There is a lot of "shock and awe" going around the NL East today as people wake up to the news that the Philadelphia Phillies have signed free agent ace Cliff Lee, making him their third player earning more than $20 million a year. Three $20 million players on one team! Including those three they have a total of five players making at least $15 million a year. Compare that to the Atlanta Braves, who have just one player making $15 million or more in 2011.
How dare they spend that much, right? That's just not fair. These are typical reactions, and part of the five stages of grief. But the Phillies are just doing what the Braves did throughout the 1990's and early 2000's -- spend to win. Particularly, outspend your opponents.
I threw together a quick Excel graph to illustrate this point. The dots in the lines represent NL East Pennants.
But it's not just about spending money. It's about spending money in the right places, and on the right players. Here is the same chart with the Mets added in:
They've been spending, and spending a lot more than the Braves and the Phillies (until last year). So the takeaway from this should be that outspending your opponents doesn't guarantee Pennants, but it certainly helps.
I also take away from this that while the Braves used to hold a clear advantage over the Phillies when it came to writing checks to players, that advantage is now a disadvantage, and is going in the wrong direction. While a team may be able to luck into some Wild Cards and Pennants every few years with a nominal payroll, the only way to dominate for a long time is to shell out the Benjamins.
Real lesson here is the Braves need a new owner, one that will (once again) spend more money on payroll.