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If the regular season ended today, seven of the top nine highest-paid teams would be in the playoffs, according to the Sept. 1 payrolls of 40-man rosters obtained by USA TODAY. The Colorado Rockies or San Francisco Giants, who rank 14th and 15th and battling for the National League wild card, would be the only playoff team not in the top 10.
"That's very discouraging, from a data standpoint," says Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, whose team made the postseason last year with a $92 million payroll, ranking 18th. "We've had a competitive balance the last seven or eight years, so the question is whether this is an aberration or start of a trend. "If it's a trend, that's disturbing, and it's something we'll definitely need to consider in the next (collective bargaining agreement)."
Are things really so different this year, though? Granted, the "situation" this year is even worse than it looks, as the Marlins have a winning record but have actually been outscored (by four runs). But do you know how many teams in the bottom 10 of payroll last year finished with winning records?
Four: the Marlins (84-77, +3 run differential), Rays (97-65, +103), Diamondbacks (82-80, +14), and Twins (88-75, +84). This year, the Marlins are doing essentially what they did last year, the Twins are doing very nearly what they did last year, and the Rays miss the list by just a few dollars (as they're 20th on the payroll list this season, just missing the bottom 10). Meanwhile, the Blue Jays -- 24th in the majors in payroll -- are just 60-75 but have a positive run differential.
I don't mean to massage the numbers to death. My point is that you're always going to see a strong correlation between dollars and wins. Some years the correlation will be stronger than others. This year it's apparently stronger than it was last year; next year it might not be. Nothing that's happened this year constitutes strong evidence that anything fundamental has changed.