It seems that every year there is a monumental free agent signing in the offseason that challenges the rational thinking of any normal human being. This past offseason, it came via the contract extension of Clayton Kershaw, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace pitcher, to a seven-year, $215 million deal. To put the spending habits of major league teams into a little bit of perspective, the 2013 Opening Day rosters were cumulatively worth more than $3 billion. Yes, that’s billion with a B, larger than many small countries' GDPs.
The MLB, NFL, NHL, and NBA have shown in recent years that money is not an issue for a majority of clubs. With the millions of dollars coming from the sale of $9 hot dogs and beers with TV revenue to boot, who could blame them? Not all of these clubs are fortunate though; take the Houston Astros for instance. The team’s payroll for the 2014 season was a tiny $21.2 million dollars, less than what several players will make this season alone. Here is a list of the MLB’s largest payrolls for the 2014 season.
10. Texas Rangers - 2014 Payroll: $125 Million
This offseason the Texas Rangers revamped their offense in a big way, both financially and figuratively. This was mainly done by sending second basemen Ian Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers for first basemen Prince Fielder. By doing so, the Rangers assumed the rest of Fielder’s $200 million contract on top of the team’s already growing payroll. Their top earners for the 2014 season will be Fielder with $24 million, third basemen Adrian Beltre who will earn $17 million, and finally center fielder Shin-Soo Choo who is slated to make $14 million. The Rangers will no doubt hope that the additions of Choo and Fielder will get the team back to a World Series in 2014 and hopefully bring home some hardware.
8 Washington Nationals - 2014 Payroll: $128.3 Million
The Washing Nationals may be faced with a problem bigger than any amount of money can fix; an identity crisis. After winning the NL East for the first time in 2012, the Nationals failed to build upon their newfound success in 2013 and finished in second place in the division. It is no surprise that the club’s success has been a direct result of its young pitching staff, with the salaries of its pitchers showing the team’s commitment to them. The Nationals $128 million payroll is tied up mostly by their All-Star outfielder, Jayson Werth, who is scheduled to make $20 million this season. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann fuel the Nationals’ pitching staff and will make up another combined $20 million in cap room. While the salaries of these pitchers are small in comparison to other teams, the Nationals have taken the right approach to building a team with low-cost pitchers as a foundation, similar to what any investor would do.
7 Toronto Blue Jays - 2014 Payroll: $128.4 Million
Similar to the Washington Nationals' approach to building a team, Toronto has focused plenty of resources on pitching; although the cost for Toronto is much higher. The team’s four highest-paid pitchers have a combined 2014 salary of $42.5 million, about a third of the total spending for the club. With aging pitchers such as Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey, the Blue Jays were in “win now” mode for 2013 and failed miserably. After finishing dead last in their division, the Blue Jays enter 2014 with over $3 million worth of “dead money” or money that they are paying to players who are not even on the team anymore. The contracts of Jose Reyes ($16 million) and Jose Bautista ($14million) will really need to pay off in 2014 in order for Toronto to justify its spending spree in 2012 and stop being the laughing stock of the AL East.
6 San Francisco Giants - 2014 Payroll: $141 Million
The Giants are one of the few teams on our list that have actually had large contracts pay dividends for the organization. As they entered the 2013 season, the Giants were the defending World Series Champions with a payroll of over $120 million. After finishing the season 76-86, they were anything but stellar, and have increased spending in order to get back to the top of the National League. Entering 2014, three of the Giants top five most expensive contracts belong to pitchers, coming out to about $48 million. The contracts of Hunter Pence and Buster Posey put that number to about $75 million, or half of the total team payroll. With some of the team’s best players making less than $10 million a year, it would be a wise time for the Giants to restructure some contracts and prepare for the future. Matt Cain ($20 million) is getting older and Tim Lincecum ($17 million) has not been himself since winning the NL Cy Young Award in 2008 and 2009.
6. Los Angeles Angels - 2014 Payroll: $146 Million
One of the most interesting teams on the list of highest payrolls for 2014 has to be the Los Angeles Angels. After major spending in the offseason leading up to 2013, last season was a flat out disaster for the Angels. For starters, they missed the post season for the fourth straight year, ending up with a record of just 78-84. The biggest problem for the Angels is the contracts that the team is currently stuck with. Albert Pujols has eight more years left on his $200 million contract and has been subject to injuries since he arrived in LA. The additional contracts of Josh Hamilton and CJ Wilson also don’t help matters, as together, Pujols, Hamilton, and Wilson make up $54 million worth of contracts. Looking ahead, 2014 will only be worse for the financially upside-down club as they have $18 million worth of dead money contracts they are still liable for from Vernon Wells.
5 Detroit Tigers - 2014 Payroll: $157 Million
Even though the Tigers shed some weight by dropping Prince Fielder’s contract, they are still on the hook to pay Ian Kinsler $16 million in 2014. Mike Illitch has made it a point in Detroit over recent years to win at all costs, moving Detroit from the middle of the pack in payroll to the top 5 for the past few seasons. In 2014, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander top the team spreadsheet, making $22 million and $20 million respectively. These are good contracts for the team, as each player is one of the best in the MLB at their position. Moving down the list of player salaries, there aren’t many bad contracts, just expensive ones. 2013 AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer will make $15 million in 2014, and it’s well deserved. While the team did manage to win the AL Central (a weak division for the most part), they lost to the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. After the retirement of Jim Leyland this offseason, the Tigers’ expensive contracts may come to haunt them after the season if the team doesn’t replicate the success they have had as of late.
4 Boston Red Sox - 2014 Payroll: $161 Million
The defending World Series Champions are a surprise on this list, considering how talented of a farm system the organization has. With major offseason spending in recent years, the Red Sox quietly stormed back from a losing season in 2012 to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series after an emotionally-charged postseason run. In 2014, Mike Napoli, John Lackey, and David Ortiz round out the top three highest-paid athletes, costing $46.2 million combined. These are good contracts for the club, as these three players were a huge part in the success of the team in 2013. The bummer for many Red Sox fans will be the aging players that have become staples for the club; Ortiz, Pedroia, Victorino, etc. While they are fan favorites, they also cost the club a lot of money. Thankfully, the Red Sox have a strong farm system and those players should be cheap in comparison to having to go and spend on free agency in the offseason. For 2014, the Red Sox look poised to make a strong run again in the AL East.
3 Philadelphia Phillies - 2014 Payroll: $171 Million
The Philadelphia Phillies appear on paper to have a stacked lineup, but it comes at a hefty price. The Phillies will pay out over $171 million in contracts this season, with the top five earners making over $103 million combined. The newest addition to the Phillies' rotation and million-dollar club is AJ Burnett, who just signed a one-year/$16 million deal, not bad for an aging pitcher. In 2013, the expensive contracts did very little to help the club to win or even make some offseason moves they needed to. They finished 2013 with a 73-89 record, a far cry from what was expected from a team that spent New York Yankee money to win immediately. One of the biggest sticking points for the Phillies is that their top earner, Ryan Howard ($25 million) hasn’t played a full season since 2012 because of injury. It’s a shame for the Phillies, Howard is a great fielder and hitter, but he is becoming more of a liability than an asset.
2 New York Yankees - 2014 Payroll: $195 Million
The Yankees have always been busy during the offseason with signing, trading, and revaluating contracts. This past off-season was no different for the team, especially with the signing of Mashairo Tanaka, the starting pitcher from Japan that almost every team was drooling over this winter. The Yankees' $195 million payroll is spread out pretty well considering how much the top five earners make. Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Tanaka, and new addition Jacoby Ellsbury make up $88 million, which is surprisingly not that much as we have seen with other clubs. Perhaps one of the most interesting situations for the Yankees is the Alex Rodriguez suspension. He was slated to make over $25 million this season, but with his 162 game suspension, he will only make $2.8 million. The Yankees are getting older and unfortunately, they are still spending as if they are world champions. With Derek Jeter retiring after the 2014 season, it appears that the spending spree will continue for New York, well into the 2015 season.
1 Los Angeles Dodgers - 2014 Payroll: $234 Million
Apparently, money is not an issue for the Los Angeles Dodgers, as they have claimed the number one spot with the highest payroll in 2014. At over $230 million, the Dodgers have a host of suspect contracts that make many analysts believe they are spending to win now. Centered on pitching, the Dodgers have resigned Brian Wilson to a one-year deal and Zack Greinke to a $147 million deal over 6 years. Are you wondering where the team’s latest offseason contract extension of Clayton Kershaw puts the team? For the 2014 season, the Dodgers owe Kershaw just $4 million because it is the final season of his original deal. After this season, Kershaw’s contract numbers will explode and the Dodgers will owe him $30 million a year. With injuries to Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, and Hanley Ramirez in 2013, the Dodgers hope that the team can remain healthy enough to make a postseason run. If the Dodgers can remain healthy, they will be a force to be reckoned with not only in the NL West, but the MLB overall.