The Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays qualified for postseason play at least in part because of efficiency. Their front offices spent money far more wisely than their MLB rivals.
The proof of that assertion can be easily seen in the payrolls and win totals of the 30 MLB teams. In 2023, the most important gap wasn’t in payroll. It was in efficiency; which team utilized its resources most wisely.
Orioles general manager Mike Elias was given the sport’s second-smallest payroll to work with. His Opening Day roster cost only $60.87 million to assemble, less than every team in the game except for the Oakland Athletics.
Yet by relying on a boatload of young, home-developed talent, Elias’s club finished the regular season with 101 victories. That’s a modest (by MLB standards) $603,000 of payroll per victory in a game where the average cost-per-win works out to just under $2 million.
With 99 victories on an Opening Day payroll of $73.19 million, the Rays were second in efficiency, spending just $739,000 per win.
If your preference is for Competitive Balance Tax spending rather than Opening Day payroll as the yardstick, the numbers go up … but the essential point holds. Elias’ Baltimore operation is still tops in efficiency at $917,000 per win against an MLB average of $2.43 million.
The Rays do fall, but only to seventh-most efficient at $1.612 million per victory.
Across the game as a whole, a salient point rings out loud and clear. You can’t guarantee success by throwing money at the effort. Of the dozen teams qualifying for postseason play this season, five were among the 10 most efficient spenders and only two ranked among the 10 least efficient.
By contrast, eight of the nine least efficient spenders missed the playoffs. That list includes the Mets (who spent in historic ways this offseason), Yankees and Padres, who were simultaneously the game’s largest and least efficient spenders in 2023.
That statement, by the way, holds whether you use Opening Day or competitive balance tax payrolls as the baseline.
Here is how all 30 MLB clubs ranked during 2023 in spending efficiency; that is, cost per win based on Opening Day payroll.
Team and cost per win
1. Baltimore Orioles, $603,000
2. Tampa Bay Rays, $739,000
3. Pittsburgh Pirates, $964,000
4. Cincinnati Reds, $1.011 million
5. Miami Marlins, $1.102 million
6. Oakland A’s, $1.138 million
7. Cleveland Guardians, $1.177 million
8. Milwaukee Brewers, $1.291 million
9. Arizona Diamondbacks, $1.383 million
10. Washington Nationals, $1.425 million
11. Seattle Mariners, $1.562 million
12. Detroit Tigers, $1.567 million
13. Kansas City Royals, $1.651 million
14. Minnesota Twins, $1.767 million
15. Atlanta Braves, $1.953 million
(Average 1.996 million)
16. Houston Astros, $1.999 million
17. Texas Rangers, $2,176 million
18. Chicago Cubs, $2.219 million
19. Los Angeles Dodgers, $2,226 million
20. Boston Red Sox, $2.323 million
21. Toronto Blue Jays, $2.359 million
22. San Francisco Giants, $2.379 million
23. St. Louis Cardinals, $2.487 million
24. Philadelphia Phillies, $2.700 million
25. Los Angeles Angels, $2.908 million
26. Colorado Rockies, $2.917 million
27. Chicago White Sox, $2.97 million
28. San Diego Padres, $3,036 million
29. New York Yankees, $3.387 million
30. New York Mets, $4.468 million.
If you prefer competitive balance tax as the standard, the five most affected teams by that change are the Colorado Rockies (from 26th to 14th), the Kansas City Royals (13th to fourth), the Angels 25th to 17th), the White Sox (27th to 19th) and the Detroit Tigers (12th to fifth).
The extremes, however, do not change. The Orioles remain most efficient by either standard, while the Padres, Yankees and Mets are least efficient.