Money a central player entering 2012
Teams like Rangers can afford costly mistakes, others not
We get it. So Arte Moreno thanked FOX at the Albert Pujols press conference. Why shouldn't he? Whatever the regional rightsholders are paying, Pujols made it work, just as the Marlins believed Albert might make their ballpark and market work, finally. And, failing Pujols, why Ozzie Guillen and Heath Bell and Mark Buerhle, and potentially Yoenis Cespedes are worth the effort to find out for once and for all if Miami will be a legitimate baseball market.
We get the A's-Giants flap. We get the Silicon Valley investors Peter Magowan corralled to save the Giants in 1993 and build one of the great stadiums in sports, and why the Giants don't want to give up their stranglehold on a huge, lucrative market. We know that, forced to remain at Al Davis' Coliseum, the A's are doomed to be last in attendance, last in revenues and payroll in the rising American League West.
We get what Billy Beane has to do. He has to hope that in 2014 or 2015 the Athletics have moved to a new park in San Jose. That is why he's trading assets like Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey to get 10 players with less than one year service time, players that will be with the Athletics if and when they move and to be the foundation of a team constructed so that the ballpark and competitiveness will coincide as happened perfectly, for instance, when the Indians moved into what then was called Jacobs Field.
The sport appears without viable new markets -- ask Stuart Sternberg and the very smart people who run the Rays -- so if the A's can't move, they can become wards of the revenue-sharing system.
What Tampa has done in finishing ahead of the Yankees and/or Red Sox three of the past four seasons is a testament to remarkable vision and management, and with a core of exceptional young pitchers like David Price, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson. Think about the 2011 payrolls: The Yankees were $216 million, Red Sox $174 million and the Rays at $45 million, which means the spread between richest and poorest in a very strong division was $171 million (or that the combined payrolls of the Rays and Red Sox, second highest in the sport, was $4 million more than the Yankees).
This winter the Yankees have been restrained, clearly relying on the developmental system Brian Cashman has built. The Red Sox are restrained, presently focused on remaining below the $178 million luxury-tax threshold.
Toronto has already shown restraint. Alex Anthopoulos is one of the brightest, most aggressive general managers in the game, but from 2010 to 2011 the Blue Jays lowered their payroll 12.6 percent to $75.8 million, and indications are that there are further financial restraints this winter.
Oh, the Jays will be good and competitive and fun, but in the long cycle having a payroll a third of that of New York is a market inequality that the new Draft structure will not address.
The money is on the coasts. The Angels are Los Angeles and they soon will face the market challenge of the Dodgers. It is significant that Frank McCourt can sell to whomever gives him the best deal, as opposed to sales being coordinated by the Commissioner's Office and other owners.
Whether it is Steve Cohen's group or the Mark Walter/Magic Johnson/Stan Kasten group or a group headed by Dennis Gilbert, not only is McCourt going to get market value, but the new Dodgers are going to come charging. The difference between the NL West's highest payroll, the Giants, and the lowest, the Padres, was nearly $80 million last year.
Where will that go? By Opening Day 2013, will the D-backs' payroll be even half that of the Dodgers?
Look at the Angels with Pujols, with C.J. Wilson fitting in with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, with the depth and/or market to get a closer. Look at the Rangers, whether they make a run at Prince Fielder, or not. If they sign Yu Darvish, a negotiation that likely will go right to the wire, they will have a starting rotation that would include 27-year old Alexi Ogando, 26-year old Matt Harrison, Darvish, 25, Derek Holland, 26, Neftali Feliz, 23 and Martin Perez, 21. The Brothers Maddux will have a competitive staff for years, Prince or no Prince.
Yes, Astros fans, this is a far different American League West than when Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito came along. Then, being smart and creative could equate to competitiveness. Now, more than half the teams have moved away from the bygone business principles into the 21st Century; Tampa does it without capital, Texas is more scary because it does it in a wealthy market. If the Rangers sign Darvish and he turns out to follow the career path of Hideki Irabu (which won't happen), they will survive, especially with their impending television deal.
If the Rays make the wrong calls on B.J. Upton or the wrong trade for Wade Davis or Evan Longoria gets hurt, The Trop may look like a foreclosed property. If the Indians don't compete in the next two years, before so many of their best players are eligible for free agency, who knows?
In the New Year, baseball would be enhanced by another glorious end to the regular season and the postseason. It would be a great if the Marlins, Nationals, Phillies and Braves were within two games of one another on Labor Day, by which time the Mets finances were stabilized. And even better if the Cubs, Reds, Pirates, Brewers and Cardinals were all competitive in one Central, the Indians and Royals in the other.
The new season needs the Jays and Rays to challenge, the Yankees and Red Sox to be within punching distance of one another, and for the fans of the Dodgers and Mets to have hope.
Those are among the best-case scenarios, and there is legitimate hope that in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Cincinnati, these are brighter days, no matter if the days seem to be getting shorter.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.