Offseason Swap Series: Tampa Bay Rays

By Matthew Van Wormer

As we continue our tour of the American League East, I caught up with Yossi from The Rays Rant and got him to answer some questions about the team that had the unenviable task of taking on the Texas Rangers in the last two postseasons.  I was very impressed by what Yossi had to say, especially after learning that this guy is just 14 years old.  His knowledge is well beyond his years and I hope I get to work with him this season whenever the Rays and Indians get together.  So, without further ado, here are the questions I had for Yossi.

DTTWLN? 1 – The Rays had a great September but couldn’t keep it going in the playoffs.  Do you think the energy they used to get into the playoffs was just too much for the rotation and team to handle?

I don’t think this was the reason for their abrupt exit at all. The team they played, the Texas Rangers, simply outplayed the Rays. The Rangers were very ready for the postseason again this year, and proved that they were the champions of the American League. Although the Rays had the advantage in pitching, the offensive production was not even comparable. Texas has some excellent veteran hitters on their roster, including Michael Young (second-highest average), Josh Hamilton (2010 MVP), Adrian Beltre (3 home runs in game 4), Mike Napoli, and more terrific players. What makes Texas such a great club, is they are able to get the clutch hits that the Rays can’t. This is why they were just one strike away from a World Series title. The Rays rotation definitely didn’t choke, they were just met by the hottest bats in Major League Baseball.

DTTWLN? 2 – Rumors are abound that the Rays ownership is short on funds.  Do you have any insight into the teams financial situation?

It’s pretty clear by now that the Rays have financial problems. I definitely do see a baseball future in the Tampa area, but some improvements will eventually need to happen. At the moment the attendance is not adequate, which is the main reason for low income. The media has constantly ripped on Tampa Bay, claiming that the fans don’t deserve the Rays and etc. Popular reasons why the Rays have low attendance is because of bad stadium location, high unemployment rates, etc. These reasons may all be a part of the issue, but everyone seems to miss the biggest reason. Tropicana Field is located near Florida’s Gulf Coast, home to some of America’s most beautiful beaches. There are so many outdoor activities that residents can do from spring to fall. When you think of the other teams that have a similar situation, one that comes to mind is the Marlins. They have even worse attendance. They also know how to win, as they have won two World Championships in their 18-year history. At the end of the day, I think that the Rays need to continue to have successful seasons for their financial issues to improve. The more wins the better, and one World Series title could change everything.

DTTWLN? 3 – Fans seem to stay away from Tropicana Field in droves.  What are the chances we see a new ballpark for this, now, very competitive team in the near future?

The Rays new ballpark is something that would surely help with the financial problems, but it doesn’t seem like something to anticipate for now. Unfortunately, any new stadium for the Rays is at least 3-5 years from any kind of reality. Contrary to popular belief, Tropicana Field is not a low-quality stadium at all. A new stadium, however, would excite sports fans and would get more people to come to the ballpark. Building a brand new stadium also costs money though, a lot of money. And money is the thing that most limits the Rays, and is really not helping this situation. I don’t feel much progress happening now, but it could happen in the future if the Rays feel that they truly need it.

DTTWLN? 4 – How much longer can the Rays keep battling the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox when they don’t spend big bucks the way those two teams do?

The answer is simple; As long as the terrific farm system lasts. The Rays are built around their great young prospects, and good coaching is what transforms them into quality ballplayers that can play with the big boys. What’s impressive about the Rays young roster more than any other young club, is that they probably make less mental mistakes than the veterans. The Rays have the youngest team but amazingly are able to play the most error-free and clean baseball. Most would think it would be the opposite, but a lot of incredible things happen with Joe Maddon’s management. The Rays unique style of baseball is what keeps them in the competition year after year. When you can’t ever be like a team, don’t try to be like them. How the Rays run their ball club is the true definition of ‘Moneyball’, rather than Oakland’s past efforts that never actually led to any more success than a playoff spot.

DTTWLN? 5 – What does the 2012 season hold for the Tampa Bay Rays?

I believe that 2012 will be another successful season for the Rays. My prediction is not just purely out of optimism, but the Rays look like they will have a pretty good roster next year. 2011 was a very exciting and memorable season, but the Rays really want to take the next step. Being stopped in the ALDS two straight years by the same team is pretty frustrating, especially after having such impressive regular seasons. The two players that Rays Republic should be most excited about in 2012, are Desmond Jennings and Matt Moore, two phenom rookies with never-ending abilities it seems. Both of them showed that they are ready for The Show after their impressive performances this season. These next few months will also effect the Rays in 2012, as there are some offseason moves to be made. It’s still early in the offseason, and there will probably be more new faces to join the Rays next year. Andrew Friedman seems to know what he’s doing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulls off another great offseason. So far the Rays have acquired a veteran catcher and traded away a young catcher. Still some holes need to be filled in, such as DH and first base. Also, the new MLB playoff format will have an impact on the Rays’ future, maybe more than any other team. In the toughest division in baseball, finishing in third place and making the postseason is great news for Rays fans. It will be pretty interesting how it effects the Rays in 2012 and the following years to come.

Thank you for all the great info, Yossi!  The way the Rays bring their players up through their Minor League system seems to keep working so to think that the successful formula will change is probably ill-advised.  The race for that second Wild Card spot is going to be a long one which could, like in 2011, come down to the last day of the season. Good luck to the Rays and thanks again to Yossi for participating in our blog swap!

Photo: Getty Images

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