View Full Version : Free agency and the little guy

11-20-2006, 02:58 AM
This article is from John Donovan of SI.com

Oh, this has been a great week for the Red Sox, hasn't it? They're absolutely giddy in New England. They've made the most talked-about offseason play in several baseball winters, stuck it to the hated Yankees, opened up all sorts of new marketing possibilities and, if everything works out, they've strengthened their rotation considerably.

So what if the Sox will have to shell out a total of perhaps $100 million to get Daisuke Matsuzaka under contract. Who cares? The Sox are loaded. And you can't take it with you.

This is great news for Barry Zito, too. And Jason Schmidt. And any other free agent with a pulse and a decent agent. It's great for baseball, isn't it? Hey, it's the middle of football season, and the Hot Stove has never been hotter.

Except that I have to wonder how this Matsuzaka bidding, this whole whacked-out offseason ($56 million for J.D. Drew?) is playing in Kansas City right now. And Pittsburgh. And Milwaukee. And Tampa Bay. Maybe I'm singing the same old small-revenue and mid-revenue blues. After all, as Ray Charles used to sing, them that's got are them that gets.

But this seems worse than usual. In fact, I don't know if it's ever been quite this bad. Shelling out that kind of money for the best talent is something only a handful of teams can do.

That can't be the leveling of the playing field that Bud Selig has talked about for years. Is this parity? Is this competitive balance?

Because, from here, this looks really bad.

This whole Major League Baseball-fed vision of a game where even the smaller guys have a chance to win seems awfully hard to swallow this week. What has changed to make it better? What evidence do we have? The Cardinals? They were 11th in payroll this season.

Nothing has changed. The Red Sox win the Matsuzaka bid. Somebody else gets stuck with Gil Meche. The Mets or Yankees or Angels or some other big-moneyed team will pony up for Alfonso Soriano or Barry Zito. Mid-America gets Gary Matthews Jr.

Come on, let's not fool ourselves. The Royals, Brewers and Pirates might have more money to spend this winter -- maybe more than they've ever had -- but that means squat when prices are going through the roof for everybody, and the rich teams are driving the market. Soriano may get $100 million or more. Carlos Lee will get close to it. Who can afford that?

I'll tell you who can't: two-thirds of the teams in baseball.

This propaganda about the playing field leveling out because of revenue sharing ... don't buy it. Seven different World Series champs in seven consecutive years ... don't buy that it's easier now for the little guy to compete and win a Series. It's not. To have a "reasonable" chance these days you still have to have a lot of money. A ton.

Oh, that's not an absolute, and it never has been. As long as Billy Beane is around, there's always the chance that a smaller-market team can slip into the postseason and actually win something. Once in a while.

But the odds against it are still long.

In the nine years since baseball expanded to 30 franchises, 72 teams have made it to the playoffs. A full 60 percent of those teams have had payrolls in the Top 10. And 57 of those 72 postseason appearances -- that's better than 79 percent -- have come from teams whose payrolls rank in the league's top half. In other words, if your team had a payroll in the bottom half of the league in the past nine years, it had roughly a 20 percent chance of just making it into the postseason.

If your team was in the bottom third in payroll in the past nine years, forget about it. Only 11 percent of playoff teams -- eight of the 72 -- had payrolls in the bottom third of the league. The A's, by the way, own five of those eight appearances. The only other bottom feeders to make it to the postseason in the past nine years: the 2000 White Sox, the '02 Twins and the '03 Marlins.

The '03 Marlins are the only National League team with a payroll in baseball's bottom third to make it into the playoffs in the past nine years. That's one out of 36. Those Marlins also are the only team in the past nine years to win the World Series with a payroll that wasn't in the top half.

In the four years since the increased revenue sharing kicked in after a last-minute pact between owners and players, only three teams from the bottom third of the league in payroll -- the teams that supposedly benefit most from revenue sharing -- have made the postseason (the A's, twice, and those '03 Marlins). That's three out of 32.

It's simple economics. The best players command the most money, and that comes from only the richest teams. Better players on the richer teams means the richer teams are normally better. Not always. But most of the time. Simple.

This isn't a knock on the Red Sox or the Yankees or the Cubs. They can spend their money any way they want. In fact, with the fan bases in those places, they have to spend. Trying to save a little money and looking too far into the future may well have cost the Red Sox a playoff appearance last season.

But don't try to pass off labor peace and seven different World Series champs in seven years as a sign that things are more competitive in the bigs these days. They're not.

If the Matsuzaka deal tells us anything, it's that the little guy may be getting squeezed out like never before.

Sad fact but as a baseball fan quite frankly I agree with it totally.