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Watching the Rays and Dodgers in the World Series through a Mets lens

The Rays and Dodgers were great in the shortened 2020 season, but there’s a stark difference in how the teams got here.

MLB: World Series-Workouts Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

With the World Series set to begin tonight, anyone viewing it through a Mets lens might be tempted to see it as a contest between baseball ideologies that the Mets could potentially follow once Steve Cohen officially takes over as the team’s new owner.

Per Cot’s Contracts, the Dodgers’ payroll before prorated adjustments for the pandemic would have been $222 million this year, while the Rays’ would have been $72 million. But it should be pointed out up front that the level at which these franchises have contended over the past several years isn’t nearly the same. The Dodgers are in their eighth consecutive year of making the playoffs and in their third World Series in the past four years, and they’ve won no fewer than 91 games in each of the full seasons over that span. Their 43 wins this year would be on a 116-win pace in a normal season, and sure, that would have been difficult to maintain, but there’s little doubt they would have finished at or above 100 wins.

Over that same span, the Rays have made the playoffs three times, with this year being their first appearance in the ALCS and World Series since they made it to the World Series in 2008. In the full seasons from 2013 to 2018, their win totals ranged from 68 at the worst and 96 at the best. Their 40 wins this year would put them on pace for 98 wins if this had been a normal season.

To be clear, both teams operate the way they do—the Rays by constantly churning players and avoiding paying even moderately high salaries to individual players, the Dodgers being willing to pay market rate to either retain their own players or bring in players from other teams—by choice. There are differences in the economics of each team, to be sure, but given the financial success of Major League Baseball over the past decade-plus, no team should get off the hook or be overly praised for its success simply because it’s a “small-market” team.

Regardless of which team wins this World Series, the Mets under Steve Cohen should seek the path that results in them looking a lot more like the Dodgers than the Rays. That isn’t to say the Mets should simply find ways to spend $200 million on payroll just for the sake of doing so, but being willing to spend real money—to retain their own very good players, sign top-notch free agents like J.T. Realmuto, or trade for players like Mookie Betts, who was shipped out of Boston simply because the Red Sox felt like tanking instead of continuing to contend—is something the Mets should have been doing for the past decade and is something they should start doing now.

When watching these games, there’s nothing wrong with rooting for the Rays as underdogs in this series. The combination of players on their roster doesn’t often play to this level of success, and almost all of them had no say in playing for a team with such a limited payroll. But coming off decades of Wilpon-created financial uncertainty, limitations, and meddling in front office affairs, any reasonable Mets fan should be looking to the Dodgers’ way of running a baseball team as the model the Mets should emulate moving forward.