An Era Ends for the Tampa Bay Rays, But a New One Begins
By Robbie Knopf
2008 changed everything for the Tampa Bay Rays, and it was only the start. After a step back in 2009, the Rays came right back with 90 win seasons each year from 2010 to 2013 and three postseason appearances in four years. But now, we can say with certainty, that the first great era in the history of the Tampa Bay Rays is over.
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Andrew Friedman left, and now Joe Maddon has followed. Rays fans have been forced to get used to the team’s biggest stars leaving, from Carl Crawford to James Shields to David Price, and that was never easy, but this is different. We can’t say that “Friedman and Maddon will find a way to put another winner on the field.” Though Rays already have a new head of baseball operations in Matt Silverman, and there will be a new manager before long as well, we can’t simply believe in the Rays’ brain trust the way they used to. Whether it was for money, for a new challenge, or because of a lack of faith in this team’s future, both of them are gone and the Rays will have to find not just new players, but a new process to find them as well.
When we think about the achievements of the Rays under Friedman and Maddon, they are almost too many to recount. Friedman built up arguably the best rotation depth in baseball and found a way to build low-cost bullpens season after season. He toed the line between keeping his guys and trading them at the peak of their value as well as anyone in baseball, signing players to extensions whenever possible but dealing them when he knew the time was right.
Maddon, meanwhile, turned Tampa Bay from the last place free agents wanted to go to among the most desirable. Legends of the loose, fun clubhouse he ran will continue to be told throughout baseball, and not simply because of the hilarious costumes he made players wear. Maddon got the most out of his players and gave Friedman the leeway to sign players whose prices had dropped because of real or perceived attitude problems. Whether they stayed for years or simply had one breakout season and left, there are dozens of players who continue to sing the praises of Maddon and the Rays.
This new phase for the Tampa Bay Rays may not be all that different from before. For instance, Silverman’s first signing was Michael Kohn, a right-handed reliever the Rays will hope to get back on track just like they did in many cases under Friedman. At the same time, however, there are opportunities for the Rays to change for the better.
It is not as though the Rays have been a perfect team in recent years. The team’s failures in the draft and the international free agent market for the last several years have been well established, and Friedman deserves a share of the blame. Recent years have been sources of more optimism, but the Rays’ front office has years of poor results that they can analyze as they hope to avoid similar outcomes in the future. In addition, for whatever reason, the Rays have been much better developing pitchers than position players. Now they will have new sets of eyes looking at the problem and taking the steps necessary to resolve it.
Matt Silverman and the Rays’ new manager are unlikely to become as renowned as Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon, but they don’t have to be. While the departing Friedman and Maddon was excellent at their jobs, it is not as though they took the lessons they taught the franchise with them as they left. As this new era of Tampa Bay Rays baseball is ushered in, the main task for this franchise will be to take the methods that have been so successful and continue refining them in the quest for similar success and just maybe more.