The most fascinating aspect about the Tampa Bay Rays competing and winning in the AL East — Kevin Cash repeated as AL manager of the year, and Randy Arozarena took home rookie of the year honors this week — is how they do it not despite their financial shortfalls but almost with the help of them.
Along the abnormal lines of don’t pay running backs or centers enormous sums unless they’re all world, maybe baseball franchises should consider spending less money. I asked a Rays fan friend of mine (they do exist!) if Tampa could indeed pay these players, would he want them to, and his answer was no — with the exception of Wander Franco.
There’s obviously more nuance to Tampa than “spend less money, win more games,” but it does raise the question: If Tampa (or say Oakland) had the resources of the Yankees and Red Sox, would they go from perennially good to dynasties? Or would the pressure of being able to spend with top-tier teams make them vulnerable to the same missteps that come with being able to pay your best players and overpay your role players?
There are myriad reasons for the success of the Rays. You can point to scouting, player development, managing, culture, etc. And then there’s the familiarity factor.
Information is critical in a sport like baseball (wow, Sean, genius take, maybe the Rays should hire you next), and if the tendencies of your opponent are shrouded in mystery because they’re a bunch of recent minor leaguers with no major league data on them then that could be a factor, as well.
I can think of numerous Cardinals players who looked like all-stars — David Freese is an old example, Aledmys Diaz is a more current example, and Paul DeJong is an example who’s still in St. Louis — until pitchers had the scouting report on them.
The lesson here isn’t to get rid of potential before they get figured out, but rather not to overreact and overpay on potential. The Rays’ financial standing is such that they can’t pay players, so fans see no use in stressing over it and don’t put external pressure on the franchise.
External pressure is all the Yankees and Red Sox know, and it’s difficult not to placate fans with signings when you have the money to do so. And, lost in this entire debate, is the Rays (and A’s) still haven’t won a World Series deploying this strategy.
One could argue ineptitude is the larger variable to consider when talking about the failings of the Yankees (and to a lesser degree the Red Sox), so large markets should do more long-term planning and less shopping-spree spending.
Multiple truths can exist simultaneously, though. The Rays have a system in place that works for them, but that doesn’t mean it should be viewed as a model by the rest of baseball.
What Tampa is doing should be applauded by small markets and studied by large ones: What aspects of their system are working, and how do you get those results utilizing your own means. Because big market fanbases are going to need damn good reasoning to be OK with trading their best players or letting them walk in free agency — even if the team that keeps winning their division does.