After taking a step back and seriously contemplating what the Tampa Bay Rays have done during the off-season, I was reminded that there are many, many ways to build a baseball team. The options that a front office has to choose from are often limited by factors such as financial, competitive, or internally driven realities. Still, it’s seemingly rare to see a team take anything but what appears to be the path of least resistance. I guess that why I’m so intrigued by what the Rays have done and how it could apply to St. Louis at some point in the all-too-near future. Consider what the Rays pretty much knew going into the off-season:
- Carl Crawford was going to chase the money
- Carlos Pena was going to chase the money
- Rafael Soriano was going to chase the money
- Jason Bartlett was expendable and would become expensive to keep
- Matt Garza was a valuable trade asset who would become expensive to keep
- They have Evan Longoria, David Price, James Shields, and Ben Zobrist signed through at least 2012
The Rays know how much talent they have in the pipeline and how quickly each player is progressing. On Twitter, I compared the Garza move to the Herschel Walker trade that paid huge dividends for the Dallas Cowboys so long ago. By picking the Cubs clean of their best prospects, the Rays may have greatly accelerated the process of replacing some of the guys who went paper chasing. The Rays can wait for the prospects to develop, or they can trade for what they need when they need to do so. Very clever.
In the meantime, they played a waiting game and looked for short-term solutions to bridge the gap for 2011. Enter Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez on relatively cheap contracts, and both COULD be motivated to prove that they can still play. They both happen to be returning to the division where they built much of their legacies (such as they are). Familiarity may breed contempt, but it may also add a certain comfort level as well. The end result is that the Rays should still be able score runs and shut plenty of teams down, and they’ll be probably be incredibly young and talented again in 2012. Oh, and they’ll be competitive at an incredibly low payroll in the AL Beast division, too. Nice job.
How does any of this apply to the Cardinals? Consider that Theriot and Berkman are signed for just 1 year deals, and both COULD be motivated to prove that they can still play. More importantly, I think both want to really win the big one. When Berkman was in Houston, he always sounded like he felt comfortable playing in the NL Central, and just being back in the division may give him an added lift. Theriot is also returning to the NL Central as well. Sounds a lot like what Damon and Ramirez are doing as well, doesn’t it?
The comparisons don’t end there, though. I’ve already suggested an option for keeping Chris Carpenter in St. Louis for the rest of his career (as a closer). If that’s not an option, and the team or Carp won’t restructure his deal, then a trade scenario could arise at some point. It would likely be the result of the Cardinals having a poor first half to the 2011 season, but it’s worth considering all possibilities. If Garza is worth half a farm system’s best prospects, then what could the Cardinals get for Carp? Sure, he has an injury history, but a team in a pennant race would be after him for the opportunity to land a knockout punch. Two or three top prospects would go a long way toward refreshing a minor league system that isn’t exactly ranked the best in baseball. Just because the Cardinals have the budget of a mid-market team doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t think more like a small market one.
TIDBITS: If I were a Rays fan, I’d still be disappointed with the off-season, but I’d be pretty excited about the future the team has. It’s just hard to get excited about adding Damon and Ramirez. Maybe a #RallyRamDam hashtag will help.
MORE BITS OF TID: The title for this piece was butchered from a famous Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken. The poem just happens to be my personal favorite, and it seemed apropos for this blog piece.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost (The Road Not Taken)
Like it? Surprised that I authored a piece without stats? Find me on Twitter, and we’ll discuss the #RallyRamDam hashtag!