A team finishes around 60 wins under a new management regime or at least a first time general manager noted for his intelligence and business savvy approach to the game. Within that season the team trades away arguably their best player and drafts a college senior that will change their future all while their payroll sits just north of 20 million.
One decade later the Oakland Athletics are perennial contenders, this season being an exception. Mark McGwire is long gone, as are the players acquired for him. That college senior is also gone but what a run he had. Their payroll has jumped over 50 million at 79 million. The secret lies in smart fiscal management mixed with radical thoughts and moves that pay off making Billy Beane into a subject of a hagiography and endearing love from his fan base who are expecting their new ballpark to be finished before the end of the decade.
A team finishes around 60 wins under a new management regime or at least a first time general manager noted for his intelligence and business savvy approach to the game. Within that season the team trades away arguably their best player and drafts a college senior that will change their future while payroll sits just north of 20 million.
One year later the Tampa Bay Rays are perennial cellar dwellers, although soon that label will be in extinction. Aubrey Huff is long gone; Mitch Talbot and Ben Zobrist are not. Evan Longoria is in Durham and should start at third base next year. The payroll has jumped slightly, and Andrew Friedman is writing his own tale of finding talent at futile costs that produce well above expectation gaining some respect and endearment from his growing fan base who expect a new ballpark to be finished before the end of the next decade.
The second year of Beane's rule saw the payroll decrease but the win total increase by nine, within five years the payroll has shot up from the low 20s to 40 million and yet the win totals breach 100 wins twice.
The second year of Friedman's rule saw the payroll decrease but the win total increase, by now you understand the parallels of the stories. The anti-A's would be the 112 million dollar Yankees, Friedman's foes? The 195 million dollar Yankees.
Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder combine for the Athletics' dominant rotation while Jason Isringhausen, a former starter, handles the closing duties and a bullpen made of makeshift acquisitions like Jim Mecir and Chad Bradford thrive in the small market, driving the A's to the playoffs. A power hitting first baseman, glove wielding third baseman and hybrid shortstop combine to lead the offense.
While redundant the format is more effective in conveying my point than anything else I could've done, but to make that final point, the Rays have a few young starting pitchers, a potential starter turned closer, a bullpen made up of castoffs, a power hitting first baseman, a glove gifted third baseman, and well maybe not a hybrid shortstop but let's settle on potentially the best outfield in baseball instead.
Dan Feinstein and Mitch Lukevics have seen both sides of the story, Feinstein was of course a key member of the Oakland A's management during the "Moneyball" time. Lukevics holds the same title, farm director, that he did in New York through the early to mid 90's, some of the guys who he helped acquire? Yankee cornerstones Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, and Andy Pettitte.
Make no mistake, I'm not comparing the market then (late 90's to early 00's) to today's market, today's is inflated, and teams are willing to take short hand benefits for long term costs. Money is thrown around more than a game of Monopoly at the local elementary school; the A's took 11 seasons before they reached a payroll more than 65 million that simply cannot be the Rays.
The performance correlations are perhaps the most encouraging as the A's gained nine wins in year two, 13 more in year three, four more in year four, and 11 more in the fifth year. If the Rays reach 70 they'd increase their total by nine in the second year.
Oakland incredibly had Zito, Mulder, and Hudson on the same staff for five years, something unheard of for a small market team, the Rays will need the same approach, not necessarily limiting service time for financial reasons, but keeping their talent at home as long as possible and being able to replace any player, within reason, at nearly any time.
At this moment the Rays are set up to do so. Obviously if Scott Kazmir or Carl Crawford leave it hurts the team, but like the A's replacing Mulder and Hudson with Dan Haren and Joe Blanton the Rays could insert a number of arms in Kaz' place and either Fernando Perez or Desmond Jennings in Crawford's place. Ideally that doesn't become a common occurrence, but you can never be too secure with your current roster and fans cannot fall in love with the nameplates, perhaps that's what Oakland has taught us best.