Rays Tie for Wild Card Despite Lowest Payroll of All Playoff Teams

By Peter M. Gordon

Sep 29, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Tampa Bay Rays second baseman

Ben Zobrist

(18) and shortstop

Yunel Escobar

(11) celebrate a win over the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Tampa defeated Toronto 7-6. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays have a history of playing well with their backs to the wall, even when they have put themselves in that situation. We thought the Rays would cruise to victory after opening a 7-0 lead, but the bullpen made Sunday’s game another nail-biter. Still, the Rays hung on and get to play again Monday night.

I like the Rays’ chances against Texas. They get to pitch David Price. The big bats–Evan Longoria, James Loney, Ben Zobrist, and Wil Myers, have been hitting well the last few games. The Rays again are playing with their backs to the wall, when they rise to the occasion.

As a Rays fan, I always think they should play better. If they had won just one or two more games earlier in the year, they would be playing the wild card game in Tampa Bay. I’d like to take a minute to fully appreciate what the Rays have achieved over the last few years. They just finished their fourth 90 win season despite having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

The Yankees had the highest payroll in 2013, spending over $228 million to field a group that played the last week of the season with all the intensity of a slow pitch softball team. Some New York sportswriters have expressed concern that the Yankees will be unable to compete if they lower their payroll next year to under $189 million to avoid paying the luxury tax. The Rays’ success shows it is possible to compete at the highest level without spending hundreds of millions of dollars.

Let’s just look at this year’s playoff teams. According to the AP, the Dodgers had the highest payroll at $216,302, 907. The Red Sox were next, at $158,967,286, followed by the Tigers with $149,046, 844. The Rangers paid their players $127, 197, 575, to tie with the Rays for the second wild card spot. The Cardinals topped the hundred million mark with $116,702,088. The Braves were a model of fiscal responsibility, spending $89,288, 193, the Indians, $82,517,300, the A’s $68,577,000, the Pirates $66,289,029, and Rays again bringing up the rear with $57,030,272. The Marlins and Astros were the only two teams in major league baseball with lower payrolls than the Rays.

The payroll numbers show that it’s possible to win by signing star talent and paying them top dollar but it’s also possible to win by making better decisions about which players to choose and developing a strong minor league system. Winning 90 games each year for four years in any circumstances is a remarkable achievement. Getting there with the payrolls the Rays have allowed themselves resembles genius. It makes me wonder how the Rays would do if they could raise their payroll to $100 million.  They might never lose a game.

Before we start agonizing over every pitch in Monday’s playoff, I’d like to thank GM Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon for creating a team that makes us proud to be Rays fans.