Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Rays of Hope?
2008-09-08 15:31
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I used to have a "bottom feeder" link section, in solidarity with all the other teams whose owners would rather use their massive revenue-sharing checks to buy spare mansions as opposed to investing in their franchises. I got rid of it, partly because it was a little mean, partly because having to change it when teams like the Marlins randomly stopped sucking was time-consuming, and mostly because being constantly reminded of how dreadful the once-great Pirates are was depressing. But there was one team I never expected to escape the cellar, and they're on a direct path to the postseason this year, as expected by exactly no one.

Are the Tampa Bay Rays the negative case that proves everything I've been whining about regarding the Rockies this season is wrong? St. Pete hasn't invested big money in pitching. They haven't invested big money in anything. Their payroll this season at $43 million is almost $25 million less than Colorado's. They certainly don't have anyone signed to a long-term, eight-figure superstar deal like the Rockies do with Todd Helton. And yet the Rays are (as of this writing) in first place in a division that's vastly more competitive than the NL West's collection of stumblebums.

How'd that happen? If you look at the Rays' VORP leaders, two things emerge. The first is that they're winning with pitching: Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, and Edwin Jackson are the first, second, third, and fifth most valuable players on the roster this year. The second is they got their talent free or cheap. Shields and offensive leaders B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria were draft picks. Kazmir, Garza, and Jackson all came in ill-advised trades, from the Mets, Twins, and Dodgers respectively. Their third offensive centerpiece, Carlos Peña, was a David Ortiz-type guy undervalued by several organizations and signed as a free agent for a song.

So what's the lesson for the Rockies? Seems to me if they're going to keep crying poor they need to start making trades, and lots of them. St. Petersburg was lousy for its first decade or so because they kept signing free agents to contracts they weren't worth and then refusing to trade them for anything short of double their actual value. Since new GM Andrew Friedman took over from the overmatched Chuck LaMar they've been very aggressive, like the Delmon Young trade that landed them the extremely valuable Garza. The Rockies have been gunshy this year and last when it comes to breaking up their "nucleus," even hanging on to guys like Brian Fuentes who will be gone anyway. They also continue to cling to Garrett Atkins as if they didn't have three guys in the system who can play his position better and hit just as well. Part of this is defending champs syndrome -- ask the '03 Angels to find out more about that condition -- and part of it is an ownership/management regime that has never experienced anything but bad feedback for the few flashy deals they have consummated.

If the Rockies aren't going to make the big splash, they have to be volume dealers. Specifically, they need to bring in about three times as many pitchers as they need and let survival of the fittest take its course. That's why the failure to move anybody at the deadline was a bummer. I'm pretty sure I've made this same argument before, but the trade deadline is the time when contending teams get nervous and make stupid deals. That's when guys like Kazmir who never should have been traded change teams.

Comment status: comments have been closed. Baseball Toaster is now out of business.