MLB Teams that won a Championship on a Shoestring Budget
5. 2002 Anaheim Angels
> Payroll: $61.7 million
> Payroll rank: 15 out of 30 teams
In their first round playoff matchup, the 2002 Anaheim Angels, who had a $61.7 million payroll, took down the New York Yankees, whose players earned more than twice as much that season. The Angels went on to win the World Series without a true superstar on their roster. No Anaheim player ranked among the top 25 in salary that season. The Angels’ two most valuable pitchers that season, Jarrod Washburn and Ramon Ortiz, made less than $1 million combined. Starting catcher Bengie Molina, who earned the Gold Glove that season, made just $350,000, while starting left fielder David Eckstein earned just $280,000.
4. 2017 Houston Astros
> Payroll: $127.4 million
> Payroll rank: 15 out of 30 teams
The 2017 Houston Astros had plenty of high-priced talent, with five players earning over $10 million. But it was their younger, lower-paid players who powered Houston to their first title. Jose Altuve made just $4.5 million that season, when he won AL MVP. Fellow All-Star George Springer had a $3.9 million salary. Pitchers Chris Devenski and Lance McCullers Jr. and shortstop Carlos Correa each made the 2017 All-Star team while earning between $500,000 and $600,000. In the World Series, the Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, which had an MLB leading $189.4 million payroll, though the Astros later admitted cheating during that season and World Series.
3. 1991 Minnesota Twins
> Payroll: $22.4 million
> Payroll rank: 16 out of 26 teams
The 1991 Minnesota Twins’ payroll of $22.4 million was right in between the top-spending Oakland A’s at $33.6 million and the thrifty Houston Astros at $11.5 million. The Twins players with the highest salaries that season certainly earned their money — future Hall of Famers Kirby Puckett and Jack Morris were the only players making over $3 million, and both earned All-Star nods that season. They also came up clutch in the postseason, as Puckett was named ALCS MVP, and Morris was World Series MVP. Several young players also had career years to help propel the Twins to the title. Second baseman Chuck Knoblauch won Rookie of the Year, pitcher Kevin Tapani had his lowest ever ERA, posting a 16-9 record, and 23-year-old starter Scott Erickson won an MLB-leading 20 games — each of these players made less than $200,000 that season.
2. 1990 Cincinnati Reds
> Payroll: $14.8 million
> Payroll rank: 20 out of 26 teams
The Cincinnati Reds won the 1990 World Series despite having the seventh-lowest payroll. Just two Reds, Tom Browning and Eric Davis, earned over $2 million that season, ranking them among the top 15 in the MLB. Other than that, no other Cincinnati player ranked in the top 100. Five Reds players earned All-Star nods that season, including future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin. Combined, they earned just over $2 million that season. World Series MVP Jose Rijo earned just $630,000 that year.
1. 2003 Florida Marlins
> Payroll: $48.8 million
> Payroll rank: 25 out of 30 teams
The Florida Marlins won their second World Series in 2003, with a payroll of just $48.8 million. That salary was the sixth lowest of any MLB team that season, well below the average of $70.9 million and less than a third of the top-spending Yankees. A large share of the payroll, $10 million, went to future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez. No other Marlin ranked among the top 150 highest-paid players in 2003. Rookie of the Year pitcher Dontrelle Willis and 20-year-old Miguel Cabrera, who would go on to win two MVPs, both contributed to the team’s success. Centerfielder Juan Pierre earned $1 million that season, while leading the National League in plate appearances, stolen bases, and sacrifice hits.
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