Photo Credit: MLB.com

The AP’s Payroll Numbers, The AP’s Shmayroll Numbers

There was a rather interesting list of MLB Opening Day payrolls released over the weekend by the Associated Press (available here via Forbes), which I’m kinda surprised has yet to cause a Category Five shitticane around these parts. Just this morning Bluebird Banter passed along the same information, so maybe the storm is still a-brewin’ as Jays fans become aware of precisely what was being reported, because it very much doesn’t look good.

That is, if you believe it.

To wit:

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  • L.A. Dodgers – $225,553,087
  • Detroit – 199,750,600
  • N.Y. Yankees – 195,282,058
  • San Francisco – 181,514,431
  • Boston – 178,818,052
  • Chicago Cubs – 176,872,312
  • Texas – 173,114,730
  • Washington – 164,591,088
  • Baltimore – 164,261,299
  • L.A. Angels – 164,050,833
  • N.Y. Mets – 155,641,379
  • Seattle – 154,157,720
  • St. Louis – 150,380,000
  • Kansas City – 145,925,250
  • Toronto – 143,941,100

Could it really be??? Is it seriously possible that the Blue Jays, in the midst of posturing like they genuinely want to be contenders, could really be getting outspent by fourteen other teams, including the small market Kansas City Royals??!?!?

In a word, no. In four slightly-more-accurate words, I don’t think so. In seven even-more-accurate words, not according to the sites I trust.

Payroll calculations aren’t so easy when teams don’t make this information easily available to the public. The terms of every player contract are inevitably released at some point, but there’s no league-backed site where we can go to for this information. It’s a murky realm, and often we get conflicting numbers — sometimes because we’re not all necessarily working from precisely the same definition of what needs to be covered, other times because contract details get missed.

For example, CBS Sports released Opening Day payroll figures just a day after the AP did, and they had the Jays way up in fifth!

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Sadly, that’s not an accurate — but it’s a credit to CBS that someone like me can spot this, because, unlike the AP, they show their work. It comes from Sportrac, which does excellent work with this data, but here happens to be giving the Jays credit for a whole bunch of Melvin Upton’s retained salary, which is actually being paid out by the Padres.

The precise amount that the Jays owed Upton was not easy information to pin down. There was quite a bit of confusion about it over the winter, but Shi Davidi of Sportsnet confirmed in mid-January that the Jays owe just $1 million of Upton’s $16.45 million salary. The Jays’ ranking in the CBS/Sportrac list, then, is based on a number that’s $15.45 million too high.

Here’s where a funny thing happens, though: subtract that $15.45 million from their listed Opening Day payroll figure and they drop to $162,345,368. That puts their ranking just a hair behind the Baltimore Orioles, and in 11th place — four places and $20 million better than the AP has it.

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That number is close, but not the same as the site that I trust most on these issues, Cot’s Baseball Contracts, which is now part of Baseball Prospectus. Cot’s has the Jays’ 25-man roster Opening Day payroll at $163,381,937 (and yes, they have accurately adjusted for Upton’s retained salary). According to the main BP Compensation page, that also means the Jays rank 11th in this regard, just behind Baltimore.

The difference here seems to be in how the two different sites consider Lourdes Gurriel. Cot’s is including his salary on the active payroll, Sportrac isn’t. So even two sites that get it right and show their work don’t quite agree!

More importantly — or, at the very least, more comfortingly — if we look at the rankings at BP/Cot’s, though the Jays are in 11th, the difference between their payroll and the seventh-ranked Angels is just $3 million.

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I’m not sure where the discrepancy with the AP figures lies, and I hesitate to simply dismiss it — because if the Jays do rank 15th in payroll, even with a weak Canadian dollar, that’s a thing worth getting angry about. But based on the sites that I trust and that do this every day and the data that is actually public… uh… they’re doing just fine.

Deep breaths, everybody.