Nobody, even Sox, spends like Yankees

Well, it’s silly season for baseball again, where some pitchers are awarded salaries (a reported $17 million a year for John Lackey) that are more than 400 times the average annual income for folks who actually do something productive for society, teachers.
But that’s an argument for another day. I can’t stop the Yankees from giving A-Rod $32 million a year, an amount that is almost exactly double the total of the combined preliminary Addison Northwest Supervisory Union school budgets.
However, I can stop, or at least do my part to stop, this ridiculous tendency among baseball observers and Yankee fans to lump the Boston Red Sox in with the Yankees as big spenders.
Now, there is no question that the Sox are big spenders compared to most baseball teams. Boston’s 2009 payroll, according to, was $122 million. That’s not found in couch cushions except at Goldman Sachs after a holiday party.
Meanwhile, the Yankees (playing in their new, taxpayer-subsidized stadium built on the site of youth playing fields that weren’t replaced during the construction process) paid just a bit more than $208 million for their championship team.
To put that in perspective, the $86 million difference between the Yankee and Sox payrolls is larger than the total 2009 payrolls of 17 of the 30 Major League Baseball teams.
Essentially, there are the Yankees; a second tier of 12 teams like the Mets, Sox, Tigers, Cubs, Phillies and Angels who spent at least $94 million on players this year; and the rest, with Pittsburgh bringing up the rear with a payroll less than A-Rod’s annual salary.
So when I say to a reasonable Yankee fan at the bank on Tuesday the Sox can’t afford to spend like the Yankees, and he looks puzzled and says why, there’s the answer: No one can spend like the Yankees.
Recently, the Yankees have made noise about cutting their payroll for this year. Anybody who doesn’t think that is a bluff or a transparent negotiating ploy may also be interested in a great deal on a gently used 2,100-foot local bridge.
And here’s the other thing about the Sox. Everybody calls them a large-market team. Well, according to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, the Boston metropolitan area is large. Tenth-largest in the country in fact, trailing the obvious (N.Y., Chicago, L.A,) and the less-so (Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, and D.C.)
But wait, all those less-obvious places have baseball teams. With lower payrolls. Some are even referred to as “small market” at times — Miami and Washington, in particular, regularly sell off athletes and cry poverty.
The truth is the Sox management over the years has done a good job of marketing its team, maximizing its revenues and being willing to spend them to create a winning team. Boston has to in order to compete with the N.Y. money machine in the same division.
The other thing Boston must do is exploit what economists like to call “market inefficiencies.” Simply put, the team’s talent evaluators have to find players’ whose skills are under-valued. First, they did so with on-base percentage, signing players like Bill Mueller, J.D. Drew and Kevin Youkilis.
But now more teams have caught on and are paying for that “Moneyball” skill. That’s why Chone Figgins just got a $36 million deal.
So now the Sox are refusing to pay top dollar for big sluggers who are mediocre in the field, and instead are focusing on pitching and defense: Recently they have signed a shortstop who can pick it and get on base (Marco Scutaro), a fine defensive outfielder with respectable offensive skills (Mike Cameron), and a top starting pitcher (Lackey).
Hey, for me, it’s fun to root for a smart team.
But no one else has to like them. Just don’t compare their pockets to New York’s.

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