World Series Champion Opening Day Payroll Ranks In The Wild Card Era

Image credit: Nationals GM Mike Rizzo (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

Building a strong farm system and making savvy trades are two critical steps to building a World Series contender.

The third is spending money.

With the Nationals’ World Series win last night, 24 of the last 25 World Series champions had an Opening Day payroll in the top half of MLB, according to payroll figures compiled by USA Today.

The Nationals had the third-highest payroll in MLB on Opening Day this season. The Red Sox had MLB’s highest Opening Day payroll last season before going on to win the World Series.

The only World Series champion in the last 25 seasons with an Opening Day payroll in the bottom half of MLB was the 2003 Marlins. Even “small-market “champions like the 2015 Royals (12th in Opening Day payroll), 2006 and 2011 Cardinals (11th each year) and 2002 Angels (15th), who were then under penny-pinching Disney ownership, ranked in the top half.

While spending money does not guarantee a World Series championship, of course, recent history indicates that in the Wild Card era, there is a certain payroll threshold teams almost always have to cross to actually be World Series contenders.

It goes back beyond the Wild Card era, too. The last two champions pre-1995, the 1992 and 1993 Blue Jays, ranked third and first, respectively, in Opening Day payroll.

Looking toward the future, it is worth noting none of the last three teams to finish atop Baseball America’s Organizational Talent Rankings—the Braves (2017-18), Padres (2019 preseason) or Rays (2019 midseason)—ranked in the top half of MLB in Opening Day payroll this season. The Braves ranked 17th, the Padres were 27th and the Rays ranked 30th out of 30 teams, according to USA Today.

While all have built exemplary talent bases—and in the cases of the Braves and Rays have already made the playoffs—achieving the ultimate goal of winning a World Series is going to take an uptick in spending.

If recent history is any guide, being into the top half in MLB in Opening Day payroll is nearly a prerequisite for a team to become a World Series champion.

World Series Champion Opening Day Payroll Ranks, Wild Card era (1995-present)

Year Team Opening Day Payroll
2019 Nationals 3rd
2018 Red Sox 1st
2017 Astros 12th
2016 Cubs 4th
2015 Royals 12th
2014 Giants 10th
2013 Red Sox 3rd
2012 Giants 8th
2011 Cardinals 11th
2010 Giants 10th
2009 Yankees 1st
2008 Phillies 14th
2007 Red Sox 2nd
2006 Cardinals 11th
2005 White Sox 13th
2004 Red Sox 2nd
2003 Marlins 25th
2002 Angels 15th
2001 D-backs 8th
2000 Yankees 1st
1999 Yankees 1st
1998 Yankees 2nd
1997 Marlins 7th
1996 Yankees 1st
1995 Braves 3rd

Source: USA Today

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