Sunday, September 21, 2008

Doling Out Credit For The Rays Rapid Rise

After so many years of haplessness and embarrassment, the Rays have stunningly
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clinched a playoff spot. While there was much press dedicated to the laughably naive and borderline inept new regime in Tampa----owner Stuart Sternberg; president Matthew Silverman and GM Andrew Friedman----if they're going to get the blame when
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things go badly, they have to get the credit when things go well. In reality, though, how much of the sudden rise is due to the savvy of the front office? How much is due to luck? And how much is due to all those years of having the number one pick in the draft? Let's take a look at the roster and how they were acquired before running out to vote for Friedman as Executive of the Year:
  • Players acquired by the previous regime of owner Vince Naimoli, Chuck LaMar:
Left Fielder Carl Crawford----selected in the second round of the 1999 draft.
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Center Fielder B.J. Upton----selected in the first round of hte 2002 draft.
DH/OF Jonny Gomes----selected in the 18th round of the 2001 draft.
OF Rocco Baldelli----selected in the first round of the 2000 draft.
RHP James Shields----selected in the 16th round of the 2000 draft.
RHP Andy Sonnanstine----selected in the 13th round of the 2004 draft.
LHP Scott Kazmir----acquired from the New York Mets in July, 2004.
RHP Jason Hammel----selected in the 10th round of the 2002 draft.

  • Players acquired by the new regime through smart moves:
Catcher Dioner Navarro----acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in June, 2006.
Shortstop Jason Bartlett----acquired from the Minnesota Twins in November, 2007.
RHP Matt Garza----acquired from the Minnesota Twins in November, 2007.
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OF Gabe Gross----acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in April, 2008.
DH Cliff Floyd----signed as a free agent in December, 2007.
INF Willy Aybar----acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in June, 2006.
RHP Edwin Jackson----acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in January, 2006.
INF Ben Zobrist----acquired from the Houston Astros in July, 2006.
RHP Dan Wheeler----acquired from the Houston Astros in July, 2007.
LHP J.P. Howell----acquired from the Kanas City Royals in June, 2006.
RHP Chad Bradford----acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in August, 2008.
LHP Trever Miller----signed as a free agent in February, 2008.

  • Players acquired and successful through pure luck and high draft picks:
3B Evan Longoria----drafted in the first round of the 2006 draft.
RHP Troy Percival----signed as a free agent in November, 2006.
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1B Carlos Pena----signed as a free agent in February, 2007.
2B Akinori Iwamura----purchased from Japan in December, 2006.
OF/INF/DH Eric Hinske----signed to minor league contract in February, 2008.
RHP Grant Balfour----acquired from Milwaukee Brewers in June, 2007.

With all due respect to what they've accomplished, this success isn't a function of manager Joe Maddon suddenly going from a guy who was too smart and too quirky for his own good and had a long run working for the Angels in various capacities; nor does it have anything to do with the new age, sabermetrics, and fresh eyes of the baseball neophytes who took over the team in 2005. It has to do with building from what was already there; having some luck with a few journeymen; and making obvious draft picks that a monkey could've picked out of a hat. Guys like Iwamura, Balfour, Hinske and Pena were guys who were given away and/or picked up because of their availability at a cheap price. Iwamura was a guy from Japan they probably hadn't the faintest idea about. The journeyman Pena was
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almost released at the end of spring training in 2007 and had an MVP quality year. Balfour had a fastball and little else. Hinske has bounced from team-to-team as a guy who could provide some pop in a part-time role. Percival is injury-prone and they're lucky they've gotten as much as they have from him. Much of this success has been due to everything falling into place at once and (I believe) that veteran baseball man Gerry Hunsicker is finally having his suggestions implemented.
The Rays are going to go one of two ways in the playoffs. They're either going to go in without pretense and play with a carefree attitude not realizing the gravity of what they're up against going from where they were last season to where they are now; before they know it, they'll steamroll whoever's in front of them and just keep winning. Or they're going to get to the playoffs, be overwhelmed and get blasted out before they know what's happening.
The front office, manager, coaches and players can bask in what they've done for the next week----they deserve it----but before becoming too impressed with themselves as having been "proven" right, they'd better realize that there was a lot of uncontrollable aspects to this story that had nothing to do with intelligence and a lot to do with pure luck.

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