30. Tampa Bay Rays
Just two seasons ago, the Tampa Bay Rays played to Game 6 of the World Series. Since 2018, they have produced a winning record annually, and have a .590 winning percentage for that period.
How do they do it without spending any money?
Never in their 25-season history have the Rays given out a contract in excess of $53 million. That’s what Kevin Kiermaier agreed to play center field for from 2017 through 2022.
That deal having just expired, Kiermaier is a free agent and the Rays still aren’t going overboard. Their most recent headline signings include Zach Eflin, three years, $40 million, and Tyler Glasnow, two years, $30.35 million. Eflin’s deal is the largest ever given by Tampa Bay to a player not already in their organization
The team payroll may actually decline next season, from just under $84 million to below $70 million.
Even so, in Vegas plenty of smart guys still like Tampa Bay’s chances in the AL East.
Although Kiermaier is the franchise leader for total amount, Glasnow holds the record for AAV at $15.175 million.
The Rays can do this because they have the management skill to load up on young talent that generates far more in on-field value than it sucks up in salary.
Looking strictly at 2022 WAR, the five team leaders were Shane McClanahan, Jeff Springs, Yandy Diaz, Drew Rasmussen, and Randy Arozarena. As a group, they delivered 16.8 WAR at a total cost of less than $6 million, or about $1.2 million a head.
Maximum production at minimal expense is a wonderful formula for success both on the field and in the front office.