|The Symptoms of a Bloated Payroll||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on June 13, 2011
The great thing about baseball is that the team with the highest payroll is not guaranteed to win the World Series.
Granted, that team does have an edge since it's able to lure the best players available with lucrative contracts. But what happens when a team with a perennially high payroll struggles to compete year after year?
Enter the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets.
Bloated teams have specific symptoms that pile up when they're going through this phase. Convincing themselves they're rebuilding is tough because they have money to spend.
The first step in becoming bloated is signing high-profile free agents to long-term contracts when they've passed their prime. Once again, these teams are willing to spend money. The fans clamor for a big-name free agent, and the front office is expected to deliver.
When these free agents flake out, the team cannot recover since it doesn't have any money to bring in other talented pieces. The Cubs were only able to sign an aging Kerry Wood and Carlos Pena this offseason, while the Mets added Chris Young -- who's already out for the season -- and Chris Capuano as their major acquisitions. These aren't exactly guys who are the defining factors in a pennant race.
The next symptom is accepting the role of being patient with underperforming players. When a team is this cash-strapped, the only solution is to ride out these players until their contracts expire.
For example, the Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano to a franchise-record eight-year, $136 million deal prior to the 2007 season. He was 31 but has not played a full season and has hit over .280 just once since then. Aramis Ramirez is another guy who's received over $15 million a season to see his numbers steadily decline.
These long-term contracts may seem like a good idea at the time in order to ensure the free-agent signs, but looking back, smarter front office decisions are necessary to provide greater stability to a franchise.
Even Kosuke Fukudome's contract has been a hindrance to Chicago. A four-year, $48 million contract to a player who never played a big league game in this country is certainly a gamble and hasn't worked out according to plan. An average of $12 million per year for a .260 hitter does not bode well for a team trying to "rebuild."
Like the Cubs, bad contracts have become the norm for the Mets. Despite Luis Castillo's blatantly bad knees, the Mets thought it was a wise decision to lock up Castillo for four years and $18 million. Even worse, the Mets bid against themselves when signing erratic lefty Oliver Perez to a three-year, $36 million deal. Perez, who was 27 at the time of the deal, won only three games during that span ($12 million per win isn't too shabby).
Jason Bay is looking like one of the worst signings in Mets history. He signed a four-year deal with a fifth-year vesting option that brings the deal over $80 million. In his year and a half in Flushing, he's hit just eight home runs. He also had an 0-for-23 streak earlier this season.
The player the Mets could have signed with this money, Matt Holliday, is hitting .342 this season and has hit 34 home runs in the same span as Bay.
In Bay's defense, he's had to deal with a rash of injuries, the next symptom of bloated payrolls.
The Mets and Cubs have rarely had their "A" lineup on the field at any one time. For the Mets especially, there have been times the past few seasons where they were basically sporting a Class AAA team at the big league level. Teams can't be expected to consistently compete when its top players are on the shelf.
The Mets threw a ton of money at Johan Santana, and his injury was a crushing blow. When healthy, he's one of the best pitchers in the game and could have been the ace of the staff that the Mets desperately need. He's also collecting $22.5 million this year to recover from injury.
Injuries are part of the game, but too many simply kill a team. Staying afloat after injuries to David Wright and Ike Davis has been a struggle.
In contrast to these bloated teams, look at a team like the Tampa Bay Rays. After many poor seasons, they accumulated high draft picks that have paid off in the form of B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria and Reid Brignac. Once their players become unaffordable, they trade them for top prospects -- Matt Joyce and Sam Fuld for example -- and continue developing talent. They've fielded a competitive team with a much lower payroll.In the end, a team's play on the field is the ultimate determinant of success. Despite the Mets and Cubs' high payrolls, their mediocre play has made them afterthoughts in the National League. The poor player personnel decisions have haunted these teams -- not to mention the injury bug -- and they both face a long road in competing consistently once again