Because of limited access, book on Tampa Bay Rays' success grows to focus on failures

BATS SAG: Third baseman Evan Longoria heads to the dugout after striking out in the first inning of a 6-1 loss to the Twins.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

BATS SAG: Third baseman Evan Longoria heads to the dugout after striking out in the first inning of a 6-1 loss to the Twins.

PORT CHARLOTTE — Jonah Keri joked that he didn't get to sleep on Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman's couch for a year during research for his book on the Rays, The Extra 2%, that comes out Tuesday.

Actually, he barely got to sit on it.

The Rays didn't grant Keri much inside access, just 15 minutes or so with their key execs, and as a result he didn't get much inside information in trying to explain, as the subtitle says, "How Wall Street strategies took a major-league baseball team from worst to first."

So unlike the vastly popular book, and soon to be a movie starring Brad Pitt, Moneyball about the A's internal strategies, The Extra 2% tells a broader story of the evolution of the Rays franchise and little about the proprietary ways they became successful.

Not that Keri thinks there's anything wrong with that.

"That's a function of their Wall Street background," said Keri, who has written for several business and sports publications. "They view the things that they do in their front office from scouting to statistical analysis as intellectual property, the same way you would if you were at the Goldman Sachs."

Keri was forced to turn to secondary and tertiary sources in amassing 175 interviews — or quoting fringe employees, such as Phil Wallace, who was essentially a glorified intern. There also are some factual mistakes, for example that the Rays drafted and paid an over-slot bonus to RHP Alex Cobb since he was from a Boston high school, when actually he moved south at age 2 and attended Vero Beach High. Also, some insider trading of Keri's own with references to former Baseball Prospectus colleagues who now work for the Rays and a Bloomberg Sports venture he is part of.

Still, there is some interesting detail and some amusing anecdotes, such as a Halloween 2005 party where some staffers dressed as Ghosts of the Devil Rays past with Chaim Bloom, now assistant farm director, costumed as Greg Vaughn's four-year, $34 million contract; Friedman playing an RBI Baseball video game in the office; and the supposedly secretive hiring of a computer-based analyst.

But, even Keri admits, several of the best passages — and the ones that will be excerpted online this week by ESPN, Deadspin and GQ — don't have to do with the stunning 2008 success but instead the past: Vince Naimoli's reign of error and mistakes by the Chuck LaMar regime, such as not drafting Albert Pujols despite their scout's lobbying.

A third, from the "Arbitrage" chapter, does a decent job explaining how the Rays value players and seek to "exploit market inefficiencies," revisiting the background of some key player acquisitions and the plusses and minuses of Evan Longoria's contract.

"I wanted it to be that holistic look," Keri said. "I didn't think you could tell the story of the present without the past."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Bookmaker.com has the Rays' over/under win total at 84.5. … Baseball America says the Rays spent $1.73 million on international signings last year, 17th most. … According to SI.com's Tom Verducci, the Rays and Red Sox discussed a Carl Crawford-for-Victor Martinez deal before the 2010 season. … The Rays ranked worst in the majors in a Wall Street Journal online analysis of offseason moves by volume and quality of acquired players. … Seriously, ex-Ray Dwight Gooden on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew?

.Fast facts

Roster report

The second of our semi-educated guesses at the makeup of the 25-man opening day roster:

PITCHERS (12): Cesar Cabral, Wade Davis, Kyle Farnsworth, Jake McGee, Jeff Niemann, Joel Peralta, David Price, Cesar Ramos, Adam Russell, James Shields, Andy Sonnanstine, Cory Wade-x

CATCHERS (2): John Jaso, Kelly Shoppach

INFIELDERS (5): Reid Brignac, Dan Johnson, Elliot Johnson, Evan Longoria, Sean Rodriguez

OUTFIELDERS (6): Johnny Damon, Sam Fuld, Matt Joyce, Manny Ramirez, B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist

DISABLED LIST (2): Jeremy Hellickson, J.P. Howell

x-has to be added to 40-man roster.

Because of limited access, book on Tampa Bay Rays' success grows to focus on failures 03/05/11 [Last modified: Sunday, March 6, 2011 1:36pm]

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