On Baseball | A scolding over salaries

Kansas City Royals owner David Glass provided a sneak peek into the recent baseball owners meetings when he spoke with reporters at a team luncheon last week.

"We listened to the commissioner berate all of us for the escalating salaries and what we're doing to the economics of baseball," he said.

Glass went on to say that some of his brethren complained about the moves that his Royals, losers of at least 100 games four of the last five seasons, have made this off-season. Even in a winter when the Chicago Cubs gave Alfonso Soriano $136 million, the Royals' signing of middling righthander Gil Meche to a five-year, $55.5 million deal stands out as a what-are-they-thinking decision.

Meche won't be writing "Is this a great game or what?" on the back of his paychecks, but after going 55-44 with a 4.65 ERA in six seasons in Seattle, he might be thinking it every time the first and 15th of the month roll around.

While it might be reasonable to question the Royals' talent evaluation, there is something to like about their wintertime foray into free agency, which also included the signings of relievers Octavio Dotel ($5 million) and David Riske ($2.25 million).

The Royals are big beneficiaries of baseball's welfare system - i.e. revenue sharing - and they did something to try to improve their club with their handout.

According to Major League Baseball figures, Kansas City was one of 18 teams to receive financial aid through baseball's revenue-sharing plan in 2006.

The Devil Rays, Marlins and Royals were the three biggest beneficiaries of revenue sharing. The Devil Rays received $36 million, the Marlins $33.4 million, and the Royals $33.2 million.

In 2006, these teams all ranked near the bottom in payroll. The Royals opened the season at $47 million, the Devil Rays at $35 million, and the Marlins brought up the rear with a payroll of less than $15 million - this after getting $31 million in revenue sharing after the 2005 season.

This year, the Marlins will have bigger bills to pay. Dontrelle Willis has already seen his salary rise to $6.45 million from $4.35 million in 2006, and arbitration-eligible Miguel Cabrera, who made $472,000 last year, will get at least $6.7 million.

Still, the Marlins should come out way ahead thanks to revenue sharing.

This frustrates the teams that pay into the fund. The Yankees ($78.7 million), Red Sox ($59.7 million) and Mets ($30.9 million) were the biggest contributors at the end of last season.

And what about the local nine?

Despite a late charge that helped them draw 2.7 million fans, the Phillies were one of the teams to receive help last season. They picked up $4.8 million, on top of $5.8 million in 2005. The Phils paid $6.4 million into the revenue-sharing plan in 2004, when they drew 3.25 million in their first season at Citizens Bank Park.

Overall, though, the Phils have benefited from revenue sharing in recent seasons. They received about $42 million over their last four seasons in Veterans Stadium.

Why, pray tell, with their big-market status and a new ballpark, are the Phils still receiving money in revenue sharing? One reason is they receive a large deduction for stadium construction debt. Similarly, the Yankees will be able to offset some of their contributions to revenue sharing with their new stadium, due to open in 2009.

That won't suddenly turn the Yankees into fans of revenue sharing, though. Writing that big check hurts, and it will hurt even more if they get beaten by Gil Meche this season.

Beware the Braves?

Jimmy Rollins' pronouncement that the Phillies are the team to beat in the NL East certainly has merit. You have to like the Phils' offense and starting pitching staff, and the belief here is that general manager Pat Gillick will churn and churn the bullpen until he finds a successful mix.

But Rollins' statement isn't a lot different than the one Pat Burrell made before spring training in 2003 or the one Donovan McNabb made about the Eagles in training camp 2006. The 2003 Phils didn't make the playoffs, and the Eagles aren't going to the Super Bowl.

Starting with good health, a lot has to go right for a team to win, and the Phillies aren't the only team that thinks it can win the NL East. In New York, the Mets have the same confidence, and they're one of two teams to win the NL East in the last dozen seasons.

The other team is the Atlanta Braves, and they aren't getting much support as a team to be reckoned with in the NL East in 2007. That could be a mistake with John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Chuck James (who really broke through in 2006) and Mike Hampton in the rotation. The Braves have a dependable closer in Bob Wickman, and they've added two quality bullpen arms in Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez.

Offensively, the thought of Andruw Jones playing for a free-agent payday is a little scary. If Chipper Jones stays healthy and Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann continue to emerge, the Braves could reclaim the NL East crown.

As always, count them out at your own risk.

Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury

at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com.