The 2015 season was great for shaking up theories about MLB payrolls. Six of the top 10 spenders in the game did not make the postseason, with the Boston Red Sox (No. 3) checking in as the flop of the era with a $215 million purchase of last place. Most fans remember when that kind of cash could at least buy you third place.
On the other hand, the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals checked in at 18th and 14th in payroll, respectively, on their way to the World Series, while one contender managed to make the ALDS on a payroll of $81.5 million. We’re talking the type of low-budget success stories that would make Billy Beane proud.
As the 2016 season rolls on, there are several World Series contenders sporting light payrolls compared to behemoths like the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox. Here are the five teams worthy of the “Moneyball 2016” label, ranked from highest to lowest spending of the group.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto surged into contention late in 2015 with the additions of the expensive Troy Tulowitzki and David Price. In the offseason, the front office let Price walk (to a division rival, no less), opting instead for cost-conscious upgrades to the pitching staff. As a result, the Blue Jays enter the season as AL East favorites while carrying the fourth-highest payroll ($132 million) in the division. Ranked 14th overall in spending, Toronto has a lot of inexpensive thunder in its lineup and a rotation that could be enough in October.
4. New York Mets
Few people — including Mets GM Sandy Alderson — thought New York would resign Yoenis Cespedes. He was expensive; the club already had a center fielder; and ownership wanted to keep payroll under control for the coming years. Then the short-term option opened up and Cespedes rejoined the fold. With his offense and that Mets rotation, this team is once again a legitimate contender for a price of $128 million (15th overall).
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
The 2015 Pirates won an astounding 98 games with a payroll of $99 million (23rd in MLB), and the club is back at it this season with even less on the docket. Its payroll of $96 million ranks 19th in 2016. Pittsburgh may not have as deep a rotation or lineup as its division rivals, but the club has two dominant starters and enough firepower to make noise in October. Getting past that tedious wild card game would be the necessary first step.
2. Cleveland Indians
If you want to build a contender for $93 million (21st), you’ll need a deep, cost-controlled pitching staff, and Cleveland has the American League’s best. The Indians also feature the runner-up to the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year in Francisco Lindor as well as several other solid position players. With Michael Brantley scheduled to return ahead of schedule, it’s possible to consider Cleveland a contender once again. Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, and Carlos Carrasco can deal with any staff in the game.
1. Houston Astros
The Astros took the league by surprise last season because the club had one of the lowest payrolls in the game. One year later, Houston returns as an AL favorite at the cost of $89 million (24th), about $150 million less than the Dodgers will spend on its iffy team in 2016. With Carlos Correa at short, George Springer in right, and Dallas Keuchel leading the charge on the mound, the Astros are running a clinic in cost-controlled talent.
Connect with Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY
Statistics and salary info courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.