The most common phrase in professional sports (also the most overused phrase) that players and coaches use to describe a recent transaction is "it's a business." As a student of business, I can confidently confirm this brilliant diagnosis.
As a business, the Tampa Bay Rays must first outline their goal for the 2011 season. A successful season would entail making the playoffs, most likely as the American League wild card, and compete in the postseason. Check that off.
Next, they must begin basic preparation. This is primarily training employees and allowing managers to learn the strengths and weaknesses of their people, i.e. Spring Training. Check that off, too.
Finally, the club has to analyze its environment for the 2011 season. The most common tool to assess a given business at any time is with a Five Forces Analysis.
The Five Forces are: supplier power, buyer power, substitutes, rivalry, and competition, but for the sake of relevance, buyer power and substitutes have been omitted. Ticket sales and the NFL and NBA don't seem to have much say in the success of the 2011 Rays.
If baseball teams truly are businesses, grading and understanding the Three Forces will lead to accomplishing the 2011 Rays' playoff goal.
Suppliers that don't coordinate with businesses can cause serious problems with that business's achievements. How is strong is the Tampa Bay's supplier, their farm system?
Because of their small market status, Tampa Bay has been forced to build one of the most successful farm system in the bigs. Top prospects are moved through each level of the minors, usually spending a year at each level.
We only got a taste of the Baseball America and USA Today 2010 Minor League Player of the Year Jeremy Hellickson last year. 2011 will be his first full season, and we should expect big things from the Rays #1 prospect.
Lefthander Matt Moore is the Rays #2 prospect and has led the minor leagues in strikeouts for two consecutive years. Still, his promotions haven't been rushed.
Outfielder Desmond Jennings is the #3 prospect for Tampa Bay and is a lot like the former Ray, Delmon Young.
The Rays expect a lot out of their youngsters and have done a great job in ensuring their developing. Their partnership with their supplier is superb.
A proper balance of inner rivalry can do a lot to help push a company forward. However, too much rivalry leads to mishaps in the office or in baseball's case, the dugout.
To find this balance, a business has to have an effective leader to oversee the rivalry and motivated workers to keep the competitiveness up.
Luckily for them, Joe Maddon manages Tampa Bay. His leadership is the essence of cool. His look has been compared to two-time Oscar winning actor Spencer Tracy. His thick-rimmed glasses lovingly parodied across the country. Maddon is the perfect manager to monitor rivalry in the workplace.
With a manager fit to make sure that no one steps too far across the line, all the Rays need is a leader or group of leaders to make sure the team doesn't get flat.
Evan Longoria is the man for the job. Though he is young, he is clearly the best player on the team and already playoff tested. I expect some contention to his authority to come from the notoriously volatile BJ Upton. If the two can combine their efforts, the Rays will find that perfect balance.
Incoming veterans Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon add experience and can definitely help solidify Longoria's leadership.
Tampa Bay has one half of the equation covered without a doubt, while the other side has a few question marks. I feel good but not great.
Perhaps the most important factor of the Three Forces is competition. A business can do absolutely everything right, but if their competition is too great, it won't matter. They will still fail.
It pains me to concede in mid-March the AL East to the Red Sox, but I have to be honest and realistic. Boston looks absolutely fantastic on paper, and if they stay healthy, they'll be the AL's top team.
That leaves no less than four other teams competing for the wild card: Yankees, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, and Detroit Tigers. I happen to think that only one AL West team will make the playoffs, but you could see contention from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and even the Oakland Athletics.
The Rays have some stiff competition this year for one spot. Furthermore, it's difficult to line Tampa Bay's roster beside one of the aforementioned team's roster and compare because there is so much unproven youth for the Rays.
Tampa Bay will have to find a way to grow up fast in 2011 because the AL is as tough as its been in awhile, which doesn't bode will for them.
There's the Three Forces Analysis for the business that is the Tampa Bay Rays. With slightly above average rivalry and a slew of strong competitors, the great strength of the Rays farm system may not be enough for 2011.
Depending on who you are, your initial goal for the season may be more or less than a generic postseason appearance that I used. Personally, I think individual player improvement and a finish above the Yankees would be good enough, but I tend to be bitter toward the Evil Empire.
The Three Forces does, however, indicate a nice string of highly talented prospects primed to make their debut with the club who will open another window for World Series runs as soon as 2012.
Final Grade: B