Theo Knows Who's Overpaid

After being named Red Sox general manager, Theo Epstein promised fans a "$100 million player development machine." The machine he inherited needed a total overhaul. Last November the Sox had only 28 players worth keeping on their 40-man roster, and this spring, Baseball America ranked their minor league system 27th out of 30 organizations.

Still, Epstein's emphasis on building from within shows that he understands one of the fundamental principles of baseball operations: for building and maintaining a contender, there is no substitute for good, young, cheap players developed through the farm system. One of Epstein's less heralded moves illustrates his grasp of another key principle. No matter how much money a club has to spend, it should never pay premium salaries for replacement-level players.

The 2003 Sox opened the season with their lowest payroll since 2000. As the table below shows, the Sox' payroll rose from tenth to second in the majors from 1999 to 2001, even as the team declined from a wildcard winner to an 82-79 mediocrity. Apparently adopting the late-1990s Orioles as a model, the old regime threw millions at aging mediocrities and fragile veterans who, predictably, failed to improve the club. The payroll stayed stable in 2002, when the Sox missed the playoffs despite outspending the world champion Angels and division-winning Athletics combined.


Year Payroll Rank Record
1999 $59,533,500 10th 94-68; wildcard
2000 $77,940,333 7th 85-77
2001 $109,558,908 2nd 82-79
2002 $108,366,060 2nd 93-69
2003 $96,631,677 6th ???

Eight players remain from the Opening Day 2001 roster: the Big Three of Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra, as well as Shea Hillenbrand, Derek Lowe, Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, and Tim Wakefield. The table below shows that while these eight now earn a collective $19 million more than they did in 2001, the payroll for the other 17 roster spots was slashed by $32 million.

2001 VS. 2003

Player 2001 Salary 2003 Salary
Manny Ramirez $13,050,000 $17,185,177
Pedro Martinez $13,000,000 $15,500,000
Nomar Garciaparra $7,250,000 $10,500,000
Hillenbrand, Lowe, Wakefield, Nixon, Varitek (combined) $7,515,000 $16,732,500
Total for 8 Players: $40,815,000 $59,917,677
Rest of Roster: $68,743,908 $36,714,000

Among the players not listed above, only Johnny Damon and John Burkett among the 2003 Sox are earning $4,500,000 or more. The 2001 Sox had nine other $4.5 million men: Rod Beck, Dante Bichette, Carl Everett, Mike Lansing, Hideo Nomo, Jose Offerman, Troy O'Leary, Bret Saberhagen and John Valentin.

Except for Nomo and Beck, who performed creditably if not spectacularly, that's a good list of the problems with the 2001 Sox. Bichette, Lansing,.Offerman and O'Leary combined for 1,600 mediocre at bats. Everett, already a laughingstock for denying that the dinosaurs had ever existed, started hot, then collapsed with the rest of the club down the stretch. Valentin batted just 60 times all season, posting a .200 BA and a sub-.600 OPS while earning over $100,000 per at-bat. Topping that, Bret Saberhagen earned over $300,000 for each of his 15 innings pitched -- though to be fair, his 6.00 ERA ensured that several of those innings were rather long.

The Red Sox aren't the only club to realize that the truly overpaid players aren't the Pedros and Nomars earning eight-figure salaries, but the fifth starters and fourth outfielders receiving $3 million for performance no better than a $300,000 rookie could provide. Even as revenue sharing reduces the gap between rich and poor teams, the salary gap among veterans continues to grow.

Copyright © 2003 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the May 2003 issue of Boston Baseball.

Back to Doug's Boston Baseball column index

Back to Doug's Business of Baseball menu

To main menu