Going into the offseason, there was endless talk about the Seattle Mariners and an increased payroll. It made sense, the Mariners were one game out of going into the playoffs. If they weren't talking about increasing payroll, what else would they talk about all season.
Payroll with the Mariners is always a funny subject as of late. Thanks to the late Bill Bavasi, the Mariners payroll was a toxic number. It resided in the upper echelons of the baseball world and was generating nothing but 100 loss season after 100 loss season.
The Mariners started to clean house. Jack Zduriencik rolled into town and started to shed payroll like it was his job, which I guess it kind of is. The Mariners went from having an opening day payroll in peak of $117 million in 2008 to a slow and steady decline into the lower $70 million mark in 2013. Or maybe you can consider the year before, 2007, as the peak in payroll. The Mariners' opening day roster cost less, at $106 million, but was good for the seventh-highest payroll in MLB. In 2008, despite spending more, they were the ninth-highest.
Since the debacle teams of the mid-2000s, the Mariners went from the seventh-costliest roster to the 24th. Things started to turn around from 2013 to 2014 with a contract upgrade going to Felix Hernandez and the huge signing of Robinson Cano. Still, the Mariners $89.5 million opening day roster cost was good for 21st in the league. In 2007, that cost would've put the Mariners with the 13th highest payroll.
As the AP reported last week, baseball salaries rose the most last season than they have in more than a decade. The average salary rose from $3,386,212 to $3,818,923 - good for a 12.78 percent climb. In between 2000 to 2001, salaries climbed 12.83 percent.
But for all the talk about the Mariners spending money, how much of it was a front of sorts? The Mariners have definitely added payroll and are projected to be spending approximately $120 million. That seems like a big number, but it also might not end up being one. A $120 million payroll would've ranked No. 11 in the league last season, and it very well could be right in line with the average opening day payroll in 2015.
There has been a bit of talk about average payroll, but that is the wrong way to go about it. The heavy spenders in baseball are beyond heavy spenders and often times the lower payroll squads are at the other very end of the extreme. In 2013, the Yankees opening day payroll was $228 million and the Astros shelled out a mere $22.5 million. Consider the following table (note -- payroll numbers came from USA Today and in millions).
|year||M's payroll||avg payroll||M's rank||where avg ranks
The average is rarely smack in the middle of the payroll chart. So rather than looking at the average overall payroll, let's take a look at the median. Since 2007, 45 of the 70 teams in the playoffs spent above the median. Since 2007, 39 of the 70 teams in the playoffs spent above the average.
Numbers are awesome in the sense that you can take the same set of digits and warp them into an argument that fits your needs. So for all the people that are talking about the Mariners need to keep up with rising payrolls to make the playoffs, just point out that being average in payroll isn't the number to strive for.
The Mariners are in an interesting position financially in the next few years. Cano and King Felix didn't come cheaply, and the additions of Seager's extension and Nelson Cruz sent that payroll number on up. But those high priced players are balanced out on the roster by a pile of cheap, everyday players. Through Jack Z's vision of restocking the team through drafting and trading to bolster the farm system, players like Mike Zunino, Chris Taylor, Brad Miller and Taijuan Walker, among others, are keeping the M's payroll a bit low
It is all a frame of reference. The Mariners said they were going to raise payroll and they did. They are probably going to be in the middle of all spenders next season. For better playoff chances, that is the goal they needed to hit.