The Rays don't often get national media attention, and when they do it’s usually centered around their low attendance figures or the controversy surrounding one of their innovations.
Emma Baccellieri’s story in the May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated is nothing of the sort.
“Tampa Bay is, yes, the most interesting team in baseball,” Baccellieri writes.
It’s not just that the Rays’ 20-11 record is tied for second-best in all of baseball. It’s how they are winning.
Because they are constantly having to adapt, they are, in effect, changing the way the game is played.
Baccellieri’s story examines several of their more recent innovations: The opener strategy. Abandoning traditional batting practice. Changing players’ emotional reaction to practice. Jonathan Erlichman’s role as MLB’s first process and analytics coach.
Even the way the team was built.
Unlike its previous run of success from 2008-13, which was fueled by homegrown talent, the current Rays have been pieced together through trades and “short-term, small-dollar” free-agent signings. And at the heart of it all is one of baseball’s best farm systems.
Seemingly with every decision they’ve ever made, the Rays have had an eye toward the future.
So, what’s the immediate goal for the current major-league team?
“To win? That’s the easy answer, and it certainly isn’t wrong," Baccellieri writes. "But it is incomplete. More emphatically than any other team, the Rays want to win without spending.”
Which is yet another idea that is creating controversy around the league, as evidenced by the grievance filed against the Rays and a handful of other teams in February 2018 for their lack of spending.
“What does it mean when a team is doing everything it can to succeed on the field — everything except spending money on players?” Baccellieri asks.
“In recent years, teams have increasingly embraced the idea that organizational spare parts, properly developed, bring more value than veterans. What happens when this concept is pushed to the extreme? What happens when spare parts can hang with the Yankees and the Red Sox?”
Interesting, isn’t it?