When it comes to baseball (and most other industries), talking about salaries is sure to stir some emotions. Since the Detroit Tigers have some the highest paid players in the MLB, the question about the cost of those lucrative contracts and lack of World Series championships is always worth discussing.
In a recent article, Bob Nightengale with USA Today brought the topic of team salaries to the forefront again. In his article, he shares the fact that the 2015 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals have the fewest number of players making more than $10 million annually. Their highest paid player is Alex Gordon who will make $12 million in 2016. The team also has only two players earning less than $1 million. The rest is spread “is spread out throughout their roster.”
This is not the case with the Detroit Tigers. Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander will both make $28 million in 2016. The only players who make more are David Price ($30 million), Zack Greinke (~$32 million), and Clayton Kershaw ($33 million).
And, don’t forget about Prince Fielder, who is still being paid a serious amount of money by the Tigers; the team still owes him $30 million, but are paying it $6 million at a time. Cabrera’s contract only gets bigger in the next few years, too.
The Tigers have seven players who are making more than $14 million in 2016. The team has eight players making between $1.5 and $8.1 million. The other ten on the 25-man roster make the league minimum of $500,000 or slightly more. Andrew Romine makes $900,000 and Cameron Maybin is getting paid $2.5 million by the Atlanta Braves.
Think about this. The Tigers have 31 players on their roster at this time and their average salary is $6.3 million. Only 10 of those 31 players are making more than the average. Five of those ten are pitchers. Ouch.
The Royals have 29 men on their roster. Their average salary is $4.5 million. Fourteen of their players make at least the average. Only four men on their roster do not make at least $1 million. Does parity in pay make a team better?
Of course, it is worth arguing that the men making the league minimum have to do their time before they can earn a bigger salary. But, it is also worth arguing the value of these immense contracts, too. Is it better to give the big names huge salaries or is it better to spread the wealth?
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Do teams like the Tampa Bay Rays – the team with the lowest payroll in the MLB – have the same chances to win the World Series as teams like the Tigers, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Yankees? Sure they do. It all comes down to wins and losses.
If recent history has shown us anything, these mega-contracts do not guarantee any wins. The Tigers and Red Sox both finished in last place in their divisions in 2015. The Dodgers have topped their division in the past three years, but they cannot win the big one. And, the Yankees – well, we all know they are just old. Big money does not equate big wins.
For perspective, the 2013 Boston Red Sox had a payroll of $154 million. Last year, the team had a $184 million and this year, their contracts are worth $197 million.
The St. Louis Cardinals have a significantly smaller contract obligation than the Tigers, too. They are on the hook for $145 million in 2016. When they won the World Series in 2o11, their contracts were under $114 million by the end of the year.
The one team that does seem to prove that money can buy a winning team is the San Francisco Giants. The 2016 team has seven men making between $10 and $20 million, nine men making between $1 and $9 million, and nine making the minimum. Matt Cain and Buster Posey make the most. The joke is already out there that it’s the Giants’ year to win the World Series again since it’s an even year. The 2010, 2012, and 2014 World Series wins keep the debate alive about big spending and big wins.
There is no question that winning the World Series is a serious challenge. Only one of the thirty teams gets to be the champion and almost every team is working hard to get there. Do players need to make such a wide range of salaries to stay competitive in the game? Do those salaries push them to win any harder than the guys making $500,000?
If the lack of big wins from the teams with the big salaries is any sign, it sounds like Sparky Anderson was on to something when he said: “Just give me 25 guys on the last year of their contracts; I’ll win a pennant every year.”
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