The 2020 MLB playoffs are more than halfway done. The 16-team bracket has gone down to eight and now down to four with the American League Championship Series kicking off Sunday and the National League’s series Monday.
However, it must be noted that the four remaining teams took very different paths to get this deep into the postseason and it demonstrates how differently each team constructs their rosters.
Tampa Bay Rays: The budget ballers
Tampa Bay has a payroll nowhere near that of the wealthiest teams in the league. They rely heavily on homegrown talent, making smart and efficient trades and choosing carefully which free agents to sign. Simply put, their financial flexibility is nearly zero, yet the Rays have reached 90 wins seven times and have made five postseasons.
Two of the few players on the Rays’ roster who have gotten signed in free agency are righty Charlie Morton and Japanese utility player Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. Most of the squad was largely acquired via drafts and remarkable trading. This includes star players like Austin Meadows, Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Brandon Lowe and multiple relievers in the elite bullpen, such as Nick Anderson and Pete Fairbanks.
The Tampa Bay Rays might be the most efficient spenders and traders in the league. This has brought them to the top of the American League and just three wins away from a trip to the World Series.
Atlanta Braves: Equally homegrown, but they’ve spent plenty too
The Braves’ core is as much homegrown as that of the Rays, but Atlanta has the luxury of being able to sign their players to lengthy extensions and add free agents while also being able to make plenty of trades. While the Braves locked up key hitters like Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña Jr., they also signed All-Star closer Will Smith and outfielders Nick Markakis and Marcell Ozuna.
The Braves’ talent got them to the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, but those runs featured early departures. Now in 2020, despite the wackiness and craziness of this campaign, the Braves have made the NLCS for the first time since 2001. They now sit just four wins away from their first trip to the World Series of the 21st century.
Houston Astros: A lot of money and patience, and then a little bit of luck
In just eight seasons from 2010 to 2017, the Astros transformed themselves from a perennial 100-loss team sitting at the bottom of the National League Central into a World Champion. While they largely took the route of the Rays to get there by drafting players like Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and George Springer, they have also since opened their wallets wide.
They have recently shelled out quite a few paychecks to key players to either retain them for longer or sign them back. This includes Justin Verlander, Josh Reddick, Yuli Gurriel, Michael Brantley, along with hefty extensions for Bregman and Jose Altuve. The cherry on top of this spending spree came in July of 2019, when the Astros took on the final two years of Zack Greinke’s six-year, $206.5 million deal.
While the 2020 season did not go as planned with Verlander needing Tommy John surgery and the team going 29-31, they still made the postseason and are continuing to show that they can win in October even when the team is depleted. Somehow, the Astros are tied for the worst record of any playoff team, yet they are one step away from returning to the World Series.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Somehow staying youthful while spending enormous gobs of money
It is no secret that the Dodgers are incredibly wealthy. With the franchise being worth more than $3 billion, they never have to ask “if” when eyeing a free agent or looking into a player extension, but rather “how much?”
This goes all the way back to 2013, when their dynasty atop the National League West began after they acquired the massive contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett. They have since signed Zack Greinke, Rich Hill and more while extending Justin Turner, Clayton Kershaw and, most recently, Mookie Betts to his 12-year, $365 million behemoth of a contract.
At the same time that they’ve spent more than $1 billion on players, they’ve also brought up key players like Walker Buehler, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Julio Urias. It is almost unfair how teams like the Dodgers and the New York Yankees can always find new, young talents while also signing lots of players and shelling out millions on the regular.
Nevertheless, for the eighth straight season, the Dodgers are NL West champions and will now eye their third attempt in four years at winning their first World Series title since 1988.