How do small market teams compete for players in the offseason?
By Dylan Gehlbach
We now live in a world where Zack Greinke has the highest annual salary of any pitcher in the game today at a grand total of $147 million over six years, courtesy of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
At first glance, this seems appropriate. Greinke won a Cy Young in 2009 with the Royals and was traded to the Brewers after the 2010 season where he was able to get some playoff experience in the 2011 postseason.
Greinke is undoubtedly a good pitcher. He isn’t worth $24.5 million a year in a long term deal. His ERA since his Cy Young season is a 3.77! But baseball is at a point in time where with every offseason, there is a new ridiculous contract, each one more lucrative then the last. It doesn’t matter if Greinke is one of the best pitchers in the game, heck many people wouldn’t even consider him to be an ace. All that matters is that Greinke is the best pitcher in his offseason class.
This is just how things are in baseball, so why am I complaining?
While this system of the best players going to the highest bidders each year is all fine and dandy to some teams, one group of teams gets consistently shortchanged. The small market teams.
Of the ten teams that spent the least money on player salaries in 2012, only one of those teams made the playoffs: the Oakland A’s. And even that took a miracle, with the A’s coming back from 13 games behind the Rangers at the midpoint of the season to not only make the playoffs, but to win their division. So it can be done, it just takes a little bit of luck.
But again, this is just how baseball is, so why am I complaining?
Obviously, it’s because I’m a Royals fan, and that’s just what we like to do. For a team to not make the playoffs for 27 years, the gods have to be working against you, but it doesn’t help that a small salary is working against you as well. This offseason provides a perfect example of what I am talking about.
The Royals are a good offensive and defensive team, but last year their pitching stunk. GM Dayton Moore made some pretty good moves this offseason in re-signing Jeremy Guthrie (Royals won 10 of last 11 behind him after he arrived via trade) and trading for Ervin Santana (coming off a rough season, but hey, he’s pitched a no-hitter and is coming over in a no-risk trade). The general consensus is that the Royals still need one top of the rotation pitcher to become a contender in 2013. Unfortunately, these are hard to come by.
The only legitimate anchor-of-the-rotation guys in free agency this winter were Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, and Kyle Lohse; AKA guys they can’t afford. The Royals have already spent $60+ million for the 2013 season, and with a loose cap at $70 million it is looking like the best option for the Royals is to trade or stand pat.
The Royals could force a trade for a guy like James Shields who could be what they need for two years, but the Royals would have to part with the best player in the minor leagues last year in Wil Myers. That would be too risky if Shields did not pan out (although it would be a very characteristic move for the Royals).
It’s always possible for a team to take an all or nothing approach to a season, sinking money that they don’t have to get the guys that they need. But this often backfires. Look at the Marlins last season. They picked up guys like Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Carlos Zambrano to bring fans to the stadium and make a run at the playoffs. This plan soon crumbled, and now the organization is in a fire sale, selling off any piece of their roster that holds value.
The thing that I despise most about free agency, is that teams like the Royals can’t even look at guys like Zack Greinke. The Dodgers have a payroll of $220 million this year, triple what the Royals are capable of spending. While the Dodgers do have to pay a luxury tax of 17.5% on their payroll, they have the money and are willing to spend it. The players want the money. How do you compete with that?
Ultimately, value just comes down to location, location, location. Midwestern teams can have some strings of success, but nothing really sustained. The best teams are in the most populous areas of the country, and that won’t likely change in the near future. All I can hope is that my kids grow up in LA, New York, or Arlington so that they don’t have to take years out of their lives to cheer for losing teams that can’t afford to compete in the big leagues (I don’t really mean that, but I’m getting there).