A few days ago, we looked at the practicality of which teams have the best shot to win the World Series in 2019, and now we cement that analysis by digging a little deeper into the history books—always the best place to look when trying to understand the future.
Basically, six of the last eight MLB champions have been Top 10 in player payroll, meaning those contending teams right now spending a lot of money have a good shot of keeping the World Series trophy in the ruling class.
Using online data, let’s go back 20 years to see what the numbers hold, though. With the opening of Camden Yards in 1991 and the onset of team-controlled television rights, the MLB financial structure changed dramatically in the mid-1990s. Small-market teams faded from the postseason more often than not, and big-spending teams began to dominate October—as well as April through September.
To wit, here are the Series title winners and their Opening Day payroll rankings:
- 1998: New York Yankees, 2nd
- 1999: New York Yankees, 1st
- 2000: New York Yankees, 1st
- 2001: Arizona Diamondbacks, 8th
- 2002: Anaheim Angels, 15th
- 2003: Florida Marlins, 25th
- 2004: Boston Red Sox, 2nd
- 2005: Chicago White Sox, 13th
- 2006: St. Louis Cardinals, 11th
- 2007: Boston Red Sox, 2nd
- 2008: Philadelphia Phillies, 12th
- 2009: New York Yankees, 1st
- 2010: San Francisco Giants, 10th
There is a little more diversity here, in terms of payroll, although it should be noted that Opening Day numbers usually increase as the season goes on and a contending team takes on more payroll.
Still … in these 13 seasons, eight times the World Series champion had a Top 10 payroll, with only one team out of the Top 15 in money spent chasing a title. Throw in the Houston Astros’ 17th-ranked payroll in 2017, and since 1998, only twice has a team outside the Top 15 in payroll won the MLB crown.
That is a staggering number: Basically, over the last two decades, over 90 percent of World Series winners have been in the top half of the league in payroll. The Marlins’ 2003 squad is an outlier here, for sure, as even the Houston numbers are close to that Top 15 area.
Basically, if you don’t spend more than half the teams in the majors, you have virtually no chance to win it all.
Let’s review this season’s current payroll number, posted on Spotrac.com right now: The league-average payroll is about $135 million, with no salary cap. The top team—Boston—is spending $227M on its team, while the bottom team—Tampa Bay—is spending $63M on its roster.
The Rays currently lead the Red Sox by 3.5 games in the American League playoff chase. Last year, the Oakland Athletics made history by becoming the first team to have the lowest Opening Day payroll and still make it to October.
In the end, though, it was high-payroll teams from Boston and Los Angeles in the World Series. Will anything change this year? Only time will tell, but we all should be rooting for the A’s and the Rays to make history like the 2003 Marlins did.