The end of Big Game?

I walked into a sports bar the other night just as James Shields had struck out his record-setting, fifteenth batter. 

Watching Shields walk off the mound in the ninth, holding back the tears, was a fitting finale to the Tampa Bay Rays season, his final out of the night recorded, confident he had given his all, yet his team behind 1-0.  “Big Game” James was nearly unhittable Tuesday night.  The only problem, as has happened all too often this season, was that the lineup behind him was equally unable to manufacture a hit.

And so Shields’ night, and perhaps career with the Rays, came to a close.  He tipped his cap to the roar of the appreciative crowd then descended into the dugout to the hugs and high-fives of his teammates, probably wishing he could have traded some of that love for a run or two, but alas, he pitches for the Rays and that’s not how they roll.  Until last night, no pitcher in the live ball era had ever lost a game after striking out fifteen, walking none, giving up only two hits and one lone run.  It was another typical outing for Shields and unfortunately, another typical outing for the Rays lineup.

Don’t let their run differential of +120 fool you.  These Rays, who missed the post-season by only three games, would beat you 11-2 just as often as they’d lose 2-1.  They featured what could legitimately be considered one of the best pitching staffs ever assembled from top to bottom.  They allowed the fewest runs in the majors but finished 28th in the league in hits and 27th in batting average.  Not to be outdone by teammate and strong Cy Young candidate David Price, who won 20 games and finished with a 2.56 ERA, Shields, their number two starter, finished 15-10 and led the team in strikeouts with 223.  He won’t get any love for Cy Young this year but he finished third in the voting for the award last year.  Additionally, Shields has started at least 33 games for the Rays every season since 2008, showing he’s the most consistent arm in that rotation.  We’ll see if the Rays are about to make him the highest paid.

Shields is scheduled to make $10.25 million if the team picks up his option in 2013.  The question remains whether Tampa can afford, or is even willing to do so when their entire roster only makes $65 million.  Shields’ name was involved in trade rumors all season and the Rays have plenty of solid young pitchers (Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson) at one-tenth the price.

If it was left up to the fans, and perhaps even James, he’d be pitching in the Trop again next year but the Rays rotation is getting full while their pocketbooks aren’t.  If the Rays don’t re-up on Shields, some team out there gladly will, paying handsomely for one of the game’s best young arms.

Not long ago, I wrote that Rays fans enjoy being the underdog, the little engine that could but just couldn’t afford to, able to knock off the financial giants at one-third the cost, but it’s times like these Rays that fans don’t like, the uneasy feeling they won’t be able to re-sign one of their greatest players with nothing they can do about it.

James wants to be here, his teammates want him here.  Rays fans most certainly want him here and ownership probably does too.  Either way, it’s going to come down to whether the numbers add up.  Meanwhile, Tampa fans will spend their warm winter with their fingers crossed.

The Rays have let other players go when their contracts were up.  Matt Garza and Carl Crawford come to mind.  Those players met with limited success when not playing for Maddon the mastermind.  The same can probably not be said for Shields who it’s hard to imagine won’t be equally as dominant in another uniform.

Rays fans are hoping that’s something they won’t have to see.

28 thoughts on “The end of Big Game?

  1. Pingback: The end of Big Game? - BallHyped Blog Network, MLB | BallHyped Sports Blogs

  2. The Rays’ bread and butter is their pitching , not offense or anything else for that matter . They give up Shields or Upton , then , they had better have a goddamn good enough replacement within their farm system capable of giving them immediate production .

    I’d rather see Stuart Steinberg get a silent partner , rather than this continued farce of paring down salary each season and then repeatedly come up with these asinine excuses as to why they can’t compete because of their lack of resources . If he can make millions as a damn commodities broker and financier . Then how the fu#k is it with that type of business acumen , he can’t make the Rays a going financial concern both on and off the field of play ? Ask yourself that for once ? There is apathy within the Rays’ fan base and once more the damn journalists in the print and tv media market there are so damn clueless that it doesn’t warrant talking about .

    Now these idiots are talking about building the organization a new venue but they have yet to deal with the issue of financing , much less where Sternberg will get the money to pay for the breaking of the ball club’s lease (expires in 2027) with the city of St Petersburg .

    Tophatal ………………..

  3. Al…

    I’m not sure if you watched the Rays’ last two games of the season but both Shields and Upton were driven to tears realizing a) they came up just short and b) that might be their last game in a Rays uniform.

    Some team is going to offer up a pretty penny for both those guys this off-season and it’ll be up to the Rays to see if they want, or can afford, to keep them both.

  4. Like or not (and I don’t) the Rays are going to have to trade some arms for some bats. They need a first baseman who can hit more than his weight and a designated hitter with two good shoulders. On top of that Upton is a free agent looking to get paid and you know what that means. Their farm system is fully stocked and it’s time to do some dealing (sad but true). If they can get a premium return on Shields then I say pull the trigger. It’s time to move ahead before we get left behind. Go Rays!

  5. And that’s the sad truth, Aer.

    Legitimately, had Longoria not missed the first third to half of the season, this team probably would have made the playoffs but that’s not how it all went down.

    As I mentioned in the piece, the Rays still have a solid staff even without Shields and that doesn’t even include the return of Niemann.

    I’m just not sure what hitters are out there. And if BJ goes, they’ll need to fill that centerfield hole as well.

  6. Value for the money, Al?

    Yes.

    Another playoff appearance?

    Obviously not.

    I’d like to see how much this team paid per strikeout and per hit. I bet you there’s a massive discrepancy.

  7. Hello Triple SC,
    “Tampa fans will spend their warm winter with their fingers crossed.”????? Heck, that goes for us Red Sox Fans too 😉 I’d welcome Big Game James to Boston! God knows how we need some pitching. Don’t get me wrong, I cheer for the Rays, just not when they go against my Red Sox. And here both teams are not in the playoffs , one being short, and the other not in contention for months.

    I was fortunate to have Shields on my fantasy team this year and he helped my team end the season in 2nd place. But better than that, Shields personally tossed me a practice ball at Fenway. Now we don’t need to expand that I caught that blasted ball on the 3rd try, but rather focus how I too watched that 15 k game with Shields sadly getting the L and Upton with his tears. And I would flip back to ESPN to see Pedroia looking like they lost the World Series instead of their worst record since 1965. Losing sucks, period.

    But there is an up side for trades, You know what amazed me, SC??? Grant Balfour! Omg, Did you watch the A’s 162nd game? Balfour was a relief pitcher with the Rays, but went to the A’s and gets 24 saves out of 26 opps. I was amazed. The fans went nuts when he came out.

    October is the best month of the year- it’s playoffs! And I may be a minority with that thought, but I get into it even if my favorites are not there. I chose new favorites! I could honestly talk baseball to a brass monkey, so I will save your ears from further ramblings to share this…On 1 of my Fenway Park tours, I heard NY doesn’t stand for New York, but Next Year! Ha Ha! So while our teams are in turmoil, let’s raise our glasses to a better years to come with hopes we’ll make it to playoffs again soon. It’s the best we can do. Cheers.
    Dee Dee

  8. I think you guys all know I’m a Rays fan. That being said I’ve got to be honest, the third place finish is about as good as I thought they’d be this season. The fact that they were in first place and hung around the top of the division standings most of the year is testament to the presence of the one person this team cannot afford to lose, the man behind the curtain pulling the levers, Joe Maddon. If only the team’s financial situation could cover the costs of an MLB middle of the road salary budget Joe would have his team (given the Ray’s consistent penchant for drafting good young talent) playing in the World Series year after year.

    I’m thinking “Big Game” won’t do as well elsewhere. I truly believe Joe makes it so…

    Aero is right on the mark about adding a couple of bats but given the financial situation that’s a tall order. The owners must be profitable. If something doesn’t break soon on the stadium front I look for relocation to be the owners’ only salvation and there are venues out there that would wholeheartedly support this franchise…

  9. Dee Dee…

    First of all, welcome home. Looks like you had a blast in Beantown.

    As someone who grew up a Red Sox fan but has recently grown an affinity for the Rays, I look at what Boston has done over the past few years and fear they’re far away from fielding a competitive team. The Bobby V firing was all anyone could talk about today.

    The Rays, however, have built a solid foundation but will have some difficult decisions to make this off-season. BJ and Big Game are probably gone, which sucks, but those are the breaks when running a small market team. Those who replace them, if and when they’re gone, will have big shoes to fill.

    You can’t fault either of them for testing the market and finding their worth.

    As you mentioned, Balfour was also let go BUT the Rays bullpen this season was lights out, which leads me to believe ownership, and their pitching coach, who should be up for a Nobel Peace Prize, knows what they’re doing. Heck, Fernando Rodney, a first year closer, set an ERA record for innings pitched, and his set up guys weren’t all that bad either.

    That’s how the Rays do things. That’s what we deal with.

  10. Dwin…

    You can’t convince me that Shields won’t go to a team like the Dodgers, Yanks or Red Sox, become their number two starter and rattle off another fifteen wins, man. The guys is nails.

    Unless, of course, he’s bothered by leaving his comfort zone. You and I both know he was a far better pitcher than Garza.

    I did catch some of Friedman’s and Maddon’s post-season state of the union address and they didn’t rule out the possibility of looking into free agency for a bat.

    The only question is whether they’ll be outbid by a larger market team.

  11. BS…

    They put up a good fight, man.

    In the end, teams like the Yanks, Orioles and A’s just had too much momentum.

    Heck, the Rangers were the best team in baseball for most of the season and they didn’t even win their division.

  12. I love the rays and Maddon but i dont want us to become big spenders. I hate teams that try and buy championships because it never seems to work out. We would have made the playoffs if Longoria doesn’t get hurt but he did and we just missed it but we missed it to Baltimore and Oakland not to the Angels or Boston or any other team trying to buy a ring. I only wish the Whitesox could have kept the Tigers out of it. No I love the Rays but I dont think in MLB today that u can keep a staff like the Braves did without bankrupting your city and it is not like the Bay area is supporting this team at all. So lets just stay a small payroll team and keep our manager and be the underdog.

  13. Massive discrepancy ? Per strikeout or per hit , I bet the players would bitch and gripe about it with the union !

    I love Ron Washington’s explanation for the Rangers’ improbable meltdown ! He says it was about the cgi?team=TEX&t=p&year=2012″> team’s pitching ? Is he kidding over the last month that offense couldn’t buy a damn hit much less a dime bag of crack .

    The Arizona Cardinals are definitely not for real , not with Kolb helming that team at the quarterback position . They were more exposed last night , than a streaker running across an open field protesting their wish for World Peace .

    Patrick Peterson has a long way to go before he can be considered one of the best CB’s in the league .

    Red Sox team President Larry Lucchino is a butt-head ! Now we know, it was more on his say so , that Valentine was hired and not on the recommendation of GM Ben Cherington , who actually wanted to hire John Farrell of the Blue Jays or Dale Sveum .

    Valentine simply went about the things the wrong way in Boston, right from the beginning . You don’t go in, looking to shake things up , by disrespecting the players . What an a#s !

    Kicking it into gear , ’cause it’s football …….

    Tophatal ………………….

  14. Dan…

    You proved my point exactly and thanks for chiming in. Most Rays fans feel exactly the same way you do, preferring to keep things lean and compete against the big boys at one third the cost.

    All I was saying is that at times like these, when it comes time to say goodbye to guys like James Shields or BJ Upton that have been here a while, well, it just sucks, that’s all.

  15. Al…

    Let’s break it down, shall we?

    The Rays payroll this year was a touch under 65 mil, which means they paid $92,000 per run scored and $46,000 per strikeout. Of course, those numbers reflect overall team salary and are not split up between offensive players and pitchers.

    (FYI… we paid $74,000 for every Carlos Pena hit this year, considering he made $7.25 mil.)

    But I guess those numbers aren’t all that grotesque considering the Yankees paid $246,000 per run scored and $150 grand per strikeout. Ouch!

    Even at 4-0, Al, I don’t think anyone took the Cardinals all that seriously.

    And in regards to Bobby Valentine, I’ve heard that Terry Francona is seriously interested in the Cleveland Indians gig. I know he won it all twice in Boston but if he brought a championship to Cleveland, a city that hasn’t seen one in over fifty years, then he truly is a miracle worker.

  16. For small market teams it’s part of the cycle. You will lose players you love, but if this season has taught me anything there’s nothing more satisfying than being bad for a stretch then being good out of nowhere. The Rays always seem to be like the A’s and find good pitching under a rock, so I bet they’ll be okay with Moore and Cobb stepping into his slot in the rotation.

  17. And don’t forget Archer, Chap.

    Congrats to your A’s. I wouldn’t have thought you guys stood a shot but both the A’s and O’s have seriously turned some heads.

    Can you imagine A’s vs. O’s in the ALCS? How many players from each of those rosters do you the think the average fan could name?

    I’m guessing not many.

  18. VERY few people can name guys on either of their rosters, and I’ll blame the four letter network for not letting everyone know about them! It’s funny how as soon as football starts SC becomes 80% NFL 10% other sports news, and 10% Yankees and Boston coverage. Honestly though, it’s kinda nice being under the radar, it makes you feel like your more a part of it…

  19. Don’t get me started on ESPN, Chap.

    I know you read my take on their coverage of the Packers-Seahawks game. It’s getting to where there are very few programs on that network I can watch, at least with the volume on.

    Yea, Rays fans are the same way. Most of us love the fact that we’re competing within limits. It makes beating the Yankees and Red Sox all the more sweeter.

  20. Chris

    With that sort of breakdown you should be working for either or Bazza’s or Romney’s campaign .

    You know where I stand when it comes to the Rays , as I’ve always said they need an influx of cash in order to compete with the major teams in the league . What positives have you seen from the Rays beyond the team’s pitching ?

    I see the Giants are folding like a cheap suit against the Reds ? And it will be the same with the A’s in their series against the Tigers . .

    Terrific win for Florida over LSU . The Gators are now 5-0 and they’re kicking much a#s ! Nice !

    Tophatal …………………..

  21. Al…

    Low-budget, small-market teams have shown they can win lately. The Giants did so. So why not the Rays?

    They’re not going to spend, that much has been established, so they’re going to have to do whatever it is that they do with a limited budget.

    Shit, the Reds, Orioles and Nationals all made the playoffs spending around 80 mil and the A’s actually spent LESS THAN the Rays.

    And yes, I’m still on cloud nine about my Gators.

  22. So Al…

    Who fields a playoff team first?

    Francona in Cleveland or Theo Epstein in Chicago?

    Or will hell freeze over before either of those things happen?

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