With the financial limitations surrounding the Tampa Bay Rays, they have needed to find ways to compete, particularly as they find themselves in the ultra competitive American League East. As Richard Justice of MLB.com wrote about in a recent article, the Rays have managed to find a way year after year between building a player-friendly environment, developing an excellent and deep pitching staff, and rotating everyone through the lineup to keep everyone engaged.
Perhaps that is why the Rays are able to take as many chances on players as they do. By having a clubhouse that stresses honesty and communication, players come in knowing that they are likely to be listened to. They know that as long as they put in the effort and are willing to work, that they could be given a legitimate chance to contribute without the spectre of their pasts hanging overhead.
Even though the Rays had taken chances on players with character issues before, they did not have the type of success they have had under the Joe Maddon/Andrew Friedman regime. While they have had their misses, the Rays have seemingly been able to resurrect the careers of those on the baseball scrap heap, regardless of the reason. Players such as Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta may have been on their last chance to be major league players when signed by the Rays, and have turned into valuable contributors.
While this strategy does not always work, such as with Hideki Matsui, the Rays seemingly have a second sense as to what players to acquire. This year, the Rays have two players that may fit that mold expected to break camp with the major league club in Luke Scott and James Loney, and have taken on a player who is now on his fourth team since 2010 in Yunel Escobar. Loney and Scott are getting a chance to prove that they can contribute, and Escobar will try to prove that he is not just a malcontent.
It also does not mean that players will be able to overcome their personal issues. Matt Bush appeared to have gotten himself on track to potentially having a chance at a major league career before his inability to stay out of trouble once again reared it’s head. Yet, with the foundation that the Rays have put in place, and the support of the coaches and management, Tampa has seemingly become a destination for players trying to turn around their careers.
Is the Rays Way a guarantee that Scott still has something left at age 34, or that Loney will put up numbers that are at least close to league average, or that Escobar will keep himself in line? Not at all. However, with their track record, it is likely that the Rays hit on at least one of these players, and may find themselves another major league piece in their low-cost free agent signings. If so, it will just be par for the course, another typical offseason for a team that has been able to create a sustainable model of success regardless of their limitations.