The Tampa Bay Rays are just 3 and a half games back from the Red Sox, with the Yankees a game and a half behind them, in what is widely considered the best division in baseball. Why write an article about a third place team? Well lets crunch some numbers:
The Yankees have a payroll of 197 million dollars, the Red Sox (third in the rankings) have a 160 million dollar payroll. The Tampa Bay Rays have just a 42 million dollar payroll, the second lowest in the majors. That means that the Rays are competing with teams that have over 4 times their payroll. Johnny Damon is the highest paid player on the Rays, but if he played for the Yankees, he would be the 11th highest paid player.
This past offseason they lost Matt Garza (one of their top starters), Carlos Pena (starting first baseman and a power hitter), Rafael Soriano (closer), Joaquin Beniot (setup man), and Carl Crawford (clearly their best player, and stud outfielder who could run, hit, and field). To make matters worse, Soriano and Crawford went to division rivals Yankees and Red Sox. This doesn't even mention the Manny Ramirez debacle, who was their second biggest acquisition in the offseason (their first being Johnny Damon), only to not hit in the first couple weeks off the season, fail a steroid test, and then retire.
They aren't without players, David Price is a Cy Young caliber pitcher (James Shields is having that kind of season currently), Damon is solid, Matt Joyce is having an All Star Season, Sam Fuld is an incredibly fun player to watch, and Evan Longoria is starting to feel it, and when he is on, he is one of the best in baseball. However, when your going up against A-Rod, Adrian Gonzalez, Jon Lester, and C.C. Sabathia, its hard to call the Rays “loaded” in any sense.
Joe Maddon may be the smartest man to ever don a managerial uniform. I remember when he was hired, the Rays had not had any success whatsoever in franchise history. I remember some analysts insisting that he would be the guy that could turn it around because he was that good. I exhibited my cynical skepticism and insisted "Lou Pinella couldn't make them good, neither can this guy". My ignorance and wrongheadedness should be enough to disqualify me from writing any posts on baseball.
Call me back in August and we will judge whether this article was worth writing or not, but the Rays are having a heck of a season so far, and people should be impressed. If the Rays continue to stay in the race, then Maddon has to be manager of the year for the AL.
Bold Prediction: The United States Government, with nothing better to do, shuts down this blog for being so misinformed.