Sorry Yankees, you’ll be dealing with Rays for years to come
ARLINGTON, Texas — How long before the Yankees get a break from the Rays?
These Rays are young, talented and largely under control. Three guys on their World Series roster — Aaron Loup, Charlie Morton and Mike Zunino — can be free agents this winter, and the Rays hold team options on Morton and Zunino. After that trio, no one else from these 28 players can be a free agent after 2022.
“I think … most people understand that we do have a young core,” Rays starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow, who can’t go anywhere of his own volition until the 2023-24 offseason, said Saturday, before World Series Game 4 at Globe Life Field. “Even the Dodgers have been together for so many years, they’ve kind of developed that leadership role, so many guys. I do think we have a lot of good years ahead of us.”
What constitutes “a lot”? Recent baseball history — let’s call it the Luxury Tax Era, starting in 1996 — has taught us that clubs with tiny payrolls (generally in the bottom sixth, ranking somewhere between 26th and 30th) hold a shelf life of contention, and that at some point, these little engines that could require a stop to rest and refuel.
The Rays, terrible for their first decade (1998 to 2007), are in Year 3 of Run 2. Run 1 ran from 2008 through 2013, during which they qualified for the playoffs four times and the World Series once (they lost to the Phillies in 2008). Then they posted four straight losing records, during which they broke in their current manager Kevin Cash and head of baseball operations Erik Neander after Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman, having established their bona fides in Run 1, departed for the big-market Cubs and Dodgers.
Six years falls two years short of what Billy Beane’s Athletics accomplished when they posted winning records from 1999 through 2006, reaching the playoffs five times in that span (alas, no World Series appearances). The A’s finished .500 or worse for the subsequent five seasons, made the postseason every year from 2012 through 2014, registered another three consecutive losing records and competed in their third straight October this year. Whew! Like the elevator operator in “Mr. Deeds” said about his job, being an A’s fan has its ups and downs.
The limits can be attached to two long standing baseball rules: Service time and the draft. Players must accrue six years of major-league service before they attain eligibility for free agency, and tiny-payroll clubs simply can’t afford to retain most of their guys into their free agency years; the A’s did it with Eric Chavez and the Rays with Evan Longoria, and the Rays bought out Blake Snell’s first year of free agency, 2023. And the draft goes in reverse order of record, meaning that the better you finish, the longer you must wait before you get your first pop at incoming amateur talent. Beane’s first A’s run not coincidentally finished right after Barry Zito became the last of his Three Aces (after Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder) to depart.
When you factor in the Rays’ highly ranked farm system, perhaps they can make a run at the A’s record of eight years.
“We’ve just got to do everything we can to keep them healthy, keep them on the field,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said Saturday. “We’ve seen [that] if we can keep guys on the field, we’ve got a special group.”
They sure look like they can be a thorn in the Yankees’ side (as well as the rest of the American League East) for a while to come. It falls on the Yankees, with so many key players in their primes, to figure out how to slow down the Rays’ train, because they’ve got the goods to keep going for a while.
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