Last night the Yankees beat the Royals 3-1 in the opening game of a three-game set. Normally a Yankees-Royals matchup in mid-May wouldn’t be worthy of a discussion.
But this year, it is also the first matchup of the year between the team with the highest payroll in baseball and the team with the lowest.
As the only major sport in the United States without some form of a salary cap, Major League Baseball is still the only place we can see two teams matchup in which one has a payroll more than five times that of their opponent.
The Yankees once again opened the season with largest opening day payroll in baseball at $196.9 million. Meanwhile, the Royals have the lowest payroll at $35.7 million. And yet, the Yankees only had one more win than the Royals entering play last night.
The differences in payroll is even more stark when we look at the starting lineups and break it down by position.
A few notes on the lineups…
- Eight players in the Yankees lineup last night make at least $4 million. We have to include the Royals closer (Joakim Soria) in order to find a single player for Kansas City that makes $4 million.
- If we ignore the pitchers, the Royals batting order has a combined payroll of $10.9 million. That is more than $20 million less than Alex Rodriguez will make this season. It is also $4.1 million less than Derek Jeter, who has two home runs this season.
- This would be much worse if CC Sabathia had started for the Yankees. The total payroll for the Yankees starting lineup would have been $151.4 million with Sabathia on the rubber.
This is not a knock against the Yankees. As a fan of the Rays (yes, there are a couple of us), I never complain about payroll. The Yankees are playing within the rules and they are not the problem.
The point here is just to highlight how messed up the system can be. We should never have to watch a matchup in which one team is closer to a minor league team in terms of payroll than they are to their opponent.
Can a low- or mid-payroll team compete in Major League Baseball? Sure. But it is nearly impossible for one of those teams to become a great franchise the way the Packers are in the NFL. Under baseball’s current system, there will always be a separation between the haves and the have-nots.
Payroll data via Cot’s Contracts and ESPN.com