Oct 30, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Jake Peavy celebrates on the field after game six of the MLB baseball World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Fenway Park. The Red Sox won 6-1 to win the series four games to two. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Red Sox Success Further Emphasizes Tampa Bay Rays’ Great Results


The Red Sox won the AL East with the best record in baseball, 97-65, going on to win the AL pennant and the World Series against the Cardinals, who had an identical record of 97-65. The Sox went from last place in 2012 to first in 2013, and received a lot of credit for helping the city heal after the Boston Marathon bombings.

Many sports media analysts praised Red Sox GM Ben Cherrington for his astute free agent signings. For example, Tyler Kepner of the New York Times wrote that “their opening day payroll, $154 million, was still more than $20 million lower than it was a year before.” Kepner calls the Red Sox signing Stephen Drew for one year and $9.5 million “a bargain.” Only one player on the Rays, David Price, earned more than $9.5 million in 2013. Evan Longoria earned $6 million and Ben Zobrist earned $5.5 million.

Cherrington deserves praise – his moves worked and the Red Sox won the Series. At the same time, however, uck certainly played a part in this success. Few observers expected Koji Uehara to become the most effective closer in baseball during the second half of the season, or Mike Carp, who hit .212 in 2012, to hit .296 with an .885 OPS against in 2013. However, if we’re praising Cherrington for his efficient and creative use of a $154 million payroll, how much praise do the Rays and Andrew Friedman deserve for winning 92 games with an opening day payroll around $57 million? The Red Sox spent $100 million more than the Rays to win 5 more games in the regular season – about $20 million per game. Was that $20 million per game worth it for the Red Sox? Definitely yes! Major league baseball doesn’t award championships to the team that spent its money most efficiently, they award championships to the teams that win the most games and win the last game of the World Series.

Team payroll doesn’t always translate into success. The Yankees, with the highest payroll in the game, saddled with outrageously high salaries for fading stars like Alex Rodriguez, didn’t make the playoffs. Actual baseball is not like Strat-O-Matic or other table games, where a player’s performance is determined entirely by their past statistics. In the real world, players can improve if they work on their game (are you listening, Wil Myers?), and other players can get hurt or lose their effectiveness otherwise. Creating a 25-man roster is not an exact science, and paying the big name free agents so often fails. You have to give teams like the Red Sox credit for not just spending money, but spending it well. Yet in 2013, the Tampa Bay Rays contended for the pennant and reached the ALDS despite the third lowest payroll in baseball, and that is almost incomprehensible when comparing it to how teams like the Red Sox and Yankees have found their success.

Given the team’s attendance and lack of a big TV market, perhaps the Rays will never match the Red Sox payroll. Still, Rays fans wonder wistfully what their team could do with a $154 million dollar payroll in 2014. With that much money they could keep David Price and re-sign James Loney. They could sign a free agent catcher with punch and perhaps add a slugging left fielder and a designated hitter. What would the Rays give for even one of those big-name free agents? Given the Rays’ track record developing talent and signing productive free agents you have to wonder how many pennants the team would have won if they could sustain a payroll at the Red Sox level, or even the Cardinals “relatively modest” $102 million. When you compare the payroll levels of the two World Series teams with the Rays, it makes their sustained success over the last five years even more remarkable. The Red Sox found their formula for success and the Cardinals have found as well. The Rays, though, have overcome more than anyone to contend year after year, and the impressiveness of that cannot be understated.

Tags: Andrew Friedman Ben Cherrington Boston Red Sox Featured Popular Tampa Bay Rays

  • Baltar

    Never mind $154M or $102M, what if the Rays were to add all of the $25M increase from MLB’s new TV contracts to their payroll? Friedmann could do a lot with that money.
    Has anybody heard or read what the Rays are planning to do with that dough?

    • Robbie_Knopf

      The thing about that money is that it doesn’t help the Rays on the free agent market as much as you would think–other teams will also think of putting it into free agents, and they will have a larger capacity to go beyond that than the Rays–and it isn’t enough to help them extend David Price. I would expect them using it for just a couple million dollars here and there–but sometimes a couple million dollars can all make the difference. Could the extra money prompt the Rays to make an aggressive play for someone like Justin Morneau when they otherwise would have been looking even further into the bargain bin?