These days, the correlation between payroll and winning is historically weak

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It has been repeated so often that it has turned into a religion more than anything else: rich teams can buy their way into contention, poor teams cannot. Books have been written under that assumption. A swath of people who claim they were baseball fans have cited it as a reason for tuning out the game. Those rich teams like the Red Sox and Yankees have an unfair advantage, the story goes, and the other teams have no shot, it is claimed. Baseball needs a salary cap or something!

Except, even if there was some truth to that ten or fifteen years ago, it’s certainly not the case now. Today Brian MacPherson Providence Journal tells us just how un-true that is. He has run the payroll numbers against the W-L records and has found that a list of teams in alphabetical order has greater predictive power of team success than does a list of team payrolls from highest to lowest:

Ten years ago, by correlation calculations, a team’s payroll accounted for around 25 percent of its success . . . By correlation statistics, payroll accounts for barely more than four percent of teams’ success now.

The correlation coefficient between payroll and wins this season (0.202) is even smaller than the correlation between the standings and the first letters of the cities in which teams play (0.24). In other words, you’d have a slightly better chance of predicting playoff participants simply by using alphabetical order than by using payroll numbers.

There are a lot of reasons for this, many of which we’ve talked about around these parts for years. Smarter front offices, locking young players up to long term deals before they get too expensive. More overall money available to smaller revenue teams due to TV deals and the like. Changes to the draft and international free-agent signings. The reduction of PEDs in the game which means fewer older guys (i.e. the guys who can be acquired via free agency) making impacts.

I doubt this will change the mindless talking points of the baseball bashers. They’ll still auto-pilot on “baseball needs a salary cap” talk next winter when big free agents sign someplace. Or they’ll just change their complaints, moving from “The Yankees and Red Sox win it all the time because they’re rich!” to “No one can get excited about baseball now that marquee teams like the Yankees and Red Sox stink! Who wants to watch a Royals-Brewers World Series anyway?”

But the cool thing about facts is that they remain facts even if idiots ignore them. And the fact is, baseball has a far more level playing field now than it has had in a long time.

Report: Yankees acquire Edwin Encarnación from Mariners

Edwin Encarnacion
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The Mariners are in the midst of reconstructing their roster, a process which most recently resulted in the trade of first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnación to the Yankees, per a report from ESPN’s Jeff Passan. While the teams have yet to publicly confirm the deal, the Mariners are expected to receive pitching prospect Juan Then and will likely eat a significant portion of Encarnación’s salary as well.

Encarnación is a sizable get for the Yankees, who could benefit from the veteran’s power and consistency in their ongoing drive toward the postseason. The 36-year-old infielder missed some time with a bout of lower back tightness, dental issues, and soreness in his left hand, but has still maintained a decent .241/.356/.531 batting line with an AL-best 21 home runs, an .888 OPS, and 1.7 fWAR through his first 289 plate appearances of the year. Per Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, Encarnación has another $11-12 million left on his contract in 2019, with a $20 million option for the 2020 season and a $5 million buyout.

Then, 19, was acquired by the Yankees in a three-person trade with the Mariners during the 2017 offseason. The right-hander currently ranks no. 27 in the Yankees’ system and made his last pro ball appearance for New York’s rookie-level affiliate in 2018, pitching to a 2.70 ERA, 2.0 BB/9, and 7.6 SO/9 across 50 innings. It’s not clear if any other players are involved in the trade, though USA Today’s Bob Nightengale notes that no other prospects are thought to be included in the package for Encarnación.