Small market teams, fans, and reporters; in general, have complained for years about not being able to compete with the big market ball clubs. The Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies have received harsh criticisms for their success being based completely on the ability to "buy" players and championships. And yes it is true that some teams cannot compete for top-level free agents, because they just do not have the money to acquire those players.
This season's top two free agents, Carl Crawford and Cliff Lee, really only could have been signed by the top four payrolls in baseball. The Angels and Red Sox fought over Crawford, while the Phillies and Yankees went after Lee. This added fuel to the fire of the angry comments that small market teams cannot compete with the 100,000 million dollar payroll teams.
The fact of the matter is; however, not all of the success of Boston, Philadelphia, and New York can be attributed to their ability to spend big money. These teams have been signing the right players with their money. It is one thing to have money and be willing to spend it, it is another thing to have money and be willing to spend it on players who produce. The Red Sox, Yankees, and Phillies have the three highest payrolls, but also have the three best records in baseball (as of August 2nd). So they are spending their money correctly. Other big market ball clubs cannot say the same.
There is a big market city who's teams have not performed anywhere close to what is expected of the money they have spent, and the city I am referring to is Chicago. The White Sox and the Cubs have the 5th and 6th highest payrolls, respectively, in baseball. The Chicago teams do have the money to buy high-end productive players and have made attempts to do so, yet they seem to be making all the wrong decisions with their money. At the beginning of August both teams sit below .500 and not in serious playoff contention. Both teams have in division rivals with that are above .500 and have payrolls that are less than half of theirs (Cleveland and Pittsburgh respectively).
The Yankees have the money to make up for gigantic mistake contracts like Jorge Posada's 13 million dollar a year deal (Posada currently has a -.4 WARP). The White Sox and Cubs have the money to cover some mistakes, but the sad thing is their payrolls are chock full of them. The Cubs' best hitter, Starlin Castro, makes only $444,000 this year, but that does not make up for the fact that Carlos Pena and Alfonso Soriano make a combined 29 million dollars, (more than half of the Pirates payroll) to have a combined 1.4 WARP. To put that in an ever clearer perspective the Pirates best hitter, Andrew McCutchen, makes just $452,000 and has a WARP of 4.6.
The White Sox are laden with horrible contracts. Kenny Williams, the White Sox GM, had the money to go out and sign Carl Crawford this year, but choose instead to add 12 million to his payroll in the services of Adam Dunn. Dunn has done a not so commendable job in repaying his south side employers with a current -1.8 WARP. That is to say if the White Sox had not signed Dunn and had instead called up a designated hitter from Triple-A they would have won 2 more games this season and would be sitting much closer to the playoff picture. But instead they choose to "buy" losses.
Critics can complain all day about the Big market cities spending way too much money in an attempt to "buy" their way to a championship. But one should step back and think about the fact that you could have all the money in the world, but if you are not allocating it efficiently, to players who deserve it and can produce wins, and put fans in the seats, then you're much worse than the teams who use all that money to ACTUALLY win ball games.