By Sam McPherson
For the fifth year in a row, the National League pennant will go to the St. Louis Cardinals or the San Francisco Giants, two big spenders will payrolls well above $100 million.
In the American League, there is a refreshing opportunity for a small-payroll team — the Kansas City Royals — to crack the rich-boys club and make it to the World Series. A team with a smaller payroll hasn’t been this far in the AL playoffs since the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays lost in the World Series to the high-payroll Philadelphia Phillies.
Thus is the state of Major League Baseball, once again. High payrolls reign supreme, and only rarely do the little guys get a crack at daylight and eternal glory.
The big spenders in this year’s MLB “Final Four” are the Giants with an Opening Day payroll of $154 million. That was the seventh-highest figure in baseball this year, and San Francisco added to that with the midseason acquisition of starting pitcher Jake Peavy. In 2013, the Giants were sixth in payroll at $140 million, but they finished under .500 and missed the playoffs.
Evidently, even the smallest amount of extra money helps a team win more games.
Why Everyone Should Root for the Royals
The last team outside the top 15 in payroll to win the World Series was the then-Florida Marlins in 1997 — those Fish ranked 25th out of 28 teams in payroll.
Kansas City bumped its payroll up in the last few years in an effort to compete with the big boys in Detroit — the Tigers had a $162 million payroll this year on Opening Day — but the Royals are still a mere 19th overall in the majors. Their $92 million payroll is way behind the money the Giants are spending in an attempt to buy another title.
So watching the little guys take out the Los Angeles Angels and their $155 million payroll in the AL Division Series harkens back to the days of the Rays. And while the Oakland Athletics and their small payroll could never get out of the ALDS round in recent years, the Royals are living the dream for all the small-payroll teams that haven’t had this chance.
Baltimore and St. Louis Are Efficient… and Wealthy
The Baltimore Orioles and the St. Louis Cardinals both have $100 million payrolls and then some, but they haven’t been as carefree as the Giants have been. They’ve actually exercised some control.
The Orioles were 15th this year in payroll, with a $107 million tab on Opening Day; the Cards were two spots above them, spending $111 million. You actually could argue the Giants are in a class by themselves in the championship round, as the other three teams are all at least $40 million behind them in payroll (or were on Opening Day).
Baltimore and St. Louis surely got more bang for their buck in the regular season than San Francisco did, winning more games for less dough. They won their divisions, while the Giants grabbed the last wild-card spot in the National League.
Everyone has advanced this far, but clearly, some teams did it more effectively on a firm budget than others.
It’s a Rich Team’s World Until Someone Proves Otherwise
In the end, spending money is still the way to go deep into the postseason. If the Orioles win the World Series in a few weeks, it will be quasi-victory for the little guys — even though Baltimore’s payroll is higher than half the teams in the league.
But if the Royals win? It would be a wonderful thing for baseball, bringing more hope to cities like Oakland, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay — competitive clubs that just haven’t been able to get over the hump and win it all despite being right there so many times in October.
The Cardinals and the Giants have both won multiple World Series in the last handful of years doing it their way — with lots of money. Wouldn’t it be nice for once to see a team win it all the old-fashioned way?