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

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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) ranked in the top half.

While spending money does not guarantee a World Series, 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)

YearTeamOpening Day Payroll
2019Nationals3rd
2018Red Sox1st
2017Astros12th
2016Cubs4th
2015Royals12th
2014Giants10th
2013Red Sox3rd
2012Giants8th
2011Cardinals11th
2010Giants10th
2009Yankees1st
2008Phillies14th
2007Red Sox2nd
2006Cardinals11th
2005White Sox13th
2004Red Sox2nd
2003Marlins25th
2002Angels15th
2001D-backs8th
2000Yankees1st
1999Yankees1st
1998Yankees2nd
1997Marlins7th
1996Yankees1st
1995Braves3rd

Source: USA Today

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