MLB: Rays Again Best in Cheap Wins. Dodgers, Yanks, Mets VERY Expensive.

John Dorschner
3 min readOct 19, 2021

By John Dorschner

Money doesn’t buy happiness: While six baseball teams spent more than $2 million per victory and didn’t make the playoffs, the Tampa Bay Rays have once again made the most of their small budget, getting 100 wins in the regular season with a $70.8 million payroll, meaning they spent $708,000 a victory.

Compare that to the worst-performing team in Major League Baseball: The New York Mets spent $199.2 million to get 77 victories — meaning an astounding $2.59 million per win.

This is my fourth year of measuring this MLB payroll and victories. I use Spotrac numbers, because the website updates its figures throughout the year and includes everything, such as “buried” payroll, meaning salaries of players that are no longer on the team.

The Rays are in a class by themselves. They’re in a small market with puny attendance (they had lots of empty seats for their 2021 home playoff games) and a bad TV contract. I sometimes question the rigid decisions by Manager Kevin Cash, but their front office continually finds the best players for the fewest bucks.

This is the first year I’ve measured that the perennially playoff-bound Rays did not finish with the cheapest costs per victory. In 2021, that honor fell to the Cleveland Baseball Team in their last year as the Indians: Their ultra-low payroll of $50.2 million (lowest in 2021) led to 80 playoff victories led to a cost of $627,000 per win.

Of course, the Indians came nowhere near the playoffs. In fact, of the 10 cheapest teams, measuring payroll to wins, only the Brewers joined the Rays in the playoffs. The Brew Crew, with great pitching and an under-performing Christian Yelich, spent $97.3 million to get 95 victories for $1.02 million per win.

It’s worth noting that the low-budget Mariners almost made the playoffs with a $81.8 million payroll leading to 90 victories at a cost of $909,000 per win.

The Marlins, for what it’s worth, got 67 victories with their $58.1 million payroll for $868,000 per win.

Overall, the average MLB team had a 2021 payroll of $130.8 million. Of the four final teams in the playoffs, the Braves were the lowest budget: $147.5 million. Their cost per win was $1.67 million.

At the other end of the spectrum are the teams that spent more than $2 million per win and didn’t make the playoffs: Cubs, Padres, Nats, Angels and Phillies, as well as the Mets. The mighty Yankees spent $2.2 million per victory to get a one-game playoff, in which their $300-million pitcher collapsed in an ignominious defeat.

The biggest spender — no surprise — was the Dodgers. Their $267.2 million payroll resulted in 106 victories — second in MLB only to the Giants — for a cost of $2.52 million per win, second only to the Mets for costliest wins.

In fact, the Dodgers are in a league by themselves. They spent $64 million more than the Yankees on total payroll, including $24 million on “buried” players no longer on the team.

Consider this: Two Dodger pitchers NOT on the post-season roster are Clayton Kershaw ($31 million) and Trevor Bauer (yep, he’s apparently still getting paid: $31 million in 2021). These two non-contributors are getting paid more than the entire team payrolls of the (take your pick): Indians, Orioles, Marlins or Pirates.

The Dodgers payroll is so big that the MLB has penalized the team with a luxury tax bill of $17 million. Only two other teams had to pay the tax — and for much lower amounts: the Phillies ($865,000) and the Red Sox ($644,000).

The Dodgers are so powerful that two of their castoffs — Kike Hernandez and Joc Pederson — have become post-season stars with other teams.

The full list of teams with payrolls, wins and cost per win is available on my blog:



John Dorschner

A Miami journalist for a half-century dedicated to peace, equality and environmental protection. Author of Verdict on Trial, available on Amazon.