Does size matter? Size of the payroll, that is.

If you ask a frustrated Padres fan, it certainly matters. If you ask a Yankee fan, it’s not the size, it’s the how and on whom it’s spent. But, it sure doesn’t hurt to be bigger.

Big Versus Small Market Teams

Big versus small market is one of those ongoing debates in baseball. Like those who like the designated hitter versus the purists.  Like defensive shifts – love them or think they are destroying the game from the inside out. Like digging the long ball versus cleaning up the juicers.

More so than in other sports big versus small markets is hotly debated. The lack of a salary cap may have something to do with that.

Major sports push their members toward an egalitarian playing field in different ways.

  • NBA – a soft salary cap plus a luxury tax
  • NFL – a hard salary cap
  • NHL – a hard salary cap
  • MLB – luxury tax

Baseball seems to get the most negative press when it comes to big versus small market; perhaps because the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers spend a ton of money and always seem to be in the championship hunt, and everyone loves to hate those teams. Perhaps because the luxury tax is much less effective in leveling the playing field than the salary cap.

Major League Baseball refers to its luxury tax as a “competitive balance tax.” There are those who think it’s great for the game; others think it caused a glacial pace of free agency this past winter and will gradually suck the life out of the game. The truth, like in most things, lies somewhere in the middle.

Does Big Bucks mean Big Payoff?

There is one way to at least partially answer the issue of size and its influence of championship trophies – look at the data.

On the surface it seems that size matters. But, does the biggest bring home the trophy?

What size rank did the champ have for an opening day:

2017: Houston Astros – 18th

2016: Chicago Cubs – 14th

2015: Kansas City Royals – 16th

2014: San Francisco Giants – 7th

2013: Boston Red Sox – 4th

2012: San Francisco Giants – 8th

2011: St. Louis Cardinals – 11th

2010: San Francisco Giants – 10th

There may be no teams at the bottom of the totem pole – you have to go back to 2003 and the Florida Marlins (ranked 25th for opening day payroll that year) to find a team near the bottom who won it all;  but, the biggest spenders haven’t been the ones popping the champagne corks at the end of the year.

On average, the team with the sixth highest payroll has won the championship over the past twenty-five years. These rankings can also be skewed by the mid-season acquisitions. Think of the eventually champion Astros – their payroll undoubtedly moved up the scale after acquiring Justin Verlander at the trading deadline.

However, if the opening day payroll is the measure, then it is only a minor determining factor.

How are 2018 Big Payroll MLB Teams Fairing?

According to Spotrac, here is a glimpse at how much size matters in 2018:

  • Boston Red Sox: #1 payroll. Currently tied for first in the AL East with the second-best record in baseball (by percentage).
  • San Francisco Giants: #2 payroll. Currently slogging along at 32-32 in fourth place in the NL West (but only 2 games out of first).
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: #3 payroll. Just ahead of the Giants at 32-31.
  • Washington Nationals: #4 payroll. Leading the NL East.
  • Chicago Cubs: #5 payroll. Second in the NL Central with the second-best record in the National League.
  • Los Angeles Angels: #6 payroll: Third in the AL West, but with a good record of 36-28.
  • New York Yankees: #7 payroll. A position the Yankees are not used to on the payroll standings, but it’s working for them as the currently have the best record in baseball.

Current league leaders:

AL West: Yankees – #7

AL Central: Indians – #16

AL West: Mariners – #12

NL East: Nationals – #4

NL Central: Brewers – #26

NL West: Diamondbacks – #18

If your team’s payroll is twenty and below the odds aren’t in your favor (go Brewers!) that you’ll be attending any World Series games in your city, but if your team is in the top half and willing to make an acquisition or two at the trading deadline, then you might just have a winner.

Size may be one determining factor in the race to the World Series, but it’s no guarantee your favorite team will be wearing championship rings.

Disagree? Do different factors play in? Comment below!