In explaining the Rays’ winter plan Andrew Friedman dispels a few myths and provides us with a nice reminder that the Rays do not rely on the same knee-jerk reactionary decisionmaking we see elsewhere in professional sports.
Myth 1: The Rays built their entire franchise around winning the 2010 title.
Friedman to Mooney:
“From three years ago, and more specifically a year ago, we certainly were aware of the potential changes after the 2010 seasons,” he said, “and while we may have gone all in financially, we certainly didn’t talent wise.”
This team is not the 1997 Marlins that wagered their entire franchise on one season. Baseball is too unpredictable for such high-stakes gambles (anyone bet on San Francisco back in March? A lot happens during a 162-game summer) and the recovery period is too long. Friedman has been hedging his bets for several seasons by avoiding lopsided trades for marginal major-league talent (how many GMs offered a right-handed bat for Hellickson or McGee or Jennings this summer?) and ensuring that the conveyor-belt to the bigs remains stocked with young, athletic talent.
Myth 2: The Rays decided to cut payroll only after reviewing the 2010 revenue numbers.
Look at that quote from Friedman again. The Rays have been planning for the winter of 2010 since the summer of 2007. I think anyone paying attention recognizes that if the Rays ever want a new stadium, they have to make public displays that they were banking on big revenue numbers in 2010. But, this front office is simply too smart to rely on unrealistic revenue expectations or make huge strategic decisions based on short-term results.
Based on their history, it is clear to me that the Sternbergites took the long view. They made solid, but not mind-blowing, investments in the Trop to fix the primary complaint of the fan base. Then they made solid, but not mind-blowing, investments in the roster to supplement the assets they inherited. Those investments built them a ton goodwill in the community and planted the seeds for a generation of lifelong Rays fans. Up next, the return-on-investment. The Sternbergites proved they were willing to buy in to the franchise and make it a winner. Now they are going to ask the community to match their investment (at a significantly higher-price to the community). It is really brilliant.
Myth 3: The Rays intend to totally revamp their roster.
Friedman to Topkin:
“In large part, it’s going to be market-based,” Friedman said. “There are a number of our guys we would definitely like to have back, but they earned the right to be free agents and they want to see what’s out there. If we’re able to reach an overlap, then we’ll continue the relationship, which is obviously ideal in a number of instances.”
As I wrote a few days ago, the Rays do not have the roster flexibility to make mistakes. A “mistake” is not just a free-agent player that underperforms. Free-agent players that perform, but cost more than other players offering similar performance, are also “mistakes” the Rays cannot afford. No one can precisely predict what a free-agent player will do next summer (the Rays’ reliance on advance-metrics seems to get them closer than other teams). The market can, however, predict each player’s appropriate salary value. And, outside of the elite free-agents (like CC and Cliff Lee) most free-agent players are interchangeable with other free-agent players. That gives the Rays the ability to let other teams set the market and still allows time for the Rays to identify similar candidates for their own roster.
Those candidates, of course, will likely include several members of the 2010 Rays. Friedman’s willingness to let a huge portion of the bullpen become free agents doesn’t mean he won’t take them back. It does mean he won’t take them back unless their price “overlaps” with the market value assigned to them by the Rays.