Let's check in with one of the Tampa Bay Rays' top prospects, or, as the front office in question would probably term him, one of the Rays' best "long-term assets" ...
What is this— Brent Honeywell (@brent_honeywell) February 20, 2018
This, Mr. Honeywell, is the most boring team in baseball.
The Rays are coming off an 80-win season -- neither bad nor good enough to qualify as interesting -- and these are the notable things they've done thus far in the current winter ...
- Traded away Evan Longoria for a couple of middling relievers, Denard Span, and a low-ceiling prospect in Christian Arroyo.
- Traded for C.J. Cron
- Designated for assignment outfielder/DH Corey Dickerson, who last season put up an OPS+ of 120, cracked 27 homers, and made the All-Star Game.
- Traded Jake Odorizzi to the Twins in exchange for shortstop Jermaine Palacios, whom no one regarded as one of the Twins' 10 best prospects and most regarded as not among the Twins' 20 best prospects.
- Traded Steven Souza to the Diamondbacks (in a three-way trade with the Yankees) for a low-ceiling second base prospect, Anthony Banda, and a couple of farmhands to be named later.
Much of this is in the general shape of trading away useful veterans for prospects, which is what the rebuilding teams that are presently too much with us tend to do. But that's not what's really going on with the Rays. Sure, they may get to a more conventional rebuild if they deal away Chris Archer and Kevin Kiermaier, but thus far their trades (and the laughable DFAing of Dickerson) have probably been about sloughing off payroll obligations. This is probably a near-term goal because the Rays are angling for a new stadium and may have to fork over some of their own money in order to build one. (Perish the thought of a private business paying for its own place of business.) That's what all of this is about.
Yes, the Rays tend to have low attendance in their aluminum cheeseburger of a ballpark, and their local media contract looks quaint by comparison. On the other hand, they've long run basement-level payrolls, they're heavily on the revenue-sharing dole to the tune of $40 million or so per year, and let's not forget that each MLB club has received or soon will receive a $50 million windfall from the sale of BAMTech to Disney. The premise -- that the Rays need to invest even less in the product than they already do in order to pay a fraction of those forthcoming stadium costs -- is easily denied. Even if you grant that premise, though, it's all a big damn boring bore.
Here, I customized a jersey ...
Look, their Florida label-mates, the Marlins, have bungled their way through their own teardown, but at least they've been interesting about it -- at least in the sense that, say, a toilet that falls off an overpass and onto the hood of a passing limousine is interesting (no one was hurt in this scenario). When it comes to palace intrigue, the Rays simply don't have anything comparable to.
What makes this all the more banal is that the Rays' front office is still generally thought to be a Fast Company-readin' bunch who Sees a Different Game and Disrupts a $10 Billion Industry or whatever. When a front office is burnished with this kind of rep, it becomes hard to shake and begets all kinds of "appeal to authority" justifications for any old thing it does. So it goes with the Rays, foremost among a growing population of teams that seem to be run like portfolio holdings. Usually, they just get praised for "maximizing efficiency" or some such MBA ghoul-speak.
The point is to win baseball games. If I'm feeling charitable toward teams who have tanked or are tanking, I'll say the point is to win games now or position yourself to win games in the determinate future. The Rays, though -- having long ago realized that major sports franchises can make money without trying -- are doing none of that. They are, however, boring the living hell out of us.