For a team that’s never won more than 70 games, the Tampa Bay Rays are surrounded by buzz this year. Certain measures on Baseball Prospectus are predicting as many as 89 wins for the Rays while other people have tempered expectations of a .500 season for the AL East’s perennial bottom-feeders.
No matter the prognosis, it’s safe to say that the Rays are no longer the doormats of the American League. Why then is the team still run that way?
Earlier this week, after a very hot spring, Rays prospect Evan Longoria was exiled to the team’s AAA club in Durham. He wasn’t sent down for seasoning or maturation; rather, he was demoted because the Rays don’t want his arbitration and free agency clocks to start ticking. As Rays bloggers have noted, Longoria should be up in the Majors by the end of May, and the Rays will still hold his rights through the 2014 season. Had they allowed Longoria, the better third baseman in their camp, to head north with the team on Opening Day, they’d see him hit free agency in 2013.
Fans of the Rays are more or less unhappy with this move. Rays Index surveyed his fellow Tampa bloggers and found a mixture of outrage and disbelief. The players themselves are not too happy about the news either as quotes from Jonny Gomes and Carl Crawford show.
Rays of Light feels betrayed by management. “I can’t help but feel we were lied to by the Rays. Though they said prior to Spring Training that he would get a chance to compete for the job, I don’t really feel like that’s what he was allowed to do,” Scott Caruso wrote. For a team in need of fans, sending down one of their better players in the name of business sure isn’t a very popular idea.
But, hey, we’re Yankee fans. What do we care about the Tampa Bay Rays? If the Rays, who have played the Yanks hard over the last few seasons, are weaker for it in April and May, who am I to complain? Well, from an on-field perspective, the move is great. But from the economic perspective, it’s fairly despicable.
The Rays as a team don’t enjoy a high revenue stream, and they don’t have too many fans who pack their unremarkable stadium. Instead, they survive on small payrolls and revenue-sharing payments from the game’s big guns. So with these riches, the Rays are opting to weaken their team in order to save a few bucks down the road.
While some fans ridiculed Hank Steinbrenner for noting that the Yankees fund the Rays, the truth is that the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers and Angels all fund the league’s poorer teams. If the Rays aren’t going to use these funds to field the best possible team, shouldn’t the Yankees have their revenue sharing contributions back?
An independent commissioner could step in and stop this exploitation of loopholes in the service time rules, but Bud would never dirty his hands over this issue. Meanwhile, in the Bronx, we can just raise our eyebrows and wonder why exactly the Yankees are left funding everyone else if everyone else isn’t going to put the money to use.