 years -- other than PEDs, of course -- has been the disparity between the so-called large market teams and the so-called small market teams. In a sport void of a salary cap, how can teams from smaller cities be expected to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox?, we've been hearing for far too long.

Then, since it's somehow become cool to hate on baseball, the NFL fans (and sometimes other sports) like to talk about how much more parity there is in "their" sport and how it's the same teams every year in baseball.

The problem is that almost all of this is complete and utter fallacy.

Sure there are payroll disparities, but the rest is complete nonsense. Let's take a look at some of the contradictions to the common cries:

- Since the Yankees' last dynasty ended, here are the World Series winners in order: Diamondbacks, Angels, Marlins, Red Sox, White Sox, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Yankees, Giants.

Hmmm ... I only see one name in there twice. How does the NFL -- the bastion of all that is fair in this world, after all -- look in the same time period? Patriots, Bucs, Patriots, Patriots, Steelers, Colts, Giants, Steelers, Saints, Packers. Wow, what diversity.

- You don't have to spend money to win in baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays consistently have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball and still win games. This past season, they saw significant losses due to money, but are still sitting in first place and look to be strong enough for the long-haul. Last year's World Series teams -- the Rangers and Giants -- were mid-level spenders. The Braves are a mid-level spender and always in contention. Meanwhile, the Mets and Cubs are pretty good at flushing money down the toilet. These are just a few examples. There are more on both sides of the spectrum.

- Look at this season's current standings. Only three teams in all of baseball are more than seven games out of first place (Twins, White Sox, Astros). Oh, and the Twins (ninth) and White Sox (fifth) are top-10 payroll teams. At the top of the standings, the Rays (29th), Indians (26th) and A's (20th) have at least a share of first place. The Reds (18th) and Rockies (14th) aren't exactly huge markets either. That means that in the current standings, only the Phillies (second) are in first place as a large-market team. The Rangers (13th) are tied with the A's in the AL West. The Marlins are another small-market team knocking at the door in a tough division. Will all this hold up? It very well might, as we're quickly approaching the 1/3 mark of the season.

Just so we're clear, if you said the top-10 payrolls are large market, next 10 are middle and last 10 are small, here they are:

Large: Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Angels, White Sox, Cubs, Mets, Giants, Twins, Tigers
Middle: Cardinals, Dodgers, Rangers, Rockies, Braves, Mariners, Brewers, Orioles, Reds, Astros
Small: A's, Nationals, Blue Jays, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Indians, Padres, Pirates, Rays, Royals

(see USA Today for the full list)

Obviously, it's far too rudimentary to define teams in this manner, but I'm frankly tired of hearing about how the Twins are a small market -- not to mention the Cardinals, Brewers or Reds. They aren't small. Enough with that talk. The Rays are small market. The Royals are. Oh, and the Braves are constantly accused of being a large-market teams by fans on message boards, too. That isn't true either.

- Middle-to-small market teams spend poorly, too. The Orioles, for example, have blown a ridiculous amount of money on their bullpen the past decade. gives a great glimpse at the issue -- noting that the blown 6-run lead Monday against the Red Sox was done so by $16.5 million worth of relievers. You can't make mistakes like that when competing against the big-spending Yankees and Red Sox and the smart-spending Rays (and now Jays, it appears). There are bad contracts like this on many small-market teams. Here are the examples, one from each of the eight lowest payrolls, aside from the Rays (since they don't really have one): Jason Kendall, Lyle Overbay, Ryan Ludwick, Travis Hafner (sorry, he's not worth $13 million), Joe Saunders, Javier Vazquez and Juan Rivera. The bottom line is that the best front offices work well within their resources and put a winning team on the field. The worst ones lose games, regardless of payroll.

This wasn't meant to be an all-encompassing look at every issue nor was it meant to say baseball is perfect. It wasn't meant to say baseball is better than football, either. I hate it when NFL people talk about how superior their favorite sport is to others, so I won't be a hypocrite (plus, I quite like the NFL and hope to watch it this fall).

It's just some food for thought to dispute lots of things I see on the message boards on a slow Wednesday as we wait to see how many Godforesaken rainouts we'll have tonight.

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Since: Jan 29, 2007
Posted on: May 19, 2011 5:11 pm

On baseball's payrolls, parity

If you level the playing field is that going to eliminate the perenial loser franchises? It doesn't happen in basketball or hockey, the teams that lose today are the same teams that will lose tomorrow. The Timberwolves, The Isalnders, the buffalo Bills. If you want to base losing on economics in MLB thats your perogative. But I have not seen a salary cap acheive what you all are seeking . There is still the haves and the have nots. This is a futile argument though, because there is no chance that baseball will change their landscape anytime soon. How's the NFL doing with their little labor thing?  

Since: Jan 5, 2007
Posted on: May 19, 2011 3:32 pm

On baseball's payrolls, parity

Wow.Bill James points out the fallacy of supporting your argument with a select few well chosen statistics in his 'Politics of Glory' book and this clown is a textbook example of that.When one team can spend 200 million on payroll and the rest of the league averages less than half that,you cannot claim a competitive balance in any way shape or form.End of story.Where does CBS find these guys?I thought ESPN was bad,but this seems to be where all the short bus sportswriters are ending up.

Since: May 6, 2007
Posted on: May 19, 2011 3:16 pm

On baseball's payrolls, parity

This is probably the most ridiculous article I have read on here yet!  Totally misses the point on most topics.  Sure there have been many different World Series winners but let's look at the times over the past 20 years large market teams have made the playoffs vs. small market.  Not even close. 

Putting anybody, muich less the Twins, in the same category as the Yankee$ for arguments sake is beyond laughable.  Depending on how you judge market size, NY is 12X that of Mpls./St. Paul.   

Since: Oct 18, 2006
Posted on: May 19, 2011 2:37 pm

On baseball's payrolls, parity

It is no the same.  The NFL shares revenue and has a cap.  The NFL does not have guaranteed salaries.  The only money that HAS to be paid out is the signing bonus if the player is cut.  The organizations that win do so strictly because of management.

Baseball, naturally, also has management as a big part, but many teams with a lot of money can make drastic free agent mistakes and shrug it of while others would suffer from such a move for years.

Since: Oct 18, 2006
Posted on: May 19, 2011 2:34 pm

On baseball's payrolls, parity

We all know that any team can win at anytime.  The disparity comes in different ways:

1.  The large market teams  with lots of money are capable of remaining relevant year after year and being in the hunt.  The smaller payroll teams are not, they will have more ups and downs.

2.  The large payroll teams can make mistakes in free agency and roll the dice (see Pavano and Dice K) and it will not affect them much.  The smaller teams can not afford that.  If they make a big mistake, it will haunt them for years.

He brings up the Rays, great example, but it is a short term example.  Last decade it was the A's and the Twins.  Eventually they can not keep it up unless they ht on 70% of their draft prospects year after year.  The Rays are going to be good for the next 5 years because fo the minor league system and the pitching, but eventually that will come to an end and they will not be able to buy free agents, including their own (see Carl Crawford), to fill in the voids.

Since: Jan 29, 2007
Posted on: May 19, 2011 1:57 pm

On baseball's payrolls, parity

The current MLB luxury tax was not instituted until 2003. I think the 10 year sample size they used in the article is sufficient. I like your argument about most Superbowls or WS champions since we are going back lets take it all the way back.

Super Bowls 1966 - present

Steelers - 6
Cowboys - 5
49ers - 5
Packers - 4
4 teams - 3
13 teams - 0

World series from 1966 - present

Yankees - 7
A's - 4
Orioles - 3
Reds - 3
9 teams tied - 2
10 teams - 0


Since: Jul 8, 2008
Posted on: May 19, 2011 1:24 pm

On baseball's payrolls, parity

Since '95, five of the WS winners were the Yankees... The team with the most superbowl victories EVER is the Steelers with 6. 

Since '95 only 3 teams haven't won a division title in the NFL, and one of them started in 2002.  In baseball, there are 8 teams.

Since '95 every team but one has been to the playoffs (The Texans who only started in 2002).  MLB has 4 teams that haven't made it in that stretch(And some of them have been significantly longer)

Since: Jan 29, 2007
Posted on: May 19, 2011 12:58 pm

On baseball's payrolls, parity

Personally I think all sports should eliminate salary caps. Revenue sharing through Luxury taxes will help keep the money flowing which keeps all owners happy. The talent pool stays competitive because everytime a big name FA is signed the team that had the player previously gets compensated with draft picks, depending on what type of FA the player is. Plus I find my self rooting for the small market teams because there is a David vs. Goliath feeling. How great was it to see Texas beat the Yankees last year? or the Rays beating the Sox in 08? well I'm a sox fan so that kinda stunk, but it was still great for baseball. Most of the people who complain about the current state of baseball can't even sit through an entire game. Why change the format for people who are marginal fans at best?

Since: Aug 28, 2006
Posted on: May 19, 2011 12:24 pm

On baseball's payrolls, parity

this has to be the DUMBEST arguement I've ever heard... If you actually think for two seconds the having a larger payroll doesnt increase your change at success, you are an idiot.  Does it garentee sucess?  Obviously not..  Everyone in football have the same Odds of winning if they get the same amount of money.. from what they do from there dictates who has the better front office.  In baseball the Yankees and red sox don't need to worry about their front office because all the big name free agents will want the big money.. all the big name draftees wont get drafted by small market teams because they wont pay up bonus.  YOUR ODDS OF BEING SUCCESFUL INCEASES WITH MORE MONEY TO SPEND.  I honestly could write a novel on this, but this is way to stupid to waste any more cyber space on

Since: Mar 27, 2009
Posted on: May 19, 2011 12:17 pm

On baseball's payrolls, parity

The fallicy of this argument (that payroll doesn't matter) is that it is much easier for big market teams to recover from bad contracts than it is for small market teams.  If the Yankees, Red Sox or Phillies (for example) make a big mistake by signing a marginal player to an expensive long term deal, they just go out and spend more to overcome their mistakes.  If the Royals, Rays or Indians make the same mistake, it handcuffs the team for years. 

Lets just see how this so-called parity plays out this year.  I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, Angels, Phillies and Giants all make the playoffs in 2011.  As for the Mets, Cubs, Mariners and Orioles... it never matters how much money they spend when you have a front office as bad as they all do. LOL!  Twins have just been hit with lots of injuries that they are working through.

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