2020 World Series: A Ray of Hope, Or A Dodged Bullet?

Ryan “Scoop” Woodhams
Sports Business Writer

$155.7 million. That was the financial gap in payrolls on opening day this season between the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now, the two franchises meet in the 2020 World Series as champions of the American League and National League, respectively. What they each represent in this grudge match, however, runs far more deeply.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have once again made the World Series, gaining another shot at an elusive title (Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

Look at the recent background for the Dodgers. The last time the Dodgers did not run at least a top-four payroll in Major League Baseball was back in 2012. In the free-spending nine seasons since, the Dodgers have won their division (the NL West) every time. They also have competed in the World Series as the NL champion in three of the past four seasons. The Dodgers’ win-percentage in that same nine-year span is .598. Suffice it to say that the returns on their liberal, lavish-spending ways have been reasonably positive; though, of the last seven World Series titles, six different organizations claimed at least one…and none of them were Los Angeles. This is not to say that the Dodgers have not been successful at developing their own talent internally. Quite the contrary, in fact. Since 2017, the Dodgers have had five hitters who amassed 10+ Wins Above Replacement. Two of these players have been with the Dodgers their entire professional careers, and two others were question marks who had not even completed a full season at the Major League level, and were nothing compared to the new levels they unlocked upon their respective arrivals to Los Angeles. That being said, it certainly does help expand your modes of potential for building a championship roster when your organization’s player development and financial flexibility are both top-tier in the sport.

In contrast, the Rays are in a polar opposite financial situation. Their stadium received direly needed renovations back in 2019. Their highest placement among MLB’s franchises in payroll rankings was in 2012, when they were the 25th team on the list and only lapped for the bottom spot by the Kansas City Royals (who have since won a title), Houston Astros (who, at the time, looked like they were working from the same playbook as whatever the New York Jets are currently doing in the NFL), Moneyball-famed Oakland Athletics, and San Diego Padres (currently viewed as an up-and-coming young system within the game). Prior to this season’s playoff, the Rays had not won a postseason series since their 2008 title run, and have yet to compete in three consecutive Octobers in their franchise’s entire history (the organization began play in 1998).

Such stark contrast in financial might and recent success. Yet here they both sit level with one another, ready to engage in a series like none to precede it.

This year, the Dodgers have been defined by depth. When sorted by their Wins Above Replacement from this season alone, the Dodgers have the following as their top-five on offense: Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Chris Taylor, Cody Bellinger, AJ Pollock. Yes – Bellinger, the reigning NL MVP, was not even one of the three best hitters on his own team this season. That is hardly a knock on Bellinger. Extrapolated across a regular 162-game season, his WAR would have been 3.5. That is a very good season for an MLB player. Another metric that is often utilized to measure offensive output is wRC+, which is a park-adjusted stat that allows for comparison of production on offense. League-average is 100. The Dodgers had eight players who met or exceeded that mark this season. Read: the Dodgers had nearly an entire lineup consist of above-league-average hitters. Their starting rotation was not as elite, but it gives way to one of the most dominant bullpens in the game, consisting of guys such as Jake McGee, Brusdar Graterol, Blake Treinen, Kenley Jansen, and Dylan Floro. Collectively, these five pitchers’ WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched; essentially, their baserunners allowed on average per inning) is 1.04. Five relievers for the Dodgers have averaged allowing one single baserunner per inning across 115.2 innings, which again, cushions the blow for what is a good but not elite rotation.

The upstart 2020 Tampa Bay Rays team is just a few wins from the organizations first ever championship trophy (Photo Courtesy of NBC News)

The Rays, for all of the aforementioned differences between them and the Dodgers, actually have a fairly similar roster construction. A good-but-less-than-elite rotation (Glasnow, Morton, and Snell each can pitch like an ace on any given day, but were wildly inconsistent in 2020), a deep bullpen that can go mano a mano with any batting order in the game, and a lineup that (while decidedly less star-studded than that of Los Angeles) features no clear holes and now a potential anchor on an extended torrid run in Randy Arozarena. In other words, their greatest strengths line up very similarly with those of the Dodgers. Accordingly, their few and far between flaws or questionable areas are also quite parallel. In fact, a key architect of the Rays’ current model was Andrew Friedman, who now oversees personnel withthe Dodgers. Lineup depth, bullpen, and defense are three pillars to this model, and you see this on display overlaid into both organizational philosophies. In fact, short of the drastic market split, there is not an overwhelming amount of difference between how business is conducted and organizational philosophy.

Frugality vs. Freewheeling. East vs. West. Big market iconic franchise vs. the second-most popular baseball team in their own state. This series can be described in a multitude of terms. Perhaps the most accurate, and yet most controversial?


Like the truncated season or not, the World Series is meant to pit the best franchise in the American League against the top dogs from the National League.

In the 2020 Fall Classic between the Tampa Bay Rays vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, that is exactly what we have.

So, sit back, enjoy it, and wear that mask.


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