BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Terry Ryan looked around the room, where most of the major league general managers were gathered.
"There's really no excuse for all us here not to be competitive," the Minnesota Twins GM said Tuesday.
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Everyone wants to be the Kansas City Royals, who won the World Series with a young, athletic team that had a payroll of $128 million at the end of the regular season, 13th among the 30 big-league teams.
Kansas City won its first title since 1985 with a five-game victory over the New York Mets, who were 19th at just under $110 million.
"My favorite fun fact about the World Series is we had a small market against a big market, and the small market had a higher payroll than the big market. That's all good from my perspective," new baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "The correlation between payroll and winning going down I think is a great analytical indicator of competitive balance in the game."
Eighteen teams had payrolls of $110 million to $170 million for 40-man rosters, according to MLB calculations, pending final bonuses and auditing. Only the Los Angeles Dodgers (a record $289.6 million), the New York Yankees ($223 million), Boston ($185.6 million) and San Francisco ($180.4 million) were above; Miami ($64.9 million), Tampa Bay ($77 million) and Arizona ($79 million) were at the bottom.
Pittsburgh (24th at $95.9 million) and Houston (27th at $82 million) were among the 10 teams that reached the playoffs.
"You can take a snapshot of any point in time and there are small-market teams that are competitive," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said in the room, overlooking moored boats at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. "The challenge is what the Royals did: to get to the World Series and win it."
Pittsburgh and Houston, exciting teams with young players who have been able to end long playoff droughts for their franchises, want to emulate the Royals, not the Rays.
"Tampa Bay, they were the model franchise and they were a playoff-caliber team," Huntington said. "The sustainability and the consistency of playoff-caliber becomes very challenging in small markets."
Many GMs credit changes in the collective bargaining agreement reached in November 2011, which stiffened the luxury tax, put in restraints on spending on amateur draft picks and instituted a provision that in 2016 will prevent the largest markets from receiving revenue-sharing money: both teams from New York, Los Angeles and Chicago along with Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Texas, Toronto and Washington.
Some teams have complained that Miami, despite a ballpark that opened in 2012, has been a revenue-sharing recipient.
"I think that the individual teams affected have strong feelings about the system and may feel that it needs to be adjusted," Manfred said without identifying any clubs. "That's going to be something that will be worked out between the teams before we get to the table with the MLBPA."
Before succeeding Bud Selig as commissioner in January, Manfred was baseball's chief labor negotiator and reached agreements with the union on the economic changes.
Gone are the days when the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies could outspend rivals for any player they desired.
"The whole purpose of Bud Selig's effort was to level the playing field, and it's been accomplished," New York general manager Brian Cashman said. "There is parity. The next great 'whatever' that becomes available, even though it constantly gets written that the Yankees are on him or will be on him, that narrative is not accurate. Not because of our ownership change, because George Steinbrenner is no longer with us, it's because the rules and the guidelines of the game have changed."
Teams are preparing for the start of bargaining to replace the current labor contract, which expires on Dec. 1 next year. A committee met in Kansas City on the day of the World Series opener last month.
"There are some huge markets in postseason and there are a lot of small markets in postseason," Ryan said. "You have to choose and make good baseball decisions. And it's not payroll. I've said that a lot."