(Long Island, NY) There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and also to become a contending baseball team. The quick fix that both the Yankees and Mets have employed may have certain advantages, but in the long run the wasted money and frustration outweigh the pennants and rings.
The young Tampa Bay Rays may not have the revenue to build a team in that fashion, but they do have the former and eye the latter. By defeating the reigning champion Boston Red Sox in an American League Championship Series that went the distance, Joe Maddon’s club is what they call the ‘sexy’ pick to win it all. They opened the World Series on Wednesday night and will host the first two games against the Philadelphia Phillies.
How the Rays got to this point is nothing short of amazing. Although not the first team to go from ‘worst to first,’ this has been a perennial 90-loss team since their inaugural season back in 1998. Prior to their recent success, the then-Devil Rays’ biggest claim to fame was having three former superstars wear their colors before hanging it up – Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff and Jose Canseco.
Actually, the Rays back then tried to get by with signing players past their prime, similar to what the Yankees and Mets have done. Some who came and went were Wilson Alvarez, Greg Vaughn and Vinny Castilla. But all of the losing did have its advantages with high draft picks, and the older players left to make way for the likes of Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli.
The biggest addition to Tampa came at the expense of none other than the Mets. For inexplicable reasons, Double-A pitcher Scott Kazmir was sent to the sunshine state in exchange for a converted infielder at the trading deadline in 2004. Victor Zambrano turned out to be one of the worst Met pitchers in team history and was actually in the Yankee farm system recently trying to come back from arm surgery. Kazmir? He has been a mainstay of the Rays’ rotation for nearly five years, led the AL in strikeouts in 2007, an All-Star in 2008 and the starting pitcher in Game 1 of the World Series. Although he pitched effectively (three earned runs in six innings), ‘Kaz’ was the losing pitcher in a 3-2 Philadelphia victory at Tropicana Field.
According to Kazmir, there are no hard feelings from the trade, one that was rumored to have taken place partially due to the youngster’s cockiness. “I really don’t think about that,” he said to reporters. “That seems like forever ago.”
That deal is a microcosm of the difference between an organization like Tampa Bay and the two New York franchises. While the Rays show extreme patience and build through their farm system, big market teams trade for or sign veterans to long-term contracts. What this does is either move or block the very players that are the building blocks of a winning club.
Once a player – especially a pitcher – is drafted, he is reared through every level of the minor leagues and practically ‘raised,’ if you will, in the method that the parent club wishes. To turn around and deal a player after spending time and money on him to learn the way you want is detrimental. While necessary at times (such as the Johan Santana trade), there are many situations where the polar opposite occurs.
Just ask any Met fan how they feel about Scott Kazmir.