By Ashley Dunkak

They say money can’t buy happiness, and for those folks who derive happiness from a World Series, the proverb once again rings true.

Four teams remain in the quest for the 2015 World Series championship: the Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays. Nine teams have higher payrolls this year than the Blue Jays, which spent more than any of the other three teams still in contention. The Cubs have the 11th-highest payroll in baseball, the Royals the 14th and the Mets the 15th, according to Spotrac.

Twenty-four Major League Baseball players earned $20 million or more this season, per Spotrac, and only three of them are playing in the postseason — Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle, Mets third baseman David Wright and Cubs starter Jon Lester. Among the four teams still playing, only four players make more than $15 million: the three just mentioned and right fielder Curtis Granderson. Jose Bautista and Alex Gordon fall right below that mark, making $14 million each this season.

It raises the question of whether long-term commitments to players for exorbitant dollars are truly necessary for owners and fans to enjoy the ultimate satisfaction of winning the World Series. The 2015 postseason so far suggests they could achieve the game’s greatest glory without breaking the bank on elite free agents.

The Los Angeles Dodgers paid their players a total of nearly $315 million this season, flying past the luxury tax threshold. The Dodgers outspent the New York Yankees, who had the second-highest payroll, by close to $100 million. The Dodgers lost to the Mets in the division series. The Yankees, with five players making $20 million or more this season, were eliminated in a wild-card game.

The San Francisco Giants and the Boston Red Sox, which both racked up payrolls of more than $180 million, missed the playoffs entirely. So did the Washington Nationals and the Detroit Tigers, which each spent over $160 million.

None of this means that a team that spends lavishly cannot claim a World Series, of course. The Giants were big spenders when they won it all in 2014. What this season shows, however, is that teams do not have to empty their pockets to have a shot. The four teams left standing now are in the middle of the pack when it comes to spending.

Given what these teams have accomplished, mostly without baseball’s highest-paid players, one has to wonder how much these extravagant deals actually help a team. Splashy signings excite fans because they typically signal instant improvement at a position. An owner can point to such a move as evidence of his commitment to winning. And even if an expensive player does not pan out, the owner can still maintain he did his part by giving management what it wanted.

The Royals, Blue Jays and Mets have reminded everyone, however, that acquiring top-tier talent does not have to traumatize the checkbook.

Toronto made the most noise of any team at the trade deadline, springing for Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and Tigers ace David Price, among others. Price has continued to struggle in the postseason but was instrumental in the Blue Jays making it to this point. He’s had a 2.30 ERA in 11 regular season games for his new team. Outfielder Ben Revere, another Toronto addition, has hit .319 in 56 games for the Blue Jays.

The Mets also brought in players via trade, and Yoenis Cespedes has proved to be a perfect fit. The soon-to-be-free-agent slugger smacked 17 home runs in 57 games for the Mets and delivered two more in the National League Division Series.

Kansas City has benefited from the services of ace Johnny Cueto, who allowed four or more runs in five straight starts, but helped redeem himself with a stellar outing in Game 5 of the ALDS. The Royals also snagged Ben Zobrist, who has a batting average of .284 and an on-base percentage of .364 since joining Kansas City. Zobrist even took over at second base when Omar Infante got hurt.

Obviously, the deadline moves helped already-strong teams shift into gear. Because players must accrue six years of service in the majors before hitting free agency, many star players are not yet paid like stars and do not yet require a long-term commitment.

Any team would love to have Miguel Cabrera or Clayton Kershaw or any other truly special player, but few teams can realistically afford the kind of outlay those Hall of Fame types demand. Even fewer can afford to splurge so dramatically and have enough left over to fill needs at other positions.

The Blue Jays, Royals, Cubs and Mets are proving that clubs can compete even without paying through the nose for the best of the best. For fans of teams with shallower pockets, that’s encouraging.

Originally from the Kansas City area, Ashley spent the last two years in Detroit covering the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons – and some Michigan and Michigan State – as the sports writer for CBS Detroit. She previously spent three years as a correspondent for the Associated Press, covering football and basketball at Kansas State. She grew up watching the Chiefs and the Royals, but her soon-to-be husband is the true Royals devotee. The light-hearted argument over where to put the bobbleheads in the new apartment has already begun.