As we all know, the Rays are trying to compete in the most difficult division in baseball on a very limited budget -- a budget constrained by a stadium that doesn't drive revenues and an area that has very limited corporate sponsorship. Can the Rays climb the mountain and find themselves on top in the AL East? Certainly. The Rays did it in 2008 and again in 2010, but the real question is: what obstacles will the team have to overcome, and how will they clear them in order to rebuild the current squad?
As it is Friday and the non-waiver trade deadline is fast approaching, let's have an open thread about the possible trades that may happen relative to the Rays and their future, and if the Rays are a prime candidate to be moved out of the AL East.
In order to fill gaps on the 2012 roster the Rays are aggressively shopping B.J. Upton around the league, and I suspect Kyle Farnsworth, Casey Kotchman, Joel Peralta, Jeff Niemann, and Johnny Damon are available as well. The return on these trades may help the Rays fill several gaps that exist as we look toward 2012. Will moving these players now provide enough major league talent to fill the holes that will be open at DH, 1B, SS, CF, and the bullpen? What type of return are you looking for the players mentioned, and how many of these players do you expect to be dealt? Will James Shields be dealt in the offseason or is there still a chance he is dealt by Sunday?
I don't believe any team has to overcome as much to achieve as the Rays do by playing in the AL East. To prove this point, just ask any other owner in MLB to switch places with the Rays. Even an owner with tremendous resources would be hard pressed to accept a move to the East, but this is what I believe has to happen in the next CBA. The Rays should be moved into the AL Central and either the Tigers or White Sox moved to the AL East. The Tigers are a team that has a more AL East type model of operating. They are able to sign free agents, they can absorb risk of bad contracts (Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, etc.), and they have the ability to move prospects when needed to acquire pieces at the trade deadline.
Would Mike Illitch voluntarily move the Tigers to the AL East? I highly doubt it, but Bud Selig is going to have to realign the division based on geography and on economic resources of each organization (something I suspect he knows all too well, as he gladly moved the Brewers out of the AL East to accommodate the Rays). In five years, will the Rays still being in the AL East? Will they still be an American League club? Where is the most logical landing spot for the Rays?