So I am hanging out in my living room on the couch on Saturday morning with my cat on my lap, and my wife off teaching her Saturday Group Fitness classes. Since my hip replacement surgery right before Christmas, hanging out on the couch is about the extent of what I have been doing lately. Occasionally, I get to go outside for good behavior, but it has been so cold lately, that it outside is more like a punishment than a reward. Anyway, I am planted on the couch with the cat, and I see a news crawl across the bottom of the screen on MLB Network. It seems that the Tampa Bay Rays have traded Ben Zobrist and Yuniel Escobar to the Oakland A’s for catcher John Jaso, who will be doing his second tour of duty with the Rays, an A’s top SS prospect in Daniel Robertson, minor league OF Boog Powell (no relation to THE Boog Powell), and some cash. To even things out on the Major League roster, the Rays almost immediately signed IF Asdrubal Cabrerra. My daughter is a Tampa Bay Rays fan (sigh…), and I figured that she would not be happy. I was right…she was not. I am not sure that she ever got over the dark days when the Rays unloaded Reid Brignac. Now she has to endure this? To quote Dr. Zachary Smith from Lost In Space, “Oh, the pain. The pain…”
This got me thinking. Over the last 2 seasons or so, the Tampa Bay Rays have been systematically dismantled. I do not know if this is being done intentionally by the team ownership, natural attrition, or the expiring of contracts of aging players that it makes no financial sense to re-sign. Your guess is as good as mine. But let’s take a look at this piece by piece…
First up is the possibility that the Rays ownership is following in the path of Jeff Loria and the Florida Marlins after they won the World Series, and are selling off one or two players at a time. Why would they do this? Could it be that the Rays ownership has finally grown tired of voters on Florida’s Gold Coast not voting in favor of the Rays getting a new park in the Tampa /St. Petersburg area? Could it be that the Rays ownership group is realizing that trying to compete with Big Market Teams is an exercise in futility in the long term? There is always the possibility of the Tampa Bay Rays moving, however remote. It would make sense that prior to a move, they would want to shed salaries and expiring contracts.
Possibility number two is that the Rays simply want to get some return for players approaching free agency. At the end of the 2015 season, Zobrist would be a free agent for the first time, and I believe he was going to test the market. At 34 years old, there will not be too many more opportunities, so I really wouldn’t blame him. So with Zobrist in his walk year, the Rays probably figured that they better get something for him or risk losing him for a conditional draft pick. It is painful for the Rays fans, but it was probably a good move by the Rays. If you think back to the trade that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and two other prospects, the same contract issues existed for Shields. The Rays didn’t want to get stuck getting nothing for him, so the trade was made. It makes baseball sense. The same thing went for their other front-line starter in the person of David Price. He was also set to be a free agent at the end of 2015, and better to get something rather than nothing…
Of course, there is always what I call ‘natural attrition’, which is basically the everyday business of baseball. Players move on either via trade or they become free agents in the natural course of things without much fanfare. I am, in this case, referring to the pawns in the chess game. Players that merit a blurb in the local sports section are also needed to make up a 25-man roster, and as such are part of the conversation.
The other part of this fire sale wasn’t a sale at all. It was more of the ‘natural attrition’ vein from above. I, along with the rest of the baseball world was shocked when Rays manager Joe Maddon suddenly resigned and just a few days later was named manager of the Chicago Cubs.
Now it appears that the only ‘names’ left on the Tampa Bay Rays roster are Evan Longoria, David DeJesus, and now Asdrubal Cabrerra. I have no idea how the Rays are going to fill seats in the outdated Trop in 2015. It looks like the Tampa Bay Rays have been charred beyond recognition in their fire sale, and it will be a long season in Tampa.