Meet the 2004 Boston Red S--Er, the 2011 Tampa Bay Rays
Does any other MLB fan find it weird when a team goes out and buys former superstars, seemingly anticipating that putting them back together will magically bring back the spark from seven years before?
It's happening again this year, and it's certainly not the first time that two World Series champions have played on entirely different teams together. It's just weird to have it happen in the AL East and for it to not be the Yankees doing the purchasing.
Today it was announced that Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon (2004 World Series Champions) will be joining the recently depleted/farmed out Tampa Bay Rays. It's not unrealistic that Tampa Bay would sign a few players (practicality says they needed to do so after losing the talent they let walk out the door over the offseason for nothing in return), but this is not the Tampa way.
As a Red Sox fan in Minneapolis, I take a lot of guff: "They're just like the Yankees" tends to be the weapon of choice from the loyal Twins fans up here. I don't understand the argument, and this latest move by the Rays emphasizes the point that I attempt to make every time I am forced to defend a contender in the AL East that doesn't have the highest payroll. If you want to contend in a competitive division, money must be spent. The difference between the Red Sox and the Yankees, is the Red Sox spend money to keep talent, whereas the Yankees spend money to acquire talent.
In order to amass the team that Theo Epstein has over the last 10 years, talent acquisition had to take place, but talent retention and development also took place. I don't see the same technique employed by the Yankees nor the Rays. After the 2007 World Series, the Red Sox had some decisions to make – they let Alex Gonzalez walk, but they retained staples (home-grown staples) like Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon, etc.
Who will win the AL East in 2011?
Of course, not all of the talent of the 2004 and 2007 squads was drafted and developed, Manny, Papi, Curt Schilling, 'Tek and the gang were acquired through trades and free agency – but it was a balance.
The Yankees transaction history from this offseason alone could easily take an article to chronicle, but the song remains the same in New York - the core four plus the highest paid free agents of any given year.
I thought the Rays were more like the Red Sox (develop and retain) than the Yankees (catch and release, then buy). With these signings today, coupled with the exit of solid talent such as Carl Crawford and Rafael Soriano, I begin to wonder about the managerial know-how of their front office.
I'm not complaining mind you, as a Red Sox fan, I'd love to see Tampa and the hipster doofus that is Joe Maddon fall into last place where they belong, but it is sad to see a team that took the division from the Yankees last year (with one of the smallest payrolls in the league) go from the top to the bottom.
Perhaps it is too early to speculate, but given the performance of Manny and Johnny in 2010, I think it's safe to say the 2011 Rays can only hope for the same outcome as the Red Sox of 2004 enjoyed.
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