What Is With All the Ex-Rays Going to the Oakland Athletics?
The Oakland Athletics have gotten their share of fame with Moneyball. The Tampa Bay Rays, on the other hand, have not had as catchy of a keyword to bind them together, but they have managed as incredible of a run with four playoff appearances and five 90-win seasons in the last six years. The two franchises have more in common then just their success–their ballpark situations leave something to be desired and both feature young pitching that is the envy of the rest of baseball. They both have tradied away several topflight starting pitchers yet kept their success going nevertheless. Then there is one other thing: the players that overlap.
If you look at the players in the mix to be on the Athletics’ roster for 2014, you will find Scott Kazmir, John Jaso, Stephen Vogt, and Chris Gimenez. Jesse Chavez never played a game for the Rays after he was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Akinori Iwamura trade then dealt for Rafael Soriano a month later, but he is in Oakland too. Plus there is Matt Buschmann, who agreed to a minor league deal with the A’s after a strong 2013 between Double-A and Triple-A in the Rays organization. Coco Crisp signed with the A’s, with the A’s finishing a close second in pursuing him. Finally, A.J. Griffin‘s younger brother Aaron plays in the Rays organization. The circumstances for each player is different–Kazmir was a relatively prominent free agent signing, Jaso was traded for from the Seattle Mariners, and Vogt and Gimenez were waiver claims–but somehow all of them ended up with the A’s. Looking at the Rays, you have David DeJesus, who spent one year on the A’s, and that is basically it. Is there any way to explain all of this?
Over the last six years, the Rays made the playoffs four times–the A’s were over .500 just twice. The Athletics had their run of four playoff trips in seven years from 2000 to 2006, but then they were dormant for six years. You could make the argument that the Rays are due for the same fate. The pixie dust will run out, and they will be a losing ballclub again. But if there is any difference between Andrew Friedman and Billy Beane, it is the Rays’ commitment to winning. The A’s have been in O.co Coliseum (or whatever it is called these days) since 1968, and while they want to get out, they accept the reality of their situation and realize that there will be some good years and some bad years. The Rays, meanwhile, have always done everything in their power to keep their foot on the gas pedal. Just like the A’s, they hope to find undervalued players, but what has stood out just as much has been the way they have taken emotion totally out of the equation when dealing with their players. If a player stops performing, he is gone–they don’t have the time of the money to wait for him to turn it around for very long. Scott Kazmir was a beloved Ray, but once he fell apart in 2009, the Rays had to let him go. Jaso, Vogt, and Gimenez had their moments, but the Rays needed a roster spot and sent them out the door. The Rays have not always been right in doing so, and maybe now they are changing that strategy up to an extent. They re-signed James Loney and extended David DeJesus as well. But if there is any reason why there are so many former Rays on the A’s, it is the philosophical difference between the two teams that especially stands out because of how similar they are.
But that is not to say that former Oakland Athletics have not had a great impact on the Rays. Carlos Pena turned into an outstanding first baseman for several years, and players like Johnny Damon and Dan Johnson had been one-time A’s as well. The Rays just claimed lefty Pedro Figueroa from Oakland, and the Rays remain interested in former A’s closer Grant Balfour. The street has not always ben one-way, and it be a different story by this time next year. Until then, fans of the Rays and A’s get to appreciate their team’s parallel franchise on the other side of the American League, and just maybe see some familiar faces to root for as well.