Had he not been dismissed from the University of Tennessee in the fall of 2012, Andrew Toles would never have ended up in the 2012 MLB Draft. If he had not been benched and suspended at Chipola College, he would never have slipped to the third round, when the Tampa Bay Rays selected him. Finally, if not for his personal issues, Toles would still be a member of the Rays organization. Isn’t the what-if game fun?
The Tampa Bay Rays are undergoing a cleanse. They did so before their breakthrough season in 2008, shipping out players like Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes. Now as they dream of a return to prominence that is just as exhilarating, it seems like they are doing so again. Maybe it is just a coincidence that Yunel Escobar wore out his welcome while Josh Sale ran out of chances in the same offseason. Perhaps Toles’ situation is independent of the others as well.
What isn’t a coincidence, though, is that the Rays ended up with all of these low-character players on their team. In the search for value at affordable prices, the Rays have made it clear that they will overlook a player’s off-the-field troubles if he possesses talent that would have never gotten to them otherwise. That only exists up to a point, as Sale’s series of mistakes has elucidated, but the Rays have shown a higher tolerance for poor attitudes than other teams.
As the Rays part with player after player, though, maybe it is a sign that they are altering that stance. They have stopped believing that they can handle troubled players better than everyone else. Joe Maddon is no longer their manager and the maintainer of a relaxed team culture that supposedly turned “clubhouse cancers” into valuable contributors. One possibility is that the Rays wanted to give Kevin Cash a clean slate with which to begin–another is that Maddon’s abilities were exaggerated.
It took more than luck for the Tampa Bay Rays to get this far. They needed to select the right players in the draft, make brilliant trades, and find complementary players off the scrapheap. They needed a great manager in Maddon and a front office that was constantly able to innovate. Even as we praise the Rays for so many things, though, we must acknowledge that they became overconfident in their talents in a variety of instances.
Andrew Toles’ downfall was predictable. His career came apart because of factors that the Rays knew about prior to the draft. By the way, they also knew about his issues with patience and pitch recognition plus his advanced age for a prospect as he’s already 23. They were aware of the risks that came with him and they chose to accept it, just like they have so many times. But have they not appreciated just how large their leaps of faith have been?
This isn’t just about players with poor attitudes. We can talk an overabundance about high school draft picks–even ones with great makeup come with too much variability. We can discuss the multi-year contracts to players like Escobar, David DeJesus, and Jose Molina. And the list goes on. What we can say, though, is that the Rays see the flaws in their thinking and are working to correct them. Andrew Toles’ release marks the closing of the book on a strategy that never yielded the expected dividends.