The Rays have a system that works. They spend less than the average team, and have found regular success in spite of that. We're use to this, but it's still worth analyzing for the casual fan or someone not familiar with baseball.
This leads to our pleasant surprise to find this article in the New York Times by Tyler Kepner titled: Yankees Can Only Wish to Spend as Wisely as Rays. Sit back and enjoy:
The Tampa Bay Rays are probably headed to the playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons. The Yankees, who spend about $167 million more on their payroll, will probably be eliminated in the next few days. Very reasonably, the Yankees have asked themselves why they must spend so much for players, while other teams can win for much less.
This is part of the driving force behind the Yankees' goal of getting below the $189 million payroll threshold for next season. Mainly, they want to take advantage of lucrative financial incentives built into the collective bargaining agreement. But every time a team like Oakland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh clinches a postseason spot, it reinforces to them that there must be a better way.
The Rays, again, have shown that there is.
The article credits the Rays' willingness to trade starting pitchers with a few years of team control remaining for minor league pieces that refresh the farm system.
If the Yankees had a pitcher like Shields - durable, accomplished and in his early 30s - they would probably sign him to a long-term deal that would pay him far past his prime. This is the pattern of their star-driven business model.
In some ways this has served the Yankees well. For all the talk about empty seats at Yankee Stadium, the team has led the American League in attendance for 11 seasons in a row. Stars sell tickets and drive ratings on a highly profitable cable network. But stars also grow old, with salaries they earned for their work when they were young.
By contrast, as the article notes, that star-power comes with a price. C.C. Sabathia is turning 33, had elbow surgery, needs more than two months to recover from a minor hamstring injury, and is still owed more that $70M over the next three seasons. The forebode is obvious.
Furthermore, it's hard to get under the luxury tax when you're paying top dollar for previous success. This is why the international soccer community uses money to purchase player contracts from other teams, instead of trading assets. You want a player before he hits his prime, and you probably don't want to pay more than $300M to the likes of Robinson Cano for the next 10 years.
Of course, part of this problem is the Yankees farm system, as the article notes after discussing former first rounders Joba and Hughes. The Rays' mix of draft picks and acquired assets keeps them in strong contention. They've traded for the likes of Wil Myers and Chris Archer, but they also drafted well in the first round (Price and Longoria) and beyond (Moore and Cobb).
The Yankees will have to change their strategy eventually, and hopefully all teams will wise up from the huge-contract bubble proliferated by the Pujols and the Sabathia archetypes.
You might be sitting there saying, "well, isn't all this well known?" -- but I strongly believe the answer is no. We Rays fans have known better -- in fact, it makes us grateful -- but it's nice to see some acknowledgement in the NY Times that the market will eventually price the Yankees out of their own game.
And as we've seen this year, the old strategies do not guarantee success.