The Tampa Bay Rays are in their 19th year as a Major League Baseball franchise and the best term that can describe their existence is hot and cold. In the Rays first decade in MLB, they never won more than 70 games in a season while they lost at least 100 games in a year on three occasions. The Rays fortunes began to change with the arrival of Andrew Friedman as the team’s general manager and Joe Maddon as the club’s manager. In 2008, the Rays would see a 31-game improvement in the win column en route to winning the American League East for the first time in franchise history. The Rays would ride that wave of momentum to their first and only trip to the World Series. Since then the Rays have enjoyed three more trips to the postseason with four, 90-win seasons to their credit. But now the thrill appears to be gone for Rays baseball.
After the 2014 Major League Baseball season, Friedman left the Rays to become the president of baseball operations for the Los Angeles Dodgers, while Maddon departed to become the manager of the Chicago Cubs. Last year under the guidance of general manager Matthew Silverman and manager Kevin Cash, the Rays hung tough in the American League West as they went 80-82. But the bottom appears to have fallen out for the Rays here in 2016.
The Rays are currently 31-43 as they are bringing up the rear in the American League East. Tampa Bay hasn’t been above .500 since May 20 when they were 20-19 as they have gone 11-24 ever since which includes losing their last 11 games. The Rays are 13.5 games behind the Baltimore Orioles for first place in the American League East, while they are also 8.5 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays for the final wild card spot in the A.L. And although that Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game is still two weeks away, the Rays appear ready to throw in the towel as they are going nowhere fast.
The Rays play in one of the smallest media markets in Major League Baseball which restricts them from being big spenders. The Rays typically have one of the smallest team payroll’s in MLB which means that they must concentrate on drafting and developing their players. That was something that the Rays excelled in under Friedman as he was responsible for bringing in players such as third baseman Evan Longoria, along with starting pitchers David Price and Matt Garza to Tampa Bay with each player being integral in the team winning the American League Pennant in 2008, while also remaining in contention afterwards.
But the issue with of drafting and developing quality players is that they will eventually reach the level of becoming unrestricted free agents, and that is where the Rays get into a bind. The Rays have allowed the likes of outfielder Carl Crawford leave Tampa Bay as free agents, while others such as Price and utility man Ben Zobrist were traded. And in the case of Price who was the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner, he should have commanded more return value via the trade market. However the Rays only received journeymen when they shipped Price to the Detroit Tigers in 2014 which unofficially marked the beginning of the end for Tampa Bay. Now that majority of the quality talent has left West Florida with the exception of Longoria who has become the face of this fledgling franchise, you have to wonder how much longer that he will play the role of being the good soldier before he asks to be traded?
Offensively the Rays are near the bottom of the majority of the categories in the American League this year which includes runs (290), hits (581), and batting average (.236) as they are dead last in each one. The Rays pitching staff that was once the backbone of this franchise isn’t fairing that much better as they are 10th in team earned average at 4.26. And once you add all of this up, it puts the Rays at a huge disadvantage in the A.L. East which features the potent lineups of the Orioles, Boston Red Sox, and Toronto Blue Jays.
With the exception of Longoria, along with starting pitchers Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, there aren’t that many players that are currently on the Rays roster that are recognizable which is a good sign that they are lacking star power and something must be done to improve this franchise before they return to purgatory.
Just as Rays owner Stuart Sternberg cannot afford to keep his players when they hit free agency, he couldn’t afford Friedman and Maddon when big market teams such as the Dodgers and Cubs came calling. For the longest time the Rays have been attempting to get out of their lease to play at Tropicana Field which runs through 2027 in the hopes of obtaining a more lucrative playing facility. Tropicana Field served its purpose when the Rays first came to town in 1998, but the facility is inadequate as far as the amenities that professional sports owners are seeking in a stadium which includes luxury boxes and the proximity to the downtown area. The Rays are looking to move into the downtown area which would make their games more accessible to Tampa fans and visitors alike which would be a shot in the arm for them as far as revenue.
And when you take a long look at the Rays, this is an organization that needs a jolt as every aspect of the club must be reassessed. Before 2008, the Rays were a laughing stock as teams knew that coming to Tampa would result in an easy win. And the last thing that the Rays want to do is revert to once again being a glorified minor-league team as it was indeed a long journey for them to get to respectability.