NEW YORK – It’s not just the usual suspects in the playoffs this year.
Texas, ranked 23rd according to Major League Baseball’s latest payroll figures, won the American League West Division. Tampa Bay, ranked 20th, beat out the high-spending New York Yankees and Boston to win the A.L. East.
Cincinnati won the National League Central and is going to the postseason for the first time since 1995 despite ranking 19th. No. 16 Atlanta won the N.L. wild card spot.
It’s the first time since the playoffs expanded in 1995 that as many as four postseason teams came from the bottom half by payroll.
What in the name of the almighty dollar is going on?
At least thus far this season, youth and tight budgets have prevailed.
“Just the way the economics of the game are,” Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. “There’s such a wide discrepancy in revenues at different clubs. You have to survive and compete, and you have to find new ways to do it.”
Tampa Bay with an average age of about 28 1/2 by season’s end, is the youngest playoff team and 19th in the majors by age, according to STATS LLC. Texas is 17th and Minnesota 15th, both at 28-plus, while Cincinnati is 12th at 29.
Whether relative inexperience will hurt these teams in the crucible of October baseball remains to be seen, but young legs and arms got them this far.
More and more, teams are willing to take a chance on youth.
“You don’t see people giving up as many of their (former) draft choices as they used to,” Twins president Jerry Bell said. “George Steinbrenner, he didn’t care. Everything was about win now. But teams are pulling back a little more and being a little more apt to hold on to their minor league players.”
The golf courses of the U.S., Caribbean and Asia will be filled this month with players from teams that failed. The second-, third- and fifth-through-ninth biggest spenders as of opening day were all flops: Boston, the Cubs, the Mets, Detroit, the White Sox, the Angels and Seattle.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig is absolutely glowing when talking about the success of the little guys. It’s not just because he used to own the small-market Milwaukee Brewers.
“When you’ve got Cincinnati winning and San Diego up there, and even San Francisco and Colorado and Tampa, it’s a great sign,” he said. “There’s no doubt, as I study things, that we have more competitive balance than we’ve ever had in history.”