Maybe The $200M Yankees Really Are The Underdogs

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This headlines are actually declaring the Yankees to be playoff underdogs. They are the lower-seeded team in their first-round matchup against the Twins, but the Yanks sport the highest payroll in baseball at $203 million. It’s the kind of spending that annually attracts Goliath analogies.

Yet star third basemen Alex Rodriguez said: “I mean, for us to be David in this situation, I think, is great.”

First baseman Mark Teixeira chimed in, and accepted the underdog label: “Last year, everyone expected us to win… This is going to be a little tougher for us. So it’ll be a challenge.”

Did it occur to the Yankees’ sluggers that their payroll is $40 million more than the next most expensive roster? Can someone remind the Bombers they spend twice as much as their first round opponent does on players?

Actually, A-Rod and Teixeira are well aware. But they also appear cognisant of another monetary reality of this Major League Baseball season. There’s more parity than ever.

In fact, six of the eight most expensive teams in baseball failed to qualify for the MLB postseason. Here are the Opening day payrolls of the 8 playoff teams (from USA Today):

Team Opening Day Payroll Rank NY Yankees $206,333,389 1 Philadelphia Phillies $141,928,379 4 SF Giants $98,641,333 9 Minnesota Twins $97,559,166 10 Atlanta Braves $84,423,666 15 TB Rays $71,923,471 19 Cincinnati Reds $71,761,542 20 Texas Rangers $55,250,544 27Evidently, payroll has little correlation to playoff qualification in Major League Baseball. You can attribute this to the increased use of analytics by smaller market teams, thanks in part to Michael Lewis’s 2004 best-seller Moneyball. It’s often noted that sports are a “copycat” enterprise, and clearly, many franchises saw Billy Beane’s success in Oakland and wanted to imitate his model.

It’s also worth noting that smaller market teams do have one inherent advantage. While their costly counterparts often hold on to over-the-hill players and overspend for splashy free agents, frugal teams are afforded the ability to be “cut-throat” and operate as efficiently as possible.

Richard Justice explained this Phenomenon in the Houston Chronicle:

Not having money gives a franchise an odd kind of freedom to do things right. I once asked someone from the Marlins what they would have done with more money.

”Oh, probably given Dontrelle Willis $50 million,” he said.

Instead, the Marlins went on to dump the fan-favourite, whose abysmal pitching eventually carried him out of the Big Leagues. Maybe the Yankees will take notice when their contract with star 36-year-old shortstop, Derek Jeter, expires this offseason.

And maybe, the Yankees aren’t so crazy to call themselves underdogs.

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