Tampa Bay Rays: Can the Team Sustain Their Success over the Long Term?

Wyatt SinclairContributor IFebruary 29, 2012

Tampa Bay averaged the second fewest amount of fans per game during the 2011 season.
Tampa Bay averaged the second fewest amount of fans per game during the 2011 season.

Tampa Bay has gone from perennial cellar-dwellers to a force in the AL East. This can be attributed to many different reasons.

First off, manager Joe Maddon brought a winning culture with him to Tampa in 2006 , having won the World Series with the Anaheim Angels in 2002.

Secondly, with the team under Stuart Sternberg and Andrew Friedman, the Rays started to show a commitment to building up their farm system, signing prospects for long contracts before getting a real taste of what they can do on the field and bringing in players that they felt would actually fit together well with the team.

Long gone are the days of the "Bay Bombers," Greg Vaughn, Jose Canseco, Vinny Castilla and Fred McGriff. Here are the days of the young guns Evan Longoria, David Price, Matt Moore, B.J. Upton and Matt Joyce.

While the Rays are able to build success off of the low cost of these inexperienced players, one must beg to ask if the Rays can sustain a winning franchise with the inevitable turnover they are due to see once these players' contracts run out.

In an interview with MLB.com, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg was quoted as saying, "And if you could say to me now, 'Gee Stu, don't worry, your attendance will stay where it is and revenue will stay where it is, but you could keep winning, [that] will be certain, and you'll have a good chance to win the next 10 or 15 years,' I'm fine," Sternberg said. "But it's unrealistic."

The owner of Tampa isn't afraid to admit to himself that a sustained run in the AL East will be hard for the Rays to accomplish without some changes to their revenue.

A big point of contention for the Rays brass is a new stadium for the team. After seeing the other Florida team, the Miami Marlins, finally get their new stadium built after years of trying to get it done, Miami saw an influx of money which they went out and spent hard.

Miami went out and spent $194 million on free agents Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Greg Dobbs while taking on an additional $2 million to trade for starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano.

Due to the new revenue of Miami's new ballpark, notoriously tightfisted owner Jeffery Loria decided that he could open the purse strings to go out and acquire some new talent for ball club.

While Sternberg did not come out and say that he would like to get a new stadium for the team, it may be the one thing that Tampa can do to finally raise their attendance.

Fans have complained about everything from The Trop being a disgrace of a baseball stadium to the heavy amount of traffic that one must get through to make it to the ballpark, fans have seemed to find many reasons to stay away from Rays home games.

By moving the team to a more easily accessible location and building a stadium with a retractable roof, the Rays may be able to draw more fans to come to the games.

The excuse can no longer be that the team doesn't put a winning team on the field, as they have gone to the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, earning a birth to the World Series in 2008.

Unless Tampa can magically get their fan base to start supporting the team in the current stadium that they are in or build a new ballpark in a surrounding area, it looks like Tampa Bay may lose extremely bright stars like Matt Moore, David Price, Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings and their upcoming prospects to teams that are able and willing to dish out the large contracts that these players are going to command.

Every one of the aforementioned players could easily be lost to any of the mega powers in the league.

If Rays fans want to see their team competing in the playoffs for the foreseeable future, they need to get out there and let it be known.