Jul 18, 2023 - Sports

Baseball's biggest spenders are struggling

Chart: Axios Visuals

Pop quiz: What do the New York Mets, New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Angels have in common, aside from carrying a top-six payroll?

Answer: If the season ended today, they'd all miss the playoffs.

State of play: The Los Angeles Dodgers are the only team among the six most expensive rosters in baseball that is currently in playoff position. Let's take a look at what's gone wrong for the other five…

  • Mets (No. 1 payroll, 43-50 record): Very little hasn't gone wrong. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander — MLB's two highest-paid players — have barely above-average earned run averages, Pete Alonso is batting .207 and Starling Marte has -0.4 WAR.
  • Yankees (No. 2, 50-45): The offense is punchless without Aaron Judge, who's missed half the season (toe) and is their only batter with an OPS over .800. But hope remains, as they're just 2.5 games out of the wild card and Judge could return soon.
  • Padres (No. 3, 44-50): While the rotation has been solid aside from Yu Darvish (4.65 ERA), the offense has struggled to find consistency despite a core of four superstars.
  • Phillies (No. 4, 51-42): They need Trea Turner (.687 OPS) to get going and Bryce Harper (4 home runs) to find his power stroke, among other things. Still, they're just 0.5 games out of the wild card.
  • Angels (No. 6, 47-48): They finally looked like contenders before Mike Trout went down with a wrist injury, and now Shohei Ohtani has a blister that's hampering his pitching.

The other side: While many of the big spenders struggle, the Tampa Bay Rays (fourth-lowest payroll) and Baltimore Orioles (second-lowest) are crushing it, sporting the American League's best records.

The big picture: While there's still time for some of these underachievers to right the ship, if the status quo remains it will be unprecedented in recent history: In nine of the last 10 non-pandemic seasons, at least three of the six biggest spenders have made the playoffs.

  • In other words, though the Major League Baseball playoffs are a bit of a crapshoot, getting there decidedly isn't, and spending money has long been a sound strategy to help make that happen.

What to watch: The trade deadline is two weeks from today. Will Steve Cohen (Mets owner) and Peter Seidler (Padres) double down on their investment, or pack it in and try again next year? Conversely, will the O's finally go all in?

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