You could forgive the Tampa Bay Rays if they were perhaps feeling a bit nostalgic during this most recent series with the Kansas City Royals. Just the presence of James Shields, Wade Davis and Elliot Johnson in the opposing dugout would be enough, but this feeling could go beyond that point. For, when looking at the Royals of 2013, the Rays may see themselves just a few short years ago.
After the “Moneyball” Oakland A’s, the Rays became the next model for small market teams looking to compete against the larger market teams. Following a decade of mediocrity and frustration, the Rays made what was an unexpected run to the World Series in 2008, before falling to the Phillies in five games. Yet, the ride did not end with one magical season, as the Rays have been a contending ballclub virtually every season since, winning at least 84 games each year. Now, the Rays are the bright beacon of hope for those franchises with limited resources that appear to be trapped in a continued cycle of losing.
The Rays practice of signing players to long-term extensions prior to reaching arbitration has also caught on. At the time, the signing of Evan Longoria after a few days in the majors was seen as a tremendous risk, yet that type of signing has become much more common. In fact, the Royals took that same approach with Salvador Perez, and are hoping to reap similar rewards to what the Rays have gotten with Longoria and Matt Moore.
There are differences. The Rays roster was almost entirely homegrown, or had at least come up through the minors, while the Royals imported virtually their entire rotation. Yet, both teams have embraced building through the farm system, although it has seemingly worked out differently. The Rays have a plethora of starting pitching options with the occasional hitter, while the Royals have seemingly been able to crank out nothing but top hitting prospects over the past couple of years.
Are the Royals really on the verge of taking that gargantuan step that the Rays took back in 2008? The odds may be long and their future is very much up in the air. But after watching the way they have started the season, they may be well on their way to joining the Rays as a team that proves to other small market clubs that they, too, can compete.