May 1, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman talks to the media after signing designator hitter Hideki Matsui (not pictured) to a minor league contract at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Doing Business in the AL East the Tampa Bay Rays Way

The Steinbrenner brothers probably were not very happy this past offseason. Their New York Yankees missed the playoffs, Alex Rodriguez challenged Lindsay Lohan for most tabloid headlines, and their biggest rivals, the Boston Red Sox, won the World Series. The Steinbrenners opened Fort Knox for business and the Yankees threw money at their problems, without much forethought.
An entertaining offseason, make no bones about it, but not exactly what the Yanks probably planned going into last year. Their payroll checked in at $228,995,945 in 2013. The Tampa Bay Rays, by contrast, was an anemic $57,030,272. That money bought the Rays 92 wins and 700 runs. If you break it down, that means the Rays spent $619,894 per win and $81,471  for each run they scored. The Yankees, by contrast, spent $2,694,069 for each win and $352,301 each run. In 2013, the Yankees spent more than half for every RUN they scored than the Rays paid for every win they notched.  Should the Yankees have been better or are they paying their players on past glories? One tends to lean to the former. When a big-name player hits the free agent market, he is probably heading to the Bronx.

That is the business model the Yankees have been using for the last number of years. The Yankees overpay for talent and, eventually, begin to regret it. They were at it again this past offseason.  They spent money, lots of it. Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Masahiro Tanaka were added. They will dole out 2.4 million to Vernon Wells for him to do whatever he wants, just not play for them. In addition, the contracts of Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia continue hanging over the Yankees heads like a guillotine.

Clearly, Andrew Friedman’s job as general manager of the Rays should be appreciated more, even by Rays fans. In the past four years, the Rays are one of only two teams to win 90 each year, the other being the Texas Rangers. In that time frame, the Rays have spent 235 million on player salaries, seven million more than the Yankees spent last year alone. As well, the Rays notched 369 wins and Yankees won 372 times. To put the Rays recent successes into further context, they are no longer drafting first or second anymore. They don’t have first crack at players like David Price or Evan Longoria of the world. Some have also complained about the quality of the Rays draft selections the past few years. Since the Rays have stubbornly refused to stop winning, they are most likely not going to find an immediate impact bat or golden arm in the draft. The Rays aren’t throwing money around to buy those ingredients either. You have to times the Rays 2013 payroll by four to equal the Yankees. Think about that. For every $1.00, the Bronx Bombers spent on players in 2013, the Rays spent .25 cents. And yes, the Rays won seven more games. Remember the Yankees paying Vernon Wells 2.4 million not to play? The Rays are paying Matt Moore a million dollars this season. No disrespect to Wells, but, even if he were playing, Moore is twice the player. Careful player evaluation, well researched trades and thoughtful analysis of low-cost, high-yield free agents have helped to continue the Rays’ winning ways.

This offseason, the Tampa Bay Rays added complimentary pieces to fill out their team and place themselves firmly in contention for another run at the World Series. The Yankees, meanwhile, outbid everybody for everything. What did it get them? Four talented players, but one who hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors and the other three who will spend the coming years declining. The Rays, on the other hand, brought back two key players in James Loney and David DeJesus, and upgraded the bullpen and catcher positions with Grant Balfour and Ryan Hanigan respectively. All the while, they spent 4.5 million more than the Yankees laid out for three years of Carlos Beltran.

It remains to be seen which method will prove more fruitful this season. The Yankees have flaws but talent can sometimes mask flaws. The Rays have consolidated on their strong 92 win season and are looking for more. At the end of the day, however, the grass may be green in Yankee stadium,  but it is just as green on Tampa Bays side of the fence and maybe not as flawed. People will continue to wish the Rays would spend more money and keep some of their players longer, but the model Andrew Friedman and company have been using has been extremely successful thus far. When David Price goes, wish him the best of luck. But know that management will bring in someone else to take his place and the Tampa Bay Rays will keep on keeping on.

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