It wasn’t long ago that the low-payroll Kansas City Royals played in two World Series in a row, proving that smart talent acquisition and strategy could counter big-market teams with high-priced players.
That two-year window in 2014-2015 is increasingly looking like an anomaly. Big budget teams are back in fashion, and this year’s World Series will feature the highest aggregate payroll since at least 1985. The Boston Red Sox (2018 payroll: $222.2 million according to Baseball-Reference) and the Los Angeles Dodgers ($164.7 million) are paying their players a combined $386.9 million. Boston has three players who earned more than $20 million for the 2018 season—David Price , J.D. Martinez, and Rick Porcello—while Los Angeles has two: Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, who is scheduled to make a healthy $35.6 million, the most in Major League Baseball.
(Note that there are no data for 1994, because a player’s strike caused the cancellation of that year’s World Series. Sorry, Expos fans)
While 2018’s combined World Series payroll is the highest since 1985 (the starting point for Baseball-Reference’s data) in absolute terms, it’s not the highest ever relative to other teams. The combined payroll of the 2018 Dodgers and Red Sox represents 9.7% of the payrolls of all 30 Major League Baseball teams, which makes it just the seventh-richest pairing. The spendiest? The 2009 series, which featured a New York Yankees team (payroll: $210 million) that had just splurged on free agents Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia, and the Philadelphia Phillies ($115 million), a team with its own roster of well-paid veterans.
Perhaps not surprisingly, 10 of the 11 richest pairings compared to other teams include either the Yankees or the Red Sox, rivals in big markets locked in a fierce arms race. Depending on what teams land free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado—both poised to join the $30 million club next season—next year’s pairing may be closer to the top of the table.