A lot has changed for the Tampa Bay Rays since Joe Maddon has taken over as manager. They dropped the word Devil from their name, changed their uniform colors and started winning baseball games.
Before Maddon was hired, the Rays had three managers in their first eight years. The trio of Larry Rothschild, Hal McRae and Lou Pinella had a combined record of 518-775 with seven last-place finishes in the AL East and one second-last finish.
Since Maddon has taken over, the Rays have won the AL East twice and are about to clinch their second AL Wild Card berth. They made the World Series in their first-ever postseason appearance, losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in five games. Since then, they have been to the postseason two more times.
With a payroll of $57 million, the Rays have been forced to let go of some high-profile players, but have also locked up the young players they believe to be their core. They have lost Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, James Shields, Grant Balfour, Wade Davis and Matt Garza. They have been able to replace those guys with their own minor leaguers, prospects they acquired in trades and low-priced free agents.
To show the success of the Rays’ scouting department, free agent pitcher Roberto Hernandez started a game on April 4, 2013. Before then, the last time the Rays started a free agent pitcher was on July 25, 2005 when Hideo Nomo started a game for them. That was a string of 1,207 consecutive games where their starter was either a pitcher that came up from their organization or someone they traded for.
They Rays have had to figure out how to compete in the AL East with big market and big salary teams. In 2013. the four other teams in their division were all in the top-15 in payroll and the Rays were third to last. The other two teams below them are Miami Marlins and Houston Astros, who have both have lost 100 games and have the worst two records in baseball. The New York Yankees are second in payroll, the Boston Red Sox are fifth, the Toronto Blue Jays are ninth and the Baltimore Orioles are 15th.
This offseason was the first time the Rays have used a pitcher to acquire a young talented hitter. They traded All-Star James Shields to the Kansas City Royals for top prospect Wil Myers. The 22-year-old outfielder came up to the big leagues in June and has hit .292 with 13 homers and 52 RBIs.
While making the playoffs is an unbelievable accomplishment for a team that has had to overcome what they have, winning a World Series would definitely validate what the Rays are doing. They have been able to reload each year by acquiring young pitchers and filling their rosters with veterans who can play multiple positions.
More important than validation, a World Series Trophy could help push their stadium deal along. The Rays have always been towards the bottom in attendance and they think a new stadium would help fix that. The proposal for Rays Park, a $450 million stadium, didn’t garner enough public support in 2008. Winning a World Series and the excitement that will bring to the city may change that and push the deal along.