To quote former New York Jets-coach Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game.” That goal crosses all sports, so baseball is no different. Every team’s goal is to win. We’re not just talking about one game–or even one hundred–we’re talking about popping that sweet World Series champagne after winning the most meaningful game of all. But before player’s can bask in the suds of glory, money must be spent to form that winning team. The real question, however, is how much money should be spent?
Many people feel that spending money translates to winning. The prime example of this are the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. The Yankees are the league’s richest spenders, boasting a salary of $207,047,964–which is about $41 million more than the second highest salary (Phillies). Both the Yankees and Phillies are arguably the two best teams in baseball, with 97 wins and 101 wins, respectively, so maybe spending money does result in wins.
But then again, how about all the teams that spent money and didn’t win enough games to make the playoffs? The Boston Red Sox spent almost $164 million and got edged out by the Tampa Bay Rays, who spent just 25% of the Red Sox’s salary ($42,171,308). In fact, eight of the top ten spenders missed the playoffs and spent a combined $1,061,375,139 in the process.
To properly illustrate how much money a win is worth, one must do some simple math. Below is a chart illustrating all thirty teams in baseball with their 2011 salary, final win tally, and a column denoting the amount of money each franchise spent per win.
If you look at the bottom of the list, you will see the teams that spent the most money per win. While playoff-bound teams like the Yankees, Phillies, and Cardinals fall within the top fifteen higher spenders per win, it’s pretty telling that the other five playoff teams fall within the top fifteen lower spenders. The most incredible difference is that the Yankees spent over $2 million per win, while the Rays spent just over $460,000.
Mid-market franchises like the Milwaukee Brewers waited until their prospects were Major League ready before filling out the roster with notable outside talent like Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Francisco Rodriguez. The Brewers knew that they’d probably lose Prince Fielder to free agency after the season, so their window for winning a ring was narrow. That’s the definition of smart spending.
On the other end of the spectrum, the New York Mets had over 60% of their salary handcuffed to Johan Santana, Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez, Carlos Beltran, and Jason Bay. To spend so much money on such little productivity is a recipe for failure. And signing another regrettable free agent contract only adds fuel to the fire. This is true for the Cubs, White Sox, and Dodgers as well.
There is no doubt that spending money can only help a team succeed, but the above chart proves that efficiency is the name of the game. If the most inefficient spenders in baseball were to think twice about handing out predictably bad contracts, they wouldn’t be saddled with soaring salaries and sub par win totals. And yes–the Yankees will always spend like the Yankees–but this small-to-mid-market littered playoff race illustrates that not every team has to do so too in order to succeed.
Any salary information taken from Cot’s Baseball Contracts.