October 23, 2012
2012 MLB Postseason Shows Money Matters
I don’t care how many times you’ve heard it, but money matters in sports. Somewhere along the line, maybe starting with a book by some guy named Lewis about the A’s, someone confused “money doesn’t win championships” for somehow meaning that money doesn’t matter if you want to be competitive. That’s never been true.
We can haggle over this a bit. There’s empirical evidence—a good bit of which comes from this current season—that a team can get into the playoffs without having a massive player payroll. After all, there was “Moneyball” then, and someone will say we saw a new form of “Moneyball” in Oakland this season. But as Nate Silver and Dayn Perry said so eloquently in Baseball Between the Numbers, Billy Beane’s shit hasn’t worked in the postseason. In truth, having money helps if you wish to go deep into the playoffs.
The past few seasons, this has been less evident. The LCS last year was comprised of the Brewers (ranked 17th in payroll with $85,497,333), Rangers (ranked 13th with $92,299,264), Cardinals (11th with $105,433,572), and Tigers (10th with $105,700,231), leaving the 11th and 13th ranked teams by player payroll in the World Series. In 2010, the LCS featured the Rangers (27th with $55,250,544), Giants (ninth with $98,641,333), Yankees (first with $206,333,389), and Phillies (fourth with $141,928,379). With a Giants/Rangers World Series, that meant no team competing in the championship series had a player payroll over $100 million.
This year, however, this is not the case. With the exception of Oakland, nine of the ten teams that made the postseason had player payroll in the top 20, and all of the LCS teams were in the top eight, not one of which came in under $110 million. The 2012 World Series features the Tigers, with the fifth-ranked Opening Day player payroll of $132,994,000, and the Giants, with the sixth-ranked payroll of $131,980,298. If there is a “glass half full” feeling for the league, it’s that along with the A’s, there were four playoff teams (Nationals, Braves, Reds, and Orioles) that were within the middle third of the league by player payroll:
Commissioner Selig and others (this author included) have said that the league is experiencing incredible parity in the number of teams that make the postseason. That’s true. After that point, however, it shifts. When you think about it, this is a nice side-effect for the league. Selig can rightly say that every team has a shot to make the postseason, while FOX and TBS have been able to ensure good national television ratings as large-market teams and storied franchises make deep runs into the playoff. In that, it’s been a win-win.
Money matters. It always has. There hasn’t been a GM that sat back and said, “You know what Mr. Owner, I don’t need the extra resources that you’re offering.” The point is money never hurts. And while there are GMs and execs that will always say they've spent wisely, they sometimes don't. What money gives you is a buffer. Or, rather, what sustained revenues give you is margin. You can take more risks and you can more easily blunt the blow if some of the decisions you make don’t turn out as planned. Conversely, the club that has limited resources is always at greater risk if it makes mistakes. To quote the poet laureate Brian Johnson of AC/DC, money talks.