Wins per Payroll Dollars
Rank: 1st (est. $121,000 per win since 2008)
The Rays have built up a reputation for doing the most with the limited resources they have. It may have taken a decade for the city to see any kind of success after the team entered the league in 1998, but they've been really good since.
On a run of five consecutive winning seasons, the Rays have averaged 92 wins with an estimated average payroll of $57,000,000. Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has done a tremendous job since he took over before the 2006 season, often turning a roster that is filled with holes during the offseason into a contender.
Division Rankings/Playoff Appearances
With two AL East titles and a World Series appearance since 2008, it's time to stop questioning how weak the Rays roster, other than the rotation, can look on paper.
With several holes to plug in 2013, Friedman signed first baseman James Loney to a one-year, $2 million deal after an awful season in 2012. Now he's experiencing a Fernando Rodney-like resurgence with a .325 batting average.
Rodney, Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth were three under-the-radar, low-cost acquisitions who have solidified the Rays bullpen over the last few years.
Loney now and Rodney in 2012 are the biggest examples of why the Rays are always good. Does Friedman know something other general managers don't? Is he lucky? Is the coaching staff that good? Whatever the case, it's becoming a trend.
Pre-2013: James Loney, 1B (free agent); Yunel Escobar, SS (trade); Kelly Johnson, IF/OF (free agent); Wil Myers, OF (trade); Roberto Hernandez, SP (free agent); Jake Odorizzi, SP (trade)
Pre-2012: Carlos Pena, 1B (free agent); Luke Scott, 1B/OF (free agent); Jeff Keppinger, IF (free agent); Fernando Rodney, RP (free agent)
Pre-2011: Casey Kotchman, 1B (free agent); Hak-Ju Lee, SS (trade); Johnny Damon, OF (free agent); Manny Ramirez, OF (free agent); Chris Archer, SP (trade); Kyle Farnsworth, RP (free agent); Joel Peralta, RP (free agent)
Pre-2010: Kelly Shoppach, C (trade); Joaquin Benoit, RP (free agent); Rafael Soriano, RP (trade)
Pre-2009: Pat Burrell, OF (free agent; Matt Joyce, OF (trade)
Pre-2008: Jason Bartlett, SS (trade); Matt Garza, SP (trade); Troy Percival, RP (free agent)
Farm System Rankings
The Rays' rotation depth had been a topic of trade talks for years, although they held onto that depth until this past offseason. With Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore graduating to the majors and Alex Cobb proving capable of being a solid back-of-the-rotation starter, Friedman traded James Shields for four minor leaguers, including top outfield prospect Wil Myers.
The timing was perfect, as the farm system had thinned out and declined to a middle-of-the-pack ranking as opposed to the top three it had been from 2009-2011. Several of Tampa Bay's best prospects are in Triple-A and could reach the majors by 2014, if not sooner.
Top 101 Prospects
Total: 5 (ranking in parentheses)
Myers (7), considered one of the top power-hitting prospects in the minors, is heating up after a slow start in Triple-A. He could be in Tampa Bay within weeks. Shortstop Hak-Ju Lee (75) was forcing his way into the picture with his early-season performance (.422 BA in 15 games) before a knee injury ended his season.
Starting pitchers Chris Archer (29) should see the majors at some point this season, and Jake Odorizzi (83) made two starts in place of the injured David Price. Both are likely next in line in case of an injury this season and should fight for spots in the 2014 rotation. Taylor Guerrieri (48), who is pitching in Low-A, could be the Rays' top-rated prospect entering next season.
Total: 13 homegrown players on 40-man roster
Price (first-round pick, 2007) and Evan Longoria (pictured, first-round pick, 2006) are the big-name homegrown players on the 25-man roster, but they're also two of the lone contributors who signed their first pro contracts with Tampa Bay. Cobb (fourth-round pick, 2006), Hellickson (fourth-round pick, 2005) and Moore (eighth-round pick, 2007) were all Rays draftees, as were center fielder Desmond Jennings (10th-round pick, 2006) and setup man Jake McGee (fifth-round pick, 2004).
A winning baseball team run by a very smart group of baseball minds isn't good enough to put a lot of fans in the seats at Tropicana Field. The Rays are 28th in the majors this season with an average attendance of 18,287.
Could you imagine what that number would be if the team was bad?
As USA Today points out, the Rays are badly in need of a new facility, but their lease at the "The Trop" runs through 2027, which will make it hard for this team to survive long-term.