It's become an annual tradition to anoint the Tampa Bay Rays as baseball's best team for the buck, and this year is no different. Tampa spends less than almost every other team in the league – only four teams spent less in roster costs over the last three seasons – and yet is still one of baseball's most dominant lineups, winning 90 or more games in four of the last five seasons.
Tampa has managed to thrive on a strategy of cutting ties with even its most reliable players once their asking price gets too high. Starter Matt Garza was surprisingly traded a few years ago, and the Rays rolled on just fine without him. Ace James Shields and team veteran BJ Upton are two more major names no longer with the club, and Tampa still appears to be a top contender in 2013.
Behind the Rays on our list are the Padres and Athletics, the latter of which is now synonymous with low-investment rosters thanks to Michael Lewis' 2003 book Moneyball. San Diego is actually the league's smallest spender over the last three seasons, while the Athletics turned one of the league's lowest payrolls into a playoff team last season, the Green and Yellow's first postseason trip since 2006.
To determine the best and worst baseball teams for the money, we looked at average player expenses versus games won over the last three seasons. Player expenses include salaries, benefits, bonuses and amateur signings. Playoff wins count for double.
The worst team for the money is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The team spends like a contender – only four teams have had higher player expenses over the last three seasons – but has failed to break the 90-win mark or make the playoffs since 2009. That mediocrity is especially painful for the Angels because in 2011 they signed superstars Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson to major contracts that pay a combined average $40 million annually.
The bottom five are rounded out by the Tigers, Twins, Red Sox and Yankees. Excepting Minnesota, it's a who's who of high-spending teams that fail to make the grade in terms of games won per dollar spent. The Twins rank with the heavy spenders simply because they have a mid-range payroll but have been nothing shy of pitiful the last two seasons.
High expenses can certainly generate on-field success, like Detroit's run to the World Series last year, but they hardly guarantee it. If the Angels aren't proof enough just look at Boston, which made headlines bringing in Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford for the 2011 season. The acquisitions were pricey – Gonzalez's extension and Crawford's new deal were worth a combined $296 million over seven years – and the Sox have yet to reach the playoffs since 2009.
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