2023 Was a Win for Small-Market MLB Teams…Just Not in the Playoffs

Of MLB's final four teams, three are in the league's top 10 in spending

Baltimore Orioles players walk back to the dugout.
One of the league's lowest spenders, the Baltimore Orioles won more than 100 games.
Richard Rodriguez/Getty

‌After notching an American League-leading 101 wins during baseball’s regular season and earning a bye in the foolish best-of-three Wild Card round in the MLB playoffs, the Baltimore Orioles began a best-of-five series with the Texas Rangers in the Divisional Round of the postseason. The Orioles, who hadn’t been swept all season, were unceremoniously swept by Texas following their five-day hiatus from playing baseball. 

One of six small-market teams to qualify for the playoffs, the Orioles were considered to be one of the best stories of the regular season. But the O’s, who were 28th of MLB’s 30 franchises in team payroll of this season, were one of five small-market teams to be bounced from the postseason without reaching pro baseball’s final four.

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The Orioles (28th in payroll as previously noted), Rays (27th), Marlins (22nd), Diamondbacks (21st) Brewers (19th) and Twins (16th) were all playoff teams despite being in the bottom half of MLB in spending. Of those six playoff teams, only the D-Backs were able to make it to their league’s Championship Series. The teams joining the Diamondbacks in vying for a World Series appearance are the Rangers (4th in payroll), Phillies (5th) and Astros (8th).

With the league’s top-three spenders (Mets, Yankees and Padres) missing the postseason altogether, it is fairly clear that having a top payroll does not automatically equate to having a top team on the baseball field. However, it is also fairly evident that spending in MLB does have something to do with winning, as three of the four final MLB teams are in the league’s top 10 in terms of spending. (Three other top-10 teams — Dodgers, Blue Jays and Braves — qualified for the playoffs but have been eliminated.)

Playing “moneyball” as small-market teams often do in order to compete against big-market clubs certainly has its merits and has been proven to work during the regular season. But it rarely works in the postseason (just ask the A’s). Unless the Diamondbacks are able to pull a rabbit out of their hat and beat the Phillies before knocking off either the Rangers or Astros in the World Series, MLB’s small-market winners will continue to be losers in the playoffs.

It’s a good bet that will happen as the Diamondbacks (+450) are a longshot to win the World Series, followed by the Rangers (+275), Phillies (+200) and the defending champion Astros (+185).

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