Making Sense of 2014 Payrolls

Ed Zurga

It's almost April and, while the weather isn't getting any warmer, baseball season is coming on schedule anyway. Teams have acquired all the personnel they will at this point and are merely settling some roster issues. A few stragglers have signed with their teams, like Ervin Santana, and payrolls are almost completely settled.

Today, Deadspin released their article outlining 2014 payrolls and individual salaries for all teams, and, while it is fascinating on its own, I decided to offer some perspective. Presented here is a tier system with some ancillary information which hopes to elucidate why and how teams go with a certain payroll. Attendance figures are from ESPN's database, while population figures are 2012 estimates from the US Census.

Team Name/2014 Payroll in millions of dollars/2013 Attendance/2012 Metro Population Estimate


The $200 Million Club

Los Angeles Dodgers
$235,295,219 3,743,527 13,052,921
New York Yankees
$203,812,506 3,279,589 19,831,858

To no one's surprise, the Dodgers and Yankees are the top two payrolls. They have a combined 8 players making $20 million. New York is the largest metro in the United States, Los Angeles is the second largest metro in the United States. Dodgers attendance was 1st among all MLB teams. Oddly enough, while the Dodgers are very good and will likely make the playoffs, the Yankees might only be the third best team in their division.

The $150 Million Club

Philadelphia Phillies $180,052,723 3,012,403 6,018,800
Boston Red Sox $162,817,411 2,833,333 4,640,802
Detroit Tigers $162,228,527 3,083,397 4,292,060
LA Angels $155,692,000 3,019,505 13,052,921
San Francisco Giants $154,185,878 3,326,796 4,455,560

Led by the awkward Phillies, who sport a significantly larger payroll than the Red Sox but significantly less than the Yankees, this group makes a lot of sense. All five have major metro areas and are in the top 10 of attendance. The Angels have a lot of their payroll tied up in dead or dying weight and will for years, owing Pujols and Hamilton a combined $40 million this year and only goes up from there. In 2017, they will owe a 37 year old Pujols and a 36 year old Hamilton a combined $56 million. So, their payroll won't be going down for a while, especially with Trout almost certainly breaking the record for arbitration money. Despite having such mammoth payrolls, the Phillies, Giants, and Angels aren't even favorites in their own divisions.

The Upper Mid

Texas Rangers $136,036,172 3,178,273 6,700,991
Washington Nationals $134,704,437 2,652,422 5,860,342
Toronto Blue Jays $132,628,700 2,536,562 6,054,191

Another three large cities, another three high payrolls. The Rangers will be good again this year, although I think they'll regret the Fielder trade in the future. Toronto seems oddly high on the list, but it has the population to back it up. They are spending a combined $31 million in 2014 on Dickey and Buehrle, which is very much not ideal, and another $30 million for Reyes and Bautista. While the latter two are actually good, though, that's a quartet of players on the wrong side of 30 that take up 46% of their payroll. Washington has a surprisingly low amount of highly payed players; they have Werth at $20 million, but only three more who are making $10 mil or more.

The Mid

Arizona Diamondbacks $112,688,666 2,134,795 4,329,534
Cincinnati Reds $112,390,772 2,534,369 2,128,603
St. Louis Cardinals $111,020,360 3,369,769 2,795,794
Atlanta Braves $110,897,341 2,548,679 5,457,831
Baltimore Orioles $107,406,623 2,357,561 2,753,149
Milwaukee Brewers $103,844,806 2,531,105 1,566,981

Finally, small market teams! This is an interesting group for a number of reasons. We see the first small market teams--the Reds being the most overachieving team, with a small market and middling attendance. The Cardinals bolster their small-market status with great attendance because, you know, CARDINAL NATION and whatnot (side note: Rams attendance was 31st in the NFL last season; whether this is a direct result of the limited number of fans and the extended Cardinals season or other factors is unknown, but certainly interesting). The Cards are, arguably, the best organization in baseball, so there is that. Why baseball even has a team in Milwaukee is beyond me, but they found it within themselves to field a nine digit payroll. Atlanta should be higher on the list in both payroll and attendance, as their population should support both.

The Lower Mid

Colorado Rockies $95,832,071 2,793,828 2,645,209
Seattle Mariners $92,081,943 1,761,546 3,552,157
Kansas City Royals $92,034,345 1,750,754 2,038,724
Chicago White Sox $91,159,254 1,768,413 9,522,434
San Diego Padres $90,094,196 2,166,691 3,177,063
NY Mets $89,051,758 2,135,657 19,831,858
Chicago Cubs $89,007,857 2,642,682 9,522,434

Poor, poor Chicago. Third highest population and two teams with below average payroll. To be fair, the Cubs are rebuilding with Theo, and the payroll will almost certainly spike in a year or two. This is an interesting group, because not a single one of these teams is particularly good; the Royals are actually probably the best of this group. Cano and Hernandez make up 52% of Seattle's payroll, which is always fun. Kansas City is actually fielding a reasonably high payroll compared to its peer groups in attendance and population, so that's...encouraging?

The Low Tier

Minnesota Twins $85,776,500 2,477,644 3,422,264
Oakland A's $83,401,400 1,809,302 4,455,560
Cleveland Indians $82,534,800 1,572,926 2,063,535
Pittsburgh Pirates $78,111,667 2,256,862 2,360,733
Tampa Bay Rays $77,062,891 1,510,300 2,842,878

Incidentally, I would take three of these teams in a heartbeat over any of the teams in the previous tier, and Cleveland/Kansas City is a toss up, which proves that you don't need a high payroll to be good. Why everyone isn't emulating everything Tampa Bay does is astounding, considering they achieve what they achieve with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball and the lowest attendance figure in baseball. Good organizations, the lot of them. Well, except for maybe the Twinkies.

The Pop-Tart Eating Basement Dwellers

Miami Marlins $47,565,400 1,586,322 5,762,717
Houston Astros $44,544,174 1,651,883 6,177,035

When you're awful, why bother with payroll? Both of these teams are in rebuilding mode, and both of these teams are awful. I would expect them to not be this way forever because of the cities that they reside in, but you never know. Houston has accumulated 324 losses over the past three years, and is in danger of losing 100 games for the fourth straight season. I know rebuilding means patience, but geez, this is a bit much, isn't it? (Side note: on MLB 13: The Show, I played as the AL All-Stars against the Astros a few days ago and won 24-0. I put in Yu Darvish at shortstop and CC Sabathia at third base. If only.)


Some observations:

  • Teams that support a high (better than average) payroll either have high attendance figures (Cardinals) or are a large market team (Diamondbacks) or both (Yankees, Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox)
  • A high payroll tied up in dead money does not make your team better
  • Generally, the teams in the top half are better than the teams in the bottom half, although they are not nearly as efficient as Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and the like
  • KC has a respectable payroll regards to its size and attendance
  • The difference between the Dodgers and Astros could fund two and a half more Tampa Bay Rays teams

Thanks for reading. Soon there will be baseball (the real kind (yeah, Australia doesn't count (sorry Aussies))).

This FanPost was written by a member of the Royals Review community. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and writers of this site.

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