Rays Management Gets It

The Tampa Bay Rays' recent spending spree (projected '08 payroll up to $40-million) has been met with positive feedback, as expected. There has been some criticism of the James Shields deal, though, for a variety of different reasons.

Similar to Buster Olney's blog on ESPN.com, this post will link to you the latest baseball coverage across the web, specifically focusing on the Tampa Bay Rays.

James Shields (AP)

The Tampa Bay Rays' recent spending spree (projected '08 payroll up to $40-million) has been met with positive feedback, as expected. There has been some criticism of the James Shields deal, though, for a variety of different reasons. In addition to penning this review of Knocked Up on his personal blog, ESPN Insider Keith Law voiced his concerns over the Shields deal this week, saying that the risk associated with the deal "looks significant," as mentioned within Rays' beat writer Marc Topkin's piece this morning in the St. Petersburg Times.

Also, after team president Matt Silverman revealed on Friday that the last two years have been "cash-flow negative" for the Rays, there has been another round of pessimism associated with the franchise's proposed plan to build a new stadium on the waterfront in downtown St. Petersburg.

The author of an up-and-coming Rays' blog, titled 365 Days of Dough, Rays, and Me (worth checking out, by the way), shares his doubts in a recent post.

Per the blog:

Before the Rays begin to invest their time and money into their future $450-Million stadium, they should improve their management skills. In a world where organizations thrive off of ticket sales, the Rays are struggling to make ends meet. Thus, they should focus on building up the strength of their franchise internally before seeking unessential expensive investments.

In my opinion, however, building a new stadium in downtown St. Petersburg—similar to the positive effects for the Baltimore Orioles following the construction of Camden Yards—will only help the Tampa Bay Rays increase revenues.

There are numerous obstacles preventing a stadium from ever being built in downtown St. Pete, of course. For now, let us leave that whole side of the equation out of it. If, in fact, a new stadium is built on the waterfront, the overall fan experience at a Rays' game would improve tremendously, attracting the casual baseball fan more so than to Tropicana Field.

Plus, there are three main reasons why the Rays do not "thrive off ticket sales."

1. Tampa Bay is easily one of the smallest markets in Major League Baseball.

2. Tropicana Field, according to most people throughout baseball circles, is a terrible place to watch a baseball game. (Personally, other than the warehouse feel, I kind of like it.)

3. Most importantly, though, the Rays are a perennial losing franchise.

The voice in Field of Dreams was not lying to Kevin Costner: Studies have consistently shown, if a team puts (builds) a decent product on the field, they will come, leading to increased revenues via ticket sales. Yet, in the ten-year history of the franchise, the Rays have spent too much time in the cellar of the AL East, largely due to several poor decisions made by the management in the Vince Naimoli era.

Stuart Sternberg and his baseball operations regime, on the other hand, are turning a fledgling franchise around the correct way, stockpiling talent within the Rays' farm system, which is arguably the best in the game, and trying to lock up that talent as a long as possible. Headed into 2008, Tampa Bay boasts its best pitching staff in franchise history, and, with several other outstanding young starting pitching prospects (Wade Davis, who is a potential closer, too), Jake McGee and David Price) the staff is only going to improve.

Tampa Bay is closer to putting an exciting, competitive product on the field than ever before, currently fielding a roster that has a realistic chance to reach .500 in 2008, then perhaps compete for the Wild Card in 2009.

Assuming that the Rays do construct a new stadium, and it has the similar "cash cow" effects as in Baltimore in the immediate aftermath of being built, Tampa Bay may just have the chance to be a force in the AL for a long time. With the wacky free agent market, where veteran utility infielders are bringing in around $7-million per year, the Rays' biggest challenge is going to be securing their young talent permanently.

A new stadium, either downtown or somewhere else in the future (if the proposed plan fails to pan out), will go hand-in-hand with Tampa Bay's efforts to successfully lock up its premier young players. Due to the new stream of revenues resulting from a new ballpark, the Rays will help ensure that their product, expected to improve substantially, can maintain itself for the long haul.

If they can do that, the Rays can keep the core of their lineup, which could consist of an All-Star at nearly every position on the field by 2011, in tact for the first half of the next decade. This will only increase the value of the franchise.

The following lineup, without even counting for the potential of impact free agent signings or trades, could do some damage, right?

Potential Lineup in 2011:

C Dioner Navarro/John Jaso (Navarro was recently featured as a candidate for a breakout season in '08 in an article by Joe Sheehan over at Baseball Prospectus, by the way) Jim Callis, on the other hand, feels that John Jaso will be the Rays' catcher by then, however.)

1B Carlos Pena

2B Akinori Iwamura

SS Reid Brignac

3B Evan Longoria

LF Carl Crawford

CF B.J. Upton/perhaps speedster Desmond Jennings

RF Rocco Baldelli/Upton

DH Baldelli? Pena?

Starting Rotation (order subject to change, of course)

  1. Scott Kazmir
  2. David Price
  3. Matt Garza
  4. James Shields
  5. Jake McGee (Eric SanInocencio of Rays Anatomy has a nice profile of him here)

Closer: Wade Davis (Scouting Profile) Take a look for yourself below:

The Sternberg regime certainly sees this, and is doing everything in its power to compete in the AL East. Obviously, Boston and New York, which have turned into national franchises—not an official study here, but it seems as if they each have a larger fan bases outside out their home states than the Rays do in Florida—pose quite a tough challenge.

To question the management skills of Sternberg and his strong baseball operations team, saying they need to improve before the Rays invest in a project that will have stark financial benefits for the organization seems a tad misguided, in my opinion. Sternberg, who is a financial-minded genius and a former executive at Goldman Sachs, is steering the organization in the right (and only) direction: up.

Other Rays Content From Around The Internet Today:

"As of now, only a few GMs would be awarded grades higher than a B for their off-seasons. We would award top honors to the Tigers' Dave Dombrowski and (no, this is not a misprint) the Tampa Bay Rays' Andrew Friedman," writes Bill Madden, baseball columnist for the New York Daily News.

Madden, a frequent critic of the Rays organization over the years, surprised the staff over at DRaysBay with his positive assessment of Friedman's efforts this offseason.

Carlos Alfonso is one of the main reasons for the Rays' international scouting efforts, writes Dana Oppedisano of the Naples Daily News.

Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck wonders, "How can Bud Selig talk about parity when the entire Tampa Bay Rays payroll doesn't add up to Alex Rodriguez's annual salary?"

Good question, Peter. In 2010, perhaps you may have a surprising answer.

James Shields was the Pitcher of the week for "getting a rare multi-year deal," writes Ken Davidoff, within this piece.

Similar to the sentiments above, the Rays want to build a new stadium, and win, too, says the Bradenton Herald. Within this column, which did not list a byline (Roger Mooney?), Andrew Friedman refers to the Rays' winter shopping spree as "opportunistic."

Carl Crawford (AP)

In the latest round of superfluous baseball debate over at ESPN.com, Amy Nelson selected New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes as the game's top base stealer, beating out Carl Crawford. Similar to the Upton brothers chat over at the four-letter last week, can you pick a wrong answer there, really?

Interesting notes from the chat from Nelson:

"I actually had a scout tell me he thinks Reyes is the better student of the game, and he seems to study pitchers more than Crawford. As Wills said, in his days before film, he'd go out to the bullpen and watch the opposing pitcher warm up. He said base stealers were always warming up early and preparing, not having "a pillow fight in the clubhouse."

Over at Rays Anatomy, Eric SanInocenncio has had his own series of debates, focusing on the Rays in particular. His Robinson Cano/Upton version of the "Great Debates" is worth reading.

Former Rays Update:

The Minnesota Twins may have struck gold with Delmon Young, writes Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis-Star Tribune.

And, in perhaps column number 637,486 on how Josh Hamilton used faith to steer his life back on track, Evan Grant brings a new look to the tale, with an excellent piece this morning appearing in the Dallas Morning News.

You can reach Tyler Hissey by sending an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.

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