MLB.com Columnist

Hal Bodley

Big spenders aren't getting their money's worth

Bodley: Big spenders aren't getting money's worth

What's going on here?

For baseball's high rollers, the first two months of the season have become a nightmare.

If the postseason were to open today, based on games played through Wednesday, the top five payroll teams would be staying at home. That would be a total investment of $661.4 million that wasn't enough to make the playoffs.

To make it even worse, three of the top five -- the Phillies, Red Sox and Angels -- are in last place in their divisions.

And only the Yankees, at 23-21, have a winning record and they just recently escaped the AL East basement.

Collectively, this big five has an 85-91 record.

To say that these aristocrats are struggling is an understatement.

It's even more glaring because beginning this year, a second Wild Card team is being added in each league, making entrance to the postseason easier.

Commissioner Bud Selig was asked last week after the Owners Meetings his thoughts on why the top payroll teams are off to such slow starts.

"It's fascinating," he said. "I've thought a lot about it. I go over the standings every day. There's no question this is happening, but each team is different. It's very surprising, but I'm not sure there is an answer."

GETTING WHAT YOU PAY FOR?
The teams with the highest five payrolls, based on Opening Day rosters, and their records through Wednesday:
TEAM PAYROLL REC. POS.
1. Yankees $200,203,004 23-21 4th
2. Phillies $173,953,939 22-23 5th
3. Red Sox $173,186,619 22-22 5th
4. Angels $154,940,524 20-25 4th
5. Tigers $132,276,000 20-23 3rd

I believe the answer is simple: Young teams such as the Orioles, Nationals and Indians are maturing and playing with youthful energy and motivation.

The Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox -- perennial contenders -- have been hampered by injuries and a lack of production from many of their veteran players.

More than four months of the season remain and it will be shocking if these teams loaded with superstars don't rebound. But seeing the Orioles, who haven't had a winning season since 1997, atop the rugged American League East, and the Nationals playing so well has added a measure of interest and excitement to 2012.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson says "starting pitching here this year has been second-to-none in Major League Baseball as far as I'm concerned."

The Phillies have won five consecutive NL East titles, but the Nationals had them reeling this week, taking two of three games, including a 5-2 victory at the expense of Roy Halladay.

Except for Cole Hamels, who can be a free agent after the season, the Phillies' vaunted pitching has been mediocre.

There has been little room for margin of error from the starters because the offense and defense has been so poor. It's uncertain when second baseman Chase Utley and first baseman Ryan Howard will play their first games this year. Utley is trying to get his chronic knee problem improved and Howard is recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon.

"The first two months have been tough on us," Halladay says. "You do everything you can to fix it, that's it. I think it gets back to going out and trying to play a little bit more loose and focus on your job."

The Tigers, overwhelming favorites to win the AL Central by virtue of the presence of MVP-Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander and the free-agent signing of slugger Prince Fielder, haven't clicked.

They were further back last May, yet ran away with the division. They insist they can do the same thing this year.

"We're a much better team than this," says manager Jim Leyland. "We just need to go out and play like it, or hit like it."

The Texas Rangers are an exception. They're sixth on the list with a $120,510,975 payroll and seem headed to the postseason once again. They hold a five-game lead in the AL West.

As stated, much is likely to change before the two Wild Card teams in each league face each other in a one-game playoff on Oct. 5, with the winner advancing to the Division Series on Oct. 7.

But if the playoffs were to open today, the Toronto Blue Jays would be returning to the postseason for the first time since 1993, when they defeated the Phillies to win their second successive World Series.

The Blue Jays would play the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Wild Card game. In the NL, the Atlanta Braves would meet the Cincinnati Reds.

Major League owners last week approved the 2012 format, which will give the Wild Card winners home-field advantage for the first two games of the Division Series.

Based on the standings after Wednesday's games, the Rays-Blue Jays winner would meet the Orioles, with the Indians and Rangers facing off in the other best-of-five AL Division Series.

In the NL, the Wild Card winner would play the Dodgers, with the Cardinals meeting the Nationals.

Of interest is the fact that the Orioles payroll ranks 20th, the Indians' 24th and the Rays' 25th among the 30 teams.

One thing is certain: With the addition of the two Wild Cards and the fact that so many teams are legitimate contenders for the postseason, general managers will have a difficult time deciding whether they'll be buyers or sellers at the July 31 Trading Deadline.

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, for example, said recently that how well his team plays over the next two months will determine his course of action.

Said Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty: "I don't ever remember a season in which so little was clear a quarter of the way into the season."

Which leads to an intriguing storyline for the next four months.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.