Small market success
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| By fwa3 on Tuesday, October 01, 2002 - 08:39 am:|
October 1, 2002
Low-Payroll Teams Can Make It
By MURRAY CHASS
That oft-quoted statistic is about to change.
On Page 19 of the updated supplement to baseball's blue-ribbon panel report, it says that from 1995 through 2001, teams from the bottom two payroll quartiles have won only 5 of 224 postseason games.
The Oakland Athletics and the Minnesota Twins are in the bottom two payroll quartiles. They will play each other the next few days in one of the two American League division series. If the playoffs are to continue beyond the division round, someone will have to win those games. Each game won, a minimum of three games, will have to be added to the victory total for the bottom two quartiles. Those five games will become at least eight.
The series could be called the Aberration Bowl because Commissioner Bud Selig keeps saying that these low-payroll teams that make the playoffs are aberrations. But are they really aberrations anymore?
"We have different teams in the playoffs and that's good; I'm delighted," Selig said yesterday. "But does that take away from what we've been saying? No."
But this is the third successive season the Oakland A's (for Aberrations) have made the playoffs, and the year before they began that run, 1999, they were competing for the wild-card slot in the last weeks of the season.
"Oakland has been the only consistent small-market team that has won," Selig said on the telephone from his office in Milwaukee.
But what about the Twins? Although they didn't make it last year, they led the A.L. Central for more than half the season. Now they are division champions.
"They went through almost a decade of frustration to get there," Selig said.
But the Athletics, No. 22 among 30 payrolls compiled for luxury tax tracking, and the Twins, No. 27, are there. No. 2 Texas, No. 3 Los Angeles, No. 4 Boston, the No. 6 Mets and No. 8 Seattle are not.
"They've done a marvelous job, make no mistake about it, a marvelous job," Selig said. "I don't quarrel with that. But the question is, can they be competitive over long periods of time?"
Have the Mets been competitive over long periods of time? How often have the Dodgers been competitive in recent years? How about the Chicago Cubs? They're in the upper half of payroll quartiles, and how often have they been competitive? The standard response to such questions is that a high payroll doesn't guarantee that a team will make the playoffs, but a low payroll almost guarantees that a team will not.
"If you look at the rest of the playoff teams," Selig said, "they're pretty high in payrolls."
This is how the four playoff series line up based on payrolls (the figures in millions, which are not final for the year, include about $7.75 million in benefit costs):
No. 1 Yankees ($171.4) vs. No. 15 Anaheim ($77.3 million)
No. 22 Oakland ($65.4) vs. No. 27 Minnesota ($53.8)
No. 5 Arizona ($112.2) vs. No. 9 St. Louis ($95.7)
No. 7 Atlanta ($110.5) vs. No. 10 San Francisco ($95.1)
Let's look at these teams from another perspective.
The Yankees, by far, and the Cardinals, by only about $3 million over the Cubs, are the only playoff teams that had the highest payrolls in their divisions. Oakland's payroll is half of the Rangers'. Minnesota has the lowest payroll in its division. Arizona is behind the Dodgers, and the Braves are behind the Mets, however slim the difference.
Among the teams that were legitimately competing for the wild-card spots, the Angels have a smaller payroll than the Red Sox and the Mariners, and the Giants lag behind the Dodgers.
But the focus of Selig, other baseball officials and owners is on the numbers after the dollar signs, no matter the groupings. The first quartile is the first quartile and the fourth quartile is the fourth quartile.
"Does it in any way detract from what anybody has been saying? No," Selig said, speaking of Exhibits A and B on the aberration list. "The two clubs that would tell you that right out of the chute are Minnesota and Oakland. Their questions are how do they keep their players?"
Is the Athletics' three-year run a fair test?
"No," Selig said. "They lost three key players from last year, and unless the system changes they'll lose more players. Minnesota already is complaining about salaries they'll have to pay some players."
The Athletics, however, have done a good job of signing some of their best players to multiyear contracts: Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez, Terrence Long. It's just another example of the team being a well-run operation.
"Obviously, Terry Ryan and Billy Beane have done marvelous jobs," Selig said. Ryan is the Twins' general manager, Beane his Oakland counterpart.
Ryan's best move of the year came when he rejected a chance last winter to interview for the Toronto job, when the Twins were on the brink of contraction. Ryan, at the possible expense of his own future, opted to remain loyal to the people he had hired in the Twins' organization, and he has been rewarded with his first trip to the playoffs.
Beane, a better executive than he ever was a player, has demonstrated talent that most general managers should envy.
The Athletics and the Twins are in the playoffs in spite of their low payrolls because of the way they run their organizations. Many of those teams with higher payrolls are not in the playoffs because of the way they run their organizations.
| By me_94501 on Tuesday, October 01, 2002 - 09:27 am:|
Doesn't it make you sick to know that just 5 or 6 years ago, $50 million was tops?