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MLB Payroll Dilemma: The Davids Continue to Slay the Goliaths

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MLB Payroll Dilemma: The Davids Continue to Slay the Goliaths
Harry How/Getty Images

If Major League Baseball has shown us anything, winning the World Series is not contingent upon spending large sums of money.

Since 2001, only three clubs that have hoisted the Commissioner's Trophy boasted team payrolls within the top five of MLB. According to USA Today, the payrolls of eight of the other nine champions during that span averaged a payroll ranking of nearly 10th overall in MLB. The Florida Marlins were an outlier in that their payroll ranked 25th in 2003 when they won the World Series.

Leading up to Opening Day 2013, two clubs (Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees) had an estimated payroll above $200 million. The next five highest-spending franchises average team payrolls of $151.53 million (according to data provided by Spotrac).

For instance, the Dodgers' estimated 2013 payroll of $233.02 million is larger than the sum team payrolls of the four lowest-spending teams in MLB—the Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics.

The irony is that while certain clubs in large media markets continue to spend exorbitant amounts of money in their quest for a championship, it is the teams that don't spend nearly as much as those in larger markets who are faring the best.

Let's look at how MLB's 2013 season is shaping up thus far. Three of the game's five biggest spenders (Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Angels) have a combined winning percentage of .412. However, the other two big-spenders (Yankees and Detroit Tigers) currently sit in first place in their respective divisions.

Meanwhile, five of the lowest-spending teams (aside from the Astros and Marlins) have a combined winning percentage of .506. These five clubs—the Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies—have an average team payroll of $63.83 million. 

Simply put, the number of dollars an organization invests in order to beef up its roster does not necessarily result in an increased number of wins. Then again, this is not completely new knowledge. What compounds this problem are the expectations a team inherits when they spend large sums of money.

In 2012, the Marlins' Opening Day team payroll jumped to the seventh-highest in MLB. The year prior, the Marlins' team payroll was ranked 24th. A disastrous start to the season led to a massive sell-off that continued into the winter of 2012.

Last season, the Toronto Blue Jays' team payroll of $75.90 million was ranked 23rd in MLB. After a major restructuring, the Blue Jays now have the league's 10th-highest payroll at $120.94 million. The amount the organization is spending on its roster might have changed, but the results haven't. They remain a sub-.500 club struggling to claw their way out of the basement of the American League East.

History appears to be repeating itself in 2013. While the Yankees and Detroit Tigers appear to be exceptions to the rule, the Dodgers and Angels are sitting in last place in their respective divisions. At four games under .500, the Phillies are in third place in the National League East, only ahead of the lowly New York Mets and Marlins.

Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. With more than 100 games left to be played, current standings can be turned upside-down in no time. The Goliaths of MLB still have the time and resources to turn things around. Until they do, the Davids will be more competitive and efficient with their resources, proving once again that money does not buy championships.

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