The Tampa Bay Rays were the best team in the American League last year, both in the regular season as baseball’s No. 1 seed, and in the playoffs as the ALCS champions.
Tampa Bay took the historically great 2020 Dodgers to six games in the World Series and underperformed along the way. The Rays were good, they could have performed better, and now they’re looking to upgrade — at any cost.
Particularly entering a year of great revenue uncertainty.
We have no idea what the global pandemic will do to baseball in 2021. It was a miracle the season happened at all last year, it was a miracle the World Series was even completed. Had it gone to Game 7 there might have been a two-team quarantine for a week first. What will 2021 bring? Vaccines? Fans in stands? For the love of god will there be something like a normal revenue stream?
It wasn’t supposed to be this way for the finally-good-again Rays. A year removed from a raucous post season appearance that felt like the glory days, it’s so very Rays Baseball for the team to make the World Series for the first time in twelve years and there be no gate revenue for the team to benefit from.
Money that should have gone into the roster is now keeping more employees from being furloughed. When the Rays should have finally been spending big to send the team back to the playoffs, they opted to cut their 2019 Cy Young finalist and 2020 ALCS Game 7 hero Charlie Morton because he was making Drew-Smyly-money. The Rays also cut their starting catcher for monetary reasons.
It’s embarrassing, but it’s Rays Baseball.
We think Charlie Morton was one of three players on the roster making at least $10 million in salary in 2021 (his original contract had a 2021 option at $15 million, but it was renegotiated for the pandemic). The Rays cut him loose. The others are Kevin Kiermaier (two years remaining, with a 2023 option) and Blake Snell (three years remaining). Both are under contract, and of course both are available for sale.
The loss of Charlie Morton to the Atlanta Braves will either be a sign of the team reprioritizing how it spends money or a sign the Rays are about to blow it all up again. Time will tell, and it will be partially driven by the trade market.
Should another team be willing to overpay for Blake Snell or meet the Rays in valuation on Kiermaier, they’ll be headed out the door. Money doesn’t grow in groves and these oranges ain’t gonna squeeze themselves. The trick will be in finding a return that doesn’t shipwreck the Rays chances at being playoff contenders again.
Erik Neander and company have done well to keep the Rays around a 90-win floor in a regular season. Let’s see what happens next.