A week ago, the Twins and Tigers played out their respective regular seasons in a thrilling 12-inning tiebreaker at the Metrodome that ultimately ended in a walk-off victory for the Twins. The historical contest was everything a baseball game should be: two evenly matched teams battling one another to the bitter end in a high-stakes, must-win affair. Both the Twins and Tigers had their own sets of strengths and flaws, forcing each team's manager to engage in a lengthy chess match in an effort to work around his roster's weaknesses and put his best players in position to step up and deliver.
The Yankees/Twins ALDS match-up was a different story entirely. The Twins were severely overmatched from the start in this series, because the Yankees are a far, far better team. And that's not because their roster is more smartly assembled or because they are a more well-coached group of players. It's because a nearly unlimited payroll has allowed them to construct what is essentially an All-Star team. Each player in the Yankees lineup is a quality hitter and a legitimate home run threat. Their pitching staff is star-studded. Their bullpen is lethal.
But it's not difficult to see why this Yankees team is so dominant. Just look at who New York's big contributors were in this ALDS series. In Game 1, the Yankees received a dominant start from C.C. Sabathia, who they purchased for $161 million during the offseason. In Game 2, they got another strong start from A.J. Burnett, another spendy offseason rotation addition. That game ended when Mark Teixeira, their $180 million first base acquisition from the past winter, hit a walk-off homer. And the Yankees' biggest offensive game-changer throughout the entire series, Alex Rodriguez, is an admitted steroid user who made $32 million this season. In the end, the Yankees beat up on a far lesser team and got exactly what they paid for during the offseason: a trip to the ALCS with a World Series berth likely to follow. As we are all surely aware (especially after listening to the TBS announcers ogle over them for the entirety of the series), the Yankees are a great team. But, is that really anything for them or their fans to be proud of?
Major League Baseball's failure to create a remotely even playing field is rather egregious, and I think it's pretty sad that at this point it is widely accepted. The Yankees' $201 million payroll is about 33 percent higher than that of the next closest team -- the Mets -- and more than three times that of the Twins.
Whereas focusing their funds in certain areas forces small/medium-market teams to live with weaknesses in other areas, the Yankees are able to spend at will, filling nearly every position with star-caliber players. Whereas small/medium-market teams necessarily must occasionally let in-house talent walk when it gets too expensive, the Yankees are able to retain any player they want to (imagine how differently this series may have shaken out if the Twins still had Torii Hunter and Johan Santana). Whereas small/medium-market teams must build by drafting wisely and uncovering hidden gems on the interational scene, the Yankees are able to flex their financial muscles by plucking prospects whose signing bonus demands put lower-payroll teams out of the picture and by throwing heaps of cash at all the top international talent.
MLB has taken measures to keep big-market teams from gaining too large an advantage over their smaller-market counterparts, but these efforts have fallen laughably short. Without a draft slotting system, an international draft or a salary cap (or at least a luxury tax system that actually gets meaningful results), the big-market teams have pulled away and gained a massive competitive edge. The Yankees are making a mockery out of baseball's system by piling up a $200 million payroll and buying up all the top players on the free agent market.
Obviously, having a massive payroll does not automatically ensure outstanding results. The Mets ranked second in the majors in team payroll this year and were miserable. The Yankees, prior to this ALDS sweep, hadn't won a postseason series since 2004. People point to the fact that baseball has crowned eight different World Champs in the past nine years as some sort of proof that the system is sound and that the league features plenty of parity, but there is no denying that being able to outspend your opponent threefold provides a massive inherent competitive edge. That's just not right.
The Twins have overcome their budget constraints and have enjoyed more sustained success than almost any other small/medium-market team over the past decade or so. They have consistently posted winning records, they've made the playoffs five times in the past eight years, and they gave the Yankees a run for their money in this most recent ALDS series. But the fact remains that the Twins went 0-10 against the Yankees this year and were outhomered 6-0 by New York's cash-soaked lineup during this past series. People look at the Twins' epic struggles against the Yankees over the past eight years or so -- particularly in New York and in the postseason -- and they talk about how the Twins are mesmerized by the Yankee mystique. I'm not sure I buy that. The Twins are just consistently getting beat up on by much better teams. The Yankees don't make the same type of fundamental errors as the Twins in these games because they have better players. That's what money buys you.
As a fan of the Twins, I feel the burden of this remarkable payroll disadvantage, so I can't even imagine how much heavier that burden must weigh for fans of teams like the Royals and Marlins, who've not been lucky enough to escape from the doldrums.
The token response to these complaints is that life isn't fair. Well, baseball isn't life, it's a game. And it sure as hell ought to be fair.