I’m of the belief that Major League Baseball provides a significant advantage to large market teams.
There is a massive advantage in being able to spend more than your opponents. The extra money allows you to patch over mistakes made from bad signings or bad trades. It also allows teams to stockpile depth.
Take the Dodgers, for example.
They lost top starter Clayton Kershaw for the entire postseason.
You might be able to imagine a world where a team like the Pirates could afford to pay Kershaw $31 million a year, and still put a playoff team around him.
But, can you envision a world where Kershaw goes down for the postseason on that Pirates roster and they still have a chance to contend?
The Dodgers also lost Trevor Bauer for the postseason. They are paying Bauer $40 million this year. The Pirates could have signed a player for $20 million dollars in 2021, and their entire team payroll would be less than what Bauer and Kershaw receive from the Dodgers.
The Dodgers entered the NLDS with the following starters:
Max Scherzer – $34.5 million (acquired via trade at the deadline)
Walker Buehler – $3.75 million
Julio Urias – $3.6 million
The latter two players are a product of the Dodgers’ development system.
The Dodgers added Scherzer and Trea Turner — who is making $13 million this year and has a year of arbitration remaining — sending out their number 1, 4, and 22 ranked prospects, along with another who was just outside of Baseball America’s midseason top 30.
Now, let’s imagine that from the Pirates perspective. Sending out three highly rated prospects for a few months of a pitcher who is still owed over $10 million, and a year and a third of a top position player who will almost certainly end up costing over $20 million total. That’s over $30 million committed to one year and two months, while sending out some of the best players in the development system.
The Dodgers also had David Price on their NLDS roster, and didn’t even use him. Price has been dealing with injuries, and is being paid $16 million by the Dodgers, with the Red Sox (currently in the ALCS) paying the other half of his contract. Two of the four League Championship Series teams are paying David Price $16 million each, and he didn’t even pitch in the playoffs.
This lays out the almost impossible challenge facing the Pirates, and any small market team like them.
Perhaps they manage to develop two of their prospects into top of the rotation guys.
That puts them on par with Buehler and Urias on the Dodgers.
Maybe they trade their farm system for another top starter like Scherzer, when they see the playoffs in their sights. We saw how that worked before with Chris Archer. Even if Archer performed well, they’d be better off long-term with the guys they sent out.
Where is their version of Kershaw?
Where is their version of Price?
Where is their version of Bauer?
Those are three guys who the Dodgers had during the regular season, allowing them to reach the postseason. They didn’t even need those three pitchers to reach the NLDS, despite paying them $87 million. That’s higher than the Opening Day payrolls of seven teams in 2021. Two of those teams had winning records. One of them — the Rays — made the playoffs and were eliminated by the Red Sox.
There are two stages to winning a World Series.
The first is winning during the regular season, which requires an amount of depth to overcome injuries over a 162 game schedule.
The second is winning during the playoffs, which requires a different type of depth. When it all comes down to one series, the game becomes all about elite players. Having depth for the regular season is one thing. Having depth of elite players essentially makes the regular season a formality, and puts the focus on the postseason.
It allows a team like the Dodgers to lose Bauer, Kershaw, and Price, and still roll out Scherzer, Buehler, and Urias.
And if everyone was healthy, which two of those elite starters would have ended up in the bullpen, paired with Kenley Jansen ($20 million), Joe Kelly ($8.8 million), Blake Treinen ($8 million), and Corey Knebel ($5.25 million)?
Meanwhile, the Rays won 100 games during the regular season, but had to roll out rookie pitcher Shane Baz in the playoffs, who only had 13.1 innings in the majors prior to his playoff start. Two of their remaining three starters spent more time in the bullpen or as openers this season.
If you’re looking for the reason why MLB is unfair to small market teams, that is it.
The Dodgers lose three players who are making more than seven teams, and they still can roll out three top of the rotation starters in the division series. The Rays, one of the seven teams mentioned above, manage to win 100 games during the regular season, only to have their playoff fate decided by a rookie and two relievers.
I think the Pirates can get back to the playoffs, just as the Rays and other small market teams have done.
However, that’s when the real game begins, and the real game is heavily slanted in favor of the Dodgers, Red Sox, and every other team that can heavily outspend the small markets to get that elite playoff depth.
MLB is broken.
I’ve been working on some site updates over at Pirates Prospects. More behind the scenes stuff, but it’s held me back from writing. Fortunately, we’ve got all offseason to relive the horrible 2021 season, and look forward to the Pirates’ impossible task ahead.