Friday, April 08, 2011

No Time for Losing

USA Today crunched the numbers on MLB salaries and their results are available here. This is an impressive little salary engine that allows you to sort on variables and filter down by team, position, and year, going back to 1988.

Looking at the overall team totals for 2011, as expected, the Yankees are number one at over $202 million in player payroll. That's an astonishing figure. It really puts into context the Twins' recent record against the Yankees, 19-58 (.246 winning percentage) since 2002. How can we possibly compete? Our small-market Davids against their Gotham City Goliaths.

Except .... the Twins are not among the Davids any longer. They rank 9th overall in payroll for 2011, at $113 million. That puts them about even with the big market, big money teams in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York (Mets). Looks like they're going to have to find a different reason to justify their traditionally pathetic performance against the likes of the Yankees than crying poor.

Sorting by the other variables available on this site, I see the Twins rank 6th in average salary ($4.5 million) and an impressive 2nd in median salary ($3 million). While the average can be skewed by abnormally high or low figures in the distribution (Joe Mauer), the median is the middle of the distribution of all salaries and perhaps more indicative of the "typical" salary for players. That means the Twins are second best at spreading the wealth across all of their roster. Very progressive of them, I'm sure Barack Obama and Mark Dayton would be proud. Yet they're still seventh highest in standard deviation ($5.5 million), meaning there is a healthy spread between the best paid players and least paid, giving us Republicans and the Koch bothers something to cheer for.

The Twins high payroll for this year is an indication that they're recycling the largesse from Target Field into a more expensive, and hopefully higher quality, product on the field. As recently as 2009 (their last year in the Metrodome), their payroll ranked 24th out of 30 teams, at a paltry $65 million. So, they appear to be a responsible steward of that deluge of cash the fans are forking over to enjoy their games.

Still, the ability to pay these types of payrolls annually is mind boggling. To be clear, I don't buy into the argument that there's something profoundly wrong with our society because, say, public school teachers only make upper middle class wages with gold plated benefits plans, while people playing a game make millions. People should be paid according to what they produce and for the value they offer their customers. MLB quality baseball players are rare, in high demand, and their efforts generate huge revenues. (Public school teachers strike out on two of those three accounts.) So, they deserve to be paid on this basis. If only they were being paid strictly on this basis!

We cannot forget there's an invisible hand supporting the Twins payroll. The government of Hennepin county agreed to hand the Twins $350 million in tax dollars in order to build their stadium. (Thanks Chad, Nihilist, and the rest of you Hennepin county tax-payer saps). If the Twins (or any MLB team) had to limit their labor costs to a level supported by their revenue, they players would still be paid extremely well, but these numbers would be substantially lower. As they should be.

On this beautiful home opener afternoon, just something for Twins fans to remember. As our state legislature fights over billion dollar deficits, and our federal government fights over trillions in accruing debt, you're cheering on the biggest welfare queens in the state.