October 16, 2013


The four finalists in Baseball's post season have one thing in common: high payrolls.

Even the mid market Cardinals spent at the end $125 million in payroll, which is a top 10 spending team. The Dodgers spent their new billion dollar cable deal to try to buy the Series, but money cannot get you everything (see, the Tigers the past few years).

But in the postseason, the payroll numbers tilt toward where the real money is spent: on starting pitching. Pitching can dominate the post season as teams begin to play tight.

This is the time where reputations are enhanced for starters like Verlander, Lester, Kershaw, Wainwright or Sanchez. This is why these guys command $100 million plus contracts.  They are truly definitions of "aces."

It has been true since the start of the game that a great starting pitcher can sell game day tickets at any ball park.  It is probably the allure that the best pitcher in the game is throwing that day; and that as a fan you could see something special like a strikeout record, a no-hitter or a perfect game.

The network is probably hoping for a Dodger=Red Sox finale to get the biggest TV markets on board for the Series. Likewise, a Detroit-St. Louis match up would leave both coasts outside the main event which the network would find unappealing to the causal fan.

Baseball is a profitable industry which can support those lofty ace pitcher contracts.

But the market between the big money teams and the bottom feeders is growing. The Astros entire payroll was less than $55 million, a number that would only pay half of a stud ace's contract. Or, in perspective, pay for less than 2.5 ace starters in the rotation.

There is always the question that looms over the sport: how long can the television money increase when viewership continues to splinter among cable, internet and mobile distractions? The era of the team-centric local cable channel may be the thing of the past as the pioneering Yankees began to divest from their golden goose, the YES Network. 

Which puts more emphasis on team owners unwilling to spend $125 million per season on talent to play the "small market card:" try to find diamonds in the pile of prospects who you can have under contract for 5 years at reasonable contract terms. Tampa Bay has been successful at this type of program, trading away quality starters like James Shield and Matt Garza (and position players like Carl Crawford and BJ Upton) before their price tags would skyrocket. If the Tampa Bay model was so easy, every team would do it and have payrolls under $75 million. (The Rays payroll ended at $87.8 million this season)