The Associated Press has obtained payroll info for all 30 MLB teams for the 2022 season, now that final luxury tax calculations are in the books. The Mets, Dodgers, Phillies, Yankees, Padres, and Red Sox were all over at least the first tier of the luxury tax in 2022.
Of perhaps more interest here is the reporting on actual payrolls for 2022, which we’re seeing for the first time. You may recall that payrolls for luxury tax purposes are a little different than what a team spends – for example, they are calculated by the average annual value of player contracts, they include certain player benefits, and they include non-big-league 40-man members.
The Cubs’ luxury tax number for 2022 was roughly $178.5 million, or 13th highest in baseball. Sounds about right for the team’s non-competitive year, after the tearing down that preceded it.
That luxury tax number is certainly the payroll number that matters most, since it impacts/triggers various rules in the CBA. But sometimes, even if just for your own context, you also want to know a simpler question: how much did a team ACTUALLY spend on the big league roster in a given year?
That’s what the AP has in its new report, and that’s where you see that the Cubs’ on-field big league payroll for 2022 was just $152.5 million, which was the 14th highest in baseball. Not THAT much lower than the luxury tax number, but consider that it was $13 million less than the Cardinals spent, and $42(!) million less than the White Sox spent. Again, just for context. Heck, it was $69 million less than the Padres, who operate in a very nice, but much smaller, market.
I don’t intend this to be a direct criticism of the Cubs, as there were organization-building reasons why payroll was going to be down in 2022. Where I would, however, start to criticize is if that actual payroll (and luxury tax payroll) didn’t move way up the ladder in 2023, and then stay within that top 5/10 teams VERY CONSISTENTLY for a good long time. The Cubs’ revenues justify it, the CBA expects that they will be the top spending team in the NL Central, and although payroll isn’t the only factor in competitiveness, spending more money on your team can help a lot. Let’s be adults about that.
Offseasons like last year (specifically, Seiya Suzuki and Marcus Stroman) and this year (most specifically, Dansby Swanson and Jameson Taillon) are a part of that process, layering in free agent contracts across multiple years and multiple offseasons. Payroll will certainly be up in 2023, though likely not above the luxury tax, and certainly not where you would expect payroll to peak.
Improving the team and being competitive is what matters most – payroll is merely an abstraction of that idea. But it does still matter, because you want to believe that, just as fans pay into the system to enjoy games, the organization is paying it back to make those games as entertaining as possible.