Caption: New York Yankees Executive Brian Cashman
By Ryan Harless
Ryan Harless is a third-year undergraduate at BGSU from Hillsboro, Ohio. He is majoring in Sport Management with a Journalism Minor. Baseball and golf at all levels are his primary interests but he is also interested in combat sports, hockey, basketball, and football.
January 25, 2023
Earlier this month, I wrote an article discussing how different teams in Major League Baseball (MLB) choose to spend their money. As most team sport leagues go, not every team in the league is built the same. Environmental factors are relatively out of the hands of the team owners. The city the team plays in and its economy can all impact a team’s ability to spend money.
We often categorize teams into two categories: large-market and small-market. It’s a pretty cut and dry concept, teams in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago have larger shares of the market and are more likely to spend more money on their teams. Smaller cities like Cincinnati, Denver, and St. Louis will be more likely to have teams that spend less.
In an article written in 2012, teams were relegated to high, middle, and low markets. Teams were put into those categories based on the population of their city, their payroll per year, and their average cost per win. Through these different measurements, they were able to get a good breakdown of just where teams lie. Even just 10 years ago most of the teams are in the same place they were then.
There are some areas where you might think a team would be in a large market, yet they rarely spend money like others do. Examples of this would be the Miami Marlins and the Tampa Bay Rays. They are both based in relatively large markets in Florida, but both teams ranked among the bottom 10 teams in the league for payroll in 2022.
It is staggering to see the variances in payroll across the league, with the New York Mets ranking number one in payroll at $235.6 million for just one year, whereas the Cleveland Guardians who ranked last only paid their players a total of $29.1 million.
Here’s where one of my favorite parts of baseball comes into play, however. Both of these teams made the playoffs. Not only that, but the Guardians survived longer than the Mets who lost to the Padres (2022 payroll of $184.5 million) in the Wild Card round. Cleveland was eliminated in the next round by the Yankees ($249 million payroll) but it just goes to show that spending more money doesn’t always produce a winning team.
Now, while spending money guarantees nothing for your team, spending little to no money does guarantee you something as a team. Concern from your fans.
As I talked about in my previous article, every team in MLB is largely profitable on a year-to-year basis. There is only one current team that Forbes had sitting below $1 billion dollars in value, that being the Miami Marlins which was valued at $990 million.
The fact that so many of these low-ranking teams (based on payroll) could still afford to spend more makes little sense to me. Oftentimes, owners will excuse their spending habits by saying that they are in a small-market and players are going to chase the larger sums of money elsewhere. But if you look at how much the team could be spending on players to improve the team, that statement doesn’t make a lot of sense.
I just cannot see a reason as to why the owner of a team would intentionally not spend money towards improving their team if they are underperforming. Of course, there are situations where it makes sense not to spend money, such as when a team is undergoing a rebuild.
A rebuild is just what it sounds like. More than likely, the team has struggled for a few years and has built up a good farm system of prospects. So, the team will save money for when the prospects make it to the majors and perform well, and then be signed to long term contracts.
But what happens when the team isn’t in a rebuild or has been in a rebuild for years with nothing to show for it? The Oakland Athletics and Cincinnati Reds come to mind when you think of this. Both teams are toward the bottom of the list in team value and yearly payroll and have been stuck there for years.
These teams both have histories of trading away very talented homegrown players for aging veterans. Or they will let players walk in free agency after a year of great numbers because they don’t think they can afford what the player is asking.
The A’s traded away Josh Donaldson just a few seasons before he won the MVP with the Toronto Blue Jays. The A’s more recently traded their talented corner infielders, Matt Olson and Matt Chapman, with little to show in return. The Reds refused to reach out to their star outfielder Nick Castellanos with an offer after he declined his option. They let now infamous Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer go to the Dodgers after winning his award.
The owners of these teams will just continue along the paths that they are currently on unless something is done to prevent it.
This is something very similar to “tanking” in the NFL or the NBA, but with a twist. See, in those leagues, teams will tank to improve their chances of securing better players in the next season’s draft. But with those leagues, the pipeline from the draft to the league is often a lot quicker than in MLB.
Players typically spend 2 or 3 years in the minor leagues working and honing their craft so they can perform at the major league level. There is a lower correlation between a player’s pre-draft numbers and how they actually perform. That is why I see the owners’ action as nothing more than padding their own pockets with the revenue the team brings in.
If they don’t have to spend their money to get large returns on it, and if they have little to no interest in winning, then why wouldn’t they? Until the league is able to force team owners to place a certain portion of their teams’ value and revenue back into it, I’m not sure what is going to change for the teams and fans of the teams who are going through this process.
It is really difficult to continue rooting for your favorite team every year when you have little hope for them and their future. But, as a famed Cincinnati Reds owner Bob Castellini once said, “Well, where are you gonna go?”