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MLB

The Cheap Get Cheaper

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 19: Louis Angelos (L) and John Angelos (R) of the Baltimore Orioles look on after introducing Mike Elias (C) to the media as the Orioles Executive Vice President and General Manager during a news conference at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on November 19, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Joc Pederson has never been known to be particularly Bolshevik in his outlook, but he decided to pipe in a bit of “The Internationale” on Twitter with this:

It’s hard to tell where Pederson got these numbers given that he didn’t source his material, but various 2022 payroll lists vary only by a million or so dollars on the low end, so his point is still made, namely that teams that don’t want to try are trying about 30 percent less than a year ago—and at roughly year 2000 levels, without factoring in a 60 percent rise in inflation. In other words, the Orioles are spending the 2000 equivalent of $18.4 million. The Pirates, consistently a thrift leader, are spending about $10 million less than last year; the Guardians about 25 percent less, and the Athletics, who are 27th in payroll estimates this year and didn’t make Pederson’s analytical cut, have slashed theirs by nearly half, from $81 million to $41 million.

Not every team has lowered payroll, which is sort of Pederson’s point. The bottom four teams, though, are all currently below $41 million. In 2019, the last pre-COVID year, Tampa Bay’s sport-low payroll was $64.1 million.

In other words, the rank and file of the union which voted convincingly to approve a deal its executive committee voted unanimously to reject, botched these negotiations badly if the goal was to reduce the incentive for tanking. Once you note record free-agent spending of $3.265 billion, the obvious truth is that more money is being spent on fewer players, which was an imbalance the union claimed to want to address.

They did the deal with eyes allegedly open, so your pity would be misplaced. But the decision not to force a salary floor so that teams would have to find other ways not to compete has already worked against the players. The Marlin Demarcation, in which you know your team is tanking when it is behind Miami in payroll, is wider than it has ever been—$26 million between Miami in 26th and Oakland in 27th. Thus, if nothing else, 2022 will likely be a better year for profit-taking than ever before, which is to say that the lockout worked—if you were management, and cheap. If you possess a soul, on the other hand … well, Opening Day is in 15 days, and Joc Pederson can’t shame the shameless any better than you or I could.