Angels newcomer Albert Pujols has just one home run on the season./AP
By Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY
The fat cats of Major League Baseball are finding out what the rest of the USA already painfully knows.
Big paychecks just don't buy what they used to in this bleak economy.
Four of the five highest-paid teams would not qualify for the playoffs, even with the expanded format, if the season ended today. The New York Yankees, with a major league-high $198 million payroll, are the only one of the top-five teams in payroll with a winning record. The Texas Rangers are the only team among the top eight leading their division.
The Los Angeles Angels, who spent $317.5 million on free agents Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, have a franchise-record $154.5 million payroll. They entered Sunday night tied for last place in the American League West. The Philadelphia Phillies (16-19) and Boston Red Sox (15-19), who have the second- and third-highest payrolls, are in last place in their divisions. And the Detroit Tigers ($132.3 million) reached .500 with a victory Sunday.
"Things don't always work out the way you think it should," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said recently. "There are no guarantees, no matter what you spend. (The Yankees) have won 27 times, meaning they didn't win the other 115 years or so."
Three teams in the bottom half of payroll - the Cleveland Indians, Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles- are division leaders. These topsy-turvy economics have general managers rethinking strategy.
The Phillies, with a $174.5 million payroll, must decide whether to re-sign left-hander Cole Hamels and center fielder Shane Victorino, All-Stars who are free agent-eligible after the season, or trade them if they don't climb back into the National League East race.
"Sometimes the circumstances change pretty quickly," Phillies GM Ruben Amaro says. "We better start showing some urgency."