Terrified of Tampa

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Devil Rrays, originally uploaded by mandolux.

[Tampa is] going to be not just a team on the radar screen in coming years, they’re going to turn into a force.” – Theo Epstein.

Sadly, I concur. The sentiment would have probably seemed at once more prescient and less surprising had I published this when I first started writing it. Which, for the record, was actually before this March 20th Twitter. Also, before we were at the quarter pole looking up at the Rays in the standings.

By now, everyone and their mother has heard about these “new” Rays, making this piece both redundant and superfluous. But I’m not quite convinced that Red Sox Nation is as concerned about the Rays as they should be.

Obviously they’re going to cause problems this year. There’s the fact that they’re leading the division, of course, but more alarming is the fact that their Run Differential suggests that they should be leading the division (the Rays have scored 26 more runs than they’ve allowed through 43 games, while the Sox are +25 through 44). Think it’s a scheduling thing? They’re 18-12 vs the AL East.

Frankly, it’s looking more and more like the BP guys called this one, as they called the White Sox’ miserable ’07 season. I thought they’d be improved, but that an 88-74 season was seriously optimistic.

That’ll learn me to compete with the math geeks.

My real concern, however, isn’t this season. Not that I relish the thought of a resurgent Rays club, but Tampa making a single season run like the Marlins of yore I could live with. The longtime laughingstock positioning itself for years of competitive play, I’m not sure I can.

Which is a problem, because that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Consider the roster:

C D Navarro
1B C Pena
2B A Iwamure
3B E Longoria
SS J Barlett
RF J Gomes
CF B Upton
LF C Crawford

SP J Shields
SP S Kazmir
SP E Jackson
SP M Garza
SP A Sonnanstine

RP T Percival
RP D Wheeler
RP A Reyes
RP T Miller

I’m not sure what you see, but I see a solid club. They’re above average, I’d argue, everywhere but catcher, shortstop and right field – and I haven’t even run the numbers, that could be understating the case. The rotation is solid 1-4, and the bullpen has options beyond a closer fresh off the juvenation machine.

And unlike the aforemention Marlins, the Rays are in the process of making sure that the key pieces will be around for years to come. Shields, Longoria, Wheeler, Pena, and now Kazmir. And if Neyer’s right, Upton could follow.

Perhaps you’ll also recall how our much vaunted farm system was ranked second in all of major league baseball? Guess who finished ahead of us. Seriously.

As if Tampa’s current staff wasn’t frightening enough, help is on the way. David Price, last year’s first overall pick in the draft, got an excellent review from A-Rod despite coughing up a homer to the Cooler while the latter was on a rehab assignment. Bolstering the staff shortly should be Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Jeff Niemann, while Bartlett’s replacement Reid Brignac is in place.

Couple the best farm system in the game, with a talented young major league roster and the financial wherewithal to sign some of the young players to multi-year deals and what do you get? A competitive Rays club. Oh, and they may be getting a brand new waterfront ballpark.

Within one, maybe two years at the outside, we’ll be sitting in our rockers waxing nostalgic about the good old days when we only had to worry about the Yankees. Mark my words.

You can talk all you want about the talented Blue Jays pitching staff – which is excellent, no doubt – but it’s the Rays that really scare me.

Can We Drop the Whole "The Red Sox Are the New Yankees" Thing Now?

Following the $100M+ the Red Sox shelled out for Daisuke Matsuzaka last offseason, I – like many Red Sox fans – was besieged with claims from (jilted) Yankees fans that “we were just like them.” That by virtue of that single capital expenditure, we were at once on equal financial footing with the Evil Empire. The media, true to form, picked up on this theme, debating such brain teasers as “would it be as fun to win now,” or “have we sold our souls?” Which obviously, I’ll ignore.

Herculean as my efforts were, however, I was entirely unsuccessful in persuading Yankees fans and good people alike that the two clubs remained quite distinct, in fact, in financial terms.

For while it’s convenient for fans of small market clubs like the A’s and Twins to lump all of the big market teams into a single bucket, the fact remains that we weren’t within hailing distance of the Yankees in terms of payroll numbers (the Matsuzaka posting fee aside, which I’ll get to in a moment). This inclination is understandable, given the respective payroll deltas. According to an AP report today, the gap between our roster and Tampa’s last year, for example, was $123.6, against the $62.9 million the Yankees spent above and beyond our costs.

So how are we different, in light of those numbers? Well, fortunately Allan Wood over at the Joy of Sox answered that question for you this past August:

Meaning you could take the Red Sox’s current payroll, add the salaries of

Ichiro Suzuki
Miguel Tejada
Kevin Millwood
Barry Zito
Albert Pujols
Dontrelle Willis

and still be about $1 million shy of the Yankees’ current payroll.

And that was with a payroll differential of $66M, not $62M.

We spend more than most every other club, it’s true. But please, can we drop the fiction that we’re the same as the Yankees?

Oh, and that monster posting fee which doesn’t get counted against officially reported payroll? Well, amortizing the fee over the 6 year life of the deal, I come out with a figure of $8.5 million per season. A hefty chunk of change for you and me, but not one that alters the above argument meaningfully.