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Rays season preview 2014: The meaning of "all-in"

Or: why they'll win the pennant one of these years

Still here.
Still here.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
SB Nation 2014 MLB Preview

So this is what the Rays being "all-in" looks like? Since they arrived in Tampa Bay, Stuart Sternberg, Andrew Friedman, and the non-devil Rays executives have always carried two goals through each offseason: make the Rays better for the upcoming year and also make them better in the seasons after that. As such, while it’s tempting to look at this Rays team, which may turn out to be the best of the Andrew Friedman era, and say that they’ve gone "all in" for the 2014 season, it’s not that simple.

The fact that David Price is still in Tampa Bay is straightforward enough. The Rays are better in 2014 for it, and when they trade him next offseason, they’ll only be losing one year of their ace, not two, and the prospect haul will not be as good. The same goes for the lower profile non-trade of the (now injured) Jeremy Hellickson. The Rays will be better in 2014 once he returns, but they won’t receive as much when they trade him a year or two down the line. So yes, that’s sacrificing the future for the present.

Still, barring catastrophic injuries or drops in performance, those two pitchers will still be tradable later for something, and the rest of the offseason moves make it clear that Friedman and Co. don’t think the window is about to close. The Rays:

  • Traded for David DeJesus, an ideal platoon corner outfielder, late in 2013 to help them with the playoff run, but then they did something unexpected, they picked up his $6.5 million 2014 option, and then renegotiated that into a two-year deal with a $5 million option for 2016.
  • Picked up the $5 million option on shortstop Yunel Escobar’s contract and they have another for 2015.
  • Re-signed defensive-standout first baseman James Loney to a three-year, $25 million deal.
  • Traded an outfield prospect for the 33-year-old catcher Ryan Hanigan, a defensive star with good on-base skills, and the 36-year-old Heath Bell, a former closer with a heavy contract who’s likely still a better pitcher than his recent results indicate. They then extended Hanigan through 2016, with a team option for 2017 tacked on the end.
  • Re-signed master pitch-framer Jose Molina for two more years.
  • Traded the now-redundant Jose Lobaton, along with two decent prospects (Felipe Rivero and Drew Vettleson) for pitching prospect Nate Karns, who immediately becomes a top-10 prospect in the Rays’ system, making them better in the years to come.
  • Traded rookie relief ace Alex Torres and pitching prospect Jesse Hahn for Logan Forsythe, a right-handed infielder who will fill a need and help the team immediately, Brad Boxburger, who may be as good a reliever as Torres, and three other prospects. Torres was popular and Hahn had potential, but the trade may have made the Rays better both now and in the future.
  • Signed closer Grant Balfour for $12 million over two years, making them better right now.
  • Declined the option on former closer Juan Carlos Oviedo, and then immediately signed him to a less-expensive one-year deal, likely making them better for 2014.

The point here is not that the Rays made a lot of moves, but that when you’ve been able to cultivate a core of young, cost-controlled talent like the Rays have, your opportunities for improvement are on the margins -- finding the best role players to fit your needs -- and that allows you to both improve your team and to set it up to stay competitive. The majority of Andrew Friedman’s moves this winter either brought back prospects, or secured players who will help the Rays win for years to come. While $83 million seems high for a Rays payroll, it’s hardly crippling, and a big chunk of that money will come off the books next year when Price and Matt Joyce are traded.

So are the Rays "all in" for 2014? Yes. And they’re also "all-in" for 2015. And maybe for 2016 too.