The New York Yankees of the '50s and the Chicago Bulls and Dallas Cowboys of the '90s had one crucial element in common: consistent excellence in their organizations and performance. That's a rare accomplishment, but if you think it could never occur in your own portfolio, think again. Carefully chosen dividend-paying stocks could be your key to superstar returns.

Build the next investing dynasty
These long-haul outperformers can help you build your fortune, as studies from investing gurus such as Jeremy Siegel have shown time and time again. Finding them is our Motley Fool Income Investor service's mission.

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), for example, has beaten the S&P 500 by 27 points since April 2006, and it's currently rewarding investors with a 3.3% yield. Or consider VF (NYSE:VFC), which has topped the S&P by 24 points since June 2006, atop a current 3.6% yield. While these stocks happen to be Income Investor recommendations, you don't need to be a subscriber to get great gains like these.

Identify new talent
With the help of Motley Fool CAPS, we'll search for the best dividend-paying stocks around. Here are several dividend picks that have also earned high ratings from the 135,000 members of our CAPS community:

Company

Yield

CAPS Rating (Out of 5)

Automatic Data Processing (NYSE:ADP)

3.4%

****

Sun Hydraulics (NASDAQ:SNHY)

1.9%

*****

Williams Companies (NYSE:WMB)

2.6%

****

DuPont (NYSE:DD)

5.1%

****

PetMed Express (NASDAQ:PETS)

2.2%

*****

Source: Yahoo! Finance and CAPS.

Any one of these quality companies would add some dividend excellence to your portfolio. Let's see why CAPS members think that Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick Sun Hydraulics deserves a hard look.

Does my dividend have a glass jaw?
The last thing we want in a dividend-paying stock is the risk that the company will fall off a cliff and have to pull back its dividend. This usually ends up being a double whammy; not only do you lose your dividend payout, but many of the dividend-loving investors who own the stock will also run for the hills, causing the share price to fall.

With that in mind, there are three places that I immediately tune into when kicking the tires of a dividend payer -- dividend history, financial statements, and business stability.

Starting with business stability, Sun Hydraulics definitely has it -- over the long term at least. The company makes screw-in hydraulic cartridge valves, which control movement in big capital equipment such as tractors. While the company has seen enduring demand for its products over the years, during recessionary times -- like right now -- demand tends to drop off.

Financially, the company is pretty darn sound. Though its free cash flow (operating cash flow minus capital expenditures) was less than dividend payouts over the past six months, its free cash flow over the past year was still more than twice what it paid out in dividends. And that's not to mention the notable strength of the company's balance sheet, with $26 million in cash and no debt.

What the bulls say
With 1,420 Sun Hydraulics bulls on CAPS versus just 14 bears, the debate on its stock is largely one-sided. CAPS members have cited a variety of reasons for their bullishness, including the bulletproof balance sheet, insider ownership, and the quality of the business and management team.

The latter point was what CAPS member DavidBear focused on when giving a thumbs-up to Sun Hydraulics in mid-June: "This is a well run company with a solid management and a business model that values people and innovation. Sure making cartridge valves and manifolds is not the most exciting technology in the world, but they will always be needed for power transfer, heavy construction equipment will make a comeback, and [Sun Hydraulics] is surely best-of-breed."

Get into the action
You can check out who else has been bullish on these stocks, and chime in with your own thoughts, by heading over to CAPS. You may also want to check out a few of the other top-rated dividend payers above while you're there.

Dividend stocks could help you transform your portfolio from the flash-in-the-pan Florida Marlins into the dependable New York Yankees. And if you hate the Yankees, it's probably because they're so darn good, so darn often.

More CAPS Foolishness:

Automatic Data Processing, Johnson & Johnson, and VF are Income Investor recommendations. Sun Hydraulics is a Hidden Gems pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer owns shares of J&J, but does not own shares of any of the other companies mentioned. You can check out the stocks he's keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS portfolio or connect with him on Twitter @KoppTheFool. The Fool's disclosure policy pays its dividends in reliability.