Can We Wait a Minute Before Planning the Parade?

Mark Teixiera's signing with the Yankees this week caused the whole world to get completely mental.
With Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett joining an already talented roster, the Yankees now own the highest-paid pitcher, highest-paid catcher, highest-paid first baseman, highest-paid shortstop and highest-paid third baseman in the majors. They've got a team with as many as a half-dozen future Hall of Famers. It's a payroll for the ages, housed in a billion-dollar stadium that's going to mint money for as long as it takes a two-billion-dollar stadium to be built. The sky is falling!

Ex-pros have proclaimed that all the pressure is now on the Yanks.

Red Sox scribes tore their hair out, declaring that the sky is falling for the poor, downtrodden Red Sox.

Owners of smaller-market teams shrieked for a salary cap.

Some of the sharpest baseball analysts in the business also jumped on the Yankees bandwagon, declaring the Bombers the unquestioned team to beat.

It's gotten so bad, we've lost count of the number of people who've forwarded this only-half-joking tribute.

Yet for all the talk of the Yankees' supposed invincibility, for all the hard-wringing over the Red Sox having to settle for second place against their Evil Empire rivals, the masses seem to have forgotten something: The Tampa Bay Rays are the defending American League champions.

In a season so shocking and so memorable that it's triggered future 400-page tomes in their honor, the Rays' 97-win effort in 2008 stands as one of the great stories in recent baseball history. But the masses now stand ready to call the '08 effort a fluke, or at least to condescendingly declare a certain regression to the mean. You've had your fun, kids. The grown-ups will take it from here.

Except the Rays figure to boast even more talent in 2009. Control-impaired Edwin Jackson made 30+ starts in '08; all-world prospect David Price takes his place in '09. Cliff Floyd and Jonny Gomes split time at DH in '08; a glut of available talent, a depressed market and a willingness to spend mean the Rays are a lock to get an upgrade, be it via Pat Burrell, Milton Bradley, Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi or someone else of that ilk. On the injury front, Scott Kazmir missed more than a month in '08. Also seeing DL time: Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, Dioner Navarro, Carl Crawford and Jason Bartlett. The team's two best players in the playoffs were Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton; Longoria missed 40 regular-season games due to injury and starting the year in the minors, while B.J. Upton chopped his likely regular-season home run total by about two-thirds, thanks to a debilitating shoulder injury.

The Yankees should be better thanks to the new arrivals and improved health for Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, Chien-Ming Wang and others. David Ortiz at 100% should by itself be enough to give the Red Sox a lift, and the team's a good bet to add more talent via free agency or the trade market, not to mention their farm system. But the orgy of praise given to their far richer rivals ignores this dirty little secret:

When the next World Series rolls around, the Tampa Bay Rays are as good a bet as anyone to take the field. Again.


By: Scott Pianowski
On: 12/25/2008 4:40:00 PM
It's obviously silly to crown any baseball team ahead of the fact. The playoffs are too unpredictable. But I have to say I like New York's chances of making the playoffs, and it was a lot more fun watching them sign guys like Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright back in the day, not Mark Teixeira in his prime.
By: Chris Liss
On: 12/25/2008 4:53:00 PM
What are the Vegas odds on the Jays and Orioles both simultaneously making the playoffs?

Do Jays and Os fans even bother this season? Might as well stay home and tend to your fantasy teams.
By: kevinccp
On: 12/25/2008 6:15:00 PM
Re:Baltimore and Toronto, that's what people said about the Rays last year.
By: spianow
On: 12/25/2008 6:26:00 PM
KP, I think everyone saw the ridiculous collection of young talent Tampa had, it was just a matter of the maturation date.
By: Erickson
On: 12/25/2008 6:48:00 PM
I feel for the Jays, who might have made the playoffs had they been in any other division last year.

As far as the O's, I think that they're actually on the right path. They've got probably the best prospect in baseball, or, at least 1A to David Price's #1 if that's your inclination. They have a number of other good young prospects in the system, plus a good corps of other young players like Markakis and Adam Jones. If only they could develop a shortstop of some ilk.

This year? Eh, not so much, but I think it's interesting in a way to watch the building blocks of what could end up being a good franchise.
By: kevinccp
On: 12/25/2008 6:54:00 PM
True...but not sure to count out Balt and Toronto, and *no one* saw the date being 2008. I'm a Yanks fan and is Burnett a #2 starter to get a team to the playoffs? He had Doc in front of him last year and while they didn't have the lineup, I'd take the Yanks under for wins next year, even if they're not done spending. So I'm not counting out the O's and BJs, I mean Toronto of course (some juvenile humor during the holidays).
By: Jonah Keri
On: 12/25/2008 7:10:00 PM
Kevin, I agree that very few people saw, say, 97 wins and an AL pennant in '08 for the Rays. But PECOTA had the Rays winning 88 games, I thought they'd be a contender (if not quite a World Series team) and some other people shared similar optimism. I think underestimating the Rays this past season wasn't just a case of discounting the chances of a team that's always been bad. It was underestimating the value of having all-world defense.

Agree with Jeff on the O's. Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz could be a really good 1-2 by 2011 if things break right.

Man, these last two NBA games have been fun today. Celts-Lakers was a blast, and the Wizards are really impressing me right now. Can't wait to see Steve Blake go for 20 and 10 (with 4 3's) against Jason Sieve in the nightcap.
By: ephinz
On: 12/30/2008 4:51:00 AM
One good piece of news for the Blue Jays. There is no reason to mortgage the development of Travis Snider and Adam Lind in 2009 by signing a Jason Giambi for a year. Or the Jays can give us deja vu all over again and sign Frank Thomas!

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