If there is one thing we’ve learned from the Yankees’ roughshod run through the first five weeks of the season — other than the fact they really are a very good team — it’s that there are far more “have-nots” in baseball than “haves” and this continues to be a real problem for the game.
For here we are, barely a fourth of the way through the season and you could reasonably conclude that already more than half the teams in baseball have virtually no shot at ending up in the World Series. To wit: the Orioles and Red Sox in the AL East; the Tigers, Royals and Guardians in the AL Central; the Rangers, A’s and Mariners in the AL West; the Phillies, Nationals and Marlins in the NL East; the Cubs, Pirates and Reds in the NL Central; and Rockies and Diamondbacks in the NL West. That’s 16 right there and I would throw in the White Sox, once again riddled with injuries and playing poorly, and the Cardinals, an OK team in a terrible division dominated by the Brewers.
To understand why there continues to be such disparity in baseball you have to go back to the rancorous labor negotiations of last winter in which the Players Association initially targeted tanking as the No. 1 issue — and then quickly got off it when the owners proposed minimum payrolls which would have also addressed the revenue sharing issue (i.e. the refusal of so many clubs to invest their revenue sharing on payroll). For some reason, the union viewed minimum payrolls as some sort of salary cap and spent the next month and a half haggling over the competitive balance tax. They thought adding two more teams to the postseason would encourage more clubs to spend and discourage tanking. It did not.
The owners’ proposal, which never got off the ground, was going to call for minimum payrolls of $90-$100 million with penalties of lost revenue sharing dollars and/or draft picks for clubs that did not comply. Instead, the two prime tanking culprits, the Orioles ($45M) and Pirates ($66M), still have the lowest and third lowest payrolls respectively and they’ve been joined by the A’s, who gutted their roster and dropped to the second lowest ($48M). All told there are seven teams with payrolls of less than $90 million and another, the Reds, who have begun their own tanking process by trimming payroll from $125 million to $118 million while whining they’re not getting enough revenue sharing given their market.
Four teams — the Twins, Rangers, Mariners and Tigers — did spend substantially last winter, but of those only Minnesota (which upped its payroll from $120M to $136M primarily with the signing of Carlos Correa at $35M per year) has benefitted so far. The Tigers had high hopes of emerging from three years of tanking after signing Javy Baez for six years/$140 million, but they are again in last place in the AL Central and Baez was hitting .205 with two homers and 11 RBI going into the weekend.
The Rangers were the offseason’s biggest spenders, increasing their payroll from $95 million to $144 million with the signings of Corey Seager for 10 years/$325 million, Marcus Semien seven years/$175 million and starting pitcher Jon Gray for four years/$56 million. So far, however, only Seager is delivering for his money as Semien went into the weekend hitting .178 with no homers and nine RBI, Gray had a 5.73 ERA for his first five starts and the Rangers were two games under .500. In boosting their payroll from $83 million to $105 million, the Mariners’ big expenditure over the winter was five years/$115 million for Robbie Ray, who has pitched OK — but they’ve been plagued by injuries and overall poor play and it appears the postseason drought in Seattle, which dates all the way back to 2001 when Lou Piniella was the manager, will continue for another year.
It is unfortunate for these clubs that so many of their big bucks free agency deals have so far been busts and they’ve failed to improve their lots. But unlike the tanking Orioles, Pirates, Reds and A’s — all of them among the leading revenue sharing recipients — they at least deserve credit for trying. By contrast, in the case of the A’s, for years they were ineligible for revenue sharing because of the size of their market but this year, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred took pity on them and made them eligible. So how did A’s owner John Fisher reward him for the estimated extra $50 million he’ll now get in revenue sharing? He cut payroll from $90 million to $48 million, meaning the A’s will be making a fat profit as they wallow in the gloom of their mausoleum of a ballpark.
And then there are the Rays, who continue to confound all baseball logic. With an estimated $60 million, Rays owner Stu Sternberg will again be at or near the top in revenue sharing this year, but the biggest expenditure in players he made this offseason was $8 million for Corey Kluber. And yet, with the 25th lowest payroll of $85 million, ten pitchers currently on the injured list, four semi-regulars hitting .212 or worse and 27th in the majors in attendance, the Rays went into the weekend 23-16 and 5.5 games behind the Yankees in second place in the AL East. While it’s still hard to see them as a World Series team, one thing is certain: Much to the players’ dismay, Sternberg will again make a tidy profit this year thanks to his revenue sharing — which wouldn’t have been the case if there’d been minimum payrolls in place.
IT’S A MADD, MADD WORLD
On Friday, the Baseball Writers Association lost one of our most esteemed members, Roger Angell, at 101, who, with his essays for the New Yorker, elevated our profession, especially the Career Excellence Award, for which he has a plaque in the library of the Hall of Fame. I was proud and gratified to be able to call Roger a friend and I will miss our many conversations, both in the press boxes and in later years by phone, about the state of the game we both loved — most recently a few months ago when he railed about the ghost runner. Good night old friend. …
In a touch of irony, last Wednesday, the same day Max Scherzer suffered an oblique injury that’s going to sideline him for 6-8 weeks, the Twins announced that Chris Paddack, whom the Mets almost acquired from the Padres back in April, was to undergo Tommy John surgery. So you could probably say the Mets dodged a bullet there as the reason they rejected the deal that would have sent Dominic Smith to San Diego with Eric Hosmer and reliever Emilio Pagan also coming to the Mets, was because they didn’t like what they saw in Paddack’s medicals. And yet, right now Buck Showalter probably wouldn’t mind having another reliever in his bullpen (Pagan had a 2.13 ERA, 16 strikeouts and 10 walks in 12.2 innings) and Hosmer is having a career season, hitting .324 with 24 RBI. Meanwhile, Steve Cohen should be happy about another bullet he dodged in Steven Matz, who spurned him to sign a four-year/$44M contract with the Cardinals and so far and so far has a 6.03 ERA, 1.393 WHIP and eight homers allowed to show for all that money. Conceivably down the road Mets GM Billy Eppler may still have to use Smith to get himself another starter to bolster the rotation. …
In what has otherwise been a disastrous season, the Red Sox last Thursday finally got a huge (even historic) dividend from Trevor Story who became the first second baseman in history to have three homers and a stolen base in one game. Story, who signed a six-year/$140M free agent contract with the Sox, had been mired in the .220s with just two homers before the outburst. It did not make up for the fact, however, the Red Sox have been fielding a lineup most of the season with four semi-regulars hitting under .200. Story then continued his home run barrage Friday night in Fenway Park with a grand slam against Seattle that was caught by former Red Sox left fielder Jonny Gomes who was sitting in the front row of the Green Monster seats in left field. …
New Baseball Book of the Week: For all those baseball draft aficionados, Frederick J. Day and Raymond J. McKenna, a couple of attorneys (and super fans) have compiled the definitive history of the draft since its inception in 1965 – “Feeling a Draft” (Universe). There’s a ton of interesting behind-the-scenes stuff here gleaned from the teams’ war rooms and I’m fairly certain this book will have a place on the shelves of all 30 GMs.
Source: Berkshire mont