The Tampa Bay Rays have some of the best starting pitchers in the majors. How much of that is the result of good drafting? MLB.com's Peter Gammons recently said a lot of great things about the value of young starting pitchers and was quick to note the Tampa Bay Rays' pitching staff.
As if the Yankees and Red Sox want to hear about it, the Rays' starters have more wins, more quality starts and a better ERA than any other team in the AL East. They are being paid $8 million, less than what Joe Blanton earns. Not only that, but Tampa Bay has four prime pitching prospects on the immediate horizon.
Starting pitching is not an immediate need. The first round is typically used by teams to stock up on the best players to fill the deepest holes. With ten picks in the first round, should the Rays go after starting pitching?
Gammons went on to quote Oakland Athletic's GM Billy Beane (of Moneyball notoriety):
"Let's face it, no small-market team can afford to go into the market to get starting pitching. To survive and compete, you have to draft and develop pitching, or go out and get it before it's on the Major League radar screen."
This seems to be the Decade-of-the-Pitcher, where elite pitching draws some of the highest paying contracts in the majors. What will the Rays do when their supply runs dry? As a "small market team," the Rays will use the same strategy Beane lays out.
This is nothing new for the Rays. Going into the season the lineup was a lock for James Shields, David Price, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann. Of the Rays' top ten starting pitchers, how many were drafted?
Drafted: David Price, James Shields, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Jake McGee, Alex Cobb
Under-the-Radar Acquizition: Chris Archer (Matt Garza trade), Alex Torres (Scott Kazmir trade)
In other words, the Rays build starting pitching from within (as opposed to big ticket acquisition teams like the Phillies) and rely heavily on the draft. Tampa Bay's entire starting rotation was drafted!
So can we expect the Rays to draft more starting pitching? Absolutely. The only pitcher listed above to be drafted in 2008 or later is David Price, when he was the first pick overall in the draft. It takes years to develop a quality pitcher and this is the time for the Rays to prepare for the future. If there is a pitching prospect on the board worth taking, you can believe the front office won't hesitate. Nothing is more affordable than home-grown talent.
Case and point: John Lackey. As Gammons points out, his $15.25 million salary is roughly the equivalent of the Oakland, Cleveland and Tampa Bay starters combined. The fact he has allowed six, nine, eight and nine runs in four of his seven starts and has an 8.01 ERA only makes it all the more sweeter.