The folks in Boston are no strangers to expensive sinkholes. They lived with the “Big Dig” — highway robbery, in the most literal sense — for the better part of two decades. And this summer, they endured the still richly-dysfunctional Red Sox, a team that entered this season with a $175 million payroll and is now slogging through September — after last month’s fire sale — with the fifth-worst record in the American League.
But a quick glance at the playoff races around Major League Baseball shows the Red Sox have plenty of company. Many of the “haves” simply haven’t produced as expected this season — the Detroit Tigers among them – while some of the “have-nots” have overachieved.
Of the top five highest-spending teams in terms of 2012 payrolls, only the Yankees were in first place as play began Friday. And the Yankees ($210 million) were tied for first in the American League East, having blown a 10-game division lead over the last month. The team that caught them? The surprising Baltimore Orioles, with a payroll ($85 million) nearly 2 1/2 times smaller. The Philadelphia Phillies — with the third-highest payroll at $172 million — are 19 games behind the N.L. East-leading Washington Nationals, who ranked 15th at about $95 million.
And if the playoffs began today, only four of the top 10 payroll teams — and just one of the top five — would be among the 10 postseason qualifiers. That certainly could change in the final month of the season. And it’s worth noting that nine of the top 10 payroll teams are ranked in the top 10 in attendance, so the gate return might be there even if the on-field performance isn’t.
But right now, the Red Sox, Phillies, Los Angeles Angels (fourth), Tigers (fifth), Chicago Cubs (ninth) and Miami Marlins (10th) all are on the outside looking despite spending more than $100 million each on player salaries. Meanwhile, the Oakland A’s, with the second-lowest payroll in baseball ($53 million, or less than the Tigers are paying the Big Three of Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander), would grab the final wild-card berth in the A.L.
Who says Moneyball is dead?