Monday, December 10, 2007


An eye-opening look at the degree to which the AL has come to dominate the NL in terms of payroll and, as a result, on-the-field success.

While I'm not a fanatic about it, I am basically an NL guy. Because of that, I've been loathe to admit that the AL's recent run of dominance is anything more than a cyclical blip. After all, the NL pretty much owned the AL from the 60s-80s, right?

But this is obviously different than that. As Neyer puts it, the AL simply has more money and more brains these days. I won't go as far to call the NL AAAA baseball, but the disparity between the leagues is greater today than it has ever been in my lifetime.

The genesis of all of this would seem to be the RSN-fueled Yanks-Sox arms race, which in turn is causing teams like the Tigers and Angels to load up to make sure that they won't necessarily be shut out of the playoffs if their division rivals have an unexpectedly good year. No one in the NL is blowing the curve in a similar fashion, and given the lack of a truly dominant team in the senior circuit, things are far more wide open.

Still, this is something that seems fixable. Unlike the (alleged) case a few years ago, there is not some insurmountable financial hurdle preventing most teams from spending a lot of money to arm themselves with talent. Teams are flush with cash these days, and if the Mets, Dodgers, or Cubs hired the right sort of management (Theo Epstein is not sui generis) and got it in their heads to blow the rest of the NL away, we could easily see a quality enhancing arms race begin there as well.

Until then, however, we National League fans are left with Albert Pujols and a lot of mediocrity.

UPDATE: One of the central problems of my life is that I have to, you know, work for a living at a job that isn't baseball writing. The result of that is that a lot of my blogging has to happen between 5:30 and 6:30 in the morning before my kids wake up and my job starts intruding and all of that. Usually it's not a problem -- coffee is a wonderful thing -- but some days it takes longer for my brain to get going. Today was one of those days.

If I had been more alert four hours ago I would have (a) not said something as stupid as "Pujols is the only star in the NL"; and (b) said something about the list of All Stars the Renck article trots out as evidence of the superiority of the AL. Renck's list:

AL salaries in millions

C Ivan Rodriguez $10.56
1B David Ortiz $13.25
2B Placido Polanco $4.6
3B Alex Rodriguez $22.7
SS Derek Jeter $21.6
LF Magglio OrdoƱez $13.2
CF Ichiro Suzuki $12.5
RF Vladimir Guerrero $14.5
RHP Dan Haren $2.25

Total $115.16 million
Per player: $12.80 million

NL salaries in millions

C Russell Martin $.3875
1B Prince Fielder $.415
2B Chase Utley $4.78
3B David Wright $1.25
SS Jose Reyes $2.87
LF Barry Bonds $15.53
CF Carlos Beltran $13.57
RF Ken Griffey Jr. $8.44
RHP Jake Peavy $4.75

Total: $52 million
Per player: $5.78 million

Look, I have no quibble with the notion that the AL is the superior league at the moment and that, absent a sea change, it's going to be for a while. It's just that the list of All-Stars and their salaries isn't the best way to show it. Ask yourself: which player from that list would you want at each position? My rundown is as follows:

C: Pudge is awful anymore. Martin is an easy choice;

1B: Ortiz is better than Fielder, but (a) that's temporary; and (b) Ortiz isn't a 1B anymore. If we're talking about building your way to league dominance, you'd have to pick Fielder;

2B: Chase Utley and the guys who follow him on the list is the biggest reason I crossed out my dim-witted comment about Pujols above. This guy's a frickin' star and there isn't a 2B in baseball who is better now, nor will their likely be in the next several years;

3B: A-Rod over Wright certainly, but dollar-for-dollar Wright is a better buy. And, I would guess, is likely to be a better player five years from now and beyond.

SS: Before Reyes' second half swoon I would have called it a push, and until Reyes returns to form for a whole year (which I think is likely), Jeter is probably the better choice. But again, that's only for the moment, and if you had to build your team around one of these two guys you'd certainly go with the younger one.

LF: Magglio over Bonds seems pretty obvious going forward.

CF: I love them both, but Beltran is younger and the better hitter.

RF: Clearly Vlad over Griffey, though Vlad is on the downside of his career.

P: Peavy over Haren, though it's closer than I first thought.

Upshot, using All-Star starters as a metric sort of backfires, given that in the majority of the examples, I'd rather have the NL guy. The point isn't who has the bigger names and higher salaries per se. It's whether the NL -- which seems to do a damn good job of developing talent -- is willing to do what it takes to keep that talent from migrating to the AL.

If it can, the NL may very well find itself in the catbird seat in a couple of short years. If it can't, well, then it is, by definition, a collection of farm teams.

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