Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays roll merrily along
I’ve learned a couple of things about Rays GM Andrew Friedman through the years. One of those things is that he’s not just brilliant. He’s scary brilliant. He’s scary good at his job, too. Another thing I’ve learned is that Friedman loves the challenge of doing more with less than any other executive in the game.
During spring training, one of the things Andrew told his players had been a hugely important season for the Rays. To lose their six highest-paid players and to go back to the playoffs for the third time in four years was a tribute, in part, to a “winning culture.” I’m not sure I can precisely define the term “winning culture,” but I believe it’s the ability of a group of people to come together and work for a common goal and to be so committed to that goal that nothing that they’re not going to be distracted by what Bill Belichick has termed the “noise.”
I hate the word synergy, but I believe that’s what they’ve got going in Tampa. From owner Stu Sternberg to team president Matt Silverman to Friedman to manager Joe Maddon, the Rays have a leadership group that works closely together, respects one another and feeds off one another.
Friedman and Maddon are absolutely perfect for one another. Both are curious. Both are secure in their own skin. Both realize they can learn from the other. Maddon has a voracious appetite for the data supplied by Friedman and his staff, and when you see those weird lineups and shifts and all that, you’re seeing the result of hours of complex data coming together.
Friedman reshaped his roster again this off-season. He added starters at catcher (Jose Molina), first base (Carlos Pena), second base (Jeff Keppinger) and DH (Luke Scott). Those four starters cost a total of $6 million, which might be the most impressive statistic not involving Albert Pujols you’ll hear this season. Friedman also added two relievers, Fernando Rodney for $2 million and Burke Badenhop for $1 million.
His $64-million payroll is about $23 million higher than last season’s but still only 25th out of baseball’s 30 teams. That payroll will climb as those young starting pitchers gain service time and approach free agency. So far, the Rays have kept a steady flow of talent coming from the minor leagues, and that flow has masked the franchise’s limited resources.
The Rays are trying to convince Tampa Bay political leaders that they need a new stadium, which would provide them the resources to keep their best players. They’ve had no success doing that, and this post isn’t really about their stadium issue. It’s about Friedman’s ability to keep winning with limited resources.
At the moment, the Rays are 16-8 and in first place in the American League East. Maddon pieces a lineup together every game, with a platoon here, a batting order change there. The Rays are fifth in the American League in runs and home runs. They’re second in walks. That’s plenty of offense for a starting rotation that has the AL’s best ERA.
Now Maddon and Friedman are attempting to replace their single most important player, third baseman Evan Longoria, who could be sidelined a month or more with a hamstring injury. Elliott Johnson got the start on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Friedman appears to be seeking help from outside the organization.
Something probably will work out. It usually does. The Rays have let any of their other losses keep them from making the post-season, and they’ve spoiled us all. This time probably will be no different.