High-payroll teams dominating like never before; more notes
The biggest-market, biggest-spending Yankees just wrapped up the AL East crown and appear to be a threat to steamroll teams in October. The Red Sox, the Yankees' only slightly poorer rivals to the north, are in such fine overall shape that they showed only marginal interest in a series in which two wins would have guaranteed a playoff spot, and one would have prevented a Yankees divisional clinch.
It's been that kind of sunny season for almost all of baseball's biggest spenders. The Haves are just kicking the Have-Nots all over the diamonds.
It makes sense, of course, but it usually doesn't happen quite this way. Money doesn't buy everything. But this year it almost seems to be good for a free pass to the playoffs. As things stand now, an unprecedented six potential playoff teams are among baseball's top eight spenders. Never has payroll been such a determinative factor in making the playoffs as this season, and that's especially true if the Tigers hold off the feisty, small-market Twins in the AL Central.
• The Yankees, with baseball's highest payroll at $202 million (figures used here are Opening Day payrolls adjusted for acquisitions), are baseball's best team.
• Teams with payrolls No. 4 through 8 are all playoff-bound as of right now: the No. 4 Red Sox ($127 million), No. 5 Tigers ($119 million), No. 6 Angels ($116 million), No. 7 Phillies ($115 million) and No. 8 Dodgers ($103 million).
• The only teams currently in playoff position that aren't among baseball's eight biggest spenders are the Cardinals and Rockies, who rank 13th and 18th in player payroll, respectively. The Braves, who with a $99 million payroll rank 10th, still have an outside chance to overtake the Rockies, particularly with four more games remaining against the Nationals disgrace. If the Braves do make it, it will only turn this season even further into "The Year of the Big Spender." Although the Twins, who rank a lowly 24th in spending at $68 million, still have hope of overtaking the Tigers, which would make it a slightly less lopsided payroll scoreboard.
• The only teams in the top eight of payroll that won't be in the playoffs are baseball's two most disappointing teams, the Cubs (who are second at $136 million) and the Mets (third at $135 million).
The effect of money on team performance, of course, has been noticed by everyone in and around baseball. But no one seems especially worried about it. "I'm fairly satisfied this year is an aberration," baseball commissioner
Luxury taxes and revenue sharing have helped balance the playing field for a decade and a half, and Selig readily points to the fact that half the teams have made the postseason within the last half decade.
A couple owners have mentioned the issue of payroll imbalance in recent interviews, but there's been nothing that points to any strong movement toward a salary cap or anything as drastic as that. MLB probably knows the strong union would never go for a cap. And since baseball has had slightly better balance than football or basketball in recent years, a cap probably isn't necessary, anyway.
"There is (no movement) afoot. I've heard from no one on this issue," Selig said. "We'll look at a lot of things (when the contract expires). But I'm very comfortable where we are."
Here is my list of the teams who used their money best ...
There have been rumors the Washington Nationals have interest in hiring
That doesn't necessarily mean Showalter couldn't become a candidate for the Nationals, who are more likely than not to replace interim manager
Showalter does make some sense to manage a rebuilding team. However, he gained a rep for being overbearing, especially in Arizona, and GMs these days are looking for managers who are easier to manage. In other words, at the very least these rumors appear to be far ahead of the story.
• The Padres are a rare team known to have some interest in troubled outfielder Milton Bradley. Texas was the one place Bradley thrived most, but sources indicate that's a long shot now. The idea of importing Bradley at a time the team's for sale makes little sense.
• Mark DeRosa is appealing to a lot of teams as a versatile late bloomer with power. The Mets could use such a player, and perhaps the Cubs would like a re-do on their 2008-09 winter decisions. DeRosa is among the free agents not covered on my recent list of
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