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.


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