Sliding into Place

By Robbie Knopf

Evan Longoria goes down. Will Rhymes, a former .300 hitter for the Tigers, comes up and goes 2 for 4 with a run scored in his first game. Jose Lobaton goes down. Chris Gimenez, with 97 major league games to his credit entering 2012, comes up and hits .250 through his first 9 games with the team while playing good defense. Stephen Vogt doesn’t live up to expectations. Brandon Allen is quickly acquired through waivers and hits a walk-off home run in his first official at-bat with the team.

The Rays don’t have nearly as much money as their AL East counterparts to spend on free agents. But they make the most of what they have. They sign players that other teams may not have valued as highly but who still have the ability to help the team. Carlos Pena appeared to be beginning to decline. The Rays signed him and so far, he’s been great. Luke Scott missed most of 2011 with a shoulder injury. The Rays took the risk that he could stay healthy and he has been a big contributor thus far this season. The Rays signed Fernando Rodney this year to replace the role that Kyle Farnsworth filled last year- as closer and unheralded free agent signing. Joel Peralta was the same story- another reliever that other teams stayed away from that the Rays signed and who did well. The players keep flocking to St Petersburg, even for less money. And they’re not the dinky, hopeless free agent signings the exemplified most of the history of this team. They’re quality players- maybe not superstars, but with the ability to contribute to a big league ballclub. Players appreciate the Rays. They’re not afraid to give second chances to players to prove that they’re better than people thought before. If a player shows the ability and commitment, the Rays won’t hesitate to call him up. Why else would Hideki Matsui and Felipe Lopez have signed with the Rays? The Rays may not have the money to become a real player in free agency. But they make the most out of their resources and get the most out of their players.

The Rays can’t exactly have Victor Martinez go down and replace him with Prince Fielder. But they consistently find undervalued players that help them win games. Between the star power from their farm system and the contributions they get from undervalued free agent signings, the Rays have become a franchise that can consistently contend even as players face injury or leave town. It’s great to have money. But efficiency of money and the ability to find undervalued players can be just as effective.