What can baseball's fourth-lowest payroll get you? Everything needed to field an elite team, it seems.
That's precisely what the Oakland A's have done. With a collection of retreads and reclamation projects -- baseball hand-me-downs -- the A's have fashioned a contender that can best be described as scrap heap chic.
"I don't know how they keep doing it, but they do," A's first baseman Brandon Moss said of general manager Billy Beane and the front office. "They take calculated risks on players because there's less pressure than in some of the bigger markets and there's an understanding in Oakland that this is how we have to do it."
Despite falling to the Mets, 10-1, Tuesday night at Citi Field, the A's, at 47-30 and with two consecutive American League West titles, stand as a blueprint for what the Mets hoped to accomplish: being successful on a ($74-million) budget.
Scott Kazmir, who was hammered for seven earned runs in three innings in the loss, still is one of those proverbial gambles that hit.
Two years ago, the former Mets' first-round pick was pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters, his big-league career seemingly over after a series of injuries led to altered mechanics and diminished velocity.
Kazmir didn't play in the majors in 2012 but returned with the Indians last year, his delivery refined, his repertoire altered and the fastball back up to 92 mph.
The lefthander was solid, with a 4.04 ERA in 29 starts last season. The Athletics "targeted him right away" as a free agent, manager Bob Melvin said, and Kazmir signed a two-year, $22-million contract. Pittance for a quality starter, huh? Kazmir's $9-million salary makes him the team's third most expensive player, earning roughly $1 million less than Yoenis Cespedes and Jim Johnson.
Kazmir is 9-3 with a 2.66 ERA and those numbers, even after Tuesday night's performance, will keep him in the early Cy Young discussion.
And that has been the A's M.O., consistently finding quality during clearance sales. "Moneyball" aside, the A's have gotten the most bang for their bucks. For example:
Moss, who struggled in his first six seasons and was unwanted by the Phillies, has bashed 68 homers since joining the A's in 2011. He's making $4.1 million this season.
Closer Sean Doolittle, with his 2.00 ERA, was a first baseman converted into a lefty reliever after injuries to his right wrist in 2011. He's making $505,000.
Josh Donaldson, traded in 2008 from the Cubs for Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin -- neither of whom is in the majors -- is among the MLB leaders in homers (18) and RBIs (56). He's making $500,000.
Oakland's payroll is in front of only the Cubs, Marlins and Astros, and a galaxy away from the Dodgers ($238.8 million) and Yankees ($209.4 million). Of the eight teams with payrolls within $10 million of the A's -- including the Mets at $82.2 million -- only the Pirates and Marlins are .500 or better. The A's lead the majors with 390 runs and their 3.02 ERA is second best.
"We've got a bunch of guys who were overlooked, designated for assignment, traded multiple times, and that helps shape the personality of our clubhouse," Doolittle said. "You get a group like that, with our small payroll, you kind of have that underdog mentality. They come here and they get an opportunity and make the most of it."