Tag Archives: Rebuilding

Ben Zobrist Traded from Tampa Bay Rays to Oakland A’s

Over the weekend the Tampa Bay Rays continued their A to Z roster rebuild by trading long-time fan favorite Ben Zobrist to the Oakland Athletics.

The Zobrist trade is the latest move in a busy offseason for the Rays.

Since October the Rays have had to find replacements for president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who went to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and manager Joe Maddon, who is now manager of the Chicago Cubs.

After nine seasons with Tampa Bay Ben Zobrist became a member of the Oakland A's this weekend. Zobrist is just the latest of many players to be traded by the Rays as they retool their roster. Photo R. Anderson

After nine seasons with Tampa Bay Ben Zobrist became a member of the Oakland A’s this weekend. Zobrist is just the latest of many players to be traded by the Rays as they retool their roster.
Photo R. Anderson

Friedman and Maddon were the two people who were most often credited with the turnaround of the Rays. Under their tenure the Rays experienced their first winning seasons in team history along with some trips to the playoffs including a World Series appearance in 2008.

With the departures of Maddon and Friedman a sort of free for all trading of players ensued as the new president and manager sought to put their stamp on the franchise.

In addition to Zobrist, the Rays have also parted ways this offseason with their 2014 Opening day right fielder, left fielder, second baseman, catcher, shortstop along with six pitchers. By any calculation that is a very busy two and a half months.

With months to go before the start of the season it is entirely possible that even move roster moves will be made before Opening Day.

The only safe player on the roster appears to be Evan Longoria at third base but something tells me that the Rays would even entertain offers for him if they felt they could get enough prospects in return.

If recent history is any indication Alex Cobb will be the next pitcher to be traded by the Tampa Bay Rays. Photo R. Anderson

If recent history is any indication Alex Cobb will be the next pitcher to be traded by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Photo R. Anderson

While each of the moves have stung to varying degrees, the Zobrist trade is perhaps the most puzzling.

By all account Ben Zobrist was one of the most popular members of the Rays organization having spent his entire nine-year career as a super utility player filling whatever spot in the infield or outfield needed him.

Off the field he was involved in numerous outreach programs within the committee showing that he was more than just a player there for a paycheck.

Speaking of that paycheck though, Zobrist was due to be a free agent at the end of the 2015 season and was certainly due for a raise in salary.

While the baseball economists will say that small market teams like the Rays need to trade players like Zobrist to get value in return instead of watching them depart in free agency.

The business model the Rays seem to embrace is shedding some salary and gaining some prospects in return that they hope will turn into Major Leaguers that they can sign on the cheap and then trade away when they are due for a raise. Lather, rinse, repeat and hope all goes to plan. That is far from an ideal way to run a fan driven business.

The Tampa Bay Rays made their first and only World Series appearance in 2008. That season also marked the first winning season in franchise history. If things do not turn around the club may be headed back towards their losing ways. Photo R. Anderson

The Tampa Bay Rays made their first and only World Series appearance in 2008. That season also marked the first winning season in franchise history. If things do not turn around the club may be headed back towards their losing ways.
Photo R. Anderson

Despite the focus on television contracts and corporate sponsorships as revenue streams the fact remains that teams still need fans to be successful.

Most fans understand that baseball is a business and roster moves need to be made from time to time but when fans continue to see their favorite players traded year after year they can start to resent the organization.

In college athletics, especially basketball and football, turnover is extremely high as players leave college early to start their professional careers.

In the professional ranks however fans do not want to have to learn an entire roster every year.

Of course fall out from trading popular players like David Price last year and Ben Zobrist this year are far from the only issues facing the Rays who seem one the cusp of returning to their devilish losing ways.

Before when the Rays made their famous midseason salary dumping trades there were still enough key pieces left on the roster to absorb the losses. History also showed that the traded players seemed to struggle after leaving the Rays leading to the belief that the trade worked out in favor of the Rays.

But as the trades became more frequent, the remaining roster was left weaker and the returns diminished.

Instead of a team poised to win the American League East Division year after the year, the Rays find themselves once again as sellers among a retooling division that is adding pieces at a breakneck pace.

Joe Maddon instilled a winning tradition with the Tampa Bay Rays before opting out of his contract and joining the Chicago Cubs. Time will tell if the Ray way can continue without its ringleader. Photo R. Anderson

Joe Maddon instilled a winning tradition with the Tampa Bay Rays before opting out of his contract and joining the Chicago Cubs. Time will tell if the Ray way can continue without its ringleader.
Photo R. Anderson

Most teams go through a natural process of up and down years so a couple of bad seasons will not necessarily spell doom for the Rays but any prolonged losing streak risks further alienating a fan base and making it more difficult to get the new Ballpark they so desperately want full of those suites for the big corporate sponsors.

There is no doubt that should Ballpark discussions continue to break down in St. Petersburg, cities like Montreal and Charlotte will be all too happy to make room for the Rays.

Montreal and Charlotte are certainly both good cities and both have a long history of supporting baseball but I do not think either of them should get the Rays.

Personally I hope that the Rays enjoy a long and prosperous run in the Sunshine State and return to their winning ways sooner rather than later. Failure to do that may mark the end of Major League Baseball on the west coast of Florida leaving the Miami Marlins as the only Florida based MLB team.

Of course should the Rays make the trek up to Montreal, I hope they put heaters in the sting ray tank and find a warm winter coat for DJ Kitty.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a new roster to learn.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Houston Astros and Keanu Reeves Have a Lot in Common

It occurred to me the other day that watching this year’s version of the Houston Astros is a lot like watching the Keanu Reeves cinematic classic The Replacements.

Granted aside from the Matrix Trilogy the words “Keanu Reeves cinematic classic” are rarely used but stay with me here.

In The Replacements, which came out in 2000, Reeves plays a “replacement” player who crosses the picket lines and leads a rag tag group of washed up players on the Washington Sentinels to victory during a NFL strike.

Jose Altuve, the current face of the franchise, is likely the only current Astros player with a chance to see the rebuilding effort all the way through. Photo R. Anderson

Jose Altuve, the current face of the franchise, is likely the only current Astros player with a chance to see the rebuilding effort all the way through.
Photo R. Anderson

The movie is based on what occurred during the 1987 NFL season when the regular players walked out and replacement players were used for around a quarter of the regular season.

During the strike games the Washington Redskins, portrayed as the Washington Sentinels in the movie due to the NFL rarely giving permission to use real team names in movies, had a 3-1 record.

The Redskins would ultimately win the Super Bowl over the Denver Broncos. As a show of thanks and support for allowing them to get there each of the replacement players was given a Super Bowl ring by the Redskins along with the regular players.

So what does a movie based on actual events that occurred on a football field over 25 years ago have to do with the Astros today? I am glad you asked.

While there is not a strike in Major League Baseball this year the parallels to the movie ring especially true for the men in orange and blue. Much like the “replacement” players of old, the current Astros for the most part of serving as placeholders keeping roster spots warm until the real players return.

It is no secret that when the magic rebuilding project that the Astros have started is completed in 5-10 years very few, if any, of the current players will still be with the team. This is not to say that there are not some good ballplayers on the team but is more of a reflection on the focus on building prospects through the draft and building for the long term.

After tasting the World Series with the Tampa Bay Rays Carlos Pena is among the handful of "replacement" players being used by the Astros while their future players season in the minors. Photo R. Anderson

After tasting the World Series with the Tampa Bay Rays Carlos Pena is among the handful of “replacement” players being used by the Astros while their future players season in the minors.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, no team can just take 5-10 years off while it rebuilds so a roster of players was constructed to be just competitive enough to not embarrass the team while coming at a fraction of the cost of most other Major League rosters.

This is not to say that the team is incapable of winning.

Much like the 1987 Redskins and their replacement players, the chips will fall in the right spots and the ball will tend to bounce favorably now and then for the Astros.

In fact the team has already won more games this year than many thought they would despite racking up serious frequent flyer miles between Houston and the Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City with nearly daily roster moves.

Sections of empty seats are likly to be a sign at Minute Maid Park for many years to come as the Astros work on a total tear-down and rebuild philosophy. Photo R. Anderson

Sections of empty seats are likly to be a sign at Minute Maid Park for many years to come as the Astros work on a total tear-down and rebuild philosophy.
Photo R. Anderson

And contrasting the preseaon predictions that the Astros would be the worst team in baseball this year the Miami Marlins actually have a worse record than the Astros despite having more so called Major Leaguers on the roster.  At the time of this posting the Astros have two more victories than the Marlins. Time will tell who really gets crowned worst team in baseball at the end of the season.

Of course if the goal really is to stock the farm teams with the most draft picks the Astros best not get too good too soon and risk missing out on that number one draft pick.

That is not to say that the Astros, or any other team, would ever throw a game but only the team with the fewest wins gets to pick first.  This year that battle will definitely be between the Marlins and the Astros with no other teams in the same zip code of futility.

It just goes to show that one can never truly be sure what will happen despite what all of the so called experts predict. There is still time for a flurry of roster moves between now and the end of the season and Bo Porter doing his best Gene Hackman impersonation could manage to field a competitive team but remember that these are not the players that the franchise is building the future on; they are just the replacements.

Of course that doesn’t mean that the Astros and the Marlins for that matter are playing any less hard than the players on the other 28 teams. It just means that the deck is stacked against them and they are swimming against a strong current.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it might be time to stage a mini Keanu Reeves film festival. Or as Bill and Ted would say, “most excellent” (cue air guitar moves).

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson