Up until about a year ago, I had no budget, no financial restraints holding me back from acquiring goods and services. No salary cap in the life of this yuppie. Then the stock markets’ violent dip into the abyss acted as my accounting alarm clock.

The piercing beeps of economic epiphany began to take refuge in my brain. I was convinced that I needed to set a budget and, more importantly, stick to it.

Like Jim Leyland and the Tigers’ cigarette ban in the dugout, I’ve obeyed the rules, maybe a little too closely.

The latest financial headlines continue to consume my interest in print, television and online. Hell, I’ll admit it, I’ve been known to clip a coupon. And you know what? That money saved has been parlayed into wise investments.

With a non-existent salary cap in Major League Baseball, general managers have made it a habit to back load contracts.

You could consider this practice a contract coupon. BOGO (Buy one HR, get one free) deals are all the rage when a blossoming superstar erupts his second year in the bigs, while the franchise is still paying him the minimum.

Perusing the salaries around the league, outside the major markets, some franchises are earning a healthy return of investment on baseball’s best bargains.

All-Budget Lineup
  Player 2010 Salary
1 Austin Jackson $400k
2 Alberto Callaspo $460k
3 Evan Longoria $950k
4 Mark Reynolds $833k
5 Ryan Braun $1.287-mil
6 Nelson Cruz $440k
7 Joey Votto $525k
8 Matt Wieters $400k
9 Elvis Andrus $418k
  Starting Pitcher 2010 Salary
  Ubaldo Jiminez $1.25-mil

Evan Longoria

Tampa Bay’s Mr. Everything, Evan Longoria, has
provided plenty of bang for the buck in 2010. As of May 24th, he’s hitting .318 with 9 dingers and 38 ribbies. Yet, Evan’s still $50k away from the million-dollar club.

– – – – – – Braun’s Bottom Line: .324, 7 HRs, 30 RBI

Joey Votto

Votto is averaging a .307 batting average, with 29 homers and 99 RBI during his tenure with the Reds. At the ripe old age of 26, his $525k salary will be back, back, back gone soon.


The All-Budget team possesses depth on the bench in Geovany Soto ($575k), Shin Soo-Choo ($461,100), Jason Heyward ($400k), Ike Davis ($400k), Chase Headley ($427,700), Jacoby Elsbury ($496,500), Felipe Lopez ($1-mil), Garrett Jones ($425k) and Andruw Jones ($500k).

The rest of the ration includes Chris Volstad ($420k), Francisco Loriano ($1.6-mil), Phil Hughes ($447k), and Clayton Kershaw (440k) with Joba Chamberlain ($487,975) as the closer.

The 25-man roster’s total payroll adds up to just over $15-million. Though the construction of an All-Budget team falls somewhere between fantasy and lunacy (mainly because the average experience of this roster is 3 major league seasons), this highlights how out of control free-agent spending has become.

Can you imagine what kind of coin Longoria is going to expect come 2014, a season after raking in a modest $6-million? That is assuming the young man’s offensive production remains consistent over the next three seasons.

This leads me to the penance some general managers and scouts face for overvaluing talent on the free agent market.

MLB’s Revenue Risks roster compiles those veterans signed to hefty contracts based on past performances. GMs push the financial pedal to the floor with these transactions. Only to learn in 2010, the tank is closer to E than F.

Revenue Risks Lineup
  Player 2010 Salary
1 Bill Hall $8.525-mil
2 Marco Scutaro $5.5-mil
3 Casey Blake $6.25-mil
4 Carlos Pena $10.125-mil
5 Pat Burrell $9-mil
6 Michael Cuddyer $9.416-mil
7 Nate McClouth $5-mil
8 Chris Snyder $5.25-mil
9 Julio Lugo $9.25-mil
  Starting Pitcher 2010 Salary
  Oliver Perez $12-mil

Evan Longoria

The Milwaukee Brewers are still on the hook for over $7-million of Hall’s $8.5-million dollar salary. He’s currently (as of May 24th) hitting .188 with three home runs for the Red Sox.

Carlos Pena’s Production: .187, 7 HRs, 27 RBI – – – – – –

Joey Votto

Burrell almost got a pass on the Revenue Risks roster, but then the Rays designated the designated hitter for assignment. At $9-million, Burrell’s lack of production at the plate forced Tampa Bay to part ways and eat the contract.


Because of the low supply and high demand for pitching around the league, general managers approach the negotiation table the same way a lonely college student approaches the main stage at Girls! Girls! Girls!

They empty their wallets without a second thought because, well, that’s what you do: Jake Westbrook ($11-million), Jeff Suppan ($12.5-million), Aaron Harang ($12.5-million), Jeremy Bonderman ($12.5-million), Dontrelle Willis ($12-million), and newly named Mets reliever Oliver Perez ($12- million). Coming out to close games will be (when he’s healthy) Brian Fuentes ($9-million).

The accumulated 2010 stat line (as of May 18th) for these seven hurlers is a 6-14 record, 4 saves and a 5.42 earned run average.

David Ortiz ($13-million) and Travis Hafner ($11.5-million) are available options off the bench. Finding overpaid athletes in the cap-less MLB is as challenging as picking Waldo out of a lineup, but justifying which names appear on the roster is a tough balance.

MLB 2010 Payrolls
  Team 2010 Payroll
1 Yankees $206.3-mil
2 Red Sox $162.4-mil
3 Cubs $146.6-mil
  Team 2010 Payroll
28 Athletics $51.6-mil
29 Padres $37.7-mil
30 Pirates $34.4-mil

The glaring omission most critics will question, and fill my inbox demanding answers as to why, is Alex Rodriguez.

I would agree, unless A-Rod finds a cure for cancer while playing the hot corner this season, his $33-million contract is extreme.

However, when you break down his career averages of .304, 43 homers, and 128 RBI and also factor in his value to the Yankees in terms of jersey sales and butts in seats, perhaps it’s warranted.

The same cannot be said of a Bill Hall, Michael Cuddyer or Julio Lugo. When was the last time you heard somebody say, “I can’t wait to get to the ball game, spend eight bucks on a beer and watch Julio Lugo do his thing.”?

Though talented enough to reach the big leagues and tease the faithful with moments of brilliance, is their past productivity worth that much dough? Hall is a .250 lifetime hitter and has never finished a season hitting over .300.

Even this season, the big market cash cows in New York, Boston and Chicago are proving 9-figure payrolls don’t necessarily equate to wins.

If you take the ten highest payrolls and add up their 2010 wins-to-date (as of May 19th), they tally 208. The ten lowest payrolls have racked up 193 wins. Of those bottom ten, the Padres, A’s, Rangers, Marlins, Nationals and Blue Jays are at or above .500.

As long as the salary-cap in Major League Baseball remains a talking point instead of a reality, the free-agent funnel will continue to filter into the bigger markets.

But it’s the general managers in smaller markets and their platoon of scouts that truly earn their paycheck.

To stock up a farm system and build a prosperous foundation around young talent and future potential, instead of signing the big name to a big contract, is a gift.

The financial restraints of choosing sports journalism as my craft taught me to find the value in the goods and services I’ve bought over the last year.

Small market baseball front offices are learning to play by the same set of rules. When the piggy bank is broken, it’s wise not to rush out and buy a new one, but see what you have around the house to put it back together.

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