Thursday, October 15, 2009

Following Up on Tuesday's Post

I expected that my post on Tuesday would be controversial. Any time one complains about the nature of Major League Baseball's uneven payroll structure, there are bound to be numerous dissenters. What I didn't expect was that Rob Neyer would feature the post on his blog and send a swarm of peeved Yankees fans over here to spout their disapproval.

Of course I'm glad that Neyer saw fit to bring up the discussion over at this SweetSpot blog, and it was nice to see some outsiders voicing their opinions in the comments section here, even if the majority of those opinions basically boiled down to me being a whiny, know-nothing moron from a fly-over state (I <3 NY!).

What disappoints me is that many of these people seemed to miss the central point of the original post. Perhaps that's my fault for not clearly conveying that point. With that in mind, there are a couple key aspects of argument that I'd like to re-emphasize today:

1) This is NOT just about the Twins and Yankees.

I used the Twins and Yankees as examples because I had just gotten done watching a three-game playoff sweep in which the Yankees threw three starting pitchers who made a combined $36 million this year (compared to three Twins' pitchers who made less than $5 million combined) while sporting a lineup whose 2-through-4 hitters earned a combined $72 million -- more than the Twins' entire payroll.

The general sentiment from Yanks fans seemed to be that I was unfairly singling out the Yankees and/or pouting because my team had just lost. Neither of those things were true.

The Yankees are the most prominent example of baseball's imbalanced financial field, given that their payroll is 33 percent higher than any other team, but the same issues apply to any large-market team that holds a marked advantage when it comes to signing free agents, internal players, draft picks or international talent. For the most part, the revenue advantages of these free-spending teams are far more correlated with the size of their market than the quality of their fans or the devotion of their ownership. It's simply unfair that they should be rewarded with a substantial competitive advantage as a result of where they play.

And this isn't whining. I fully expected the Twins to lose, and they lost. I was frustrated when the Yankees bought three of the top free agents last offseason, I was frustrated watching them win 103 games this season largely as a result of that spending spree, and I was frustrated watching them pound an understandably less stacked team in the first-round of the playoffs. My ranting post was the culmination of plenty of pent-up annoyance with baseball's current system, and the fact that it appeared in the aftermath of this playoff sweep is only because I deemed the timing appropriate.

In truth, the Twins probably aren't the greatest example to illustrate my argument, given that they've enjoyed relative success over the past eight years and could have probably defeated the Yankees in this series if not for some bad breaks and terrible baserunning blunders (which our friends from out east were so eager to point out -- repeatedly). But don't tell me that this team would not be in far better shape if they had an extra $100 million in payroll to throw around. Which brings me to my next point:

2) Higher payroll does not guarantee success, but there is no denying that it provides a distinct inherent advantage.

I can't believe how much energy some people spent trying to produce evidence proving that the Yankees' giant payroll doesn't actually provide them with a meaningful advantage. It is not debatable. If spending more did not make a team better and increase its chances of winning, then the Yankees would not run up a $200 million payroll, and other large-market teams wouldn't spend well over $100 million to assemble their rosters. No one has ever claimed that spending a certain amount of money guarantees wins or World Series titles -- and the Yankees have proven that over the past decade -- but there's no question that having the ability to employ significantly more high-paid players provides an advantage. The best players eventually command the most money, and while baseball's system does keep all players relatively inexpensive in their early years, it's damn near impossible to have a roster stacked full of superstars who haven't yet hit arbitration or free agency. It is not, however, hard to have a roster stacked full of superstars when you can flex a $150-$200 million budget.

One can debate how much of an advantage is gained by perpetually sporting a payroll that is more than twice the size of your opponents, but it's simply ignorant to try and argue that this isn't an advantage.

3. This argument should not have anything to do with the Pohlads.

Many, many people pointed out that the Twins' ownership is one of the wealthiest in sports, and that if they really wanted to they could outspend the Yankees in payroll outright, paying for Target Field in its entirety and bailing out the automobile industry while they're at it. But, in the same breath, many of these same people were quick to argue that baseball is a business.

Don't those two statements run somewhat contradictory to one another? If baseball truly is a business, how could anyone expect an owner to put more into their product than they're getting out of it? Look, I was never a big fan of Carl Pohlad and by no means was as a defense of him or the way he operated this franchise. But it's perfectly fair to expect a team in a smaller market's expenses to be commensurate with its revenue, regardless of the owner's worth, and it's also worth noting that most owners of small-market clubs don't have as much money as the Pohlads, which brings me back to my initial point: this ain't about the Twins. It's about baseball, and all of its overshadowed and unfairly disadvantaged small-market clubs.

To close today's post, I would like to highlight two examples from Tuesday's 50-comment maelstrom which I felt most thoughtfully and eloquently supported the two sides of this debate.

The first, which falls into the anti-cap category, comes from an anonymous commenter:

The beauty of baseball is that the very best teams (regardless of payroll) end up playing .630 ball, and they end up playing a bunch of .530 - .600 teams in the playoffs. Unlike the NBA or the NFL, the best teams don't make it to the championship series every year simply because their advantage of the other teams in the playoffs is marginal, and baseball is a game of funny bounces.

Yankees / Twins was hardly a walkover, and it ultimately came down to the Twins making Little League baserunning mistakes and their $11 million closer spitting the bit. Yes, the Yankees had a better team top to bottom and a larger margin for error, but just by the nature of baseball the lesser team had a legitimate chance to win.

In the big picture, MLB wants NY, Boston, LA, etc. to have the very best teams. Successful teams in the largest, most affluent markets = maximum ticketing, concessions, merchandising, TV, and radio revenue + greater global branding opportunities. Common business sense says you probably want 20 million happy fans in New York than 1 million in Kansas City.

But for those niche markets, devise the "AL Central" and "NL Central" where you let a less talented team with a worse record into the playoffs every year. That way, every fan can dream every spring.

But make sure you institute a "Wild Card" so that you get an extra large market team into the playoffs every year while giving niche market teams another hope to grab onto.

The only way to guarantee that this works and to maximize MLB revenues is to make sure you DON'T have a salary cap. What's wrong with that?

The second comes from Bill Lindeke, who probably did a better job of summarizing my argument than I did in one long-winded post and several meandering rebuttals in the comments section:

Nick... I'm a long-time reader of your blog. I fail to understand why people aren't getting your rather obvious point. I suppose the ideology of fandom is that owners are philanthropists, paying players out of personal or civic pride.

The fact is that, unlike other pro sports, baseball has a very imbalanced financial landscape. The reason Yankees fans are so annoying is that they (willfully) blind themselves to this fact.

We all see what we want to see, but the massive payroll discrepancies in baseball are a crying shame. The vast majority of teams have no real shot at winning in the playoffs most years. The fact that baseball still manages to keep a semblance of competitiveness is a testament to the inherent strength and beauty of the game.

(Incidentally. the same argument about inequality would hold true for the Mets or Cubs even though they're consistently mediocre. If all the big-market teams had decent management, baseball's uneven playing field would be truly intolerable, condemning Pittsburgh, K.C., Baltimore, and the rest to lifetimes of baseball purgatory.)

And, just for good measure, I'll republish this doozy, which I think portrays me very accurately:

awwwwww, boo hoo hoo. I'm a sad sack twins fan named Nick who cant seem to understand baseball economics and the idea of "fair" are not a mutual concept. I guess the twins should have just not even showed up bc I mean it was such a foregone conclusion that the big bad yankees would beat them and not even have to swing the bat. The yanks just show up and teams tremble at their massive salaries and just give up. boo hoo hoo. In the words of a great comic book master.....WORST.....BLOG....EVER.


John said...

I think your description of ownership purely as business is not quite right. Many pro sports franchises have appreciated greatly in recent decades, but I do not think they are generally purchased for that reason (or for the yearly revenue stream). The Yankees under Steinbrenner are probably an exception.

But for someone like Pohlad, a sports franchise has a lot to do with entertainment. When you have that much money, the usual toys don't cut it anymore. To the extent a team is operated as a hobby, I do think the owner's finances are relevant. People of modest means have hobbies as well, on a much smaller scale of course.

No one should lose seriously damaging amounts of money on their hobby. But there was a time when the Twins were having more trouble signing draft picks than anyone else and had a skeletal payroll. Pohlad tried to contract the team in exchange for a payout from the other owners. His extreme wealth cannot be ignored in evaluating that legacy.

Having said all that, there is definitely a problem with structural imbalance. I don't think a salary cap/floor is the answer, but the 'luxury tax' already in place should be strengthened considerably.

Nick N. said...

Good comment. I agree completely.

rghrbek said...


Your rephrasing of the Tuesday post makes much more sense, and sounds a lot less like bitter grapes.

I mostly agree with your takes on this, and baseball does indeed have a problem. The real problem is, they have no intentions of fixing it.

Let's move onto other topics, such as, how Billy Smith will do nothing or very conservative moves in the offseason (ie Pavano and OC).

Should Kubel or Cuddyer be traded while their value you is high (I am definately on board with trading Cuddy, because of his salary, if we can get major league ready prospects).

Keep up the good work!

Bill Lindeke said...

Thanks for the nod! Don't get me wrong: I used to live in both Boston and New York, and I do love the fans there. Fans in those cities care deeply about the game of baseball, and know a hell of a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of their players. I'd give anything if the Twins organization had as much respect for their fans as the Yankee and Red Sox do. (The Twins seem to stock their media teams with total homers. I used to love listening to Jerry Remy, the Red Sox TV guy. I watch Twins games with the sound off.)

But, you can't deny the arrogance of thinking that payroll doesn't matter. Just because the Mets lose doesn't mean they don't have twice as much to spend as Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, etc.

(Also, why would you ever build a new Yankee stadium?! Srsly, Steinbrenner?)

Josh said...

The bottom line is the payroll imbalance allows for a much greater margin of error. If the Twins make a mistake in signing a free agent or extending a contract, it can cripple them for years. If the Yankees do the same...they can just sign another one.

The Yankees spent money poorly for quite a few years over the past decade, but were still able to make the playoffs. There's little punishment to them or any other big payroll team for doing so; they're still usually competitive.

Right now, every Twins fan is dying a thousand deaths hoping Joe Mauer signs an extension this offseason, because they know that if he hits the free agent market teams like Boston or New York will be able to offer him 10-30% more than the Twins can. That's not a good situation for MLB.

This isn't about whining, it's about what works best for the sport. the NFL has significantly more revenue sharing, has good competitive balance, and is constantly growing as easily the most popular sport. In the NFL, all teams are punished for poor management. There's something to be said for that.

Bryz said...

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. College work has been keeping me busy.

You were definitely busy in responding to every Yankee fan's post from that previous thread, and I just finished reading it a few minutes ago, but here's something that I think you should have pointed out. Rob Neyer himself said this at the very end of his post: "So now we're just haggling over the appropriate and necessary degree. AND I WILL ARGUE, ALONG WITH NICK, THAT MLB STILL HAS SOME WORK TO DO."

I apologize since I didn't go through Neyer's thread, but apparently those fans were so enraged that they skipped over that line and didn't fault Neyer at all for agreeing with you.

Jack Steal said...


You hit the nail on the head when you said a big payroll does not guarantee a team success but it does give them a distinct adavantage over another. I have been arguing this point with other bloggers and baseball fans for a long time.

The Yankees against the Twins reminded me of how teams are picked on a playground. One team picks all the good players and the other gets nothing but mediocre and bad players. There needs to be a long, long baseball strike in 2012 until a salary cap gets implemented. It is the only way baseball can be fair to the smaller market teams. I would also say as a baseball fan anybody who is not for a salary cap is out of their minds. Just look at the four teams in the 2009 playoffs and that will tell you all you need to know.

lookatthosetwins said...

Who's going to strike? The Pohlads? The players certainly don't want a salary cap.

Anonymous said...

As a Yankee fan, of course I have heard all of this before. Obviously the Yankees have a clear advantage over a team like the Twins because of their differing levels of financial health. This however is not an unfair advantage. The Yankees weren't born as a multi billion dollar franchise. The team has earned their financial position fairly in an open trade market system. The competative balance of baseball doesnt end between the lines. The ability to properly market your team has always been a huge part of that competition. This includes choosing a good location for the team to play at. It seems abhorrent to me that some of you folks would put a reign on the lead horse, instead of whipping the the trailing horses. If your truly interested in greater "parity", you have to fold up a few organizations who simply have no intention to be competitive. Every team takes about 40 pitchers out of the talent pool. As a result, good starting pitchers are making too much for medium markets to compete for, or keep long term. As for true "small markets" they should stick to minor league teams.

be said...


osaka said...

大阪 十三 でデリヘルなら

大阪 十三 でエステなら

大阪 十三のキャバクラなら

大阪 十三のキャバクラなら

大阪 十三のキャバクラなら


十三 風俗求人なら

大阪 キャバクラ求人なら

高収入 男性の風俗求人なら

高収入 男性のキャバクラ求人なら