Nightengale's notebook: MLB's payroll disparity continues to be a big problem in sport
The salary disparity and competitive balance in baseball, even with stiffer luxury tax penalties, remains as wide as the Grand Canyon.
PHOENIX – We’ve reached the quarter mark in Major League Baseball where the 2022 New York Yankees are playing like the ’27 Yankees, the Seattle Mariners are playing like a team that isn’t remotely close to ending their 21-year postseason drought, and teams we thought would stink are playing even worse than envisioned.
But really, upon examination of MLB’s current team payrolls, exclusively obtained by USA TODAY Sports, why should there be any surprises?
The salary disparity and competitive balance in baseball, even with the draft lottery, stiffer luxury tax penalties, and rewards for rookie call-ups, remains as wide as the Grand Canyon.
The teams with the largest payrolls are winning, with six of the top 10 highest-paid teams are on pace to win 100 games.
The teams with the smallest payrolls are losing, with three of the five lowest-paid teams on pace to lose 100 games.
The New York Mets have the largest player payroll at $268.288 million. They’re in first place in the NL East.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have the second-largest payroll at $260.745 million (spared nearly $30 million because of Trevor Bauer’s suspension.) They are in first place in the NL West with the best-record in the league.
The Yankees are third at $247.5 million followed by the
Philadelphia Phillies at $227 million.
On the flip side, it's a battle for the draft lottery.
The Oakland A’s, with the lowest payroll in 20 years, are in last place in the AL West with a $49.8 million payroll.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have the second-lowest ($58.1 million); third place, NL Central.
The Baltimore Orioles are the third-lowest ($61.85 million); last place, AL East.
The Cleveland Guardians are the fourth-lowest ($69.3 million); third place, AL Central.
Yet, there are four top-10 payroll teams who wouldn’t make the playoffs if the season ended: The Phillies, Boston Red Sox ($212.5 million), Chicago White Sox ($192.2 million) and Atlanta ($184.4 million).
Here are the top 10 payroll rankings, high-paid player, and an intriguing salary fact for each team:
New York Mets ($268.788 million)
► Highest-paid: Max Scherzer, $43.3 million.
► Fun fact: They’re paying Robinson Cano $19.086 million this year to play for the Padres, and have $70.5 million on the injured list with co-aces Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom..
Los Angeles Dodgers (260.745 million)
► Highest-paid: David Price, $32 million.
► Fun fact: They are on the hook for only $3.868 million instead of $32 million for Bauer this year if his suspension stands.
New York Yankees ($247.5 million)
► Highest-paid: Gerrit Cole, $36 million.
► Fun fact: The Yankees have 11 players earning at least $10 million; 23 players making at least $1 million; and their current best pitcher, Nestor Cortes, earns just $727,500.
Philadelphia Phillies ($227.039 million)
► Highest-paid: Bryce Harper, $27.5 million.
► Fun fact: They still have $115.9 million already committed to their 2024 payroll, the most in baseball.
San Diego Padres ($213.976 million)
► Highest-paid: Manny Machado, $34 million.
► Fun fact: The Padres are paying $43.5 million to two players who they desperately tried to trade this spring, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers.
Boston Red Sox ($212.571 million)
► Highest-paid: Chris Sale, $24.1 million
► Fun fact: The Red Sox could be awfully dangerous in the free-agent market with plenty of money coming off their books this winter, with just $67.7 million committed to 2023 if Xander Bogaerts opts out of his deal as expected.
Chicago White Sox ($192.235 million)
► Highest-paid: Jose Abreu, $19.1 million.
► Fun fact: This is the final year of hitting champion Tim Anderson’s six-year, $25 million contract, but the White Sox have a $12.5 million club option in 2023 and $14 million option in 2024 that they’ll pick up.
Los Angeles Angels ($186.583 million)
► Highest-paid: Mike Trout, $37.1 million.
► Fun fact: Hard to believe that Anthony Rendon will surpass Trout and become the Angels’ highest-paid player beginning next year when his salary escalates to $38.5 million contract.
Atlanta Braves ($184.47 million)
► Highest-paid: Charlie Morton, $20 million
► Fun fact: All-Star second baseman Ozzie Albies is the second-lowest paid player in Atlanta’s everyday starting lineup, earning $5 million in his grossly-undervalued seven-year, $35 million contract.
Houston Astros ($176.59 million)
► Highest-paid: Jose Altuve, $29 million.
► Fun fact: Third baseman Alex Bregman’s contract jumps from $13 million to $30.5 million next year.
SALARY DATABASE: 2022 salaries of every player
Jim Marshall, who turns 91 years old on May 25, sat by the visiting clubhouse awaiting the manager to step into the hallway.
New York Mets manager Buck Showalter was about to walk past him when a security guard whispered into his ear, and Showalter spun around, and couldn’t believe it. They haven’t seen one another in about a decade.
Marshall, who’s completing another round of radiation for skin cancer, hugged Showalter, reminisced about their years together with the Arizona Diamondbacks when they started the expansion franchise. They talked for several minutes, and Marshall looked into Showalter’s eyes with a direct message.
“I’m pulling for you Buck,’’ he said. “I want you to get a World Series ring so bad.’’
Showalter, one of the architects of the Diamondbacks’ franchise, helped pave the way for the Yankees’ dynasty in 1995-2002, was largely responsible for the D-dbacks’ 2001 World Series title, laid the groundwork for the Texas Rangers’ back-to-back World Series, and now has the Mets sitting in first place in the NL East.
“I want to see him get that World Series,’’ Marshall this week. “He deserves it. He’s such a great baseball man.’’
Marshall, who will have a D-backs jersey presented to him with his age on his back, reminisced about his 72 years in the game this week.
He was an original Met, the oldest position player alive from their April 11, 1962 debut, remembering being booed at their home opener two days later at the Polo Grounds.
“Gil Hodges was hurt, and that’s how I got to play,’’ Marshall. “It was a rough year. We still were looking for our first win of the year [in the sixth game of the season], the first ground ball hit to third was hit to Don Zimmer, he threw the ball over my head into the stands, and things never got better the rest of the season.’’
The Mets lost the game, 15-5 to the St. Louis Cardinals. They lost a record 120 games, and Marshall’s playing career was over after five seasons in the Major Leagues. He became the first American-born player to play in Japan, spending three years with the Chunichi Dragons.
“You look at my career, I was behind Gil Hodges, behind Willie McCovey, was behind Orlando Cepeda, behind Dick Stuart,’’ said Marshall who was Brooks Robinson’s roommate with the Orioles. “A lot of great players, and I had a great seat on the bench. They don’t talk much about the fringe players, but we enjoyed the game too.’’
He blames his skin cancer on managing the Chicago Cubs, saying, “I had to come out of the dugout and change pitchers too much.’’
Marshall laughs, and can’t believe his fortune. This summer, two of his former teammates are being inducted into the Hall of Fame, the late Gil Hodges and the late Minnie Minoso.
“I got to know a lot of superstars, I’ve been a very lucky guy,’’ he said. “I just have so many wonderful memories.’’
Basement of dreams
It was Stewart McVicar’s fantasy of building the greatest mancave known to all Cubs’ fans 10 years ago on his 2,500 square-foot basement in Lake in the Hills, Illinois.
It took four years to complete, and it’s a thing of beauty: 10 TVs, a 92-inch projector screen, a C-shaped bar lined by 50 Cubs’ autographed bats, Sammy Sosa’s original locker. video games, pinball games, air hockey, shuffleboard, a life-size bobblehead of Anthony Rizzo, 350 autographed baseballs and Cubs’ memorabilia covering virtually every square foot of the place.
“I’m not the biggest Cubs’ fan in the world,’’ McVicar said, “but I may have the craziest mancave in the world.’’
Who’d imagine that 23 years after he and his brother were arrested, selling unauthorized “We Got Wood’’ t-shirts in honor of former ace Kerry Wood, and T-shirts of Harry Caray, McVicar would be turning his mancave into one of the most benevolent charities for Cubs’ fans?
McVicar, 48, is the founder of Club 400, a non-profit charity that has raised $600,000 to help disadvantaged Cub’ fans, with the first fund-raising event of the year on Friday at his home, featuring Cubs starter Marcus Stroman.
It all started back in 2014 when McVicar’s close friend, Nick Sheridan, was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, losing both arms and legs. He had his first fund-raiser at his basement, raising $35,000. Club 400 since has raised money for everyone from a 16-year-old boy who needed a heart transplant, a young girl who needed a wheelchair, and recently paid $10,000 for the funeral services of a 4-year-old boy who died from cancer during COVID.
Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has come over to the house, even bringing the Cubs’ 2016 World Series trophy. Hall of Famers Andre Dawson, Lee Smith, Ryne Sandberg and Fergie Jenkins have stopped in. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, Rizzo, Wood, and former Cubs Ryan Dempster, Kyle Schwarber, Javy Baez and Ben Zobrist have all been celebrity guests for fund-raisers.
McVicar helped out a woman last year, Heather Howiler, diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, who wanted to attend one last Cubs’ game. McVicar arranges for transportation and tickets for her friends. She died five weeks later.
He was put in touch with 16-year-old Josh Passfield, bound to a wheelchair, and had given up hope.
“We changed the direction of his life through our network,’’ McVicar says. “He didn’t want to get out of bed, or even shower anymore. We raised $20,000, got him a job, gave him some self-worth and now the guy has girlfriends and people love him.
"I’ve been blessed to be in this position, start this charity, and just want to help out people I really care about.’’
Oh, and about those “We got Wood’’ T-shirts?
Well, they’re a collector’s item now. He and his buddies got the idea from watching “Revenge of the Nerds,’’ and thought it would be a cool T-shirt. Next thing they knew, everyone wanted one, and they were the hottest vendors in Wrigleyville.
“We rattled Wrigleyville, we couldn’t make enough shirts,’’ McVicar said. “The other street vendors hated us. They chased us with bats, telling us we were in the wrong place, and sucking money out of the community.’’
The next thing they knew, they were spending a night in jail, the T-shirt business was over, but a marriage, new home, and the mancave was just beginning, with more than 1,000 folks visiting each year since its completion in August, 2013.
Around the basepaths
► Teams can certainly, dream, but high-ranking Washington National executives insist that All-Star outfielder Juan Soto isn’t going anywhere.
He is not about to be traded.
The Nationals have control of him for 2 ½ more years, and privately say they won’t even entertain trade proposals until at least after the 2023 season – one year before he’s a free agent.
► The Nats are expected to exercise the 2023 option on GM Mike Rizzo, understanding that they were going to need a rebuild, and have been pleased with the development of their young players.
They also have a deadline at the All-Star break to pick up manager Davey Martinez’s $4 million option for 2023.
► The Mariners are finalizing a major league deal for OF/DH Justin Upton. Upton, who will spend the next month getting ready for the season in the minors, will have a no-trade clause for 10 teams.
► When Dodgers three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw went on the injured list with a hip injury a week ago, he was expected to return by the end of May.
The truth is that his return likely will be closer to July, according to a high-ranking Dodgers executive.
► Twins outfielder Byron Buxton is being limited to about 100 games this year to assure that he stays healthy, playing in just 25 of the Twins’ first 38 games.
It may keep him healthy, but it also saves the Twins quite a bit of money.
Buxton, who signed a seven-year, $100 million contract extension before the lockout, has the biggest incentive package in baseball.
He could earn an $8 million bonus for winning the AL MVP award, $7 million for second place, down to $3 million for finishing at least 10th.
He also can earn and additional $2.5 million in incentives for reaching 625 plate appearances, starting at $500,00 for 502 plate appearances.
So, the Twins, who are paying Buxton $9 million this year, and $15 million beginning in 2023, could be saving $10.5 million if Buxton doesn’t reach any of his bonuses or incentives by his reduced playing time.
► The Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt heist from the Arizona D-backs is the gift that keeps on giving.
It’s the modern-day version of the Lou Brock-Ernie Broglio trade.
Goldschmidt continues to absolutely thrive – .327 batting average, six homers, 27 RBI, .942 OPS. Meanwhile, the D-backs’ return of pitcher Luke Weaver, catcher Carson Kelly and infielder Andrew Young have been a bust three years into the deal.
► Remember on opening day when everyone wondered about how Aaron Judge would handle the pressure of being a pending free agent after rejecting the Yankees’ seven-year, $213.5 million offer?
Well, he leads the major leagues with 14 homers, ranks third in slugging (.664) and third in OPS (1.045).
“He’s handling exactly like I expected, which I knew would be a non-issue, results aside,’’ Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters. “I know what he’s about. I know what he’s focused on.’’
Judge, by the way, has an arbitration hearing June 22 to determine whether he’ll be paid $21 million this year or $17 million.
► Who knew that pitcher Robbie Ray won the AL Cy Young award with the Blue Jays last season without being vaccinated, perhaps explaining why the Jays pivoted to Kevin Gausman?
Certainly, he couldn’t have signed a long-term contract and stayed in Toronto without being vaccinated with Canada’s rules that now require unvaccinated travelers to quarantine for 14 days.
► Kudos to Mets manager Buck Showalter for not letting any of his players to feel sorry for themselves for losing three starting pitchers and their starting catcher the first six weeks of the season.
“We don’t wallow around in self-pity,” Showalter said. “Nobody cares about your problems. Our fans do, but the people we’re competing against don’t care. And we like the people that we’ve surrounded ourselves with. Nobody has the track record of Max [Scherzer], but this is not a sky-is-falling team.”
It will be an interesting month-long stretch for the Mets who are playing teams with a combined .552 winning percentage the next 31 games, including 18 road games.
► The Red Sox have tried to re-sign third baseman Rafael Devers. Well, the price tag continues to escalate.
Devers, who’s hitting .458 with a 1.354 OPS during his 12-game hitting streak entering Friday, leads all of baseball in hits (52), doubles (15), and total bases (90) while his .340 batting average is second in the American League. Why, since the start of 2019, no player in baseball has more than Devers’ 879 total bases and 217 extra-base hits.
He is a free agent after the 2023 season.
► Former Cardinals All-Star second baseman Matt Carpenter could be a nice pick-up for someone. He slashed a .275/.379/.613/.992 at Triple-A Round Rock before asking for his release from the Texas Rangers on his minor-league contract.
► Raise your hand if you thought that Angels outfielder Taylor Ward would be in the same MVP conversation as Aaron Judge this season?
The two were actual teammates at Fresno State in 2013, and Ward, 28, is proving to be quite the late bloomer.
Ward entered Saturday leading the major leagues in batting (.370), on-base percentage (.481) and slugging percentage (.713) with a 1.194 OPS.
His nine home runs already are a season high.
“I feel like there’s no pitcher out there that can that can get me out,” Ward told the Orange County Register. “Of course, it’s not the way it is.’’
► Sensational Brewers closer Josh Hader enters the weekend having made 35 consecutive scoreless appearances since Aug. 1, 2021, just five shy of the all-time record. He has yielded a 0.82 batting average during this streak, spanning 33.2 innings.
► Will history repeat itself? The Yankees can only hope.
This is the fifth time in franchise history the Yankees have won at least 28 of their first 37 games in a season. It’s tied for the second-best start by a team in the past 75 years.
The other years the Yankees have won 28 of their first first 37:
1926: American League pennant champions.
1928: World Series champions.
1939: World Series champions.
1998: World Series champions.
► The Phillies may have a high-powered offense, but it also has been awfully head-scratching.
They have scored one run or been shut out 10 times already.
► Pardon Guardians ace Shane Bieber for volunteering to make all of his starts on the road.
Bieber has permitted three or fewer runs in 32 consecutive road starts, the longest in baseball history, with a 2.80 ERA, including a 2.45 ERA this season.
In Cleveland, he’s just 1-1 with a 7.71 ERA this year.
► That was World Series champion Jonny Gomes who caught Trevor Story’s first grand slam with the Red Sox, sitting in the Green Monster seats. He offered the ball back to Story, who accepted it, only on the condition Gomes autographed it.
“I’m probably the first Red Sox ever,’’ Gomes told the Boston Globe, “to master playing in front of and behind the Wall.”
► Atlanta used this rope-a-dope blueprint a year ago and turned it into a World Series championship.
Well, after a lethargic start once again, their next 29 games entering the weekend are against teams with a losing record. They don’t play a team with a winning record until June 20 against the San Francisco Giants.
► The most disappointing team in baseball this year has easily been the Detroit Tigers, who expected to contend for a playoff berth, and finish with at least a winning record.
Instead, it’s been a nightmare of a season, sitting with an American League-worst record of 13-26, four of their five starting pitchers on the injured list, averaging a major-league worst 2.76 runs a game, with shortstop Javy Baez a $140 million bust early in his six-year free-agent contract.
Baez is hitting just .205 with six doubles, two home runs, 11 RBI, and 30 strikeouts, including a .145 batting average with 19 strikeouts in May.
► Fabulous moment for the Diaz brothers, with Edwin recording a save in Queens for the Mets while his brother, Alexis saved a game in the Queen City for the Reds.
They are the first brothers in 25 years to record saves on the same day.
The only other set of brothers to accomplish the feat were Todd and Tim Worrell in 1997 and Ravelo and Josias Manzanillo in 1994.
► Atlanta may be scuffling out of the gate, but they are averaging 37,612 fans a game, trailing only the Dodgers and the Cardinals, and are on pace to draw three million fans for the first time since 2000.
► The Oakland A’s are hitting .200 with a .270 on-base percentage and .579 OPS.
How bad is it?
They are on pace for the worst offensive numbers by a team since the 1910 Chicago White Sox.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale