The KC Royals have carried the small-market label for so long it is hard to believe they once had the highest payroll in baseball.
As shocking as it sounds, it is true that in 1990 the franchise led the majors with a total payroll of nearly $24 million. More surprisingly, the team never had the lowest overall salary total during this fifteen-year period we are reviewing (they did have the lowest in 2011 but that is out of our scope).
They still had the fourth-highest payroll in 1994 but after the death of owner Ewing Kauffman and no full-time owner again until 2000 when David Glass purchased the team, the payroll was sliced drastically. To the point, it dropped by over $20 million from ’94 to just under $19 million in 1996. Hard to be competitive with the money cut off.
Kansas City has spent the last twenty-plus years being in the bottom third of payroll dollars, only rising to a middle point during the World Series season in 2015 and the following two years.
Glass was notorious for keeping his wallet shut ensuring he could turn a profit even if it kept the fans away in droves. And stay away the fans did. From 1996-2010 the Royals finished 10th or worse in American League attendance each season. They were 13th six times and dead last in 2008.
This meant that despite having a wealth of talent go through the organization they were often unable to resign them or trades that usually resulted in poor return. Some of the players who slipped through the KC Royals’ fingers include Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye, Jeff Suppan, J.P. Howell, and eventually Zack Greinke.
Some teams did find success with smaller payrolls like the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays. There was more than one component to the downfall of Kansas City.