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Money is talking less in baseball this season

Hey, big spender: Look out below

This could be the kind of first that makes baseball Commissioner Bud Selig gloat and Dodgers owner Mark Walter cringe. This could be the kind of year that demonstrates why baseball succeeds with revenue sharing and without a salary cap.

For the first time since the introduction of the wild card in 1995, the playoff field could include more teams in the bottom five in player payroll than in the top five.

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Never did an eight-team playoff field fail to include at least two of the five biggest spenders. Yet the first 10-team field — with two wild cards added this year — could put a spotlight on building from the bargain bin.

The New York Yankees, baseball’s biggest spender, should make the playoffs, despite challenges from the resurgent Baltimore Orioles and the resourceful Tampa Bay Rays. But, of the rest of the top five spenders, the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies are done, and the Angels and Detroit Tigers are scrambling from behind.

Of the bottom five spenders — all figures based on Opening Day payrolls — the Oakland Athletics and Pittsburgh Pirates could make the playoffs.

Money still matters, of course. The A’s haven’t had a winning season in six years, the Pirates in 20. However, as Selig intended by forcing revenue sharing upon the owners — and as Walter is learning with each painful passing day — $260 million in baseball currency doesn’t buy what it used to.

Sweet revenge or punitive justice?

Suppose the San Francisco Giants had to forfeit every game in which suspended outfielder Melky Cabrera had played.

The Dodgers would be printing playoff tickets. Their fans would be laughing heartily. The Giants’ record would fall from 75-58 to 13-120.

When a player violates baseball’s drug policy, the team is not sanctioned. Baseball officials say they never have considered forcing a team to forfeit every game in which a suspended player participated, in fairness to the rest of the team and to its fan base.

Although some fans suggest a player might think twice about using performance-enhancing drugs if getting caught meant he could take his team down for the season, any player using those substances already has decided to put his personal interest — in prolonging his career, in playing for his next contract, and so forth — ahead of the best interest of his team.

The Angels would be comfortably ahead of the A’s — instead of frantically chasing them — if the A’s had to forfeit the 13 Oakland victories in which Bartolo Colon participated. Colon beat the Angels twice before his suspension, but Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said he would not want those games back.

“No,” Hunter told The Times’ Mike DiGiovanna. “I’m not going to beg for that.”

Bobby Wilson, the Angels’ backup catcher, wouldn’t mind a few more points on his batting average. He faced Colon eight times this season and made seven outs.

“I’m wondering if I get those at-bats back,” Wilson said.

— Bill Shaikin


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