10. Atlanta Braves, 0.66 FRI (Financial Responsibility Index)
--#5 in wins, #7 in payroll, $1,043,001/win, 6 playoff trips
Since the Braves had their epic string of division titles snapped in 2006, they’ve spent a bit more conservatively. Liberty Media’s not been nearly as inclined to hurl cash at the team as Ted Turner was. The trade for Mark Teixeira at the 2007 deadline was the last "big-money" move the Braves have made. Even Tim Hudson took a pay cut, coming off an injury-shortened 2009 season.
9. San Diego Padres, 0.56 FRI
--#21 in wins, #25 in payroll, $673,683/win, 2 playoff trips
The Padres made it a rule not to overpay for more than three or four players at a time, and guys like Phil Nevin, Ryan Klesko and Brian Giles propped up the lineup while young pitchers like Jake Peavy and Chris Young developed. The Fathers managed five winning seasons in the decade, as many as the New York Mets for less than half the money.
8. Boston Red Sox, 0.55 FRI
--#2 in wins, #2 in payroll, $1,348,865/win, 6 playoff trips, 2 World Series titles
Perhaps the masterpiece deal that any team made in the past decade was the one-year, $1.25 million offer to an underachieving Minnesota Twin whose primary value was as a designated hitter. Over the next five years, David Ortiz hit .302 with 208 home runs, finished in the top five in every season’s MVP balloting, and helped the team win two World Series. Knowing when to let go has been another strength of the Boston brain trust, cutting loose icons like Nomar Garciaparra and Johnny Damon when other palatable options present themselves. The Sox have built the kind of track record that makes the occasional clunker (Keith Foulke or Julio Lugo, anyone?) forgivable.
7. Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels, 0.51 FRI
--#4 in wins, #6 in payroll, $1,040,185/win, 6 playoff trips, 1 World Series title
The Angels were toward the cheap end back in 2001, but the additions of Kevin Appier, Aaron Sele, and Brad Fullmer spurred the team to a World Series title, and from there, it was champagne and caviar all the way. The signing of Vladimir Guerrero in 2004 shot the Halos past the $100M barrier, and they’ve yet to look back. Of course, they did win five division titles in that time, so there’s been substantial return on the biggest investments.
6. Tampa Bay Rays, 0.50 FRI
--#26 in wins, #29 in payroll, $564,439/win, 2 playoff trips
By mid-decade, the Rays and Marlins both seemed to be owned by Ebenezer Scrooge, so tight-fisted they were with the cash. The Marlins at least had their once-a-decade championship/fire sale. The Rays didn’t even get that, but they’ve come on strong the last three years, building on young talent and still surviving the first wave of defections (Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza).
5. New York Yankees, 0.43 FRI
--#1 in wins, #1 in payroll, $1,827,760/win, 9 playoff trips, 1 World Series title
Say what you want about the Yankees throwing money at their problems, but the fact remains that we can almost automatically pencil them into the playoffs coming out of spring training. Having one’s pick of free agents and the wherewithal to make any deadline deal keeps a team relevant no matter what else happens. 1998 was the last time anyone else led the majors in opening day payroll, although the Red Sox were within a quarter-million in 2001. Of all the big-money moves since 2001, only Jose Contreras and Carl Pavano could be said to be real duds, and few teams in baseball can claim that low of a failure rate. Besides, the $72 million that was offered to those two is the kind of coin that Hank Steinbrenner can fish out of his office sofa, so they weren’t exactly crippling blows.
4. Florida Marlins, 0.20 FRI
--#14 in wins, #30 in payroll, $478,818/win, 1 playoff trip, 1 World Series title
The Marlins are the prototypical punchline: a team that never spends any money because they never make any money because they play in front of about 48 people a night (or so it seems). Still, the amazing part about the Fish is that even on such a shoestring, they only had one 90-loss season in the past 10 years. Equally amazing is that that 71-91 season was not the one where the payroll dipped below $15 million. Seriously, in 2006, Mike Mussina, Todd Helton, and Chan Ho Park were among the 12 players making more than the entire Marlins team. It’s only a matter of time before Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton, Josh Johnson and the rest of the young Fish become free agents and head out for greener pastures, so we’ll see if the Marlins can send them out the way they did their other fire-sale teams.
3. Oakland Athletics, 0.19 FRI
--#8 in wins, #24 in payroll, $614,759/win, 4 playoff trips
In 2007, Oakland’s payroll ballooned to almost $80 million. And why not? 1998 was the last time they’d failed to win at least 87 games. The “Moneyball” craze was still in full effect, but the A’s were feeling flush. They couldn’t afford to keep Barry Zito on their side of the Bay, but they used some spare coin to bring in veteran Mike Piazza. 86 losses later, Piazza was retired, Jason Kendall’s hefty contract had been traded to the Cubs, and it was back to belt-tightening mode. The A’s have stayed one of the five cheapest teams in the game since then, but the wins have yet to return.
2. St. Louis Cardinals, 0.18 FRI
--#3 in wins, #10 in payroll, $956,505/win, 6 playoff trips, 1 World Series title
The Cardinals have never been comfortable rubbing shoulders with the real high spenders in baseball, only once ranking in the top six payrolls. That was in 2005, when they kept Larry Walker and his $12.6 million salary on hand to try to reach a second straight World Series. Since then, they’ve kept the wages quite steady around $90 million, even while the number of nine-figure payrolls continues to balloon. For their efforts, they’ve only struggled to one losing season out of the 10. They bought low on players like Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, while snagging players like Skip Schumaker, Brendan Ryan, Colby Rasmus and Yadier Molina in the draft. Now, of course, the supreme test comes when they have to decide what they can afford to offer Albert Pujols.
1. Minnesota Twins, 0.15 FRI
--#6 in wins, #22 in payroll, $658.679/win, 6 playoff trips
At 15 cents on the dollar, we'd all like to see such returns on such relatively miniscule investments. The Twins’ worst season since 2000 was the 79-83 mark in 2007. In that time, the only year they ranked higher than 18th in spending was last season, when they upped payroll by nearly 50% from the year before. Genius-level drafting, with the likes of Michael Cuddyer, Joe Mauer, and Justin Morneau, has kept Minnesota winning on the cheap, and the new ballpark has kept fans pouring in to pay for the homegrown talent’s extensions. Signings like Orlando Hudson and trades for Delmon Young and Francisco Liriano have worked out well, and the Target Field magic even helped revive the sputtering career of Carl Pavano.