Zack Cozart is concerned the Rays 'have an ulterior motive' in starting Sergio Romo

The Los Angeles Angels had a good look over the weekend at the Tampa Bay Rays' newest pitching strategy -- the so-called "opener," which saw the Rays start reliever Sergio Romo on both Saturday and Sunday. In the immediate aftermath, Angels third baseman Zack Cozart said the development was "bad for baseball," likening it to a spring-training atmosphere.

On Tuesday, Cozart expanded upon his thoughts, homing in on why the "opener" would be bad for baseball -- namely, because it could be used as a ploy by teams to pay pitchers less money. Here's a sampling of Cozart's quotes, courtesy of Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register:

"I feel like teams have an ulterior motive when they are doing this," Cozart said before the Angels' game on Tuesday night. "Less starting pitching means you don't have to pay guys as much."

[...]

"I'm more concerned about the financial aspect of three or four years down the road, if your whole staff is bullpenning except a couple guys, your payroll is going to go down because you don't have to pay starters anymore," he said.

Cozart's thought process seems reasonable. Calling him paranoid for thinking big-picture after two games ignores the context of last offseason, which saw a number of established veterans sign deals cheaper and/or shorter than expected. Players have sufficient reason to be skeptical of their front offices and ownership -- particularly now, particularly here, when a strategical shift could theoretically upend how pitchers are compensated.

Think about it this way. Starters are paid more than relievers, with the latter being undercompensated all the way through the arbitration process. (It's accepted that the save statistic is the only one that can get relievers paid before they hit free agency.) If a team can load up on relievers -- or effectively portray most of their staff as relievers -- then they stand to benefit financially. Yes, agents can push back during arbitration hearings, citing innings tallies and the like. But teams have (and have always had) an upper hand in those hearings, which hinge on precedent and comparisons to past cases -- remember, there won't be as much or as many of either if the lines between starters and relievers become distorted.

It doesn't help that the Rays have a reputation for stifling their players' earning potential, or that the "openers" strategy might result in a marginal tactical gain at best -- the effect of rearranging a middle-relief outing from behind a start to before. Certainly managers would rather their worst starters face the bottom of the lineup rather than the top as they near the end of their shift, but to how does entering a game mid-inning impact their warm-up routines? What about coming in with a runner on? What about the leverage aspect therein? And so on and so forth.

The Rays have repeatedly stated how they can't compete by playing the same game as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. To some extent, that's a fair analysis -- the Rays under Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon helped make the shift a league-wide fixture, for instance. But there's a thin line between innovating to win games on a shoestring budget and innovating to maintain a shoestring budget while trying to win games.

Perhaps Cozart's concerns will prove to be overly cynical. Baseball has no one to blame but itself for his skepticism, however.

CBS Sports Staff

R.J. Anderson joined CBS Sports in 2016. He previously wrote for Baseball Prospectus, where he contributed to five of the New York Times bestselling annuals. His work has also appeared in Newsweek and... Full Bio

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