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: May 15, 2011
Posted on: May 19, 2011 12:16 pm

On baseball's payrolls, parity


You make sense.  Management, top to bottom, is the key.  Front office drafting, trading, acquiring talent, as well as the manager stirring the pot, are the what's important.  It's a simple formula.

Since: May 15, 2011
Posted on: May 19, 2011 12:14 pm

On baseball's payrolls, parity


You make sense.  Management, top to bottom, is the key.  Front office drafting, trading, acquiring talent, as well as the manager stirring the pot, are the what's important.  It's a simple formula.

Since: Jan 29, 2007
Posted on: May 19, 2011 11:47 am

On baseball's payrolls, parity

First place teams in 2011: () payroll rank

Tampa Bay (29)
Cleveland (26)
Texas (13)


Philadelphia (2)
Cincy  (19)
San Francisco (8)

Looks like parity to me. The MLB does a good job. Teams that are smart like the Rays, Indians, A's and Marlins utilize their farm system and high draft selections to compete with the big markets.

Since: Nov 3, 2006
Posted on: May 19, 2011 10:13 am

On baseball's payrolls, parity

It's funny with the complaints about the Phillies nowadays.  When they won the World Series, they were middle of the pack in payroll (14th).  They've since had to pay everyone for winning and attract big names in trades, so their payroll goes up.  It's also funny that the Braves were consistently a Top10 or Top5 team in payroll during their decade of being on top of the NL East.  Imagine that.

Since: May 15, 2011
Posted on: May 19, 2011 9:41 am

On baseball's payrolls, parity

I guess I am ignorant to what parity actually means.  

Hypothetically, if a large market baseball team that wins 95 games while losing 67, goes on to win the world series in 7 games. it's because they out- spent the teams they beat?  Should we ever expect Pittsburgh's minor league team to win again?  Or the Royals?  

As someone wrote it's not about World Series rings.  Well let's see.

Here some stupid "stats" as some of you like to call them.

MLB division winners over the last 16 years

AL East.....  Yanks 11, Sox 2, Rays 2, O's 1....ok, not much parity.  But some great baseball with wild cards, playoffs etc.
AL Central.... Indians 7, Twins, 6, White Sox 3 ....Not bad
AL West.......Angles 5, Rangers 4, A's 4, Mariners 3.....pretty good, lots of parity.

NL East......Atlanta 11, Phils 4, Mets 1.....ouch those damn Braves.  They must spend too much.
NL Central....Cards 7, Astros 4, Cubs 3, Reds 2.... Not too bad.  I see some parity, whatever that is.
NL West.....Dodgers, Giants, D'backs, Padres all with 4.....that is impressive.   Maybe my next research should compare attendance numbers.

We don't see Toronto, Pittsburgh or KC represented.   You guys can tell me why.  Where's Roy Halliday pitching now?

Throw out the NL And AL Easts and you would have that parity that you are looking for.

In the NFL you do have some parity.

Trips to NFC Championship the last 17 years .

Packers 5, Eagles 5, Vikes and Falcons 3, 8 teams have been twice, 2 teams once, 2 teams never.

I'm not sure that I would call this parity.  Maybe we should look at teams who simply make the playoffs.

Trips to AFC Championship the last 17 years .

Steelers 8, Pats 6, Colts 4, Broncos and Jets 3,  5 teams went twice.  Is this parity for a league that has salary caps?  Or is it management?

If I were a Pittsburgh, New England, or Indy fan I would be pretty confidant that my team will be in the Championship.

So what is parity?  A major league team spending the most money, losing 43% of their games during the season, and losing in the playoffs.
Maybe, but I'm not sure.  

I'm just looking forward to 200-1 shot Cleveland winning it all.


Since: Aug 22, 2006
Posted on: May 19, 2011 8:35 am

On baseball's payrolls, parity

Whenever someone brings up the idea of a salary cap I just have one word to mention - Revenue.

It is not the size of the teams payrolls, it is not on how much an owner should, could or would spend, but it is the disparity on the amount of money each team generates. The Yankees have the unfair advantage of bringing in the most money. It gives them an unfair advantage of being able to overcome more mistakes than any other team.

For example - A-Rod.
On the Texas team, the percentage of revenue used to pay his salary was too much for the budget of the Rangers. whether he is worth it or not is another debate, but after his cost, the team could not surround him with a supporting cast.
On the Yankees, he is still costing a lot, but it is a much smaller percentage of their total revenue being used. They can afford to overspend and not miss a beat.

My team is the Phillies. Using them as an example - about 6-8 years ago they were in the lower half of baseball in terms of payroll. They turned it around with the new revenue stream of the new stadium. They used it to get a big free agent signing (Thome) and generated a buzz that got the fans to throw more support their way. Having a core group of players coming up through the system together (Rollins, Utley, Hamels, Ruiz) makes them so much more better (think back to the 70's Dodgers or Garvey, Lopes, Cey, Yeager, Russell). Baseball is a team sport, no matter how much we cherish individual stats. The Phillies had to increase their payroll to keep all their players (home grown and through trading their prospects - look at the only free agents on the team (Lee, Polanco, Schneider, Contreras, Baez - not much to write home about)). In showing the fans they cared and keeping a team to gether long enough to start winning, the fanbase has responded and revenue has increase - look at 157 straight sell outs (including post season).

Use them as an example and compare it to a team like the Pirates who are in the midst of a long string of losing seasons. They alwazsy have decent prospects, but they keep trading them away. What would the team look like if baseball didn't have free agency and teams kept control like they did up until the 60's? They would have a really good ball club with the amount of talent they traded away because the ownership was afraid of losing them in free agency.

Since: Apr 28, 2009
Posted on: May 19, 2011 3:43 am

On baseball's payrolls, parity

Curan's conclusion is the best I've ever seen on this particular subject.  You Yankee fans should try to refute his conclusion, rather than just nitpicking the rest of his copmment. 

If Jesus came back today and was obliged to read the drivel of Yankee fans for one hour daily, he would never stop throwing up.

Since: Apr 28, 2009
Posted on: May 19, 2011 3:21 am

On baseball's payrolls, parity

Separate the 30 MLB teams by opening-day payroll into three groups; high, medium and low.

According to figures developed for Bud Selig's Blue Ribbon Panel some years ago, the following was the correlation between payroll (since 1995) and participating in post-season play.

Big payroll teams:     
;    60%
Medium payroll teams:  28%
Small payroll teams:     12%

At the beginning of the 2010 season, I mentioned to a Yankee fan that the Vegas oddmakers had Cleveland at 200-1 and Yankees at 5-2 to win the World Series.  The Yankee cretin's response?  "Yes, but the real point is that both teams do have an equal chance to win.  Cleveland just has to be a little bit smarter in spending its limited financial resources."  This interchange taught me a valuable lesson.  Yankee fans are not to be talked to, they are only to be despised. 

Since: Jun 10, 2007
Posted on: May 19, 2011 3:15 am

On baseball's payrolls, parity

curun1r you are either stupid or just ignorant to the facts.  Look at the Rays top 4 position players contributing to the team.  You have Joyce, Damon, Zobrist, and Longoria.  Of those 4 the Rays drafted one of them.

Shields was a 16th rounder.  Davis a 3rd rounder.  Yes Price was a first rounder, but hey every team gets first rounders every year unless they spend money in free agency.  Finally Hellickson  was a 4th rounder.  Only one of the 4 main starting pitchers were a 1st rounder.

There is one major reason the Rays have won the AL East 2 out of the last 3 years.  Their front office is just that much better.  Than can evaluate talent better and know what to do with it.  The Rays take more guys off the trash heap and turn them into strait gold  than any other team.  This front office this offseason turned an overpaid Jason Bartlett into 3 members of their bullpen.  A bullpen that ranks 3rd in the AL in ERA.

The Rays this season are putting on a clinic to the rest of the MLB on how to sustain winning after losing marque players.  Just writing it off as "they sucked for so long and got draft picks" is just lazy, uninformed, and kinda pathetic. 

Since: Nov 26, 2006
Posted on: May 19, 2011 2:40 am

On baseball's payrolls, parity

Others have made convincing arguments on this, so I'll add only one thing...

The Rays are a good example of why the disparity does matter. They spent a good decade finishing last and stockpiling high-pick prospects so that they could contend for a short period of time. And the exodus of talent has started with Crawford's departure to Boston. Over the next few years, as their rookie contracts expire, their talented players will depart for teams that offer them more than the Rays can afford to offer them. At that point, they'll fade to the point where they can no longer contend with the Yankees and Boston and be lucky if they can best the Orioles or Jays.

The Yankees, on the other hand, don't have to worry about keeping their talent. If they have a draft pick pan out (the oft mentioned Jeter, Rivera and Posada being good examples), they simply pay them more than they'd get elsewhere and supplement them with the best players from other teams. This formula won't win you every World Series, but it will get you to the playoffs almost every year.

You can't cherry pick examples of teams that are bucking the trend because those teams have been forced by the inequities of the league to resort to a different strategy. Small market teams are forced to punt certain seasons and build their teams for a period of a few years or less when they can compete to win a World Series. This is why your list of winners is varied...this strategy, if employed by all small market teams, will pay off for at least a few. But the trade off is season after season of preparation in which the fan base is subjected to years where it's clear, from the start, that winning doesn't matter.

A salary cap would mean that the so-called "rebuilding years" would be spread equally around the league and there wouldn't be teams that are unfairly able to avoid them.

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