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5 Biggest Bargains In Baseball

Tickers in this article: BUD GM MA
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Baseball's opening day comes early this year, but baseball fans' wallets are already open and emptying.

Major League Baseball increased its revenue 4.5% last year, to a record $7 billion, while drawing 0.6% fewer fans than the year before. For the second straight year, half the teams in the league spent their season drawing 61% of their stadium's capacity or less and the fans who stuck around were hit with a 1.5% average hike in ticket prices, according to Team Marketing Research.

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox ended up paying the league's luxury tax, thanks to $206 million and $163 million payrolls, but 24 of the league's 32 teams had payrolls that were less than half of what the Yankees doled out, and the four teams at the bottom of the payroll pile doled out a third of what the Red Sox spent on players last year. Not surprisingly, 17 of the league's 32 teams saw a drop in attendance as fans fled with such sponsors as Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) , GM(GM) and MasterCard(MA) .

Even when fans have spent generations rooting for their beloved laundry, it eventually comes down to value. Is it worth paying the highest tickets prices in the league to go to Fenway Park and sing Sweet Caroline when the Red Sox's $163 million couldn't even buy a playoff berth? Is it worth paying $11 less than the league average to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play when they haven't made the playoffs or had a winning season in 19 years and keep giving franchise players such as Jason Bay tickets on the fastest plane out of town? It's ultimately up to the fan, but as Tampa Bay Rays fans and their slumping attendance numbers last year can attest, even low ticket prices and high winning percentages (such as the one that gave the Rays the AL East and a playoff berth last year) aren't sure signs of success.

TheStreet took a look at the league going into the 2011 season and found five teams that give their fans the most return for the least money. The Rays would have been included, but when third baseman Evan Longoria had to plead with fans last year to come out to watch a team with the fifth-lowest ticket prices in the league make a playoff run, we're not sure anything has enough bang for that city's buck:

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2010 record: 80-82 (Third in AL West, no playoffs)
2010 average ticket price: $18.93 (Fifth-lowest in the league)
Losing record? No playoffs? Where's the value in that?

How quickly fans forget. With the average ticket price of a small-market team, the Angels have made the playoffs in six of the past nine years. Even last year, when the loss of first baseman Kendry Morales and the so-so pickup of pitcher Dan Haren took a lot of the excitement out of Angel Stadium, owner Artie Moreno plowed $105 million into the team.