The Tampa Bay Rays are not going to be very good this year.
We already knew that.
They have gutted a team that won 80 games last season. Among those sent packing: Evan Longoria, Corey Dickerson, Jake Odorizzi and team MVP Steven Souza Jr.
Yeah, this thing could get ugly. Like triple-digit losses ugly.
But here's the deal. Did anyone think this team was going to be all that good before the changes?
Did I miss something? Did this team actually win 98 games and get to the World Series last year?
Why is everyone so upset that the Rays traded a bunch of players from a crummy team?
Think about it. Longoria is 32 and getting less productive every season. Odorizzi is, at best, a No. 3 pitcher in the rotation and won only 10 games each of the past two seasons. Dickerson was here two seasons and was invisible for all but about two months of that time. And while Souza hit 30 homers last year, we're talking about a guy who is a lifetime .236 hitter.
We're not breaking up the Big Red Machine here.
Yet here are fans complaining, talking about boycotting games, demanding owner Stu Sternberg sell the team. Super fan Dick Vitale is trying to break Twitter with all his criticism.
"If you don't want to own a team and give the fans a chance, sell the team," Dick Vitale said. "There'll be a buyer in a heartbeat."Posted by Tampa Bay Times - Sports on Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Look, I get the frustration. No one wants to sit through a fifth straight losing season that could be even less competitive than the previous four. No one likes the prospect of a team getting wiped out night after night and being out of the race by Memorial Day.
Then again, where have you been, fans? Have you not been paying attention?
I keep hearing fans say, "The team needs to tell us what they're doing.''
Well, they are. They have been. None of this should come as a shock.
We've been hearing all offseason how big changes were coming. No one should be surprised Longoria was traded. The Rays practically announced that Odorizzi and Dickerson were goners, too. The one that stunned everyone was Souza and that's the one trade that absolutely made the most sense. Souza's trade wasn't financial. It was made for legitimate baseball reasons.
Bottom line: this all makes perfect sense.
This is no way to build community goodwill in the name of a new stadium in this community, Martin Fennelly writes, assuming Stuart Sternberg wants one.Posted by Tampa Bay Times - Sports on Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Will it work? That remains to be seen. But is it worth trying? Absolutely.
This was a mediocre-to-bad team that has been flailing away for four years. The Rays weren't getting any better. There were no signs to suggest they would get better. They were so-so with a future that looked just as so-so. It felt like a perpetual .500 team and that's if everything went well.
So why not try something? Why not overhaul it?
Call it tanking, if you will. Call it a rebuild. Call it building for the future.
But also call it this: smart.
The Yankees are loaded. The Red Sox are loaded. The Rays simply didn't have the necessary talent to keep up with those heavyweights. Why keep running out a lineup of guys like Longoria and Souza and Dickerson when it has already been proven that lineup is not good enough?
Do you honestly think that if the Rays brought everyone back from last season that they would be contenders?
Why not flip those guys for players who have a chance to be better? Ah, but here's the rub: it will take time for those players to get better. It takes time to rebuild. That time is filled with a whole lot of losses. And no one wants to wait.
The other issue is that rebuilding takes a complete leap of faith.
We've seen the Cubs and Astros tank and build themselves back into World Series champions. And if the Rays can do that, no one would complain about a couple of 100-loss seasons. But Rays fans, for good reason, are skeptical that management is good enough to draft and develop the type of players you need to be really good. And they're even more skeptical that ownership will then surround those players with a pricey free agent or two needed to put you over the top.
But, let’s be real, the other way wasn’t working.
Now, having said all that, here's a message for Rays management: Fans are upset. They are tired of losing. And you're asking a lot of them to charge major-league prices for team that doesn't much resemble a competitive major-league team.
It's too late to slash ticket prices. But you can throw the fans a bone or two if you're not going to throw a good team on the field.
Offer free parking. Cut back on concession prices. Offer $1 hot dogs, which is what a hot dog should be worth anyway. Offer deals on shirts and hats and other team merchandise.
And pick a few games to give away tickets to families and local groups. That shouldn't be a problem for a team that far too often draws fewer than 10,000 people.
The team needs to embrace the fans. Let them know that everyone is in this together.
These next couple of seasons could be rough on everyone. And no one has to like it.
But, really, the Rays had no other choice.
Let the tanking begin.