MLB team payrolls again proving that a World Series cannot be bought

Mid-September’s arrival means that the baseball playoff races are in full swing. As of this writing, teams across the league have between 16-18 games remaining on their schedules, and the only race with an already definitive outcome is in the National League Central, as the Chicago Cubs have wrapped up the division title.

But how have teams performed based on their Opening Day payrolls? At this point, two of the division leaders (Cleveland Indians and Cubs) had Opening Day payrolls outside of the top ten in the league (Indians: $86,339,067 – 24th highest in MLB; Cubs: $116,654,522; 14th highest). The highest payroll in the league belonged to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who committed a whopping $223,352,402 to their players. They currently sit atop the National League West by four games.

MLB LogoThe other three division leaders at this point (Boston Red SoxTexas Rangers, and Washington Nationals) all ranked in the top eight across the league to start the season (Boston: $182,161,414 – third highest; Texas – $144,307,373 – eighth highest; Washington: $166,010,977 – sixth highest).

On the other end of the spectrum are the teams that poured big time money into their rosters, and have had subpar results. Sadly, our beloved Detroit Tigers are squarely in the middle of this conversation. Coming into the season with the fourth highest payroll in the league ($172,282,250), there were high expectations for the team, which have not been met to this point (seven games behind the Indians in the American League Central, three games back in the second wild card spot race).

Among the rest of the teams with the ten highest salaries:

  • New York Yankees (second highest -$213,472,857; six games back of the Red Sox in the American League East and four games back of the second wild card spot in the American League),
  • San Francisco Giants (fifth highest – $166,495,942; four games back of the Dodgers in the National League West, currently holding the first wild card spot in the National League),
  • Los Angeles Angels (seventh highest – $146,449,583; buried in the cellar of the American League West),
  • Philadelphia Phillies (eighth highest – $133,048,000; 22.5 games back in the National League East),
  • San Diego Padres (10th highest – $126,369,628; 20 games back in the National League West).
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The team with the lowest Opening Day payroll that is currently holding a playoff spot is the New York Mets, who opened the season with $99,626,453 on the books (19th highest; currently holding the second wild card spot in the National League).

It is worth mentioning that all of the teams in the top ten and/or in playoff contention made significant moves at the trading deadline to bolster their roster, thus, increasing their payroll. Interestingly enough, the Yankees of all teams were playing the role of sellers and trading off assets and they have gotten better. Conversely, the Giants acquired some role players in key spots and they are on track to post the worst second-half record in baseball history.

After considering all these figures, the popular phrase “you can’t buy a World Series” comes to mind. We see it every single year, with our Tigers included lately as well – big money signings, high profile trades, and limited results. Does this mean that every team who spends big is destined to finish their season in a disappointing fashion? Well… no, but it also goes to show that spending big money in the world of professional baseball provides very little as far as guarantees are concerned.

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