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Bargain Basement: The 5 Best Low-Payroll MLB Teams in History

In early 1964, The Beatles recorded the song “Can’t Buy Me Love,” in which they sung about the perks that money can and can’t buy.

In Major League Baseball, money doesn’t always buy championships, either.

Here are five of the lowest-payroll teams in MLB history that went on to greatness. 

1. 1990 Cincinnati Reds

In 1990, the Cincinnati Reds had the 21st lowest payroll among the 26 teams in MLB. Behind the bats of Barry Larkin, Eric Davis and Sabo, combined with great pitching from Jose Rijo and an outstanding bullpen, the Reds upset the heavily-favored and high-powered Oakland Athletics in the World Series to win their first championship since 1976.

2. 1987 Minnesota Twins

For many years, the Minnesota Twins wallowed in mediocrity, yet worked on building a homegrown stable of talent that would come together and gel in 1987.

Despite having the fourth-lowest payroll in the majors, the Twins were backed by the bats of Kirby Puckett, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky and Kent Hrbek, and the arms of Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven. Together, the underpaid group of over-achievers won the American League pennant and defeated the mighty St. Louis Cardinals in seven games to win their first-ever World Series championship.

3. 2008 Tampa Bay Rays

The 2008 Tampa Bay Rays were dually afflicted. Not only did they have the second-lowest payroll in all of baseball, they had the third-worst home field attendance in the American League.

Nonetheless, manager Joe Maddon led his charges to their first-ever American League East Division and got past both the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox to capture the AL pennant. The Rays went on to give the Philadelphia Phillies a tough battle in the World Series before losing in five games.

4. 2003 Florida Marlins

The Florida Marlins were World Series winners in 1997 and famously dismantled that team the following year, becoming the lowest-payroll team in the National League for several seasons before 2003.

Even in ’03, the Marlins were ranked 24th in payroll out of 30 teams, yet they managed to gain the Wild Card at the end of regular season play.

Backed by the bats of Ivan Rodriguez, Derrek Lee and Mike Lowell, and a terrific pitching staff that included Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis, Carl Pavano and Brad Penny, the Marlins reached the World Series to face the heavily-favored New York Yankees. Backed by Beckett’s two victories that included a spectacular five-hit shutout in Game 6, the Marlins captured their second World Series title.

5. 1985 Kansas City Royals

The 1985 Kansas City Royals had a superstar in George Brett, a golden arm in Bret Saberhagen and a cast of supporting characters that shined throughout the season.

They also had a payroll that was only ranked 17th out of 26 teams. The Royals didn’t need to outspend everyone in capturing their second-ever American League pennant. They then moved on to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in a thrilling seven-game series to capture their first and only World Series championship.

This is a guest post submitted by Ally Silva. Ally played all kinds of sports growing up and adamantly follows everything sports now, particularly Chicago sports. She works with Phoenix Bats, a company that creates world-class wood bats for amateur and professional ball players around the world. Ally loves writing on different sports topics and is very grateful to be able to contribute here.

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