The Tampa Bay Rays are a contradiction.
They have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball and they have an absolutely horrible stadium situation. They haven't drawn in fans—even though they are close to advancing to the postseason for the third time in four seasons.
Yet here they are again, competing with the big boys. It sounds like something out of a Charles Dickens novel.
For the front office, it has definitely been the best of times. Yes, they constantly have to adjust on the fly because of payroll restraints, but they have a steady pipeline of talent at their disposal.
Even though they have a top five farm system and a club coming off of a playoff berth, they managed to have the best draft in baseball because they took advantage of the arbitration rules.
The Rays had 10 picks before the end of the third round. Definitely the best of times.
Team Payroll: 41.1 million (29th)
Analysis Rank: +13.7
Andrew Friedman used to live in the shadows, but he can't hide anymore.
He is this decade's Billy Beane. He will have competition for that title from the likes of Alex Anthopolous, but suffice it to say, he is the guy right now.
Even his mistakes are on the small scale. Manny Ramirez signed for small money and retired before Memorial Day. Yet, because of the low-ball contract, it was a minor mistake.
Johnny Damon may be classified as a mistake, even though he has played all season. Again, small money was extended.
From there are just the little things. Desmond Jennings may have been called up sooner. Perhaps the team gave too much rope to Sean Rodriguez or Dan Johnson.
Those minor lapses in judgment pale in comparison to the moves that almost border on the telepathic. Ben Zobrist was a mediocre prospect in the Houston chain, and he is now one of the top 10 players in the American League.
He got rid of Delmon Young when the getting was good and added regulars like Matt Joyce for next to nothing.
The only regular acquired that may have been a bust was Sam Fuld, and he definitely wasn't the prize from the Matt Garza trade. No one is overwhelmed looking at the Rays lineup, but they get the job done.
The starting rotation is Andrew Friedman's pride and joy. None of them are even thirty yet, and he is always adding younger guys whenever he needs them.
There was a rumor James Shields was going to get dealt at the deadline. No matter, the team had Matt Moore waiting in the wings in the minors. Since a deal didn't go through, Moore gets to be a lefty reliever in the pen.
They couldn't afford Matt Garza, but they had enough depth to slip someone in as if nothing had happened. As long as they develop the talent, they can continue to play this game forever.
People are almost embarrassed to think of what Friedman could do with an actual operational budget.
Sure, the bullpen looks like a weakness, but other than Carl Crawford, the bullpen was the largest hit of the offseason.
The Rays lost Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler to free agency. They lost J.P. Howell to injury even before the season. In short, there was little left to work with.
Friedman brought in Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth, but they could not possibly make up for all they lost.
Response to Crisis
The crisis in this case was a crisis of strategy.
B.J. Upton and James Shields were shopped before the deadline. At that time, the Rays trailed the Red Sox by double-digit games in the Wild Card.
Yet Friedman didn't hear what he wanted to hear, so he decided to hang on and hope for the best. Today, they trail those same Red Sox by two games.
The decision of whether to go for it or prepare for the future is the most difficult in baseball. The league doesn't make it easier on you when they put the deadline two months before the end of the season.
Most experts urged Friedman to sell. That is why they are writing for sites like this and he is the one calling the shots. He knows his team better than anyone, and his faith was rewarded. Whether they overtake the Red Sox or not, they have a legitimate shot in mid-September.
Analysis Score: +13.7 (1st)
The Final Analysis
The name of the game is to win games. Having a dirt-cheap payroll affords you the luxury of not going to the playoffs and still be hailed as a success (see Billy Beane), but Friedman has gone to the playoffs two out of the last three years, and he has done it in the best division in baseball.
Results are results. Friedman has done it in all three phases.
First, he has built a top-notch farm system through shrewd drafts, shrewd trades and old-fashioned scouting.
Secondly, he has won nearly all of the trades he has been a part of. In particular, the deal that sent Delmon Young and Brendan Harris to the Twins for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett was highway robbery.
Finally, he hasn't delved into free agency much, but when he does he typically gets good bang for his buck.
Those three elements make for a great general manager. Most GMs lack one of more of those elements, but he doesn't lack in anything. The only drama will be to see if any of the bigger-market clubs are successful in luring him away.