Tampa Bay Rays: Excelling as a Small-Market Team in a Division of Giants

Connor McKnightSenior Analyst IAugust 12, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 22: Infielder Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays doubles off the catwalk against the Minnesota Twins April 22, 2012  at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The rise of the Tampa Bay Rays has been an extraordinary side story for MLB over the past five years.

From sulking in fifth place to taking the division and playing for the World Series, the Rays have rose to playoff contention in every season. It would appear that the simple transition from Devil Rays to Rays catalyzed this transition, but in actuality, it was so much more.

Considering that the club sits in the small market of Tampa Bay, Florida, the Rays have been dealing with a minimized payroll throughout their team history. In a division where the two spending giants of the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees consistently contend for titles, the Rays had a much more difficult route to contention.

With years of accumulating high draft picks from poor finishes in the AL East, it took until 2008 for their patience to pay off.

While contention seemed out of the picture for years, the Rays let their players mature in the minor leagues. With arguably one of the deepest farm systems in baseball, Tampa Bay turned prospect after prospect into a big league superstar.

And the list goes on and on. Evan Longoria came out of the minors in 2008 and slugged his way to Rookie of the Year. David Price was a postseason star that year and is now one of the best pitchers in the majors. Jeremy Hellickson pitched his way to Rookie of the Year last season. Matt Moore and Alex Cobb have anchored this season’s rotation. Desmond Jennings has the tools for a leadoff star.

But there does come a time when these rising stars cash in for a hefty contract and the Rays simply cannot afford it. Occasionally, they face the inevitable and pay stars like Evan Longoria the money he deserves. But most of the time they cannot hold on. Carl Crawford was lost to Boston after years in a Devil Rays and Rays uniform. Scott Kazmir had to leave to the Angels. Matt Garza went off to the Cubs.

The Rays do what they can at the trading deadlines and even when contending for the playoffs have no qualms about shipping stars in exchange for prospects that they feel they can groom.

Now, as the AL East becomes all the more talented with the rise of the Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays, the Rays will have to continue to strive for greatness. The prospects are still there in the farm, improving season by season. And you know what, the Rays will still be there fighting and fighting for a spot in the postseason, each time with a group of new young faces.