Mike Lupica recently wrote this column comparing the remarkably similar records of the San Diego Padres and the New York Yankees. It is remarkable, claims Lupica, because the Padres' payroll is just $37M.
There is no question that the Padres have a small payroll and that they have done well. Everybody knows that spending money in baseball is no guarantee of success, especially after the last ten years. There is something to be said for spending wisely.
That said, this article may never have been written if the Yankees played in the NL West and the Padres in the AL East. Would the Padres have as good a record if they faced the Red Sox, Rays, and Blue Jays eighteen times each? Would the Yankees be ahead of the Padres by only a couple games if they faced the Giants, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, and Rockies regularly? The weakness of both the NL relative to the AL, and the NL West in particular inflate the Padres' success.
Additionally, spending is more necessary to have continued success in the AL East. Will the Rays continue to be successful when they lose Crawford, Pena, and Longoria? The Yanks, because of their history and market, can't just rebuild every few years. That means paying money to retain home grown stars, and paying money to bring in free agents. There's no way around the Yankees having to spend. Now, that is not to say they need to continue to spend over $200M. Just that they can't spend $37M and have a good team once every couple decades. That's okay in California because Californians go to the ballpark to work on their tan. New Yorkers go to the park practically to ensure the team is playing as hard as possible; as though they were the owners of the team making a surprise visit to make sure no one is slacking off. Baseball matters in New York. New Yorkers obsess over baseball. They're such ravenous sports fans that they boo fat middle aged guys who fail to catch foul balls hit into the stands. New York is not the sort of place where you can just hang around as a baseball team. So the comparison, it seems, suffers from not taking these things into consideration.