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December 27, 2011 at 10:01 AM

Spending gap between Mariners, division leaders becoming more impactful even before off-season signing sprees

While many of us were pre-occupied with the pre-Christmas holiday crunch, the Associated Press released its list of the end of season salary totals for Major League Baseball, as sent by the commissioner’s office to the 30 teams. What that list showed is that the feared spending gap between the Mariners and the top teams in the division was already becoming more impactful even before the rash of off-season AL West signings and deals.
The Los Angeles Angels were said to have spent a total of $143 million (up from $141 million on Opening Day) on their 40-man roster salaries, with bonuses and contract buyouts included, while the Texas Rangers were up to just over $104 million (up from $92 million).
Seattle did indeed go up to $98 million from the $94 million or so it opened the season with. That actually enabled the M’s to close the gap a touch on the Angels, but it was so vast to begin with that the couple of million in gains amounts to little of significance. Especially given all the money thrown by the Angels this month at Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, which is almost certain to widen the yawning gap between the teams even more come April.
Of more import, the payroll versus the Rangers went from a slight Mariners lead to a $6 million gap with which they now trail, even before Texas went out and splurged on pitcher Yu Darvish (Photo Credit: AP). Seattle’s payroll lead over Texas was always a tad misleading, given how $27 million (just under 30 percent) of it was tied up in non-producing Ichiro and Chone Figgins.
The $51.7-million posting fee the Rangers paid to negotiate with Darvish won’t count towards payroll, but his eventual salary will.
What is becoming clear is that the days of the AL West being a cost-efficient, Moneyball-type of division have been over for some time. Throughout the playoffs, there were folks who mentioned the Rangers as an example of a way to win without spending big money, but those contentions ignored what was already happening to that team.
The reality is, by the time the Rangers were winning their second straight AL pennant, they were doing so with a payroll that had already surpassed the $100-million mark and was poised to keep shooting upwards thanks to a $180-million up-front payment from their latest Regional Sports Network TV contract.

Those who say that spending the most money does not guarantee you a World Series championship remain correct. The Rangers were 13th on the end-of-season payroll chart and lost the title to the No. 11 St. Louis Cardinals at $113 million.
But as we know, there are many ways to interpret data.
One way is to note that only three of eight playoff teams — Milwaukee, Arizona and Tampa Bay — from 2011 failed to surpass the $100-million mark in payroll. Of these, the Brewers were a lot closer to $100 million than many gave them credit for during the post-season, climbing by $10 million up to the $93 million mark since the start of the year.
Only two teams in the bottom third of payroll, the Diamondbacks and Rays, made the post-season.
When it came to making the playoffs — the ultimate step before winning a World Series — two of the top-three spenders made it while a third, the Red Sox, missed the post-season in the final inning of the final day.
So, when it comes to making the post-season, money doesn’t guarantee anything. But it does provide a much bigger margin for error and does indeed improve a club’s chances of making it beyond September. Three teams in the top-third of spending made it to the playoffs this year while two others on the cusp of that tier — the Rangers and Cards — also did.
The Rays were the only squad from the AL to be in the bottom half of payroll and still make the playoffs. They remain the standard-bearer of hope for clubs wishing to get to the promised land without big money. But again, teams wanting to emulate the Rays must beware — it took a decade of last-place finishes to build up the draft-fueled talent base used to forge the many deals that got the Rays where they are today.
As for the Mariners, we’ve already told you that my sources indicate they will declare a $6.75-million operating loss for 2011. Roughly $4 million of that will come from the team spending more on players between Opening Day and the season’s end.
In 2010, the Mariners kept payroll roughly the same between the start and end of the season.
What happened this year?
Erik Bedard happened, for one. He didn’t pitch in 2010, but did in 2011 and racked up roughly $1.5 million in bonuses while still with the Mariners.
Good thing financially that the team traded him to Boston, where he hit several other bonus targets to generate another $1.7 million or so that were paid by the Red Sox. When you consider how little Bedard actually pitched for Boston, it’s highly fortunate for the M’s that Bedard got hurt at the end of June and sat out a month before pitching with the Red Sox.
Otherwise, some of that $1.7 million might have been added to Seattle’s end-of-season tab. For instance, when he got hurt, Bedard was only 26 innings shy of another $425,000 in bonuses. I sure wasn’t thinking about that back in July when we kept asking manager Eric Wedge about Bedard’s return to action and it kept getting put off and put off. But now, in hindsight, it seems like incredibly good fortune from a fiscal perspective that Bedard stayed out as long as he did.
Well, maybe that’s overstating it. After all, the Mariners were just a couple of games out of first place in the AL West when Bedard went down and the last I checked, winning was still the ultimate goal in baseball. So, let’s downgrade my “incredibly good fortune” comment to “a silver lining” for the M’s.
Bedard had already thrown 90 innings in half a season for the Mariners and had just gone seven frames in his June 27 start before being put on the DL.
If anything, Bedard being out so long after that made it easier to trade him to the Red Sox, since it helped him leave another $2.4 million in bonuses on the table that he would have come pretty close to reaching had he pitched an entire season. After all, the Red Sox had no qualms about dealing for Bedard right after his aborted four-out “mini start” for the Mariners following his long layoff. Boston sure seemed pretty convinced he was healthy enough to help them for the stretch run. If anything, their bigger concern would have been about money, since Bedard could very well have become a $4-million pitcher for two months if all of his bonuses were reached. Not as good a deal as a $1.7-million pitcher for two months.
Remember, Bedard pitched only six innings his final two starts and still hit a bonus target of 125 innings, finishing with 129. If you’re the Red Sox, you were hoping he’d throw many more innings than he he ultimately did for Boston. This would have, logically, been an important calculation for the Red Sox throughout July as they debated the cost of acquiring Bedard. They had to be eyeing some of his higher-end bonus targets of 150, 175 and 190 innings as possibilities when doing mental calculations in the weeks prior to the deal. Bedard being on the DL throughout July likely alleviated some of the concern, especially if the Red Sox were led to believe through back channels that the injury wasn’t significant, despite the increasingly-extended DL time.
Anyhow, getting off target here. Bedard is ancient history. Just saying that his injury helped both teams from a fiscal perspective.
Other contributors to the M’s salary bump included a minor six-figure differential in Dustin Ackley’s pro-rated big-league status versus his minor league salary. It was $300,000 for an entire season, but he only got called up in late-June, so do the math.
Then there was the catching situation, where Adam Moore got hurt in the first week of the season and had to be paid all year while the M’s had to also pay his replacement. Chris Gimenez was already on the team and the M’s tried to stick it out with him as long as they could until both he and Miguel Olivo were hurt on the same night.
After that, they had to pay Josh Bard for half a season and that’s another $200,000 or so.
Once Milton Bradley was cut in May, you had to add an outfielder to the roster, so that’s another $300,000 plus for minimum wage guys pro-rated regardless of who wound up being used for how long in left field. Same when Jack Cust and Chris Ray were sent packing. That’s $3.5 million in salary between the two of them that still had to be paid while the M’s were also shelling out money for their minimum-wage replacements.
The M’s saved some money by offloading Jack Wilson to the Braves with a month to go in the season. But in the end, all of the rookie promotions and jettisoning of veterans starts to add up and that’s why the team spent about $4 million more. None of the expenses were of the impact variety as they were with the Rangers’ payroll boost.
Here is the final list of MLB end of season salaries, compiled by AP.
1. N.Y. Yankees…………………$216,044,956
2. Boston Red Sox……………..$174,116,280
3. Philadelphia Phillies…………$165,313,989
4. L.A. Angels……………………$143,099,729
5. N.Y. Mets……………………..$142,244,744
6. Chicago Cubs…………………$140,608,942
7. Chicago White Sox…………..$125,814,762
8. San Francisco Giants………..$125,111,390
9. Minnesota Twins……………..$115,419,106
10. Detroit Tigers………………..$113,230,923
11. St. Louis Cardinals…………..$113,156,467
12. L.A. Dodgers………………….$109,865,640
13. Texas Rangers……………….$103,967,140
14. Seattle Mariners……………….$98,067,684
15. Colorado Rockies………………$96,145,529
16. Milwaukee Brewers…………..$93,234,011
17. Atlanta Braves………………….$88,128,545
18. Baltimore Orioles……………….$86,856,480
19. Cincinnati Reds…………………$81,621,587
20. Houston Astros………………….$81,139,621
21. Toronto Blue Jays………………$75,851,382
22. Washington Nationals………….$72,022,999
23. Oakland A’s……………………….$70,476,206
24. Arizona Diamondbacks…………$65,603,602
25. Florida Marlins…………………….$61,940,280
26. Cleveland Indians………………..$53,533,393
27. Pittsburgh Pirates………………..$51,784,810
28. San Diego Padres…………………$45,620,873
29. Tampa Bay Rays…………………..$44,969,740
30. Kansas City Royals………………..$44,566,470

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins


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