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Guest Post: Jeff Passan’s Rebuttal

8 April 2010

Yesterday, Yahoo national baseball writer Jeff Passan wrote a column expressing his disappointment that Carl Crawford would soon be leaving the Tampa Bay Rays and that small-revenue teams in general continue to face an uphill climb against the richest teams in baseball. Being the Rays junkie that I am and an incorrigible optimist, I felt the need to respond with a really long blog post.

Today, Jeff was gracious enough to write a rebuttal to my rebuttal, for publication here at JonahKeri.com. Jeff continues to be both a great writer and a mensch, as you’ll see below. As Jeff noted in his email to me last night, he (and I) greatly enjoyed this bout of Jew-on-Jew violence.

I love Jonah Keri’s optimism. I really do. I miss mine.

Some time over the past decade, it died. I write about sports, and accordingly, I write about money, and the two make horrible bedfellows. Money is why we remain subjected to the corrupt BCS, and it is why the NCAA wants to water down its basketball tournament even more, and it is why I see horror in the Tampa Bay Rays’ future.

This saddens me. I like Andrew Friedman. He is a no-BS businessman with an acute eye for baseball, the sort of modern executive who transitions from sabermetrics to scouting like someone who fits in at a Jay-Z concert as well as the opera. I like Joe Maddon. He is a thoughtful man who plays the limited-government card with his players and still earns respect among a roomful of millionaires. I like the Rays organization. It fights baseball’s two biggest behemoths, New York and Boston, and doesn’t emerge with a black eye like every other team that has tried.

And yet no matter how much I want to root for the underdog, I always flash back to a scene in “The Wire” when I think about the Rays.

(SPOILER ALERT!!! SKIP THE NEXT FEW GRAFS IF YOU HAVEN’T YET WATCHED ALL OF THE WIRE.)

Jimmy McNulty, the morally and ethically bankrupt cop who serves as the series’ heart, is sitting on a park bench with Bodie Broadus, a gangster who knows he’s about to get killed. Bodie is talking about his life on the corner: How he did everything right, followed the rules, played it as well as he could have – and here he was, still with no chance.

“This game is rigged, man,” Bodie says. “We like the little bitches on the chess board.”

“Pawns,” McNulty says.

(END OF SPOILER)

That’s the Rays. They’re pawns in this big baseball game. Sometimes, when the board breaks right, they can sneak across and become queens. But it’s rare. Most of the time, they move forward one square at a time and eventually get knocked out while the Yankees and Red Sox of the world hop forward, backward, diagonally –wherever they please.

Jonah’s optimism makes him believe the Rays will be queens in the coming years, and that is fine. I envy his ability to think that way. He enjoys how special the Rays are compared to the rest of baseball.

I’m just troubled that we have to look at what they’re doing as special.

No one is the Tampa Bay Rays. Not Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, Ben Zobrist or even baseball’s most valuable commodity, Evan Longoria. Every player is replaceable. It might be tougher to trade away a player who came up through your system, rose to stardom, led you to post-season glory and is now one of your most identifiable personalities.

Sorry, but I’ll say it again: Carl Crawford is, very simply, the Tampa Bay Rays. Because the Rays today are such a cuddly story – a beautifully constructed ballclub in a town that doesn’t appreciate them, a small-market powerhouse that stayed true to the tenets of scouting and player development to great rewards, a bunch of likeable guys – we tend to forget the days of Vince Naimoli and Jose Canseco and Bryan Rekar.

The Rays are not the last two-plus years. They are a decade of impossibly bad baseball done right. Their story can’t be told with Evan Longoria or Ben Zobrist or Matt Garza or Carlos Pena. It can, however, be told with Carl Crawford, the team’s second-round pick in its second season of existence, selected in the same draft as Josh Hamilton. He saw the losing from near and far, experienced futility in ways Longoria could never dream, lived life as baseball dregs before savoring its zenith. If somebody is going to write the oral history of the Rays – somebody aside from Jonah, I mean – it is Carl Crawford, who not only sat front and center but played an integral part in the franchise’s resurrection.

Why shell out $75 million in the name of some nebulous face-of-the-franchise ideal if there’s a better, cheaper way to achieve the same goals?

I’m not saying Carl Crawford at $15 million a year beats Dez Jennings at $400,000. Let’s remember, though, that the road is strewn with the carcasses of failed prospects. And more important, Crawford isn’t just a guy in Tampa Bay. He means something.

Perhaps this is my innocence peeking through. Somehow, I’ve retained that, even as my optimism drifted. As much as I value objective valuation, I also remember what it was like to be an Indians fan growing up and to see player after player leave. It was depressing. It didn’t matter who they had to replace Albert and Manny and Thome. To develop a $15 million-a-year player only to see him walk because of a game’s inequities sucks, even if it is the right business move.

And here’s where the real strength of the franchise comes into play. No team in baseball does a better job with player valuation than the Rays. The reason Dave Cameron labeled Longoria as baseball’s most valuable commodity … is because of the amazing contract the Rays got Longoria to sign. Six days into his major league career, the Rays third baseman signed a six-year, $17.5 million contract.

It was a brushstroke of genius. No question. The Rays took a minimal risk – bigger for them than most, but still – and won.

It’s also never going to happen again. The union despised the Longoria contract then, and it hates it even more now. The Rays happened to find a player…I’m not going to say dumb enough, because I’d love to be so stupid that I earned tens of millions of dollars, but risk-averse enough to sacrifice, oh, probably $75 million to $100 million when it the final option year ends. Don’t play it for anything else than what it is: They got extremely lucky with Longoria, and to expect the same in the future is foolish.

As long as Andrew Friedman and the army of talented scouts, instructors and anonymous stats crunchers continue their excellent work, the Rays will keep churning out new stars every year. Most will see losing Crawford, Pena, Soriano and others as a crisis. The Rays will see it as an opportunity.

This gets back to the previous point. The Rays Kool-Aid must be mighty tasty.

Now, this bears repeating: Friedman is an excellent executive with a firm grasp of what it takes to succeed, as is the Rays’ president, Matt Silverman. I met R.J. Harrison my first year covering baseball, when he was a national crosschecker, and have been thrilled at his success as scouting director. The valuation team with the Rays is nonpareil.

But what about Pat Burrell? And Edwin Jackson? The point: They are fallible. These are men with a tight budget and an excessive amount of maneuvering, and to expect them to operate at this absurdly high level over the long term is naïve.

Billy Beane is a very bright man. The AL West-dominating A’s teams he and David Forst built were fascinating, not just because of the tenets espoused in Moneybal but because they succeeded in a hypercompetitive environment where 30 teams spend tens of millions of dollars trying to outwit each other. The A’s outwitted everyone. They gamed the game.

And then it caught up. This is natural. All it takes is one team to recognize the method to another’s madness and the jig is up. It’s a fallacy that the Rays built all this on high draft picks. That was part of it, sure, but it is also Matt Moore in the eighth round and Jennings in the 10th. If the Rays keep that up, it blows up my entire thesis. No team has ever sustained such a great record of late-round success over a long period of time. So while hopefully that can continue, I’m not confident it will, especially with MLB seemingly intent on trying to evenly distribute amateur talent via the international draft, which would stretch the already budget-conscious Rays into dangerously thin territory.

Realignment is an awful idea.

Amen. If that point didn’t come across, oops. Guess I’ve got another column to write.

The Rays have prospects coming out of their ears. So why all the gloom and doom?

Well, TINSTAAPP, for one, and the sheer fickleness of kids on the other. Jonah, you’ve read Rany Jazayerli’s study on draft picks and countless others’ research on prospects. It’s dangerous to assume anything about them.

Even so, I’ve noticed a slight bend in the hardcore sabermetric community toward assigning great value to a $400,000 player. I understand this. He costs $400,000. Even a bum will put up a WAR relative to that salary. Thus, if you can have someone put up more performance for the dollar, you’d be stupid not to.

At the same time, I wonder the source of such blind faith. We know minor league numbers are a decent predictor for major league success. We also know that they are by no means foolproof. Which, again, brings us back to the risk: Tampa Bay is forced, by its economic standing, to take significantly more risk – on contracts, on youth, even on marketing – than the Yankees. And that is the heart of the inequity in baseball that makes me down not on the Rays but the sport: the lower the revenues, the greater the risks necessary to achieve greatness.

Passan has his finger right on the answer to his own question. All the facts in his article are correct. But the thesis is all wrong. The Rays should be in big trouble because of the extraordinary challenges they face, given their limited means and their killer opponents. But they’re not. And that’s precisely because of the many, many great Rays players, both major league and minor league, that he’s cited in this piece.

Again, the optimism. Jonah is confident a great minor leaguer – does such a thing exist, and if so, is he named Jeff Manto? – can replace a great major leaguer for a fraction of the price, and I’ve seen far too many can’t-miss prospects miss badly.

But in 2009, Scott Kazmir sucked. He put up an ERA of 4.89, with an xFIP of 4.88 that reinforced how badly he performed last year. There were extenuating circumstances, of course: Kazmir had struggled with injuries, and after working with pitching guru Rick Peterson on mechanical adjustments during an in-season DL stint, he flowed flashes of his previous greatness. But again, Passan has the facts in front of him, yet reaches the wrong conclusion.

My inclusion of this point came straight from Andrew Friedman: “Do you want to know what it’s like to run this team? Look at the Kazmir deal.”

Scott Kazmir is a 26-year-old left-hander who throws 90-94 with an average to a tick above slider and an improving changeup. Before last year, when he was hurt, he averaged 9.75 strikeouts per nine over 124 starts. He is a commodity. If he wasn’t, the Angels wouldn’t have given up three good prospects for him.

The Kazmir deal drew criticism from the mainstream media not because of its timing or even the player dealt but because of the implication, which Friedman himself confirmed to me: The Rays cannot afford even the slightest mistake, and a potentially sub-standard Kazmir, at $22.5 million over two years, would be crippling. The Rays’ financial distress forces Friedman to be the world’s most impatient fisherman. He is always looking to cut bait, and that he found a willing partner in the Angels – a team more than happy to take an $11 million-a-year risk on Kazmir – illustrates the disparity between the two franchises.

When it came down to it, no matter how brilliant the Rays were in acquiring Scott Kazmir and getting four solid years out of him, in the end they were forced to sell him because they play in a piece-of-crap building and can’t engage a fan base that doesn’t know what it’s missing, and anything short of a World Series victory won’t change that.

Are baseball’s standards of success so warped that we need to have every low-revenue team win 90 games every season or they’re a failure?

Well, yeah. Ask players. Ask management. Ask fans. Low-revenue, high-revenue or otherwise, if a team does not make the postseason, it’s a failure. And for some, even that standard is too low.

A few days ago, I was talking with Jayson Werth about last season. The Phillies, who beat the Rays in the World Series two years ago, lost in 2009 to the Yankees. And as good as the feeling of winning was, Werth said, the pain of losing – of failure, no matter what the level – stuck with him even more. Teams want to win so they can win, sure. But they also want to win so they don’t have to experience losing.

The A’s are a success story for what they did, and the Rays are a success story for what they’re doing, even if, a few years down the road, their pipeline of great young talent dries up and they need to start over. So many people have written so many gloom and doom stories like this one over the years, only to see baseball continue to deliver great parity and new World Series winners every year, that you start to wonder if they’re living in an alternate universe where the Yankees are riding a 30-year World Series streak.

Yes, it’s not easy for poorer teams. But they find a way. Always have, always will.

I talked about innocence earlier. I bet Jonah and I both spend a lot of time thinking about innocence. He has twin babies, I have a 2-year-old son. We see them grow, and we want the best for them, and we want to keep them in that state where there isn’t a worry in the world, where life is rapturous, and where the Tampa Bay Rays can compete over the long haul without any artificial help from a trigger-happy commissioner. We want to believe Carl Crawford can spend his career with the Rays, just as he wants to believe it, just as everyone from Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman to the guy wearing a Rayhawk or an eponymously named jersey want to believe it.

Optimism takes a set of facts and assigns positive feelings to them, and if Jonah wants to think that the Rays’ pipeline will continue flowing like the Druzhba and that Friedman and Harrison and Co. will continue their incredible run and Sternberg won’t significantly cut payroll thanks to Tampa/St. Petersburg apathy and the money that is spent will be done wisely – if he wants to believe all that, well, bless his heart.

The poorer teams will prevail. They always do. Just not the same ones. If it does happen to be the Rays – the team with so many obstacles ahead – I’ll gladly write about how wrong I was. And I’ll do it with a big grin, my innocence still intact.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. ramedy permalink
    8 April 2010 11:19 am

    Love the Jew-on-Jew violence tag.

    I feel like I understand the Passan thesis a bit more now – I still have some quibbles, but I think a lot of it can be explained by that jaded viewpoint I don’t really blame him for.

    One detail though that does drive me crazy – can we please stop calling the Edwin Jackson trade an unqualified mistake? I’m not saying it won’t be proven as such eventually, but it’s far too early to tell. Jackson had a great half-season, maybe two-thirds, followed by a pretty crummy end of season. As for Joyce, he had a slightly bum audition last year and now has an innocent enough injury keeping him from starting with the big club.

    And ultimately, the Rays traded a player at a surplus position (they still had Kazmir at this point) for a player at a position of probable eventual need (this was before S-Rod gave the Rays a chance to play Zobrist in RF, but not before they already knew Crawford would likely be gone). Honestly, even if Joyce never stays healthy enough and Jackson plays more like first-half of ’09, you can’t call that a bone-headed move – just a necessary move that went bust.

    The Burrell signing – well, I’ll just let that one speak for itself. That’s why Sternberg wants to eliminate the DH.

  2. Jonah permalink*
    8 April 2010 11:25 am

    I thought Jeff’s rebuttal was terrific.

    And I agree 100% about being too early to call the Edwin Jackson trade. As with my opinion on the Kazmir, pretty sure I’m outside the mainstream in supporting the Jackson-Joyce trade, even now. The financial struggles that the Rays have only make that trade look better, not worse. No way the Rays could afford Jackson now, given his production-to-salary ratio.

    • 8 April 2010 11:47 am

      Jonah,

      I’d like to get your opinion on the “crappy fan base.” I tend to think people underestimate the transient nature of people in this part of Florida. Give some of the 16-25 year olds I saw spending their money Tuesday night a few years to get some disposable income, throw in a new stadium, and the Rays will finally have a fan base.

      The fact of the matter is that because the Rays are so young as a franchise, people are still loyal to their “old” teams and don’t want to invest time or money in the Rays. This is going to take some time to shake out. Looking around the stadium Tuesday night, I would say there are plenty of young fans (16-25) to fill that place on a regular basis once they get some more disposable income. The demographics of that crowd was way younger than the demographics of the are.

      • 8 April 2010 11:48 am

        I meant to say the demographics of the area are.

      • jkotsko permalink
        8 April 2010 2:21 pm

        Wow bucs, was going to post the exact same thoughts. The transient nature of the population is huge, and so is where they are coming from. Many of the people come from the northeast, fans of the Red Sox, Philles, and Yankees that aren’t going to switch allegiances easily.

        I also wonder if moving the stadium just north would help, opening things up a little better to Clearwater, Palm Harbor, and Tampa, places where families with younger children live (I know Clearwater isn’t far, but travel on US 19 is a nightmare, so lessening that would help).

        One last thing I’d be curious to know is how much of ticket sales (primarily season ticket sales) was affected by the market going in the crapper when it did. The Rays FINALLY field a competitive team and it happens to coincide with the evaporation of a solid chunk of many 401k funds, in a fanbase where the majority of season ticket holders are retired and living off of said 401k.

        And I still disagree that Crawford is the Rays, as most of your more intelligent fans will realize why the move needs to be made. Other than Pat “the bat” (groan) the ownership has been walking on water, so there won’t be a huge outcry against the trade until Crawford is a Yankee and we’re 20 games out of first again. Hopefully this won’t happen.

        Finally, I was afraid to start Kazmir on my fantasy team last year, and I was spot starting Russ Ohlendorff. Kaz was at times a complete disaster, and I was amazed we netted the prospects we did while shedding payroll.

  3. 8 April 2010 2:29 pm

    It seems to me that there are really two distinct arguments here (as initially advanced by Passan):

    1. It would be a good thing if the Rays could keep Carl Crawford past 2010, and, sadly, it looks pretty unlikely that that will happen; and

    2. The structural advantages in baseball accruing to the Red Sox and Yankees will prevent the Rays from being a permanent, long-term threat to those two teams in the AL East (however “long-term”) is defined.

    It seems to me that you guys don’t really disagree much on (1), and possibly not even that much on (2). The real disagreement is whether there’s an implication that (1) *causes* (2); that is, whether the fact that the Rays probably can’t keep Crawford is indicative of the fact that the system is irretrievably broken.

    And here’s where I think there’s a disconnect. Jonah suggests, quite correctly, that losing Crawford wouldn’t be the end of the world, and that the Rays would still be set up about as well as any team could be for the immediately forseeable “long-run” (as I think he defines it). The same thing is true of Kazmir, and any other specific example you want to identify. Here, Jonah’s argument follows Michael Lewis’s argument about the A’s and Jason Giambi pretty closely.

    But I don’t think Jeff’s argument is that losing Crawford *in and of itself* means that the sky is falling, and it’s why Jonah’s response (and his response to the Kazmir deal, and other individual examples) misses the mark a little bit.

    At core, I think Jeff’s argument is pretty simple (and pretty inarguable). In the past, the Yankees and Red Sox squandered the inherent advantages that MLB offered them in the form of basically unlimited resources. Now, they’re not doing that any more. They can and are doing everything the Rays can do (and more) in terms of national and international scouting, creative over-slot Rule 4 draftees, saavy trades, appropriate player valuations, smart long-term contracts, and so on.

    And then on top of that, the Yankees and Red Sox have the resources to go out and sign the very best free agents in order to minimize the risks associated with free agency (Teixeira, Sabathia, Lackey, etc.). You don’t see the Spike Owen-type head-scratchers from these teams any more.

    AND they have the resources to trade for very good players who have priced their way out of other teams (Granderson, Vazquez, Beckett, V. Martinez) to fill whatever holes might arise due to injury, bad luck, whatever in-season, and to supplement the free agent market in the offseason.

    AND they have the resources that when a signing doesn’t work out for them, they can just pay to make that player go away or to bring in somebody else (Lugo, Igawa, Wang, Pavano, probably Lowell, maybe Matsuzaka, etc.) with zero long-term consequences.

    So when you put all of that together, I would say that in the “long run” — where “long run” is defined as the structural conditions that inhere in the sport — no team, not even the Rays, can effectively compete with those sorts of built-in advantages.

    I also agree with Jonah, however, that in the “long run” — where “long run” is defined as the next 3-5 years, almost an eternity in baseball time — the Rays have done the very best that any team can laboring under the structural disadvantages that they have, and as a result, those next five Rays teams will (with as much certainly as we have) be fun, competitive, winning ballclubs.

    I still think that means we, as baseball fans, should demand that the powers that be do something to fix baseball in Passan’s sense of the “long run.” Fundamentally, it’s not fair that the Red Sox can screw up repeatedly with expensive multi-year deals and suffer no consequences for it. Fundamentally, it’s not fair that the Yankees can go into the offseason and shore up their roster by acquiring the second-best pitcher in the National League and a star-level centerfielder for essentially nothing of consequence, simply because the Yankees can afford to pay those guys where other teams can’t.

    Put one last way: if the Rays had the Yankees’ payroll, they could have paid Pat Burell to go away, and, I don’t know, traded for Manny Ramirez or something. As good as their playoff chances look now, wouldn’t they look even better if the team at least had that kind of *option*?

    Anyway, great, thought-provoking stuff.

    • ramedy permalink
      8 April 2010 7:16 pm

      Does MLB really HAVE to do something? I mean, I think everyone agrees that the current system isn’t fair, but is the fairer alernative – whatever that might be – actually better for business?

      Does MLB improve as a business if the Yankees are equally susceptible to roster-influenced issues as the Rays? I think the idea of balance in baseball isn’t that every team finishes with a record around .500, but that the team that wins 97 is different each year, more or less. Is that really better than the current setup?

      The issue of the Rays’ attendance is far more complicated than most want to consider. But at the end of the day, one of the greatest stories in MLB history lead to a slight increase in attendance for 2009. Is that increase worth a year or two of the Yankees not being THE YANKEES? You could make the argument that a big-market team can afford a few subpar seasons because of the size of their fan base; but you could flip that and say that the success of one small-market team really won’t be substantial enough to matter to the league as a whole.

      The answer to that and other questions may very well be much more obvious to someone who knows all the facts, but I don’t know. I always tend to believe that when someone asks a question, the more important question exists at least two steps back. Again, thought-provoking.

      • 9 April 2010 2:54 pm

        I guess the question is whether you think a Yankees team that is a perennial contender, averaging around 90 wins per season would be a similar draw as the current Yankees — who have averaged a ridiculous 98+ wins per season for each of the past 8 seasons.

        If so, then it seems a no-brainer to implement structural rules that give the Tampa Bays and Baltimores of the world a slightly fairer shot.

        The counter-argument is that Yankees fans are fickle, bandwagoning, self-absorbed jerks with an overinflated sense of entitlement, and they’ll lose substantial interest (and deprive MLB of revenue $$$) if they can’t count on a 100-win season and almost certain World Series appearance every year. I’m not sure I want to dispute that counter-argument. :)

  4. Professor permalink
    8 April 2010 10:47 pm

    First of all let me apologize if any commenters have already said anything I am about to write. After reading approximately 10,000 words in the three articles/posts, I don’t have the stamina to read the comments.

    Maybe it is the parent in me, but I cant help but think that both Passan and Keri are right and I am not sure why they can’t just share the dreidel. I don’t think they are as polarizing as they believe.

    Passan makes a strong case for the impossibility of a team like the Rays winning in today’s baseball world. Emphasizing that at the very best the Rays will be just close enough to compete, but relying too much on minimum salary players to get over the top, even if those minimum salary players are extremely valuable (they usually are).

    Desmond Jennings will be much more “valuable” next year for the Rays. But what if CC is worth 5 wins next year and Jennings is only worth 3? And what if the Rays make the same value-based decision in 1 or 2 other spots? And what if the Rays miss the playoffs by 4 games? Sure the Rays have a better Return-on-Investment talent-wise, but they are not fielding the best team possible and are not putting themselves in the best position to win moving forward. Can they field the best team possible? Probably not. And I feel that is at the core of Passan’s argument.

    The flip side of the argument is that by choosing Jennings over Crawford, the Rays are not just maximizing value in 2010 (at the cost of talent), they are also maximizing value for the next 6 years and hopefully by years 2 or 3, even the talent is being maximized. The problem is, that does nothing for 2011.

    The other problem is reallocation of resources. It is one thing to save $14-15 million on Crawford’s deal if the alternative is a $400K Jennings, a $7M closer and longterm deals for Garza and Upton. But that isn’t likely. Even with all the money coming off the books at the end of the year, the Rays are already close to a $50 million payroll with all of their arbitration cases (Upton, Bartlett, Garza, Zobrist, etc.) and are unlikely to add anything other than a $400K Jennings and a couple of $400K not-Jennings.

    Meanwhile, Keri points out that the Rays do most things right or better than other teams and that they have put themselves in a place where they can contend on an annual basis. And that seems good enough for Keri. For if the Rays are in the hunt consistently, maybe they will occasionally get the good side of the coin and come out on top.

    And let’s not ignore Keri’s Expos roots. This is why jumping on the Rays bandwagon was so easy for Keri (that and he has a man-crush on World B Friedman). To root for one of these teams requires one to be an optimist. You have no choice. There is something blindly satisfying about not-knowing when your favorite team will reach the playoffs again, but knowing that it will happen eventually (1994 be damned).

    In the end, Passan recognizes that the 2011 Rays are a better team with Crawford than without (they are). And Keri’s point is that the Rays can sacrifice Crawford and still be very good and the 2011-2016 Rays are better without him.

    So what is better? It is a matter of preference. Would you prefer to field the best team possible in 2011 and 2012 knowing that the Rays will have an $15M a year invested in an aging speedster after 2012. Or would you prefer to sacrifice a little bit in 20122 and 2012, but still maintaining a competitive team, with a more realistic shot of remaining competitive in 2013 and beyond?

    A case can be made for both.

  5. Professor permalink
    8 April 2010 10:57 pm

    OK (deep breath) one more thing…realignment.

    I have been steadfastly against realignment for many of the same reasons Keri states. But then came the idea of splitting up the Red Sox and the Yankees. At first I laughed at the idea. It is the biggest rivalry in sports and the TV networks would never allow it.

    But what if the Yankees move to the AL Central *and* the league rigs the schedule so that they continue to play the Red Sox 15-18 times a year? Doesn’t that solve all the problems?

    Now the Rays (or the O’s or whoever is the flavor of the year) are only competing against one monster. At the same time the rivalry is maintained and MLB increases the relevance of the Central division.

    And here is the kicker. Now the Yankees and Red Sox are competing for three playoff spots, not two. It increases the chances of both teams making the playoffs. The networks would eat that up. And everybody lives happily ever after. Right?

    • jkotsko permalink
      9 April 2010 12:09 am

      Well said professor..

      Who would you move to the AL East from the Central?

      Also, the idea I’ve head that I like the best is… Why do we need divisions? Just have the AL and the NL, best 4-6 teams (could definitely see an argument for top 2 getting a bye and a shorter series for the first round like the nba used to do) advance to the playoffs. What would this hurt? Sure, the Twins couldn’t say they won the AL Central, but does anyone really care? If the object is find the best team, I see no reason to exclude any 3rd best team in the American League because they happen to be in the same division with the top 2. Would be interested to hear your thoughts.

      • ramedy permalink
        9 April 2010 12:15 am

        I’m sure he wasn’t the first to propose it, but it was Buster Olney who I most recently favor the scrapping of divisions.

        And I like it. Down with realignment, up with dealignment!

      • Professor permalink
        9 April 2010 12:37 am

        Yeah, there are things to like about getting rid of divisions. From a competetive stand point it is maybe the best solution. But from a logistical stand point, I’m not sure. Does it make sense that the Yankees would play the Mariners the same number of times they play the O’s? It would be even worse for west coast teams since more teams are in the east.

        And it would kill TV ratings. East coast teams with a lot more 10:00 starts and west coast teams starting at 4:00 locally everytime they are on the east coast.

        I do agree that divisions are somewhat meaningless, although I do value the Rays ’08 east championship. Maybe the solution is a compromise. Go back to 2 divisions. 2 division champs and 3 wild card teams. Have the 4th and 5th seed play a 1-game playoff (or. 3-gm series if you prefer). The winner gets the top seed. The top seed gets a team that just exhausted it’s pitching staff and 5 of 7 games at home. 2 would play 3 with the 2-seed getting 5 of 7 games at home. LCS rounds would stay the same.

        The key is to add playoff teams but at the same time put a premium on winning divisions.

        It’s not perfect, but it might be good enough.

  6. homeboogie permalink
    9 April 2010 12:02 pm

    While the Rays letting Carl Crawford walk after this season doesn’t doom the Rays to failure over the next few years, it is a sign on the inherent unfairness built into this system. Yes, the Rays appear to have equipped themselves well to handle the departure of Crawford with Desmond Jennings looking to seamlessly replace him at a fraction of the cost. However, remember that the Oakland A’s felt good enough about their 2004 #1 prospect Bobby Crosby taking over at SS that they let Miguel Tejada walk while signing Eric Chavez to a long term deal. Looked like a smart move from start to finish but it didn’t quite work out that way.

    The location of their stadium is definitely the Rays’ #1 problem. If the Rays and the Trop never existed and you were asked to pick a location for a new baseball stadium for a fresh expansion team tomorrow, I think the ghetto of St. Petersburg would be like #15 on your list.

    However, even with a shiny new retractable roof ballpark right in downtown Tampa, or wherever you chose to put it, the Rays would still have another large problem to overcome: not enough people in this market give a crap about this team. Jeff sort of touched on this in his response but not directly. It’s so easy to be a Yankees or Red Sox fan these days, that it makes it that much tougher for the Rays to convert these fans. Most people would rather plunk down $200 for MLB Extra Innings to watch one of those two teams every night than watch the Rays for free and spend that money on going to 10 – 15 games every year. What the Rays really need, and it’s not going to happen any time soon, is for the the Red Sox and/or Yankees to suck for several years in a row. Without that, it doesn’t make sense for a fan of those teams to switch allegiances. It’s sad that a team this well run and this young and fun to watch can’t elicit more local support. Most bars you walk into in this town you have to ask them to put the Rays game on TV. Half the time the begrudgingly switch it from a TV currently showing the Yankees or Red Sox, and you get glares from other people in the bar that would rather not watch the Rays. I really don’t know how the Rays are going to get around that.

    • 9 April 2010 6:34 pm

      I can tell you one way the Rays will get around it: Time. The Rays haven’t been around quite long enough for a full generation of fans to grow up with them. This is compounded by the fact that they absolutely sucked the first 10 years of the existence.

      While the Rays may never win over the Red Sox/ Yankee fans from the “old country,” they are starting to win over their children. I saw plenty of 16 to 25 year olds, sporting Rays gear at opening day. It was a very young crowd for the area’s demographic.

      To me, that spells hope for the fan base. Add a new stadium and a winning team to the mix and this market *will* support a team. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t a baseball ignorant market.

      Go back and look at the history of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It took 20 years and a new stadium before they started selling out every game. Before that it was Bears and Packers fans filling up the stadium. Back then, people said the area couldn’t support the NFL. Imagine that.

  7. 11 July 2011 10:07 am

    You talk about Carl Crawford as if he’s the “be-all, end-all” of major league outfielders. Personally, as a Red Sox fan, you can have him back any time you want him. There was always two things I hated when the Sox played Tampa Bay. One was listening to that obnoxious @#$%^ fan who thought that his payment for a seat allowed him to make life miserable for eveyone else around him. If I was a “Rays” season ticket holder with a seat anywhere near him—I’d probably have shot hin by now. The other thing I hated was watching Carl Crawford “at bat,” ’cause that’s the dumbest @#$%^ stance in the Majors.
    I don’t believe he ever studied physics. But I only had to “put up with” these two aggrevations when the Sox played the Rays in Tampa. Now I have to see “Carl Baby” every Red Sox game (when he isn’t on the DL)—and I can always turn off the sound when “loudmouth” is carring-on with his relentless diatribe! To tell you the truth, I’d rather see Darnell McDonald (or even Ronald) in left field on a regular basis. (How badly have the Sox been hurt since “your favorite base-stealer” has been on the DL) Enough Said. I hope Carlos Pena (The Pride of Haverhill, MA) comes to the Sox sometime before he hangs up his spikes (but not to replace Gonzalez [he's a keeper]). And if the Rays ever let Evan Longoria go to another venue—someone in their front office ought to have their head examined!

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