|Rays Hoping Young Talent, Not Money, Wins East|
Written by Bjoern Hartig (Contact & Archive) on March 23, 2010
The Tampa Bay Rays followed their trip to the World Series with their second winning season in history, but at 84-78, they still finished 19 games behind the Yankees and 11 games behind the Red Sox. That is what playing in the AL East does even to highly talented teams.
With a payroll about half that of the Red Sox and less than a third of the Yankees, in order to make the play-offs, the Rays have to hope that everything goes right for them like in 2008 -- or that Bud Selig implements his realignment plans sooner than anticipated. The Rays are blessed with an abundance of young talent that turns every other GM green with envy. Just look at their rotation: James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis. Five highly talented hurlers, all well under 30 years. Their lineup features household names like Carl Crawford (60 stolen bases), Carlos Pena (30 home runs), Jason Bartlett (.320 average), B.J. Upton (42 stolen bases), Ben Zobrist (.948 OPS) and of course Evan Longoria (33 home runs). What can possibly go wrong?
The Yankees miss the play-offs for the first time in the division era, so they spent $161 million on three players. Just for comparison, the Rays payroll from 2006 to 2009 was about $166 million combined. The Red Sox are a little less drastic, but still: They have an aging third baseman who is a little stiff in the hip. So they sign a new one for $10 million AND pay the old one $12 million to occasionally platoon at DH and first base. How can the Rays -- or the Blue Jays and Orioles for that matter -- ever compete with that?
Well, they can't. Since 1997, the Yankees and Red Sox have won every division title and wild card that came out of the AL East, the lonely exception being the Rays magical ride in 2008. But last season proved that this was just an outlier. Otherwise, the Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles are just playing extras to the two main actors. And this is not going to change anytime soon. Or is it?
Well, 2008 may have been an outlier, true. Those are rare, but they do happen. There is always the chance the pendulum happens to swing your way. All your key players stay healthy, while your opponent sees some of his succumb to injury or age. The pen gets it done when it matters most and you win a few more close ones than you are supposed to.
Unfortunately, while the Yankees may be able to buy themselves a championship, the Rays cannot buy themselves good luck. They can, however, put themselves in the best possible position by fielding a young, talented team, less likely to suffer injuries and more likely to overachieve. And then hope for the best.
So Rays, good luck then!