The "High Payroll Should Mean Endless Depth" Fallacy

Late last night, after Buddy Carlyle made a mess that Luis Ayala could not clean up and the Yankees fell to the Royals in extra innings, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! tweeted the following:

Love it when the $200 million team trots out Buddy Carlyle and Luis Ayala back to back in an extra-innings game.

The implication here is obvious. Passan is stating that a team with a huge payroll should not be reduced to having players like Buddy Carlyle and Luis Ayala on the roster, as their wealth should afford them the ability to have better depth than other clubs. This is a sentiment that comes up all the time amongst Yankees fans, and Passan was not the only person to raise this issue last night. However, while the idea that rich teams should have more depth is intuitively correct, there is a point where being a wealthy team may actually hurt your ability to compile quality back-up plans.

When it comes to constructing your Opening Day roster, a huge payroll is obviously an asset. You can offer MLB bench jobs at competitive prices to players who might be able to finagle a starting position in a city like Pittsburgh or Kansas City. You can afford to carry both Xavier Nady and Nick Swisher and just assume that things will work out, despite the fact that both are starting caliber players who can get regular playing time elsewhere. In terms of compiling depth at the Major League level, having a huge budget is undeniably a good thing.

However, this ability to build a great 25 man roster limits your opportunities when it comes to stashing depth in the minor leagues. What Major League quality player would want to sign with the Yankees to sit at AAA and hope that both the superstar who plays his position AND the highly qualified backup who made the Opening Day Roster get hurt or flop enough to allow him to receive regular playing time? To use the example that inspired this post, few MLB-quality pitchers would want to sign with the Yankees to stay at AAA just in case Rafael Soriano and Pedro Feliciano get hurt.

While some might suggest that the Yankees should throw above-market money at those arms so that they could have them in case of emergency, that is clearly a poor use of resources, as it would represent the expenditure of millions of dollars on players who may never see meaningful playing time in the Bronx. Furthermore, this would push the payroll closer to $225 or even $250 million, as following the reasoning to its logical conclusion would require that the Yankees pay a MLB-quality roster of players to wait at AAA in the event of an emergency. Additionally, even if the Yankees made the best offer financially, most players would likely prefer to go to a city where the path to playing time at the MLB level is considerably clearer. Players are always thinking forward to their next contract, and most would rather showcase their skills at the MLB level than take a chance on spending the year in Scranton.

In sum, when it comes to attracting depth that is certain to begin the season in the minors, the Yankees are no better off, and are likely in a worse position, than teams with lesser talent and smaller payroll. Once you get past the first level of depth, the Yankees are forced to depend on replacement level talent and unproven minor leaguers, much like everybody else.

7 thoughts on “The "High Payroll Should Mean Endless Depth" Fallacy

  1. What’s wrong with a $225-$250 million payroll? I’m fairly confident the Yanks could afford that and the only reason they don’t have one now is pressure from the commissioner’s office.

    • Nothing. But they clearly do not want to go past the 210 mark or so. Without seeing their books, I have no idea what a realistic payroll is. Regardless, even if that was the payroll, spending that money for guys who will be in AAA is inefficient.

  2. Yes, but that’s not the issue. There are spots on the roster, and someone filing them, and the question is, do you have to have guys like Ayala and Carlyle or can you have better guys?

    • Ayala and Carlyle are the final two pitchers in the pen, not many bullpens, in fact none have allstars in the final two spots of the pen. They are reserved for long men and pitchers who failed everywhere else.


      When you consider that Pedro Feliciano is on the DL then only one of the two should even have a spot, who’s final man in the pen is anything more than average or worse?

      • But that’s not what you said. You said they shouldn’t have been in the game. The question is whether they should be on the roster.

        This second answer addresses that question, but it assumes I’m arguing that Ayala and Carlyle shouldn’t have been on the roster. I wasn’t arguing that wither way. I was pointing out that the issue doesn’t involve whether they should have been in the game.

  3. The only reason Ayala and Carlyle had to be out there in the first place is because Joba couldn’t pitch and Soriano is injured.

  4. I don’t know, but I suspect some of the problem with the Yankees is management/roster management. Girardi has set ways of making pitching changes that involve making a lot of changes, and the roster isn’t built for it.

    I wonder if Girardi makes more pitching changes than other managers. Are number of pitching changes per team on the web somewhere? (That was a stat Bill James thought should go on the back of managers’ baseball cards, but unfortunately it hasn’t caught on.)