20. Cincinnati Reds, 0.86 FRI (Financial Responsibility Index)
--#23 in wins, #21 in payroll, $792,136/win, 1 playoff trip
Cincinnati’s rarely nosed deep into the top 20 payrolls. Their big spending was largely concentrated on Ken Griffey Jr., who earned his money once upon a time, and extending young hitters like Adam Dunn and Sean Casey. Finding pitching was usually an adventure, with the likes of Eric Milton and Paul Wilson getting sizeable, but not extreme, contracts to give up lots of hits.
19. Chicago White Sox, 0.84 FRI
--#10 in wins, #11 in payroll, $997,435/win, 2 playoff trips, 1 World Series title
Unlike most teams, the White Sox didn’t spend heavily to win a World Series, they spent heavily to defend it. The signings of Jim Thome and Javier Vazquez didn’t get them back to the playoffs until 2008, and it wasn’t until that ALDS loss that they trimmed some fat and got back under $100M.
18. San Francisco Giants, 0.83 FRI
--#11 in wins, #12 in payroll, $979,826/win, 3 playoff trips, 1 World Series title
The Giants were consistent top-10 spenders in the middle part of the decade, but not seeing great return after the 2002 pennant and 2003 division title. They flirted with austerity after getting out from under Matt Morris, Armando Benitez, and Barry Bonds. Then, the Edgar Renteria signing and extensions for the young starting rotation sent the tab upward again, but those investments paid off with championship rings.
17. Houston Astros, 0.81 FRI
--#12 in wins, #14 in payroll, $969,987/win, 3 playoff trips
The Astros nudged into the $100M club in 2009, just in time to finish 74-88 when the entire infield missed at least 30 games each (except Miguel Tejada, who had left his home run swing in Baltimore).
16. Milwaukee Brewers, 0.80 FRI
--#24 in wins, #23 in payroll, $768,612/win, 1 playoff trip
The Brewers' “big” signings came after the 2006 season, in the persons of Jeff Suppan and Bill Hall. Their payroll’s held steady the last few years, and they’ve been winning games. Ryan Braun’s hefty extension and the trades for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum will quickly drive the expenses north and the FRI ranking south unless they can reach the playoffs again this year.
15. Toronto Blue Jays, 0.77 FRI
--#16 in wins, #18 in payroll, $860,744/win, zero playoff appearances
The Jays were spending large on guys like Raul Mondesi and Carlos Delgado, then replaced them with new signings like Troy Glaus and large extensions for Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett. They’ve rarely been terrible, but they’ve never been great, either. Still, the payroll fluctuates wildly.
14. Cleveland Indians, 0.75 FRI
--#18 in wins, #19 in payroll, $799,149/win, 2 playoff trips
By 2003, the Indians’ payroll got down to 40% of what it had been two years prior. By 2008, they were handing out extensions like candy in the wake of a 96-win season, and guys like Jake Westbrook and Travis Hafner were laughing their way to the bank. Unfortunately, both made side trips to the hospital, and the Indians bottomed out again.
13. Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals, 0.69 FRI
--#27 in wins, #27 in payroll, $691,973/win
After the last gasp of hope for Montreal died, the Nationals tried to draw some customers with the Alfonso Soriano trade. Once that failed, the payroll was purged and it was time to wait on draft picks. Contracts like Jayson Werth’s, however, aren’t likely to be helpful if the index is updated next season.
12. Philadelphia Phillies, 0.685 FRI
--#7 in wins, #9 in payroll, $1,008,911/win, 4 playoff trips, 1 World Series title
For the Phillies, winning has become a habit, and so has spending the cash. Keeping guys like Ryan Howard and adding pieces like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee is expensive, but those guys keep winning games (and championships, too). Hard to believe that in 2001, the Phils ranked 24th in opening-day payroll. Their worst season? 2002, at 80-81.
11. Pittsburgh Pirates, 0.678 FRI
--#29 in wins, #28 in payroll, $654,457/win, zero playoff appearances
Strangely appropriate that the two Pennsylvania clubs should rank so close together, despite their radically different approaches and results. The Pirates have been one of the five cheapest teams in baseball every year since 2003. Coincidentally (or not), that’s the last time they finished higher than fifth in their division.