- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 27, 2006

I disagree with The Washington Times’ position on the Nationals apparent payroll philosophy (“Ted Lerner at bat,” May 6), which is to build a farm team from the bottom up and gradually escalate the salary structure. The Times asserts the Nationals will need a payroll comparable to that of the New York Mets ($101 million), Philadelphia Phillies ($88 million), or Atlanta Braves ($90 million). According to The Times, “[t]he current $63 million [payroll] simply won’t cut it.”

In fact, Major League Baseball and other sports are replete with examples of spendthrift teams whose on-field performance fails to match their payroll. New owners often fall into the trap of trying to achieve instant gratification while breaking the bank. The Washington Redskins under owner Dan Snyder and the Baltimore Orioles under owner Peter Angelos are classic cases. Each spent wildly, but unwisely, during their first few years as owners, failed to achieve on-field success, and have been paying for it ever since with mediocrity. I suspect Nats’ owner Ted Lerner would like to avoid their fate.

The 2006 MLB season, though early, shows the utility of cautious but wise spending over the Snyder/Angelos model of “break the bank early and see what happens” philosophy. With one-quarter of the season over, some payroll trends have emerged.

The Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks have the best payroll-efficiency rating with the 22nd and 23rd highest payrolls, respectively ($59.2 million and $58.9 million). These below-$63 million figures that The Times says “won’t cut it” have garnered the Reds and D-Backs the sixth- and seventh-best records in baseball, and Arizona a first-place showing in the NL West division.

Moreover, the surprise team in baseball for 2006 thus far is the Detroit Tigers, which could show the auto industry how to produce without going bankrupt. The Tigers have achieved the best record in baseball (31-14) with the 13th-highest payroll, at $82 million. And the Toronto Blue Jays are no shrinking violet with the ninth-best team (25-20) despite having only the 16th-highest payroll ($72 million).

Conversely, breaking the bank doesn’t necessarily produce results. The Los Angeles “Fallen” Angels have the third-highest payroll at $104 million, but the fifth-worst record in MLB at 18-28. Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs, while trying to match their cross-town rivals and World Series champs Chicago White Sox in salary ($95 million versus $103 million, respectively), can’t cut it on the field with a sixth-worst MLB record of 18-27. And let’s not forget the New York Yankees, whose whopping $199 million (and $25 million luxury tax to boot) payroll would match some countries’ gross domestic product. Yanks’ owner George Steinbrenner undoubtedly thinks he should get a better than seventh-best record for such profligacy.

Finally, The Times fails to note that the Lerners are about to spend $450 million to buy the Nationals. Wise corporate financial management dictates that the Nats should be prudent with their payroll in the early years. This means trading away current high-priced talent — such as Alfonse Soriano ($10 million), Jose Vidro ($7 million) and pitcher Livan Hernandez ($8 million). These players won’t help the Nats win or get to the playoffs this year — or next. Yet trading them for young talent would not only save $75 million over three years, which itself would buy a nice farm system, but it would be consistent with the historically proven and best way to build a long-term successful franchise.

ROBERT BRANTLEY

Alexandria, Va.


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