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Destroying the Myth that the Astros' Payroll is Somehow Relevant At All

CRPerry13 has the low payroll blues, and wants to sing about it. The forced narratives that the Astros' low payroll is an embarrassment, or that the Astros would be more watchable with a $50 million payroll are just that - forced narratives.

Josh Hamilton's salary would make the Astros' payroll look more "respectable".  But who cares?
Josh Hamilton's salary would make the Astros' payroll look more "respectable". But who cares?

Several weeks ago, I started counting the number of times I read somebody in the national media or the TCB comments sections who stated that the Astros' payroll is an embarrassment to baseball. I also counted the number of times that fans have bemoaned the ownership group's cheapness and unwillingness to spend some extra money on Free Agents just to make the 2013 Astros watchable (their words, not mine).

My abacus broke today.

I have a few comments about those opinions that I feel a burning need to share:

  1. It's not your money.
  2. What's the point?
  3. It's not possible to do what you ask!
I'll skip point one, other than to say that it's easy for those of us watching on TV (or not!) to criticize somebody unwilling to spend a few dozen million extra bucks that we think they should. But if we were bajillionaires, we'd realize that a few dozen million bucks is still a large hunk of cash and that spending it indiscriminately is a great way to lose our bajillions.

Point two: What's the point? People act as if having the lowest payroll in baseball should warrant painting the scarlet letter "C" on our chests (C for Cheapskate), being placed in the stocks, having rotten vegetables thrown at us, and forced to listen to boy band music until our souls finally burn in fiery torment in the lowest circle of Hades. Is having a low baseball payroll like being the kid on the playground wearing Payless shoes while the cool kids wear Air Jordans? Is it not knowing how to do "The Hammer"? Is it being the kid with knee-high socks, not knowing they went out of fashion in 1987?

I honestly want to know, "Who cares that the Astros have a low payroll this season, considering the fact that they lost over five hundred games in the past six seasons?" Is having a payroll of $50 million and missing the playoffs by 15 games instead of 25 going to make you say, "Well...the Astros really stunk up the joint this year. But at least their payroll is higher than the Marlins!"?

For some people, the answer to number two is, "Well, if the Astros spent $20 million more, they would be more watchable. Do it for the fans."

This is where a reality check is needed. Let's pretend the definition of a bad, but watchable, team is one that reaches 75-wins. Last year the Astros lost 55 games. That means they would need a gain of 20 wins to reach "watchable" status, right? So with an additional $20 million to spend in Free Agency, the Astros need to pick up an extra 20 wins.

Let's assume that the players who would be replaced by those free agents are actually less valuable than a league-average replacement player (a very reasonable assumption since many 2012 Astros finished with a 0.0 or negative WAR) and that those replaced players had a -2.0 WAR last season. Now, our new Free Agents would need to account for 22 Wins. With $20 million dollars.

Here is an almost-arbitrary list of players, with their 2012 WAR, How Many of them it would take to reach 22 WAR, and their Annual Contract (more or less).

Player 2012 WAR How Many? AAV (M$)
Mike Trout 10 2.2 $ 0.50
Miguel Cabrera 6.9 3.2 $ 19.04
Josh Hamilton 4.1 5.4 $ 24.60
Justin Verlander 7 3.1 $ 25.71
R.A. Dickey 4.6 4.8 $ 12.50
James Shields 3.9 5.6 $ 9.00
Kyle Lohse 3.5 6.3 $ 11.00

Reaching 22 WAR would require buying 3.2 Miguel Cabreras (last year's AL MVP) for $60 million. But Cabrera wasn't a free agent. Hamilton was. The Astros could have signed 5.4 Josh Hamiltons for $132 millio---oh, wait, they only have $20 million to spend. Well, they could have signed 6.3 Kyle Lohses (Lohsi?) for $69 mill--dang it!

You see my point. The whole problem with the argument that spending an extra $15 to $30 million on Free Agents to make the Astros watchable is this - it wouldn't make them watchable. If the Astros had added Josh Hamilton and Kyle Lohse to replace the Martinii and Dallas Keuchel, and Hamilton and Lohse performed exactly as they did in 2012, the Astros 2013 record would be...62-100. Oh, and the Astros would have needed $36 million to do that. How is a 62-100 club even slightly more watchable than a 55-107 one?

In closing, can we please stop pretending like the payroll matters this season? It just doesn't. It doesn't make us less cool, it doesn't harm the integrity of the game, and adding payroll would only result in an almost-equally-terrible, yet still hard-to-watch Astros club.

But those uniforms...nice.