Looking at payrolls, O's spend money — just not wisely

We’re back. Hope everyone enjoyed their holiday and is getting ready for another one at week’s end.

While I was taking a few days off, the Associated Press released its final payrolls for each Major League Baseball team’s 40-man roster.

Nothing too surprising here: The New York Yankees blow everyone out of the water with a $216 million payroll. The Boston Red Sox are second with $174.1 million followed by the Philadelphia Phillies ($165.3M), Los Angeles Angels ($143M) and New York Mets ($142M).

If you want surprising, consider that the Yankees, Phillies and Detroit Tigers (10th with $113.2M ) were the only ones in the top 10 of payroll that made the playoffs. The eventual World Champion St. Louis Cardinals were 11th overall and the two-time AL champion Texas Rangers were 13th (with $104M).

In fact, if you break it up into thirds, three playoff teams came from the top third of payroll, three from the mid tier and two (Arizona and Tampa Bay) from the bottom third.

The Orioles were 18th overall with roughly an $87 million payroll. That means they were bottom half, but not by a whole lot. If they had spent $10 million more they would have been 15th in 2011, when they completed their 14th straight losing season.

I bring all this up to debunk two theories:

1. The Orioles don’t spend money

I hear it all the time. It’s not a complete statement. The full sentence should be: The Orioles don’t spend money wisely. For instance, $8 million for Vladimir Guerrero in 2011 turned out to be a waste. The multi-year, multi-million extensions to Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis have not panned out as expected. The club spent roughly $10 million combined last season on Michael Gonzalez and Kevin Gregg, and Jim Johnson emerged as the closer by the end of the season. A payroll of $87 million is not embarrassing; it’s how they’ve used the payroll that is the problem.

2. You have to spend big money in the AL East to win

The Tampa Bay Rays crushed this one again with a $45 million payroll in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Instead, they made the playoffs with the second lowest payroll in baseball. So here’s what I believe: You can’t win in the AL East unless you go all in or step all the way back, as painful as that may be. The Rays did it, and are in excellent shape right now.

The Orioles had twice the payroll of Tampa’s in 2011 and half the payroll of Boston. The Yankees spent two-and-a-half times as much as the Orioles. Toronto was 21st overall with a $76 million payroll, but the Blue Jays made some tough decisions, traded away some expensive stars (Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells) and rebuilt their farm system.

One way out of this is to spend ridiculously for several big-time free agents (like the Florida Marlins) but I don’t see the Orioles ever doing that – and this year’s payroll list shows that’s not always effective (who knew the Minnesota Twins had the ninth highest payroll in 2011?)

So, to me, stripping down, trading off assets and building from within has to be the way to go. But here’s the dilemma: I don’t see the Orioles doing that either, because the fan base is already disgruntled – and thinning – with the previous “plans” that didn’t work. Yet my counter to that is that there has never been a true rebuilding effort in the last decade (and I’m only going to barely count Syd Thrift’s terrible fire sale in 2000).

Bottom line for me is half-in doesn’t work, especially in the division.

Here’s the breakdown of the final payroll list and how it was derived:

Final 2011 payrolls for the 30 major league teams, according to information received by clubs from the commissioner's office and reported by AP. Figures are for 40-man rosters and include salaries and pro-rated shares of signing bonuses, earned incentive bonuses, non-cash compensation, buyouts of unexercised options and cash transactions. In some cases, parts of salaries that are deferred are discounted to reflect present-day values.


N.Y. Yankees $216,044,956

Boston 174,116,280

Philadelphia 165,313,989

L.A. Angels 143,099,729

N.Y. Mets 142,244,744

Chicago Cubs 140,608,942

Chicago White Sox 125,814,762

San Francisco 125,111,390

Minnesota 115,419,106

Detroit 113,230,923

St. Louis 113,156,467

L.A. Dodgers 109,865,640

Texas 103,967,140

Seattle 98,067,684

Colorado 96,145,529

Milwaukee 93,234,011

Atlanta 88,128,545

Baltimore 86,856,480

Cincinnati 81,621,587

Houston 81,139,621

Toronto 75,851,382

Washington 72,022,999

Oakland 70,476,206

Arizona 65,603,602

Florida 61,940,280

Cleveland 53,533,393

Pittsburgh 51,784,810

San Diego 45,620,873

Tampa Bay 44,969,740

Kansas City 44,566,470

Total 2,999,557,280

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