The Tampa Bay Rays may have surprised the baseball world last season, not by finally making the playoffs and winning the American League Championship, but I think what surprised people the most was their staying power; their ability to withstand a full season. A full season consisting of injuries, setbacks, losing streaks and growing pains.
One thing I would like to show in this post, is that the Rays were not a surprise. One of my main projects when completing the Baseball GM & Scouting course from Sports Management WordWide, was to complete a organizational report on a Major League Baseball team.
Find below my findings and discussions from that report, which was dated June 26, 2006. Upon completion find below the Tamp Bay Rays Season preview, courtesy of ESPN News.
“For this part of the paper, I decided to do an organization report on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. It would be easy to dissect a team like the Yankees, or the Red Sox, so I decided to challenge myself. First, I decided to start at the top of the food chain, and research the GM Andrew Freidman, the newly appointed Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations. In a brief rundown of his resume, I notice he has no baseball experience but a definite business background. Some in my eyes it’s sort of like a Theo Epstein/Billy Beane style. I do think the Devil Rays do have to excel more or less at Beanes’ style of General Managing because both teams are in the same boat. Oakland is a small market team that’s has to find new and definitive ways to win games. It is more difficult for Tampa Bay to copy that style, they just have to be a little more creative. The Devil Rays have to play “Beane Ball”, but they also have a serious money issue. They have approximately $62 million, compared to $35 million. If Mr. Friedman is to put a competitive product on the field there are numerous issue to factor in; developing prospects in the minors, (I think) venture in to the sabermetrics world of Oakland and Boston. Get players on your team that get on base, but they also have to factor in the money issue. Sabermetrics is a good starting point for a team like this. For example, they might be lacking at the shortstop position, if there are two players available say, Rey Ordonez and Mark Ellis. Both players are bargains, both players are great defensively, but one has more offensive punch then the other. In a case like this you wouldn’t need VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) to determine which player to sign, just look at the OBP of both players. Ordonez has a career OBP of .289 whereas Ellis’ is .343, with a career high in 2005 of .384. There is no question that you may well have to sacrifice a better glove for the better OBP.
The main focus of my discussion here is how to put a winning product on the field, and after researching their team and minor league system the Devil Rays do have the ability to compete. The Devil Rays have a good core of players right now from Jonny Gomes, Rocco Baldelli, Jorge Cantu, and Carl Crawford, all with OBP’s over .350. What their team is missing is pitching and in recent years the draft has been producing some good arms that are one to two years away from the majors. After a complete review of the Devils Rays major and minor league teams, I have come up with a plan on what their team could look like in 2007, with respect to free agent signings, possible trades and some call-ups.
Let’s say Carl Crawford (RF) doesn’t get traded this year, he bats in the leadoff spot, followed by Baldelli (CF). The number three spot is occupied by Aubrey Huff. In my eyes he should be traded for a first baseman. The Tigers are in need of first base help. A possible trade of Huff for Dmitri Young is a possibility, to get rid of Huff’s salary, (would be good if the Tigers picked up half of Young’s as well). Worse case scenario would be to release Huff, and call up Elijah Dukes, and sign Shea Hillenbrand, as he is a free agent at the end of the year. Jonny Gomes occupies the cleanup spot (DH). Calling up Kevin Witt is a possibility and platooning him with Hillenbrand in the 5 spot (1B). The six hole could also be occupied with Hillenbrand, but there is also a possibility Aaron Boone will be available from the Indians in 2007. Boone does not command the salary he used to and could be a good fit for the Devil Rays (3B). Cantu (2B), Upton/Lugo(SS) and Hall/Paul (C) wind down the final three spots. Just for discussion, if the Hillenbrand signing does not work, there is a possible deal for Crawford that could be made. As we know the Devil Rays lack a decent first baseman and a catcher. Crawford is a good fit for the Atlanta Braves. Ryan Langerhans and Jeff Francouer are not everyday starters so they could be platooned in right, Crawford in left and Andruw Jones in centre. In return the Braves would offer catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Scott Thorman (1B) and Pete Orr (2B/3B). Delmon Young is the wild card in this line-up, due to the most recent and second suspension in the past few years; it is an option to trade him.
The pitching staff has the possibility to look something like this; Scott Kazmir, Mark Hendrickson, James Shields, Jason Hammel, Juan Salas. The Devil Rays pitching prospects will take a while to develop, but Shields has done well so far, Salas, as most recently as June 24, 2006 had thrown a combined 41 innings in “AA/AAA” and put together and ERA of 0.00 (Yes 0.00). There are also numerous guys that can be plugged into this rotation and relief roles. Chad Orvella has been putting up decent numbers in “AAA”, and Jeff Niemann; if his arm continues to develop and recover from surgery, could be brought up as a number 5 starter late in 2007. There are also 4 other pitchers, in low and high “A” that could begin to prove themselves late next year if the opportunity arises; Jacob McGee, Wade Davis, Matt Walker, Chris Mason.
On paper it may not look like much, but if this organization continues to develop their players through the minors, this team could be a legitimate contender in 4-5 years”
Devon Teeple is an author for the Business of Sports Network. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Devon is a former student within Sports Management Worldwide’s Baseball General Manager Class. Devon is the founder of The GM’s Perspective and is a intern with The Football Outsiders and contributor with the Plymouth River Eels.