Oakland A’s and Washington Nationals Defy Big Payroll Policies

Is having a big payroll a waste of money in the MLB? I guess it all depends on how you manage that salary expenditure. The New York Yankees, constantly the highest paying team in Baseball, are pretty much a constant fixture in the postseason. The success of the Oakland Athletics and the Washington Nationals is a little bit more surprising.

The A’s, with a total payroll of $55.3 million in 2012 and an average salary of $1.8 million per player, won the AL West title for the first time in six years, edging out the Texas Rangers for the division title by one game, beating them on the last day of the season. The Rangers, who lost the last two World Series, made the wild card, have the sixth highest payroll in the majors with $120.5 million in total, $4.6 million on average.

The biggest surprise of the season is undoubtly the Washington Nationals, who finally saw the fruits of their fantastic farm system pay off this year, finishing with the best record in the majors (98-64), clinching the franchise’s second division title and their first since 1981, when they were still the Montreal Expos. The Nationals are in the middle of the pack when it comes to salaries with a total payroll of $81.3 million, 20th in baseball, and an average salary of $2.6 million per player.

The nurture vs pay for the most expensive talent debate is obviously going in favor of the less wasteful teams when you look at the top 4 highest paying teams in Baseball. Out of the New York Yankess (1st, $197.9 million), Philadelphia Phillies (2nd, $174.5 million), Boston Red Sox (3rd, $173.1 million) and the Los Angeles Angels ($154.4 million), only the Yankees made the postseason, winning the AL East.

The Red Sox finished last in the division with a 69-93 record, basically giving up on the season at a certain point. For them, it’s an organizational crisis, missing the playoffs for a third consecutive year, finishing below .500 for the first time since 1997 and experiencing their worst season since 1965.

The Philadelphia Phillies have made the playoffs each season since 2011 until this year. They finished 81-81, third in the NL East, their worst record since 2002. The Los Angeles Angels picked up the pace in the second half of the season, but way way too late, missing the postseason for a third straight year but also finishing with their best record since their last playoff appearance in 2009.

When you go a bit lower down the list – The Tigers, the Rangers, the Cardinals and the Giants all made the postseason, with only disappointing Marlins missing out on the playoffs from the next group of teams paying over $100 million.

Bottom line? Money’s great, but actual talent is better. Overpaying talent doesn’t make it into an All-Star caliber player all of a sudden, and wasting most of your investment only two-three guys instead of spreading the wealth isn’t the right way to go either. Hey, even the Yankees cut back on expenses this season, so maybe we are heading in the right direction.

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