Money well spent? Yankees, Astros big payrolls pay off as they battle for pennant

The New York Yankees and Houston Astros are meeting in the American League Championship Series for the second time in three years, a validation that each team is putting their vast resources to good use.

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The Yankees entered the season with a the second-highest payroll in baseball - $205,442,088 - and Houston’s was eighth in baseball at $165,653.000

There were plenty of other teams in the top ten that have enjoyed recent success, but underachieved this season, such as the Chicago Cubs (first - $211,546,714), Boston Red Sox (fourth - $204,335,719), San Francisco Giants (fifth - $199,729,652), and Los Angeles Angels (sixth - $177,328,583).

The two teams competing for the National League pennant also entered this season with a top-ten payroll, with the Washington Nationals having the third-highest payroll at $204,449,127, and St. Louis Cardinals’ payroll was $165,253,599, in ninth, right behind Houston by a mere $399,001.

The Yankees’ payroll is concentrated in their pitchers, who have seven of their top 11 salaries - really seven of 10 since Jacoby Ellsbury, who has not played in two years, still has their second-highest salary at $21,857,142.

While the Bronx Bombers are known as a team with a big offense, General Manager Brian Cashman recognized he had to put the team’s money into its pitchers, especially its vaunted bullpen.

“Ownership’s always very strongly supporting this franchise,” Cashman said after the 2018 season, “and I don’t see that ever changing, so we’ll see.”

Yankees Senior Vice President, General Manager Brian Cashman. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Yankees principal owner Hal Steinbrenner was asked about his team’s payroll during the Owners’ meetings this past June, and gave an indication of their philosophy after they faced heat for not going after the two prized free agents in the offseason, outfielder Bryce Harper, who joined the Philadelphia Phillies on a 13-year, $330 million contract, and Manny Machado, who signed a $10-year, $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres.

“We’re always going to try to field the best team we can,” Steinbrenner said. “That’s the promise we make to the fans every year. Pitching is my concern, so we went out and we got the [J.A.] Happs, we got the [Zack] Brittons and we got the [Adam] Ottavinos. So we’re going to spend money to be the best we can be.”

Masahiro Tanaka is the Yankees’ highest-paid pitcher, earning $22 million in the next-to-last year of a seven-year, $155 million deal, second in salary to outfielder Giancarlo Stanton ($26,000,000). He went 11-9 with a 4.45 ERA and earned the win in the second game of the Division Series against the Minnesota Twins.

Closer Aroldis Chapman, who had $37 saves, $15 million in the third year of a five-year, $86-million deal, and he has an opt-out clause after this season.

Starting pitcher J.A. Happ came over to the Yankees at the trade deadline of the 2018 season, and was superb down the stretch of that season. He signed a 2 year / $34,000,000 contract to return this past the offseason. Happ went 12-8 with a 4.91 ERA this season.

“We’re always going to try to field the best team we can"

- Yankees principal owner Hal Steinbrenner

Left-handed relief pitcher Zack Britton also came to the Yankees at the 2018 trade deadline, and he signed a 3 year / $39,000,000 contract in the offseason to return. Britton, who primarily pitches in the seventh and eighth innings, appeared in 66 games, and went 3-1 with a 1.91 ERA, while notching 53 strikeouts in 61.1 innings.

Right-handed reliever Adam Ottavino came over to the Yankees from the Colorado Rockies in the offseason when he signed a 3 year, $27 million contract with the Bronx Bombers, which included a $3 million signing bonus and $27M guaranteed. He appeared in 73 games, and he had a record of 6-5 with a 1.91 ERA, and notched 88 strikeouts in 66 innings.

Left-handed starter James Paxton came to the Yankees from the Seattle Mariners on a 1-year, $8,575,000 contract. He went 15-6 with a 3.42 ERA and was the Yankees’ Game 1 starter in the Division Series against Minnesota - which New York won - but he did not qualify for the win, as he went 4 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on five hits.

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The Astros’ payroll is led by their ace pitcher, Justin Verlander, whom they acquired from the Detroit Tigers in 2017, and he was a big part of their run to a championship.

Verlander made $28 million this season, and he signed a two-year, $66 million extension. The big right-hander, who threw a no-hitter on September 1 against the Toronto Blue Jays, went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA.

The Astros’ second-highest paid player earns just over half what Verlander does. Outfielder Michael Brantley came over from the Cleveland Indians, and made $15 million in the first year of a two-year, $32 million deal. Brantley hit .311 with 22 home runs and 90 RBI in 148 games.

Houston beat out New York at the trade deadline to acquire of the best pitchers in baseball, Zack Greinke, from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Houston absorbed the final two-plus years of the right-hander’s salary signed a 6 year / $206,500,000 contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, including a $18,000,000 signing bonus, $206,500,000 guaranteed, and an annual average salary of $34,416,667.

Greinke went 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA in his time with Houston, who was able to take on his contract because they did not re-sign one of their best starting pitchers, Dallas Keuchel, after the 2018 season. The left-hander was seeking a similar deal to Greinke’s, and he wound up signing in June with the Atlanta Braves.

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