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The Rays need to Retool, not Rebuild

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MLB: Minnesota Twins at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In the midst of the MLB GM meetings the subject of a Rays rebuild has been raised by writers ranging from Marc Topkin to Ken Rosenthal. Maybe these are just the meanderings of bored sports writers, because they seem to be calling for the Rays to deal away some of the best - and most affordable - talent they’ve ever had.

The Logic

Writers proposing a sell-off are likely to point to a need to maximize assets and to add youth to an already youthful core (as indicated in series of Tweets eembedded below and refenced in JT Morgan’s article this morning).

They’ll say that the Rays can’t really compete with what they have onboard, that they can’t imagine themselves winning a World Series with their current roster, and that they’re better off selling for top talent.

Are they right? Not even close.

This logic is flawed on many fronts. Rebuilding is easier said than done and makes little sense for the Rays.

The Flaws in the Logic

The first flaw is quite simple. How many teams are willing to hand the Rays their top talents for what the top Rays players have to offer?

Last offseason, the White Sox made off like bandits with some extremely high end prospects, but is that really the norm? It seems to me that many - if not most - were shocked that such talents were dealt. Such trades need the perfect fit of need and almost desperate yearning for winning in order to swallow hard and hand off your best young talents for established player(s).

The second flaw, however, is more significant. As of today, the Rays can afford to keep every player they have on board. They can allow Xavier Cedeno, Nate Eovaldi, Jaime Schultz, and Burch Smith the opportunity to support the same cast they had in 2017, and bring along players from the AAA Championship team - the Durham Bulls - who just so happen to fill the holes created by departing free agents.

Oakland Athletics v Tampa Bay Rays - Game One Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Logan Morrison is gone? Here comes a healthier post-surgery Brad Miller and eventually Jake Bauers (or someone they decide to add via free agency if they decide to move on from Miller).

Steve Cishek and Tommy Hunter are leaving? Cedeno and Schultz return, or Ryne Stanek and Chih Wei-Hu get another chance at a backend of the pen role.

Alex Cobb signs with another team? Here comes a healthy Nathan Eovaldi, while Brent Honeywell, Jose De Leon, Yonny Chirinos, and Ryan Yarbrough fight it out with Eovaldi for the open rotation spot.

Another reason this logic is flawed is that there are no guarantees when it comes to acquiring prospects. As Rays fans know too well, top draft picks and talents can sometimes - if not often - underwhelm. Rebuilding takes time, patience, and a lot of luck.

Furthermore, tanking is what teams do when they truly awful. But Rays finished ahead of both the Blue Jays and Orioles and just 2 games under .500. Yet no one advocates for every .500 team to be stripped down to the studs.

The final reason the rebuilding approach is flawed is one that many Rays fans will know all too well: financially speaking, the Rays just can’t afford a rebuild.

With contract structures being what they are and arbitration having a way to force moves, a full rebuild by the Rays would likely fall short of success because as players make good on their talents they’d price themselves out of town, particularly when you consider some may take 4-5 years to hit their peaks.

The Rays are in an enviable position, really. Here they have one of the most affordable rosters in all of MLB - all told less than $85M, with top talent they actually can afford to deal (such as Jake Odorizzi and Brad Miller) without having to touch their core, and they just won 80 games.

They now have young guys with more experience than they had in 2017 (Blake Snell, Jake Faria, the aforementioned Stanek and Hu) AND young guys looking to get that same chance (Adames, Schultz, Bauers, and Honeywell).

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Retool, Not Rebuild

Websters defines a rebuild as follows: “to make extensive repairs to reconstruct”

Meanwhile, they define retooling as follows: “to make especially minor changes or improvements retool for the future”

If writers want to point to retooling, then sure, I’m all for supporting that, as I believe most Rays fans would be. But when you utter the words “Rebuild”, you’re essentially saying this team can’t compete in its current form and needs to tear down before it can. That’s not the case, and it’s not even close.

The Rays need to cut approximately $10M to $12M from their budget to stay where they’d like to operate (around $70M to $75M). There are many paths to achieving this with a retooling while also improving the team’s chances to compete in 2018.

The Rays could decide to not re-sign some arbitration eligible players, or deal them in return for prospects. Not picking up Adeiny Hechavarria’s expected $5M cost through arbitration and dealing Jake Odorrizi and/or Brad Boxberger and/or Brad Miller pretty much clears up the budget room the Rays need to operate at a level they’re comfortable with. It’s just a matter of deciding who should stay or go.

Read More:

Cut, Keep, or Trade: Jake Odorizzi, the suddenly expensive middle of the rotation starter

Cut, Keep, or Trade: The suddenly expendable Brad Miller

Dealing these players for prospects does not jeopardize the 2018 season. In fact, it opens up some money to target a few key free agents at possibly lower cost, just as the Rays did in 2017 when they signed Logan Morrison for a mere $2.5M.

The Rays front office has done an outstanding job of filling the upper levels of the minors with talent, and there are so many knocks at the door that it’s unlikely they’ll be able to answer each one. If they want to consolidate some of these for improvements at the MLB level, the Rays could do so and not even feel a pinch. This is particularly important to note when we consider other teams that are in the midst of a true rebuild.

Series of Tweets sum up the Rebuild vs Retool issue

Below is an exchange I recently had with Ken Rosenthal, a writer and reporter I respect a great deal. Although I understood the angle Ken took and why it was the path he chose to go with, I wanted to state - as effectively as possible in as few characters as possible - why a rebuild would be a mistake.

Here is the exchange, with Ken doing what he does best - engaging with fans, something we all appreciate.

If the Rays can fill the 1B/DH role effectively and get within budget for 2018 and allow the likes of Jake Bauers, Willy Adames, Brent Honeywell and others the chance to rub shoulders with and learn from Evan Longoria, Kevin Kiermaier, and Chris Archer, what harm can come from it?

MLB: Spring Training-Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Didn’t the Rays sign these guys long term because they wanted them to remain Rays players and be their core? And haven’t they been embracing that role with gusto, performing as expected, which is also what makes them attractive to other teams?

Those paying attention will see that the Rays are in exactly the position they wanted when they scripted their way here. They have an affordable roster filled with an intriguing mix of veterans and youth with investments in injured players (Ramos and Eovaldi) and prospects set to support them in a way that should allows them to compete effectively in 2018.

Message to Rays Front Office?

If we would want to send any message to the Rays front office, it’s this: keep up the outstanding work, good luck retooling this offseason, and show MLB writers why a rebuild would have been the wrong route to take.

Should you retool, yet again, fans will appreciate the effort and are more likely to support it than a complete rebuild, and they’ll be ready to help that team move into a new stadium.

To add the Rays to a list of rebuilding teams would be asking a lot from both those looking to build a stadium, including getting funding for it, and from fans who would be asked to fill its seats.

If the Rays do this, they will be competitive again in 2018. We call it “The Rays Way” for a reason.