The middle might be the top

 

It’s mid-October and as I write this, the Texas Rangers are about 5 innings away from going to the World series for the second year in a row. Good on them too; it would be nice to see a team that had never had the championship bring it home. It would also give patience-tried Toronto fans reason for hope. As, in fact, the whole post-season this year should.

 

The reason: it puts pay to the idea that the rich teams can ‘buy’ championships and that teams in mid-sized markets with lesser budgets can’t hope to compete. For, obviously, as the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies sit at home and rest their aching muscles and the Boston Red Sox continue to implode and point fingers about who is to blame for their dismal fall from contention, we see Milwaukee, St Louis, Detroit and the aforementioned Rangers vying for the crown. Mid-market, mid-budget teams all. Which has often been the story of baseball this century; while certainly the Yanks, Red sox and Phils are always reasonably in the mix to hit the playoffs and have won championships, more often than not it’s been the Giants, white sox and other upstart, long-shot teams carrying the day.

 

Indeed this year, I did a few calculations, admittedly using payroll numbers for the start of the season (but as no A-Rod, nor jeter , nor Pujols switched teams mid-year, they would be fairly close to the final tallies), and divided the majors into three divisions: the top ten teams in spending, the middle ten, and the low-end ten (or which toronto was one). The average payroll for the Top Ten was about $142.5M; for the middle third, $93M and for the skinflint Ten, $60M. Meaning an approximate 55% increase in spending to jump a tier.

 

The surprise though is that the increase in money didn’t do a whole lot to increase wins. The top ten teams averaged 84 wins a piece. The next ten, 80, while even the bottom ten averaged almost 79 wins each. Four of the teams with “Drunken Sailor” spending habits actually posted losing seasons. Two of the bottom ten won more than 90 games. And only two divisions were won by the highest spenders– both East divisions. More significantly, four teams in both of the top two third categories won 89+… a reasonable crossbar that would be needed to be reached if a team hopes to make the playoffs.

 

The encouraging thing in this should be that the Jays don’t have to spend with New York or Boston to have a reasonable chance to win something for us fans in 2012. They just need to spend a bit more… wisely. Something Alex Anthopolous has repeatedly said Rogers is willing to do. Based on numbers alone, it would look like they might need to up the current payroll from its current low-60sM range up to the high 80s or so. And considering the big needs for the team are one more real solid starter, a good middle-rung starter, a closer and a second baseman , that might be a pretty good estimate.

 

Adding in a Mark Buehrle via free agency, or say a James Shields or Dan haren type pitcher through a trade would probably add $15M or so. And yes, I do think that either of the latter two could be had, toronto would just have to be willing to part with a few of their many prospects or young stars, ala Anthony Gose, JP Arencibia or Travis D’arnaud, Colby Rasmus, Kyle Drabek, etc. Another good pitcher, of the calibre of say, javier Vasquez or maybe Joe Saunders, might cost another $8 to 10M. The Tigers and Brewers have shown you don’t need to necessarily have a guy named ‘Rivera’ and his eight-figure salary to close out games reliably; someone who’s been a good set-up man for another team like Jonny Venters or Tyler Clippard might be suitable and only add a bit , if any,to the overall cost to the team when salaries of Sean Camp and Frank Francisco depart as expected. Likewise, options for a good second baseman might be limited, and probably cost at least $5M, but since the Jays were paying the salary of Aaron Hill most of this season, that would be a wash. Add in another middle reliever or two, and perhaps replace the multitude of outfielders with potential (such as Snider, Loewen, Gose, Rasmus) with a more proven, better-hitting veteran and you’re talking another 25 to 30 million dollars. Which would put the Jays in the $90M bracket…squarely in the lower middle-class range of the game, rubbing shoulders with the likes of the brewers, Braves and yes, Rangers. Rubbing shoulders in the crowded stands that would be the Rogers Centre next September if the team is finally playing meaningful games at that time of year once more.

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