The 2011 film Moneyball, based on the eponymous 2003 best seller by Michael Lewis, told the story of Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane (portrayed by Brad Pitt) as he tried to put a winning Major League Baseball team on the field every year with limited financial resources. Beane and his staff used advanced statistics — book smarts — to compensate for the lack of spending power flexed by rivals like the Yankees and Red Sox.
More than a decade later, Beane and his crew in Oakland still manage to put together legitimate MLB contenders on the field for less than half the cost of richer teams in the league. However, the A’s aren’t the only team playing “moneyball” these days. Upstarts from U.S. steel country to the Gulf of Mexico have figured out ways to play ball with baseball’s top-spending bullies. Here are five real World Series contenders with the lowest payrolls on the books.
1. Pittsburgh Pirates ($78.1 million)
The Pittsburgh Pirates were the feel-good story of 2013, but that didn’t stop doubters from questioning their playoff run until the day they made the postseason. Led by National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, one of the most exciting players in baseball, the Bucs brought roaring crowds back to PNC Park in Steel Country, U.S., as they snapped a playoff drought that had lasted 21 long years.
Many experts and baseball writers are picking them to win the NL Wild Card in 2014, with celebrated columnist Tracy Ringolsby picking the Pirates to claim the National League pennant outright. That’s not bad for a team outspent by NL Central rival Cardinals ($111 million) and Reds ($112 million) by more than $30 million this year.