Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fixing the (Dis)Astros

I was listening to one of the local sports talk stations the other morning when the topic of what to do about the Houston Astros came up. One of the co-hosts argued that the new owner needed to spend more money in order to make the team competitive while the other co-host countered that you can't solve every problem by throwing money at it.

So, as a diversion from the law, I thought I'd look at who's spending the most, who's spending the least and who's spending the best in the world of baseball.

The list of top spenders should come as no surprise to even the most casual of baseball fans:

New York Yankees ($201,690,030)
Philadelphia Phillies ($172,976,381)
Boston Red Sox ($161,407,476)
Los Angeles Angels ($138,998,524)
Chicago White Sox ($129,285,539)

Of the big spenders, the Phillies are the only club leading their division.

The five clubs with the lowest payrolls are:

Kansas City Royals ($36,126,400)
Tampa Bay Rays ($41,932,171)
San Diego Padres ($45,869,140)
Pittsburgh Pirates ($46,047,000)
Cleveland Indians ($49,188,867)

Of the low spenders, both the Ray and Indians are atop their divisions.

The Houston Astros, by the way, have the 20th highest payroll of the 30 Major League teams. Houston's payroll for the 2011 season is $70,694,000. That works out to an average of about $2.4 million for each of the 25 players on the roster.

Throwing money around isn't necessarily helping the Yankees who are in the midst of a six game losing streak. They are also stuck with an overpaid designated hitter batting less than .200 (Posada) and an over-the-hill shortstop with no power and no range in the field (Jeter). They are also looking at an insane amount of money they will owe to some aging players on the back end of their contracts (Sabathia and Rodriguez).

But that's all good because I think rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for the bank at the foreclosure hearing.

To determine the most efficient spenders I projected each team's win total based on the season-to-date and divided the total payroll by projected wins. The five most efficient spenders in Major League Baseball are (with their cost per win):

Tampa Bay Rays ($442,186)
Kansas City Royals ($446,005)
Cleveland Indians ($461,525)
Florida Marlins ($585,844)
San Diego Padres ($644,936)

Of the five most efficient spenders, two teams lead their divisions (Rays and Indians) and the Florida Marlins have the second-best record in the National League. Of the five, only the Padres are projected to have a losing season (the Royals are at .500).

The five least efficient spenders are:

New York Yankees ($2,427,738)
Minnesota Twins ($2,261,699)
Chicago White Sox ($1,971,675)
Boston Red Sox ($1,945,240)
Chicago Cubs ($1,776,959)

Of the five most inefficient spenders, the Twins and White Sox are bring up the rear of the AL Central and the Cubs are sitting in next-to-last place in the weak NL Central. The Yankees and the Red Sox are both barely above .500.

The Houston Astros were the 17th most efficient spender (or 13th least efficient spender) with a cost per win of $1,192,796.

Three of the most efficient spenders are projected to end up in the top five teams for wins this season (Cleveland, Florida and Tampa Bay); while two of the most inefficient spenders are projected to end up in the bottom five teams for wins this season (Chicago White Sox and Minnesota) with the Cubs projected to finish with the sixth worst record.

The Houston Astros are projecting to wind up 29th out of the 30 teams with 59 wins.

Spending money is not the be-all and end-all of baseball - or any other endeavor. It's not about how much of your resources you're using; it's how you use them. The same can be said of the time we spend working. Working long hours doesn't necessarily mean you're productive; it just means you're working a lot of hours.

Spending for the sake of spending leaves you with a bunch of highly overpaid players on a losing team (Carlos Lee, Clint Barmes, Bill Hall, Brandon Lyons) that can't be off loaded. The answer for the Astros is not to write bigger checks. If the Astros want to turn it around they need to be smarter with how they spend their money. Spend more time and money on scouting and development. Unless you're planning on breaking the bank, a good ball club needs some players brought up from the minors who are playing on the cheap for the first few years of their career. Develop enough of those players and you will have the money to keep your higher priced players and bring in a good free agent or two.

The Astros organization wasn't ruined over the course of a season, it was a long, slow demise. The rebuilding process is going to take time, too. But that's okay. My oldest daughter loves going to the ballpark to watch the Astros and I like hanging out with her there. We'll still take in a couple of games a season, no matter how badly the local nine is playing.

Bring on the boys of summer.

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