Money, we’re told, can’t buy happiness. This season, the Tampa Bay Rays offered living proof to the rest of the American League that it also can’t buy a berth in the World Series.
Or maybe it can, which would be the belief if you were to look at the Los Angeles Dodgers, the National League representatives in the Fall Classic.
According to figures from Spotrac.com, at $28.2 million the Rays operated with the third-lowest payroll in Major League Baseball this season. Only the Baltimore Orioles ($25.1 million) and Pittsburgh Pirates ($23.4 million) paid out less to their players than the Rays did.
On the other hand, the Dodgers cut checks that added up to the No. 2 payroll in all of baseball this season. L.A.’s NL ballclub was required to dole out $107.9 million.
To put this into a business perspective, the 2020 World Series is like matching up Wal-Mart or Costco against the corner convenience store.
Tampa Bay’s Spendthrift Ways
As a small-market ballclub with one of the lowest attendance figures in all of baseball, the Rays are forced to pinch pennies along the way to survive. That means they can’t afford to pay their stars, all of whom eventually move on to gain bigger paydays with major market franchises.
For instance, left-handed pitcher David Price, who won an AL Cy Young Award with Tampa Bay in 2012, is with the Dodgers, albeit not for the World Series. Price decided to opt out of the 2020 MLB season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Whatever you want to label us, it’s honestly irrelevant,” outfielder Kevin Kiermaier told Associated Press. “We know we’re good and we can go a long way with the guys we have here.”
Kiermaier is also symbolic of how quickly the roster turns over in Tampa Bay. He’s the only player on the current team was with the Rays prior to the 2017 season.
Tampa Bay stays on top of the standings by committing to player development and by trading veterans to other clubs and garnering top prospects from those teams. Rays ace pitcher Tyler Glasnow and outfielder Austin Meadows both came to Tampa Bay in a trade with the Pirates for two-time all-star pitcher Chris Archer. Left-handed pitcher Blake Snell, a Cy Young Award winner, was a first-round draft pick.
Despite their small payroll, the Rays deliver significant dividends. Over the past decade, Tampa Bay has posted five 90-win campaigns and made a quartet of playoff appearances.
Making Mincemeat Of Monied Teams
En route to their first World Series appearance since 2008, the Rays bounced two of the four-highest teams in terms of payroll currently in MLB.
Tampa Bay started its postseason run with a victory in the AL Wild Card round over the Toronto Blue Jays (19th, $54.5 million). But then they toppled the top-salaried New York Yankees ($109.4 million) in the AL Division Series. Tampa Bay also topped the Yankees this season to win the AL East Division crown.
In the AL Championship Series, the Rays dispatched the Houston Astros (fourth, $82.5 million).
Tangling with the Dodgers means that Tampa Bay has met three of the top-four salaried teams in baseball during postseason play.
Putting Tampa Bay’s overhead costs into financial comparables, consider this: the Philadelphia Phillies paid outfielder Bryce Harper ($30 million) more than that entire Rays roster.
Dodgers pitching ace Clayton Kershaw ($32 million), a former NL MVP and a three-time NL Cy Young Award winner and LA outfielder Mookie Betts ($31 million), the 2018 AL MVP when he was with the Boston Red Sox, both pocket larger stipends than all of the Tampa Bay players put together.
With that kind of superstar talent, is it any wonder that the Dodgers were predicted as World Series favorites at the start of the season?
Pitcher Charlie Morton is the highest-paid member of the Rays. He banked a salary of $15 million this season. Morton garners the largest percentage of the Tampa Bay payroll (19.64%). Kershaw, despite making almost twice what Morton earns, pulls in just 15.11% of the LA payroll.
Tampa Bay slugger Randy Arozarena, who set a postseason home run record for rookies and was the ALCS MVP, earned $90,335 in 2020.