While payroll salary appears to be a way of comparing levels of investment in players, it is just for the world to see. The real difference in organizational success is behind the scenes. The scouting department sizes and the areas they reach, the size of the analytics department, the amount of instruction and correction available to the young player via coaching and analytical information to teach their strengths to be stronger and weaknesses to be better managed, and the facilities and tools given to each player in the entire organization in order to improve themselves.
There will always be “haves” and “have nots” due to differences in markets. While there are revenue sharing streams from larger markets meant to help the smaller markets, a lack of a salary floor allows the receiving owners to just pocket the money and use the market size as an excuse to not be able to afford better players. This does not even consider the difference in facilities the players use, information and guidance given to them, and the backbone to every team: scouting and finding talent. Big city teams will always be able to spend money to secure talent because their coffers should be fuller, if they do things right. When the Mets gave up top prospects to get Edwin Diaz instead of taking the entirety of Cano’s contract and keeping their dead weight, they gave the Mariners negotiating leverage. Conversely, when the Astros received Justin Verlander from the Tigers, they took the entire deal and gave the Tigers very little talent since they were giving them financial relief. Houston is the fourth biggest metro in the country. They knew that the revenue they would be receiving from playoff tickets would cover most of Verlander’s salary. After all, they played in a division expected to be weakened for a few years at least and they had a new TV deal; they can afford Verlander. Just this last post-season as the Astros made it to the World Series, check out this article placed on Houston’s ABC-TV news page on October 20th:
“Now that the Houston Astros have advanced to the World Series for the second time in three years, fans are scrambling to buy tickets. Tickets for Game 1 and 2 are already sold out, but resale tickets are available for a hefty price. On StubHub, tickets for Game 1 at Minute Maid Park are selling for around $450 per ticket. That’s for standing room only. The highest ticket price spotted on the site was $13,000. Vividseats has tickets for about $35 cheaper, but still for standing room only. Club level tickets are going for around $1,300. The Major League Baseball site has Insperity and Diamond club tickets available for $13,000 to $15,000.” Obviously, winning has its advantages.
As the Dodgers were negotiating a new TV deal in 2012, they knew Los Angeles wasn’t going to support the patience of rebuilding. So, the Dodgers used their financial advantage to buy time. A major trade with the Red Sox provided the big names of Crawford, Gonzalez and Beckett to buy some time and fill the stadium. They increased their payroll to $291 million in order to buy talent without having to sacrifice the minor league rebuilding.
When Andrew Friedman took over the Rays, he bolstered their analytical and scouting departments and built a successful organization on a shoestring payroll. As soon as a player started to become expensive (David Price or Scott Kazmir) or was approaching the end of their prime years (Evan Longoria or Carl Crawford) they were traded for well scouted prospects that kept the talent level on their farm strong and replenished.
When Friedman went to the Dodgers in 2014, he used the same organizational model as he did on the Rays. The farm improvement led to young and cheap but outstanding players filling the roster and the payroll steadily decreasing to under $200 million, without any players having a nine figure contract. Their highest-paid player is left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who signed a three-year, $93 million extension before this season.
Consider this information from John Tomase’s October 10, 2019 piece on NBC Sports Boston: “The Dodgers are set up to maintain their success, too, with $113 million committed to next season, $89.5 million on the books in 2021, and only $20 million committed to 2022 (per Baseball-Reference). Compare that to the Red Sox, who have $118 million in guarantees committed to 2022 as part of a bloated payroll that’s the reason they’re seeking new leadership in the first place. In Los Angeles, Friedman built an All-Star front office featuring no fewer than five former GMs: Josh Byrnes, Alex Anthopoulos, Tommy Lasorda, Ned Colletti, and Gerry Hunsicker. He hired liberally from the Red Sox, stealing respected figures like Dave Finley and Galen Carr. He has built the Dodgers into an analytics-driven powerhouse, which is how they ended up on the forefront of the launch angle revolution.” Even before Friedman came to Los Angeles in 2014, the Dodgers were already investing into improvement by signing international free agents like Yasiel Puig and Alexander Guerrero. Friedman just gave them a better focus and plan.
Brodie Van Wagenen has tried to emulate this as best he can by stealing the Royals AGM and two of Boston’s top analytics people, but he needs the resources to go for more. Consider this: Jon Updike was a Mets Scouting Supervisor and the reason the Mets have Matt Allen and Pete Alonso in their organization. However, this man left the Mets to start an analytics business for the amateur player called Baseball Cloud. Now, I understand that people want to better themselves but other organizations – like the Reds last November, the Red Sox several years ago – have hired people from similar companies and gave them the latitude to stay on with both the baseball organization and their outside business interest as a way to keep an association with the better talent evaluators. Plus, he’s working with amateur players and that’s what you’re looking for!!! How do you let this guy get away to go to a startup that doesn’t know when it will make money and how much, and you don’t entice him to work with you a few years while the business model is growing?
Comparing the approaches used by both organizations with regard to talent, the Mets will sacrifice talent in order to meet their budget. They are willing to throw promising players into deals to take those players with problematic contracts off the books, supposing that there will always be other players available to give Mets fans an expectation that the team is of the quality to achieve entry into the post season. By willing to dispose of promising and cheap players like Dominic Smith and JD Davis, and top prospects such as Justin Dunn and Jarred Kelenic in order to trade players away with troubling contracts, they take their talent pool for granted and have thus been in the post season only once in the last twelve years – a World Series appearance that surprised even the team itself.
Conversely, The Dodgers are willing to take half of injury prone and recently erratic David Price’s remaining three year $96 million deal in order to get Mookie Betts for a single prospect and a swing man out of their bullpen. The deal is being lauded by baseball writers for its brilliance in that the Dodgers receive the second best player in baseball over the last four years with a very small sacrifice because the draft pick they will receive if Betts signs with another team for next season will equal the Alex Verdugo payment they made; they just need to allow the player time to develop. The Dodgers therefore are keeping their top prospects while getting the second best player in MLB according to WAR, who no one believed they can do when the trade talks began, and it will merely cost them the talent of a swing man out of the bullpen in the long run! The Dodgers have won their division seven years in a row and have been consistently vying for the best record in baseball.
Both the Dodgers and Mets compete in large markets. Los Angeles is the second largest and New York is the largest in the nation. However, it appears the biggest difference between the Mets and the Dodgers is the mindset, and if that doesn’t change nothing else will. The Mets’ inspiration could very well be the Yankees but instead of emulating the Yankees, Mets ownership chooses to shun them in trades and to look for “friendly” reporters that will mock Yankee business in the local press. It is actually the Yankees that are more Dodgers-like. Adding to the comparisons, the Dodgers and Angels are presently working on a trade to send a talented young outfielder, Joc Pederson, from the Dodgers to the Angels. Pederson hit 36 homeruns last year and is considered an outstanding defensive corner outfielder that can give you acceptable defense in centerfield; sort of a “Michael Conforto” makeup with more speed, and the entire baseball world knows that there is no way the Mets are trading a player like that to the Yankees unless the Yankees are willing to overpay by an extreme amount.