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Mets 2010 Final Payroll And What It Means

In a post at FanGraphs today, Maury Brown discusses MLB payrolls and the problem with looking at Opening Day figures instead of year-end ones:

The final salaries in MLB show totals that include the 40 man roster, and shows how clubs ramp up, or shed payroll as the season progresses. It’s the final snapshot of a club’s season, the final salary picture for those "Season Recap" reports.

When coupled with one or more years in the data set, it’s a good trending tool to see how clubs might be making a push for the playoffs when their development window is seen as open, or the shedding of payroll when clubs are reloading. If you watch the Yankees and Red Sox (or rather, the AL East), it can be a sign of widening payroll disparity between the Yankees and Red Sox and the rest of the Division. If you look at the AL West, it’s a whiplashed roller-coaster ride that sees Tom Hicks going after Alex Rodriguez and Bill Bavasi’s "handiwork" with the Mariners and Jack Zduriencik trying to correct the former GM’s bad contracts.

When the curtains fell on 2010, the Mets had the sixth-highest payroll in baseball, closer to last (Padres, $43 milllion) than first (Yankees, $215 million).

Num Team 2010 Final Payroll % (+/-) 2009 Final Payroll
1 Yankees $215,053,064 -2.26% $220,024,917
2 Red Sox $170,650,856 21.50% $140,454,683
3 Phillies $145,539,931 5.25% $138,286,499
4 Cubs $142,410,031 0.55% $141,632,703
5 Tigers $135,913,308 -2.52% $139,429,408
6 Mets $127,560,042 -10.31% $142,229,759
7 Angels $123,478,263 1.26% $121,947,524
8 White Sox $112,197,078 6.56% $105,287,384
9 Dodgers $109,753,719 -16.54% $131,507,197
10 Twins $103,039,407 41.02% $73,068,407

Their closing payroll of $127 million was considerably less than the $142 million they spent in 2009 and was their lowest final payroll since spending $121 million in 2007. The 10.3% year-over-year payroll reduction is considerable, and only the Indians (21.6%), Astros (16.6%), Dodgers (16.5%), and Braves (10.8%) could claim to have slashed as much from their budgets as the Mets did.

Yesterday on Metsblog, Matt Cerrone passed along a quote from an anonymous executive of an unknown team, whose message is perhaps as poignant as its author's identity is nebulous:

There are very few cases where a team first increased their budget (by a lot) and then won. Instead, usually while losing and demand is low, the team will work to develop talent; then eventually, hopefully, that group starts winning and fans get excited; at which point demand goes up; and then – and only then – will they increase the budget and essentially double down; and when it works you get today’s Phillies.

A reasonable plan, then, appears to be this:

  1. Trim egregiously unnecessary player salaries.
  2. Sacrifice short-term fan interest for medium- and long-term success.
  3. Develop impact talent from within.
  4. Establish organizational depth to mitigate injury concerns and to seize external trade opportunities.
  5. Create payroll flexibility for future superstar acquisitions, preferably young ones.
  6. Fill out roster with inexpensive, league-average performers.