I often see posts on message boards and blogs, bemoaning or ridiculing the fact that the Kansas City Royals are a small-market organization. They make statements about how there's no possible way the Royals can realistically compete for a World Championship with a payroll that has ranked among the bottom-third in baseball since the strike season of 1994.
Basically, many of their messages could be summed up this way: "The Royals can't pay their players as well as the Yankees, or the Red Sox -- or now the Tigers -- so they might as well just throw in the white towel and give up before they embarrass themselves."
Of course, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. Posts like this make me want to reach through the computer screen and ring the writers' necks. It's such a defeatist mentality, and I'm so glad these people have absolutely nothing to do with running the Royals.
According to USA Today's Salaries Database, during 1988-94, Kansas City's payroll was among the top half in baseball, ranking anywhere from first in 1990 ($23,873,745) to 13th in 1988 ($11,558,873). And it was among the top 10 in all of those years except for that 1988 season.
But during that strike season in 1994, the landscape in baseball changed. The Royals, who had the fourth-highest payroll in baseball ($40,481,334) for the second-straight year in 1994, emerged the next season with a $27.6 million payroll that had plummeted to 21st among Major League teams. Kansas City has not ranked higher than 21st in payroll since, and has been next-to-last three times.
However, does the Royals' drop in payroll necessarily prevent them from making the playoffs, or advancing to their third World Series? Does a Top 5 payroll always lead to postseason success, or even a trip to the postseason, for that matter? Are those fans who make negative posts about payroll correct to think there's no hope for teams like the Royals?
That answer is no, and the proof is in teams like the 2007 Colorado Rockies, or the 2003 World Champion Florida Marlins, both of which had payrolls ranked 25th among the 30 teams. The Marlins captured their second world title by defeating the team with the highest payroll in all of professional sports -- the Yankees, of course.
In fact, in the 13 years since play resumed following the strike, eight of 26 World Series teams have had payrolls that ranked outside the Top 10, with four of those teams winning a title, and half (13 of 26) of the teams have been ranked sixth or lower, resulting in six world championships.
For an even more dramatic example, there have been 104 teams qualify for the playoffs since 1995 -- four teams in each league for the past 13 years. Of those teams, a total of 42 -- or 40.4 percent -- have had payrolls among the bottom two-thirds, while 66 playoff teams (63.5 percent) have not been among the Top 5 for payroll expenditures.
In two of the past three World Series, both participants were not found among the Top 10 for payroll. In 2005, it was the White Sox (13th) defeating Houston (12th), while the 2006 World Series saw St. Louis (11th) topple Detroit (14th). So, payroll is not the end-all means of achieving postseason success.
All of this goes to show how tremendously important a deep and talented farm system is, and that's something Royals' GM Dayton Moore has been focusing on since the day he was hired. Moore has been working to stockpile Kansas City's minor league affiliates with pitching prospects like Luke Hochevar, Tyler Lumsden, Julio Pimentel, Carlos Rosa, and Matt Mitchell, either through trades or via the draft.
At the same time, Moore has gotten the green light from Royals owner David Glass to increase the team's payroll, and aggressively pursue players such as current starting pitcher Gil Meche or right fielder Jose Guillen, both of whom signed multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts. Kansas City also made enticing offers to outfielders Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones, as well as Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, during the 2007 offseason. So the Royals are moving up the ladder in terms of money spent on players' salaries, and could possibly move out of the bottom third in payroll for the first time since 1994 this year.
Teams that are able to combine a healthy farm system with a middle-of-the-pack payroll have fared well in recent years, as noted above. It doesn't always take a Top 5 payroll to make the playoffs, or to win the World Series. I'm certainly not making an argument that teams that spend more money don't fare well, because they obviously have had incredible success. But teams that don't have huge payrolls aren't always left standing on the outside, looking in.
I just wish all those negative bloggers and message board naysayers would realize this.
Royals Payrolls Since 1988 (Rank)
2007: $67,116,500 (22nd)
2006: $47,294,000 (26th)
2005: $36,881,000 (29th)
2004: $47,609,000 (22nd)
2003: $40,518,000 (29th)
2002: $47,257,000 (22nd)
2001: $35,422,500 (27th)
2000: $23,132,500 (28th)
1999: $16,527,000 (27th)
1998: $32,912,500 (21st)
1997: $31,225,000 (23rd)
1996: $18,480,750 (29th)
1995: $27,608,834 (21st)
1994: $40,481,334 (4th)
1993: $40,102,666 (4th)
1992: $33,643,834 (8th)
1991: $28,722,662 (7th)
1990: $23,873,745 (1st)
1989: $15,427,162 (9th)
1988: $11,558,873 (13th)
Playoff Teams Since 1988 (Payroll Rank)
AL - BOS (2nd)*, CLE (23rd)**, NYY (1st), LAA (4th)
NL - COL (25th), ARI (26th)**, CHC (8th), PHI (13th)
AL - DET (14th), OAK (21st)**, NYY (1st), MIN (19th)
NL - STL (11th)*, NYM (5th)**, LAD (6th), SD (17th)
AL - CWS (13th)*, LAA (4th)**, NYY (1st), BOS (2nd)
NL - HOU (12th), STL (6th)**, ATL (10th), SD (16th)
AL - BOS (2nd)*, NYY (1st)**, LAA (3rd), MIN (19th)
NL - STL (9th), HOU (12th)**, LAD (6th), ATL (8th)
AL - NYY (1st), BOS (6th)**, MIN (18th), OAK (23rd)
NL - FLA (25th)*, CHC (11th)**, ATL (3rd), SF (9th)
AL - LAA (15th)*, MIN (27th)**, NYY (1st), OAK (28th)
NL - SF (10th), STL (13th)**, ARI (4th), ATL (7th)
AL - NYY (1st), SEA (11th)**, CLE (5th), OAK (29th)
NL - ARI (8th)*, ATL (6th)**, STL (9th), HOU (17th)
AL - NYY (1st)*, SEA (15th)**, OAK (25th), CWS (26th)
NL - NYM (6th), STL (11th)**, ATL (4th), SF (17th)
AL - NYY (1st)*, BOS (5th)**, TEX (2nd), CLE (4th)
NL - ATL (3rd), NYM (6th)**, ARI (9th), HOU (11th)
AL - NYY (2nd)*, CLE (4th)**, TEX (5th), BOS (8th)
NL - SD (14th), ATL (3rd)**, CHC (10th), HOU (15th)
AL - CLE (4th), BAL (2nd)**, NYY (1st), SEA (15th)
NL - FLA (7th)*, ATL (5th)**, SF (21st), HOU (22nd)
AL - NYY (1st)*, BAL (2nd)**, CLE (4th), TEX (10th)
NL - ATL (3rd), STL (9th)**, LAD (12th), SD (18th)
AL - CLE (9th), SEA (11th)**, NYY (2nd), BOS (19th)
NL - ATL (3rd)*, CIN (6th)**, COL (15th), LAD (17th)
1994: Postseason cancelled due to MLB Players Strike
AL - TOR (1st)*, CWS (13th)**
NL - PHI (20th), ATL (7th)**
AL - TOR (3rd)*, OAK (5th)**
NL - ATL (11th), PIT (12th)**
AL - MIN (16th)*, TOR (9th)**
NL - ATL (20th), PIT (14th)**
AL - OAK (10th)*, BOS (6th)**
NL - CIN (20th), PIT (16th)**
AL - OAK (12th)*, BOS (4th)**
NL - SF (13th), CHC (20th)**
AL - OAK (14th), BOS (3rd)**
NL - LAD (5th)*, NYM (4th)**
*Won World Series; **Lost in League Championship Series