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It’s money that matters.
BALLPARK FIGURES

The World Series will feature the most expensive matchup of rosters ever

By Oliver Staley & Dan Kopf

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.

YearTeams% of total MLB payroll
2009New York Yankees vs. Philadelphia Phillies11.7%
1999New York Yankees vs. Atlanta Braves10.7%
2000New York Yankees vs. New York Mets10.2%
2004Boston Red Sox vs. St. Louis Cardinals10.2%
1996New York Yankees vs. Atlanta Braves10.1%
2001New York Yankees vs. Arizona Diamondbacks10.0%
2018Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Dodgers9.7%
2003New York Yankees vs. Florida Marlins9.5%
2013Boston Red Sox vs. St. Louis Cardinals9.1%
2017Houston Astros vs. Los Angeles Dodgers9.0%
1998New York Yankees vs. San Diego Padres8.8%
1997Cleveland Indians vs. Florida Marlins8.7%
1993Toronto Blue Jays vs. Atlanta Braves8.6%
1987Boston Red Sox vs. New York Mets8.4%
1995Cleveland Indians vs. Atlanta Braves8.4%
2012Detroit Tigers vs. San Francisco Giants8.4%
2007Boston Red Sox vs. Colorado Rockies7.9%
1994Toronto Blue Jays vs. Philadelphia Phillies7.8%
1989Oakland Athletics vs. Los Angeles Dodgers7.5%
2014Kansas City Royals vs. San Francisco Giants7.5%
1986Kansas City Royals vs. St. Louis Cardinals7.3%
2006Detroit Tigers vs. St. Louis Cardinals7.3%
1990Oakland Athletics vs. San Francisco Giants7.2%
2016Cleveland Indians vs. Chicago Cubs7.2%
2002Anaheim Angels vs. San Francisco Giants6.9%
2005Chicago White Sox vs. Houston Astros6.9%
2011Texas Rangers vs. St. Louis Cardinals6.9%
1991Oakland Athletics vs. Cincinnati Reds6.5%
1988Minnesota Twins vs. St. Louis Cardinals6.4%
2015Kansas City Royals vs. New York Mets6.0%
1992Minnesota Twins vs. Atlanta Braves5.9%
2010Texas Rangers vs. San Francisco Giants5.6%
2008Tampa Bay Rays vs. Philadelphia Phillies5.3%