TAMPA, Fla. -- Even before the start of the season, the New York Yankees are smashing barriers.
New York set a record with a $138 million payroll last year, according to the final tabulation by the commissioner's office, and is on the verge of becoming the first team to top $150 million.
The Yankees' 2003 payroll stands at $149.2 million for 22 signed players likely to be on the opening-day roster, according to contract information obtained by The Associated Press.
The Yankees currently are just one of two teams projected by the commissioner's office to be paying the new luxury tax this year. The other is the New York Mets.
How do the little guys compete?
''It would be like you driving a Yugo, and me racing in a Ferrari,'' said Adam Piatt, an outfielder on the Oakland Athletics, who have made the playoffs three straight years despite a small budget.
The Yankees' payroll is likely to top $150 million by March 11, the deadline to sign players on rosters. Still unsigned are second baseman Alfonso Soriano, who made $630,000 last year and hit 39 homers, and designated hitter Nick Johnson.
New York's final 2002 payroll was $138.4 million, according to the commissioner's office, up from $114.5 million in 2001, when the Yankees finished between Los Angeles ($115.5 million) and Boston ($114.3 million).
Boston was second in 2002 at $116.6 million, according to baseball's final figures, followed by Arizona ($109.5 million), Texas ($108.9 million), Los Angeles ($103.1 million) and the Mets ($102.9 million).
Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, jealous of the Yankees' wealth, referred to them as the ''evil empire'' during the offseason, saying they can outspend all others.
''Things like that are out of our control,'' Boston manager Grady Little said. ''What we try to control out on the field is to make ourselves the best we can be.''
World Series champion Anaheim finished 16th in payroll last year at $62.4 million -- the first World Series champion not in the top half since the 1991 Minnesota Twins won with a payroll of $23.7 million.
NL champion San Francisco was ninth at $82.6 million.
''What a club with a mid to smaller payroll has to do is to get very good performances out of its less-experienced players,'' Angels general manager Bill Stoneman said. ''Clubs like the Yankees can and will outspend their mistakes.''
In contrast to recent years, only four of the 10-biggest spenders made the playoffs, with the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Giants joined by Atlanta ($94.7 million). In addition to Anaheim, other relatively modest spenders in the postseason included St. Louis (12th at $73.8 million), Minnesota (26th at $41.8 million) and Oakland (27th at $41 million).
Final payroll figures include salaries, prorated shares of signing bonuses, earned performance and award bonuses and termination pay for released players and unexercised 2002 options.
From 1995 to 2001, all but five of 224 postseason games were won by teams in the top half of the payroll standings. Last year, teams in the bottom half won 17 of 34.
Commissioner Bud Selig hasn't decided whether the new labor agreement has caused a change in the correlation between spending and winning. The deal, which averted a strike last August, imposes a luxury tax on the biggest spenders and increases the amount of shared locally generated revenue,
''It's too early to make any judgments,'' Selig said Sunday.
After winning three straight Series titles in 1998, 1999 and 2000, the Yankees lost a seven-game World Series to Arizona in 2001 and were eliminated by Anaheim 3-1 in the best-of-five first round last year.
New York owner George Steinbrenner told his staff to cut payroll, but instead signed Japanese outfielder Hideki Matsui to a $21 million, three-year contract and Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras to a $32 million, four-year deal.
''You reward your fans,'' Steinbrenner said last month. ''You don't put the money in your pockets like 90 percent of the rest of the owners may do.''
The Yankees are projected to pay an $11.4 million luxury tax this year based on a current luxury tax-payroll of $182 million, according to the commissioner's office. Luxury-tax payrolls include the average annual values of contracts for all players on 40-man rosters plus $7.5 million for benefits, such as the pension plan, Social Security payments, workman's compensation and meal money.
''It's a team full of superstars at every position,'' Piatt said. ''It's definitely lopsided. But how do you fix that, though? How do you tell an owner how to spend his money?''
The only other team projected over the $117 million threshold is the Mets ($122 million), who would pay $875,000 based on a tax rate of 17.5 percent. Texas is third at $113 million, followed by Los Angeles ($109 million) and Boston ($105 million).
Many of last year's playoff teams have far lower luxury-tax payrolls, with San Francisco at $100 million, Anaheim at $86 million, Minnesota at $65 million and Oakland at $59 million.
The Walt Disney Co., the Angels' owner, hiked the payroll by about $20 million this year to keep the championship roster together.
Dusty Baker, who left the Giants to manage the Cubs, said the only way for some teams to get higher payrolls is to succeed.
''I'm here to win and winning fills the stands,'' he said ''In the long run if you end up winning, winning means more licensing, memorabilia, apparel, attitude of the town, hotels and restaurants. The better we start and the longer we play well, I think the Tribune Co. will spend some more money if we need to get a couple of players.''
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