Major League Baseball is, on paper, an easy business to understand. Franchises are not handcuffed by a hard salary cap as teams are in the National Football League, and thus owners can theoretically spend whatever they want on players and rosters. One who has only outside knowledge of the working in MLB would assume that the teams that have the highest payrolls are sure-things to, at the very least, be in the World Series on a yearly basis. That, as you will see in this piece, is not always the case, and sometimes a middle-of-the-road team can sneak up and shock the baseball world by the time fall rolls around.
Two of the top-three clubs responsible for the highest payrolls in the Big Leagues did not even qualify for the postseason in 2014. One of those teams was near the basement of the league standings and of league power rankings last September, but that same side is widely expected to experience a massive turnaround beginning this coming April. Some are even advertising that team to be a playoff contender that could make a run to yet another World Series championship. That fact is amazing to ponder when you consider the state of the franchise and the supposed “curse” that hovered over it just 12 years ago.
What some might find surprising is that there is one New York team that does not even make it into the top-20 for highest payrolls as of the start of the 2015 regular season. The New York Mets have been cutting costs for several years now, and that side is set to enter the upcoming campaign with the 21st-highest team payroll. Do not at all think, however, that fans of the Mets will put up with the club once again being mediocre. New York manager Terry Collins is on the hot seat, so much so that he could find himself out of a job if the Amazins are not competing for a playoff spot by the end of July.
Values from Spotrac
20. Milwaukee Brewers: $98,037,500 team payroll
The first name you think of when you reflect on the Milwaukee Brewers may very well be Ryan Braun. The outfielder has been linked to performance-enhancing drugs on multiple occasions, and his lackluster play in 2014 did nothing to silence the critics who claimed that Braun could only put up All-Star numbers with the aid of certain chemicals. Braun’s arrogance and defiance in denying that he was guilty of wrongdoing rubbed some the wrong way once it was learned that he had dabbled in cheating the system, and that he will make $13 million in 2015 is not helping his cause in that matter.
19. Colorado Rockies: $99,516,171 team payroll
One of the much-discussed Major League Baseball topics of this past offseason centered around the future of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Tulowitzki is set to earn $20 million in 2015, and it was believed that several teams were going to be in for him during the winter months. Specifically, some claimed that Tulowitzki would land with the New York Mets when all was said and done. That move never happened, and Tulowitzki is set to be the highest-paid player on the roster of the Rockies. The club will now be hoping that Tulowitzki finds his health, his former form and his happiness with playing in Colorado.
18. Minnesota Twins: $102,975,000 team payroll
The Minnesota Twins were one of the more enviable clubs in Major League Baseball back at the start of the current decade. Minnesota was opening a new beautiful ballpark, and the Twins had a core of players capable of taking the team to the playoffs and maybe to a World Series championship. No title was ever won by the club during that run, of course, and the Twins have since fallen beneath several American League Central division rivals in the standings. Both the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians are believed to be better off than are the Twins these days.
17. Chicago Cubs: $114,629,523 team payroll
All eyes may be on the Chicago Cubs this summer. The Cubs have what is on paper one of the more exciting rosters in all of Major League Baseball, and some, including sports talk radio royalty Mike Francesa, are predicting that the long World Series drought that has plagued one of the more famous sports teams in the United States will come to an end in 2015. The biggest move that the Cubs made during the offseason was to acquire free agent pitcher Jon Lester. Lester had been linked with several other clubs, and the Cubs will pay the starter $15 million this year.
16. Cincinnati Reds: $114,869,587 team payroll
The team payroll for the Cincinnati Reds could be on the rise and soon. FOX Sports Ohio, the network that airs Cincinnati home games as well as contests played by the Cleveland Cavaliers and Columbus Crew, is expected to re-up with the Reds, and that new contract should net the baseball club even more money than it is currently earning via its current media deal. Cincinnati fans will be hoping that the Reds reinvest some of that cash on the roster that includes five players making at least $10 million this season. Joey Votto, first baseman for the Reds, will earn $14 million in salary this year.
15. St. Louis Cardinals: $115,350,000 team payroll
There may not be a more admirable Major League Baseball franchise out there than the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards do not routinely break the bank to get big-name free agents, nor does the club pull off blockbuster trades that make headlines on a yearly basis. St. Louis just wins and wins more often than not, so much so that the Cardinals are essentially postseason mainstays. Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright will be the high-paid player on the St. Louis roster, pulling in $19.5 million for 2015. Matt Holiday, Yadier Molina and Jhonny Peralta will all make at least $15 million this year.
14. Kansas City Royals: $116,475,100 team payroll
Raise your hand if you predicted last March that the Kansas City Royals would go on a run that would see them make it to the World Series. Now lower your hands because you are all obviously lying. Kansas City may once again prove to be the best team in the American League Central, but most analysts are expecting that the Royals will have a letdown in 2015. Too many AL teams improved over the offseason, and there are even some out there who think that the Cleveland Indians will be this year’s version of the Royals and play for a World Series championship in the fall.
13. Seattle Mariners: $119,237,142 team payroll
The Seattle Mariners are currently linked with the team that sits at No. 12 on this year’s list for team payrolls. Seattle snagged slugger Nelson Cruz away from the Baltimore Orioles via free agency, and Cruz will cost Seattle $14.25 million in 2015. Cruz will be the third-highest paid player on the Mariners this season, with only second baseman Robinson Cano and starting pitcher Felix Hernandez ahead of him. Cano possesses a salary of $24 million. King Felix will cost over $24.8 million this year, and Hernandez will likely be worth every penny spent on him.
12. Baltimore Orioles: $119,618,333 team payroll
The Baltimore Orioles were one of the surprise stories of the 2014 season, rising and becoming the best team in the American League East. As often happens when a club has a positive campaign, the O’s lost a key man during the offseason when slugger Nelson Cruz put pen to paper on a deal that saw him move westward to the Seattle Mariners. Outfielder Adam Jones is set to be the highest-paid player on the Baltimore roster for 2015. His contract is worth a guaranteed $13 million this year. Starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez will cost The Orioles $12.25 million for this season.
11. Toronto Blue Jays: $121,125,000 team payroll
What is the going rate for a once-speedy shortstop who has seen his legs betray him well before they logically should have? Apparently, it is not $22 million, which is the salary that the Toronto Blue Jays will owe former New York Mets star Jose Reyes this year. It has been a poorly kept secret that the Blue Jays would ship Reyes out of town if a different team would be willing to eat his high salary, but no buyers have come around and none will likely appear anytime soon. The hope for the Blue Jays now is that Reyes will remain healthy and have a rebound campaign.
10. Chicago White Sox: $122,630,477 team payroll
It is dark days in the kingdom for the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox are now the little brothers in their own city, as there are respected and knowledgeable analysts and reporters out there who are claiming that the Chicago Cubs will be in it to win it up through October. Meanwhile, the White Sox are expected to struggle to not post another losing season, and there are some out there who believe that Chicago could have the worst overall squad in the American League Central. Acquiring starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija for $9.8 million was the team’s big transaction during the offseason.
9. Texas Rangers: $135,750,000 team payroll
Whatever big man and slugger Prince Fielder achieves while with the Texas Rangers this year, he likely will not prove to be worth the $24 million being paid to him as it pertains to the club’s overall record. The Rangers lost starting pitcher Yu Darvish, who has $10 million tied to him for 2015, before the season even began, Darvish is scheduled to have Tommy John surgery, and, as is well known to baseball people, pitchers are sometimes not the same after coming off of that operation. The health of outfield Shin-Soo Choo, who will receive $14 million in salary this year, is also in question.
8. Philadelphia Phillies: $136,366,666 team payroll
Those who look only at the standings from a year ago may be confused as to how the Phillies are in the top-ten for overall team payrolls. The answer is that the team has been unable to unload deals that have come back to bite it, most notably contracts tied to slugger Ryan Howard and starting pitcher Cliff Lee. All indications are that the Phillies will eventually find an American League team willing to give a designated hitter spot to Howard, but Lee could prove to be a different story. The banged-up starter is once again dealing with elbow soreness, and any trade would involve Philadelphia eating up a portion of his contract.
7. Washington Nationals: $158,514,285 team payroll
Remember when the Nationals were widely seen as the worst team in the National League East? Those days have been replaced by Washington being responsible for the best baseball in the entire division, and the Nats will once again be favorites to participate in the postseason tournament come October. The future of pitcher Stephen Strasburg will be an interesting story to follow over the next several months. Strasburg could be in for a massive payday next winter, but his battles with injury bugs have been well-documented. The Nationals may choose to spend elsewhere depending on how he performs in 2015.
6. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: $159,687,833 team payroll
The finances of the Angles will be a fascinating sports story to follow over the next several years. Angels Stadium needs what could politely be referred to as a facelift, and yet the team and the city of Anaheim have been unable to come to terms on an agreement for such renovations. Thus, there have been loud whispers that the Angels could relocate, perhaps as far as an hour away from Anaheim. Were that to happen, such a move would include a shiny new ballpark that would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and it could lead to the Angles spending even more money on players down the road.
5. Detroit Tigers: $166,675,000 team payroll
A baseball club that is owned by the same man who runs the Detroit Red Wings and also the franchise Little Caesars Pizza can spend money without having to worry about losing sleep about how much his players are getting paid. Starting pitcher Justin Verlander will be bringing home the big bucks yet again, and he will make $28 million guaranteed for his work on the mound in 2015. Designated hitter Victor Martinez is set to earn $14 million per his contract, but whether or not there is enough glue and tape out there to keep him healthy and able to play for an entire season has yet to be determined.
4. San Francisco Giants: $169,102,777 team payroll
Anybody who knows anything about the San Francisco Giants is aware that the club is likely headed for a downswing in 2015. This has nothing to do with how the club spends money high-priced talent such as starting pitcher Matt Cain or Internet darling Hunter Pence (he likes Godfather 3, you know). San Francisco is currently in a run that sees the team win a World Series championship every other season. The Giants have the talent to repeat as champions this year, but they will have to hold off some stiff competition both in the National League West and elsewhere around the NL.
3. Boston Red Sox: $189,577,594 team payroll
Like a villain in an old horror movie that you just cannot escape for whatever reasons (no offense meant, Boston fans), the Boston Red Sox are indeed back. Following a season that saw the Red Sox phone it in and plan for the future, Boston went out and splashed the cash to acquire both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Add in the other talent that is on that roster, and the Red Sox could emerge as the favorites to once again win the American League East. Watch out for starting pitcher Justin Masterson, who could prove to be a bargain at just $9.5 million for 2015.
2. New York Yankees: $211,747,857 team payroll
He’s only the fourth-highest player on the team’s payroll for 2015, but attempting to discuss the New York Yankees without mentioning the name of Alex Rodriguez would be downright silly. A-Rod will be owed $22 million for his baseball services this year so long as he abides by the rules regarding what he is allowed and not allowed to put into his body, and that contract is one that the Yankees would love to be able to run far from if at all legally possible. Instead, those running the club and also diehard New York fans will be hoping to see Rodriguez truly earn his salary while on the field.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers: $273,440,830 team payroll
When you play in one of the biggest media markets in the world and you have a profitable local television deal, you can afford to spend big-time money on players. The Dodgers will once again be doing just that in 2015, as four players – Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford – will all make over $21 million this year alone. Kershaw, arguably the best regular season starting pitcher in the game today, is set to make a salary of over $32 million. The Dodgers will be banking on Kershaw earning that money during the summer and fall months this time around.
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