The Season of the Impoverished Team

The 2005 Major League Baseball Season. The Season of Steroids. The Season of Derek Lee. The Season of the Dominating 42-year old Ace. The Season of Manny being Manny (again). The Season of the Impoverished? Although weeks of pennant races and the drama within awaits baseball fans across the nation, the legacy of the 2005 MLB season draws to a close. In a year in which steroids have marred baseball at its highest level, it is difficult to find a redeeming quality about the league. Cynicism surrounding professional baseball’s integrity prevails, but parity among teams of varying economic statures is greater this season than ever before. This is the Season of the Under-Funded. Over the past decade, baseball fans’ outcry for an official salary cap has strengthened, just as the discrepancy between the rich and relatively poor teams has. Although the necessity for a salary cap lingers, the seemingly obvious relationship between the money spent on players by a team, and its success no longer applies to Major League Baseball like it once did. One cause of this change in parity is advancement in scouting. General Managers are learning to win with less. A good baseball organization is built on the foundations of solid scouting. Take for example the Atlanta Braves, although not a low-payroll team, they have been able to put forth another fantastic season with a large number of inexperienced players, a supply of talent only obtained from good scouting. Also, General Managers of low-budget teams have learned to feed off wealthy teams’ tendency to undervalue young talent (Mets trade Scott Kazmir to the Devil Rays, anyone?). General Managers have discovered ways to be successful regardless of the team’s budget for players. Two of the new breed of General Managers, J.P. Riccardi (Blue Jays) and Billy Beane (Oakland A’s, but we’ll call them the Moneyballers) have found success with the sabermetric philosophy. Mark Shaprio (Indians), Terry Ryan (Twins) and Larry Beinfest (Marlins) have excelled with a more traditional approach. Only three low-budget teams have had consistent success over the last few years: The Twins, Marlins and Moneyballers. The three teams have received recognition for outstanding scouting, player development and management. But this season, the recognition should be given to many other low-budget teams competing for a division, and/or wild card title. On September fifth, four of the top five American League teams vying to clinch a playoff spot via the wild card have a payroll lower than $52.2 million. The other team, The New York Yankees, will have spent $208,306,817 by this season’s end- nearly $10 million more than the Indians, Blue Jays, Moneyballers and Twins combined. In the National League, five teams are competing, and they were separated by a mere 2.5 games as of September 5th. Of these five teams, two can be considered low-budget or under-funded; the Marlins and Nationals average a payroll of $54,495,167- almost $50 million less than another competitor, the New York Mets. The point of this payroll madness is that baseball is becoming a league of opportunity and parity. Any team, despite its wealth or lack thereof (besides the Kansas City Royals) has a chance to compete in MLB now. We praise the National Football League for its quality of “anything can happen any given Sunday”, but the 2005 Major League Baseball season has been blessed with parity, something that will continue for years to come because of young talented players, good scouting, and shrewd General Managers. It’s time to give that same praise of the NFL to professional baseball…it has earned it.