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Are The Rays Going To Go "All-In"?

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There is more that factors into the decision to acquire a big-time player leading up to a trade deadline than just money and the player's talent. Here are some that the Rays face.

The Major League Baseball "Trade Season" is still very young, and the Rays have been one of the most linked to teams in all of baseball.  The Rays have been reportedly interested in Josh Willingham, Adam Dunn, Cliff Lee and most recently, Roy Oswalt. 

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that principal owner Stu Sternberg has recently made it public that the Rays are willing to add substantial payroll in the effort to make the team better for the playoffs.  The team already made a "push" of sorts in the offseason by not moving SS Jason Bartlett and allowing him to become a lot more expensive than he was in 2008 through arbitration and bringing in now All-Star closer Rafael Soriano. 

Sternberg in his interview with Todd Kalas mentioned that he felt this was a very special year and that the Rays management was committed to not letting money come in the way of making the team better.

The thing that might get in the way though is players. 

 A team giving up a big-time player is almost always a team that is looking to rebuild because they are, for all intents and purposes, out of the playoff race.  If they were in the race they would most likely be trying to acquire players.  So in order to obtain the services of that player a team must part with their young talent to make the "selling" team happy to give up the big player.

It is no secret that the Rays have built a winner in the tough A.L. East through depth in their minor league system.  Part of the reason the Rays could lose an Edwin Jackson was because there was a Jeff Niemann and David Price waiting.  The Rays were able to part with a Scott Kazmir because of a Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson.  Aki Iwamura was able to walk because of Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac. 

All the while by losing these "key" players the Rays were able to reload the system.  However, there seems to be a mentality that in an "all-in" year you say "damn the torpedoes".  I like the idea of the Rays taking on more payroll if it means improving the club's chances of winning the World Series but I like Sternberg's cautious attitude as well.  If we give away the farm it may be a long time to build another club this good and this deep. 

The question has to be how much is the possibility (because a guarantee is of course impossible) of a World Series worth to this management team and to you the fans.  You have varying routes to take. 

You could be like the Marlins who in 1997 traded for Darren Daulton, Craig Counsell and Matt Treanor before the trade deadline before going on to win the World Series, and subsequently trading away most of their key players not to challenge again until 2003.  In 2003 they again made key aquisitions in an "all-in" year, obtaining the services of reliever Ugueth Urbina and infielder Jeff Conine before winning the World Series and again letting go of many members of the team to rebuild their system. 

Now I spoke with a good friend of mine who has been a Marlins fan since their inception, and he told me that those two rings make the fire-sales completely worth it, and I can see his point.  Just ask a Cubs fan how special a World Series is.

The other route the Rays could go in is that of the Minnesota Twins who are consistently in the playoff race in the A.L. Central, and who seemingly never make the "big deal" at the deadline.  However, because the Twins never leverage the farm to rent a big-time player they are, as mentioned prior, almost always a contender.

With all of that said I more than trust Andrew Friedman's judgment with regards to pulling the trigger on the "right" deal.  He and his team have more than proved their talent-evaluation credentials at this point. 

For those of you who believe that this will be the year though, please remember that in 2008 the Rays were so close to making the "big" trade by acquiring outfielder Jason Bay for a couple of the Rays better prospects (Reid Brignac and Jeff Niemann were rumored to be a deal that had gotten done before Boston made an offer the Pirates liked better, however if a Wade Davis or Jeremy Hellickson had been packaged instead of Niemann the likelyhood the deal would have gone through went up exponentially), and yet Friedman held back from pulling the trigger on what would have gotten the deal done. 

At that time the Rays were two games ahead of Boston for the Division lead and had a 59 percent chance of making the playoffs according to coolstandings.com.  By comparison (and yes I know there is still plenty more time before the trade deadline) the Rays are currently 2 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox for the wild card , but have a 73.5 percent chance of making the playoffs according to coolstandings. 

And again I might point out that even though we did not get the big player, through the talent already on the field and a couple of smaller, post-deadline moves that got the Rays to the World Series in '08.  So it seems to me that Friedman evaluated Davis/Brignac and Hellickson/Brignac and the chances of the Rays getting to/winning the Series vs. what those players could do for us in the future and the chances of the team still making the Series and made a decision not to part with the prime talent.

My point is that past action (or inaction if you want to look at it that way) leads me to believe while the purse may not stop the Rays from pursuing the big-name trade-deadline targets, it didn't seem like it did in the past either. And the other things that have stopped them before, in all likelihood will again. 

It has taken alot of work to create one of the best organizations in baseball and I can't imagine how hard it would be to do it again.  The Rays have proven that they don't think like the casual fan (i.e. this will help now, so do it). They have some sort of explicit or otherwise weighting sysemt of this year vs. next vs. two years from now, etc.  I really wish I knew how they made that determination.

Now I pose something that may make it into that weighting this year.  It is well documented what Stu Sternberg has said about baseball, Tampa Bay, and more specifically downtown St. Pete (find it here).  While it wasn't a huge surprise to anyone, it was big words in terms of the implications. 

Could this year make a difference in how the stadium issue plays out? Perhaps. Think of it -- how much more support would the World Champion Rays have then the Tampa Bay Rays?  Are the Rays trying to make it play into it?  I would. 

So perhaps this is driving the weight associated this with this year up more to where there is a bigger push to get "the guy" who can put the Rays over the top.  What do you think?

Photographs by cstreet.us, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.