What the Marlins Payroll Really Means: MLB is the Autobahn

↵You know when you're driving on the freeway and you see a souped-up sports car swerving in and out of traffic, trying feverishly to find the lane that will lead to more open road? Invariably, the driver of the car refuses to look three moves ahead, instead putting his foot on the gas until he's in the back seat of the slower-moving traffic in front of him. Brake lights. ↵

↵

↵ ↵

↵

↵It's always fun to see those cars struggle to break free from the pack, weaving in and out of every lane, only to get off at their exit behind the little old couple in the sensible four-dour sedan who spent most of the drive in the right lane going about their business and not bothering anyone. Slow and steady does, on occasion, win the race. ↵

↵

↵So how does that analogize to Major League Baseball? Well, the sensible sedan would be the Florida Marlins and the souped-up sports car is, say, the New York Mets. In 2009, the Marlins finished 17 games ahead of the Mets in the NL East standings, despite the fact that the Mets payroll was somewhere in the $149 million range and the Marlins near $37 million. Sometimes it's not how fast your car is, it's how well you drive it. ↵

↵

↵And that's why the news that the Marlins have agreed to increase their payroll, per a request from both MLB and the MLBPA, is so interesting. The league, already without a salary cap, is the sports equivalent to the Autobahn – it doesn't care how fast teams go, just as long as they're not going too slow. Sure, there is a luxury tax in baseball, the equivalent to an advisory speed limit, but that tax threshold is so high that in 2009, only the New York Yankees had to pay. In fact, per a report in December, since 2003, the Yankees have paid $174 million of the $190 million due in luxury taxes, yet several teams are well over the $100 million threshold and salaries at the top of MLB get higher and higher each year. ↵

↵

↵Now, the luxury tax is not the same thing as revenue sharing, and that's where the car analogy breaks down, just a bit. See, the sports car doesn't have room to complain about the sensible sedan on a freeway, but if the driver of the sports car was on a toll road and forced to pay for the sedan as well as his own fare, it would be different. Let's assume said sedan was, in theory, blocking the way from getting to the driver of the sports car's desired destination. And let's assume it wasn't just this one sedan, but more than half the cars on the road; now the driver of the sports car might have more reason to balk at how 'slow and steady' the other cars were actually going. ↵

↵

↵In December, a report in the Boston Globe quoted agent Scott Boras who suggested that the revenue sharing for some teams is up to $80-million dollars: ↵

↵
↵⇥About $400 million – 34 percent of each team's net local revenue – will be distributed to small market teams this year. Most of that percentage comes from the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, and other high-revenue teams. ↵⇥

↵⇥"We've seen a number of teams that are just sitting back," Boras told the Globe at the General Manager's meetings in Chicago last month. "We have clubs who aren't successful getting $80 million before they ever sell a ticket. The question is always going to be in the end, what are they doing with that money? For most of them, they're paying off their debt to purchase the franchise. So they become owners, debt-free but they have not done a lot to contribute to the success of the game." ↵⇥

↵
↵

↵That's the genesis of Tuesday's announcement. Per Maury Brown at Biz of Baseball, the issue with the MLBPA is that the revenue being shared is not being spent back on the major league roster, which was the original intent of the program. ↵

↵
↵⇥While the league does not release the figures, owners of clubs such as the Marlins, Pirates, and Royals have reportedly received revenue-sharing figures that surpass their Major League payroll levels, and thus the question is asked, “Where is the money going?” ↵⇥

↵⇥The answer has been, “To improving performance on the field,” but, according to these clubs, through player development, not within the spirit of the provision which, to the MLBPA has been, “major league player payroll.” ↵⇥

↵
↵So the Players' Association doesn't want teams going to the junkyard to find a good deal on parts in order to build a car that drives well. They want everyone to have sports cars. The more people driving expensive sports cars, the higher the price for parts can go. And if the Yankees or Red Sox or Cubs or Mets are sending, as Boras suggests, close to $80 million to the Rays or Royals or Pirates or Marlins, that money should be put right back into the car, not used to build a garage or re-pave the driveway. ↵

↵Despite the fact that the Yankees spent a reported $200 million on their payroll this year and won a World Series, they were only one of three division winners to have the highest payroll in their division. (Here's a list of team-by-team payrolls per year.) In fact, Minnesota won their division with a payroll that was $50 million below second-place Detroit's and more than $30 million below a White Sox team they finished ahead of by seven games. And the Marlins, the slow-and-steady root of this revenue-sharing concern, spent $60 million less than the Braves and finished one game ahead in the standings. As noted earlier, they spent $113 million less than the Mets on the 2009 Major League roster and finished 17 games clear in the NL East. To illustrate how much money that is…it's the Phillies. The Mets spent the Phillies more than the Marlins in 2009. ↵

↵

↵In 2008, Tampa Bay got to the World Series with the 29th-highest payroll and spent $166 million less than a Yankees team that missed the playoffs altogether. The difference between the two payrolls was nearly $30 million more than the entire payroll of either of the next two most expensive teams in baseball, who both missed the playoffs that year, for what that's worth. ↵

↵

↵And what is that worth? Isn't winning the goal? If teams have figured out a way to win on the cheap, or at least remain competitive at a bargain price, is it fair to force them to spend more money? Now, is it fair that the system in place is lining the pockets of the owners of the Pirates or Royals? No, it's not. Those teams habitually trade away their top talent rather than paying to keep them and haven't been competitive in years. But the Marlins are competitive, as are the Rays, and if they can drive on the highway with other teams paying for their gas and tolls and insurance – and springing for all the extras throughout the year (you get the point) – and still beat those other teams to the exit, whose fault is that? ↵

↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.