I am personally very tired of reading hackneyed, reactionary articles that have myopic views of reality. I just read one that takes the cake.
It seems the Bay Area media is all in a tizzy about our Green and Gold Heroes. They don’t want to win, you see. That is the problem! They won’t sign high dollar free agents (not that they didn’t pursue any, but the reason those folks didn’t come is because Lew Wolff doesn’t want to win… not a substandard stadium or more money from the Cardinals and Rangers). They tarped off a “popular” section of the stadium (I thought popular meant a lot of people like them a whole lot and thus they are full on a regular basis) to drive fans away. If only Lew Wolff was as magnanimous as Peter MacGowan, people would be showing up in droves to watch the A’s. And best of all, look at the Tampa Bay Rays, they have built a perennial contender on a small budget. It’s doable if only you want to do it, or so the meme goes.
Upon further examination, that last part of the meme should be “Look how the Rays are replicating what the A’s did earlier in the decade, almost.”
Wait, what? The Rays are everything the A’s aren’t. This is true, currently. The Rays are a small market team that has to compete with the biggest of big spenders every year, and they have managed to make the playoffs 3 of the last 4 seasons. But let’s remember that the Rays are following the A’s playbook.
The Rays, an abject failure of a franchise for their entire existence until 4 years ago, have had the benefit of drafting in the top ten every year from 1999 through 2007. During that time they drafted such notables as Josh Hamilton, Rocco Baldelli, BJ Upton, Delmon Young, Evan Longoria and David Price (and less notables Dawon Brazleton, Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend).
Prior to the A’s most recent run of success (I like to think it started with playoff contention in 1999 and ended in 2006) the A’s drafted in the top ten 5 out 6 seasons. With those picks they got Ben Grieve, Eric Chavez, Mark Mulder and the good version of Barry Zito (and they passed on Todd Helton to take Ariel Prieto).
In other words, key components of both teams most recent successful seasons came through the draft. Or to paraphrase Billy Beane in his recent Athletics Nation interview, the core has to come from the farm system. How do you get a stocked farm system? Losing a lot for a decade doesn’t hurt, apparently.
I have a ton of respect for the Tampa Bay Rays. The organization has done an excellent job of drafting and developing, but can we please get real? The Rays have been to the playoffs 3 times in their entire history and were perennial losers for their first decade of existence. This past off season they lost Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena. It isn’t that far off before David Price goes the way of Mark Mulder. The writing is on the wall.
That is not to say that I am expecting, or rooting, for a monumental collapse by the Rays. It is to say that the hardest part is about to hit. The replacing Jason Giambi with Scott Hatteberg part. The taking a flier on Frank Thomas and hoping against hope that he goes bonkers part. The “Do I keep Miggy or Chavvy?” part. Ask us about this stuff Rays fans, we know.
We know that you can only replace an aging DH with another aging DH so many times before Mike Piazza isn’t Frank Thomas. We know sometimes you go Chavvy when you should have gone Miggy. We know that for every Mark Mulder that nets you Daric Barton, Dan Haren and Kiko Calero there is a Tim Hudson that nets you Charles Thomas, Juan Cruz and Dan Meyer. We know that once you stop having top ten draft picks your minor league system only gets you so far and you have to start robbing Peter to pay Paul in one way or another.
That’s the rub. The minor league system is what gives smaller market teams a chance. When it begins to pay off, there are two questions that you can ask to know how wide the window of contention is: 1. How long can you keep these guys together? 2. Are we better off trading them some time before they hit free agency or taking draft picks when they sign with the Yankees?
My guess is that when all is said and done, the Rays won’t match the A’s 8 year (1999-2006) run of contention. But my guess isn’t really that important, the “Do we trade Carl Crawford or take draft picks?” part is in the past and the “Do we trade BJ Upton or take draft picks?” part is just around the corner.
How long until the return of the top ten draft pick part? Only time will tell.