Trend-setting Rays… maybe

Are we about to see a change in Major League Baseball?

With the Astros, Yankees, Dodgers (whoops!) and Cardinals all coasting to comfortable playoff berths without the need of a wild card game, the rest of us watched intently as some low-budget, baseball teams made the post-season the old-fashioned way: they earned it.

That’s not to suggest teams like Houston, New York, L.A. (WHOOPS!) or St. Louis didn’t play their hearts out for 162 games. They just did so by adding a few extra zeros onto their paychecks.

All four of those teams are in the top seven in payroll. What’s astonishing is that the Rays, who are giving the Houston Astros all they want in a divisional series, rank dead last. The Yankees payroll is three-and-a-half times that of Tampa Bay! That’s not to say the Rays don’t like nice things. They’ll never be able to afford them.

As we all know, unlike hockey, basketball and football, Major League Baseball is a cap-less sport. Larger market teams are able to spend as they please. The playing field for smaller market teams is leveled by a) revenue sharing and b) their ability to run their franchise more efficiently.

Making a dollar out of a cent is nothing new for any successful business owner. Not too many companies carry around blank checks in their pocketbooks, like the Yankees, nor do many other franchises have the clout or prestige to attract high-profile athletes, again, like the Yankees.

In a perfect storm, that means franchises like the Rays, or the Oakland A’s who Tampa beat in the Wild Card, must do their due diligence in finding players to fit their budget.

Kevin Cash said it best. His organization has worked long and hard to find players other teams had given up on. They found them. And it’s now paying off in spades. Not bad for a team which also ranks near the bottom of the league in attendance. After two sold out home playoff games, it turns out Tampa Bay was just looking to be inspired.

Could Tampa Bay’s latest success mean teams will find a new way of putting together a payroll? Clearly any team’s job is to find the best players available, preferably at a bargain rate. The Red Sox and Cubs vomited up the top two payrolls in the majors. Both those teams missed the playoffs. Accordingly, the Red Sox fired their GM and the Cubs parted ways with their manager. There’s a lot of pressure to win when the checks get heavy. You just saw what happened to the Dodgers.

Does this mean that those within organizations like the Rays have to work harder than those in others? One would think that’s the case but for the sake of not pissing off any Yankees fans (they’re an ornery, entitled bunch), let’s just say it’s a different sort of work.

Those running mom and pop establishments are not going to have the same budget as those running a multi-store franchise. That’s not to say that both don’t demand efficiency in the workplace. In the long run, however, it might make winning on that dime more rewarding than winning on a dollar.

Could we see soon see a shift to teams looking to less bloated budgets if teams like Tampa (30th) and Oakland (25th) succeed at a considerably lower cost? Doesn’t that mean that a) those on the field and b) those in the front office are better at their jobs?

I’m not suggesting that the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Dodgers will ever stop over-spending on high-profile talent. That’s ludicrous. I am saying that if George Steinbrenner were still alive and saw the Rays winning the same amount of games as the Yankees at one-third the price, there would be hell to pay.

Don’t be surprised when those big market teams come hunting through the cubicles of the smaller ones, scouring for scouts who put teams like the A’s and Rays together. And those guys might jump ship. The lure of a few extra zeroes can be hard to turn down.

That just means small market teams will have to start from scratch like they always do. In the front office and on the field. Fortunately for them, it’s something they’re used to.

It’s hard not to root for David against Goliath. Especially when the price is right.

8 thoughts on “Trend-setting Rays… maybe

  1. The Rays went down fighting. The Nats are still standing. Pretty good for a couple of wild cards. Good for them and good for baseball. The Yankees,Astros,and Cards are in a good position,which is easier if you start on third base. Go Nats !

  2. Deac….

    This post-season got me watching intently for the first time in a long time. It felt good, like coming home.

    I don’t think you’ll find anyone in that Rays clubhouse okay with the outcome of that series. That being said, it was a damn fine season they played.

    We’ll see how many of these players they’ll be able to keep and whether they’ll be able to make another run sooner rather than later.

  3. This isn’t new. One you didn’t mention the Twins, which if you blinked you missed them in the play-offs. Two, the Royals won a World Series a few years back with a major portion of their payroll being paid in pizza coupons. Not to mention, your Rays made a World Series a decade ago with a low-dollar roster.

    Everybody talks about the team that wins with a big payroll, but nobody ever talks about the pantheon of teams which spent shitloads of money to not even make the play-offs. Remember when everybody was agog over the Phillies acquiring four All-Stars from 2018, including pumping nearly a third-of-a-billion dollars into Bryce Harper? Well, where are they now? How about the Red Sox for that matter? Sure, they won last year, but go back and look how many times they’ve spent big and come up short. Even if you don’t like that example, go look at how much money teams like the Mets and Angels have spent for one World Series win between them. Let’s not forget my all-time favorite…the Steinbrenner Yankees of the 1980s, when he filled Yankee Staduim to the brim with cash, and in 1984 had two MVP candidates in Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly…and finished in third place.

    After all that, there’s the “oops” Dodgers. The bottom line is the “big market/payroll vs. small market/payroll” theory is sooooo Bud Selig from 2002, and the idea there is a direct correlation between payroll and post-season success is demonstrably false.

    Although, maybe the Rays could have flipped few bucks to somebody to tell Tyler Glasnow he was tipping his pitches in Game 5…

  4. Yea, Dubs, the Twins came out of nowhere. I’ve been listening to you bitch about them for years now… and they finally make the playoffs? Who knew? They just ran into a buzz saw in the Yankees, just like the Astros are. Would thunk THAT?

    Speaking of teams with bloated payrolls, I can’t help but wonder how many of them are actually making money. And if they’re not, how long til those salaries come down?

    And yea, Glasnow in that first, ugh!

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