On Oct. 27, the Los Angeles Dodgers took down the Tampa Bay Rays to win their first World Series since 1988. Both teams held the best records in their respective leagues, but each was constructed in a very different manner.
Major League Baseball is one of the four most popular leagues in North America. One major difference between the MLB and the NBA, NFL, or NHL, is that it does not include a salary cap.
Franchises can choose how much of their money they will use on the team’s payroll and the amount of money that they have available depends on where they are located. Teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Los Angeles Dodgers are located in areas of large populations, and accumulate more fans because of it.
When a team fills their stadium with fans every game, they make more money. When more people want to attend the games, they can raise ticket prices. This creates more profit for the team and allows them to create a higher payroll and bring in high-profile free agents to increase their chances of success. The teams that are located in areas with a smaller population or just simply don’t have the fan interest, are forced to maintain a low payroll.
Throughout history, big market teams have secured the World Series trophy more often than not. The New York Yankees, who are known to use the highest payroll in the league year after year, have won 27 of the 117 possible World Series titles since 1903. The franchise with the second most titles is the St. Louis Cardinals with 11. The Cardinals consistently rank in the top half of the league in payroll, and are able to do so because of their fanbase. The Cardinals’ average home attendance last year was 42,933 fans which was the second highest in the league.
The Boston Red Sox are right behind the Cardinals with nine World Series titles. Even though the Red Sox had a rough year on the baseball field in 2020, they still ranked third in the league in highest payroll. In fact, they have not fallen out of the top five in highest payroll throughout the last 15 years.
In regards to our most recent World Series matchup, the Los Angeles Dodgers currently have the highest payroll in the MLB while the Tampa Bay Rays have the 25th highest payroll. The Dodgers’ $166,400,000 28- man payroll more than tripled the Rays’ $52,966,666 payroll.
So the question that needs to be answered is how exactly did the Tampa Bay Rays make it and compete in the World Series as a small market team?
The Rays ranked in the bottom half of the MLB in batting average while being outside of the top 10 in runs scored, home runs hit, and RBI’s. They also led the league in strikeouts with 608 during the 60 game season. On paper, the team appeared to have no chance at making the playoffs let alone be the top seed in the American League.
The reason they were able to be successful was because of their pitching. They had the third best team ERA in the league behind the Dodgers and the Indians and led the league with 23 saves. When they had the lead, they rarely lost it, which is due to their stellar starting pitchers and bullpen.
Tampa Bay was able to build their team into a championship contender by dumping their large contracts and investing into the pitching staff. Trading players such as Evan Longoria and Chris Archer made room to sign starting pitcher Charlie Morton, and re-sign Blake Snell and Kevin Kirmaier. The Chris Archer trade brought them two less proven players at the time: Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows. One developed into a top tier starting pitcher and the other became the Rays’ occasional leadoff hitter.
Although the starting rotation and bullpen were incredible, the team would not have been very competitive in the playoffs without superb performances from Kirmaier and the surprising hero, Randy Arozarena. They were actually able to have a more efficient offense in the playoffs than in the regular season
To sum up these moves, the Rays filled their small payroll with a dominant starting rotation, and let the rest of the team develop through competition between young players. Allowing the batting order to build itself through competition throughout the season was the best thing they could do without signing star players.
MLB fans everywhere should expect to see the small market teams emulating this foundation the Rays lived by in 2020.
This image was originally posted to Flickr by All-Pro Reels at https://flickr.com/photos/10457902@N08/50330392891. It was reviewed on 26 September 2020 by FlickreviewR 2 and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-sa-2.0.