For me, the model franchise for small market teams is the Tampa Bay Rays. That's probably the case for a lot of other people, and for good reason. The Rays broke out in 2008, winning 97 games and the competitive AL East. Four teams in that division won 86 or more games, yet the Rays posted one of the best records in baseball with one of the smallest payrolls. They weren't one-and-done either.
In 2009, the Rays went 84-78. They returned to the playoffs in 2010, winning the AL East with a 96-66 record. Last year they missed out on the East, but took the AL Wild Card spot with a 91-71 record.
Their opening day payroll in 2008 was $43.75 M. Their payroll jumped as high as $72.8 M in 2010, but dropped back down to the $42 M range in 2011. This year it started at $63.6 M. During this stretch they're a team that spends $40-75 M, which is below the league average, even at the high end of that scale.
When it came to free agents, the Rays had to watch top guys like Carl Crawford go. They did ...
Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.