If your Major League Baseball team had one of the Top 10 payrolls in 2014, there was a 50-50 chance you’d watch them in the postseason. And that’s a huge jump compared to 2013’s figures.
This year five of the 10 highest-spending clubs in the majors made their respective league’s Division Series: the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Detroit Tigers, Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants. Of MLB’s 30 clubs, 16 payrolls reached the nine-digit mark and they had a 44 percent chance of entering the postseason.
The outlier is the Kansas City Royals, who snapped their 29-year playoff drought with a $92 million payroll, less than 40 percent of the $235 million the Dodgers spent in 2014. Because of their completely opposite spending habits, both teams continue to show that throwing money around doesn’t necessarily guarantee a postseason appearance.
Only three of the top 10 payrolls made the playoffs last season, and half of the Division Series field was made up of teams whose payrolls didn’t exceed $90 million, with the Tampa Bay Rays spending the least at $57 million. However, winning the World Series is still deeply tied to outspending your opponents, with four of the last five champs ranked in the top 10 each year.
The highest payroll in the majors on opening day by far belonged to the Dodgers, who shelled out more than $235.2 million, outspending the New York Yankees and snapping their 15-year hold as the biggest spenders in the sport.
Behind National League Cy Young favorite and MVP contender Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers claimed the NL West crown with a 94-68 record. They’ll start the postseason Friday night at home against the St. Louis Cardinals. Simple math tells us that the Dodgers spent roughly $2.5 million per win this season. The Cardinals, who won 90 games and opened the season with a payroll of $111 million, spent about half what the Dodgers did per win ($1.2 million).
Under new ownership and seeking their first World Series appearance in more than 26 years, the Dodgers upped their payroll by $19 million from 2013 and won two more games compared to their 92-70 finish and division title.
The Royals went about things in a much different way. Unable to bank on the second-largest television market in the country, Kansas City was significantly more frugal than the Dodgers.
The Royals owned the No. 19 payroll ($92 million) in the Majors, and claimed 89 wins to finish just one game back of the American League Central title. The Royals got a lot more bang for their buck at just over $1 million per win, and only two of their players, starting pitcher James Shields and left fielder Alex Gordon, made more than $10 million this season.
Perhaps fittingly, the Royals defeated the Oakland Athletics ($83.4 million) in the one-game wild card game to advance to the divisional series. The A's, famous for using a "Moneyball" strategy, lost to a club with the lowest payroll of any current postseason team. It's a distinction that would have belonged to the Pittsburgh Pirates ($78.1 million) had they eliminated the Giants in their one-game, wild card playoff on Wednesday.