Why Tampa Bay Rays fans ought to be happy

Oct 25, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) runs to third base on his way to score against the Los Angeles Dodgers on an RBI triple hit by first baseman Yandy Diaz (not pictured) during the third inning during game five of the 2020 World Series at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 25, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) runs to third base on his way to score against the Los Angeles Dodgers on an RBI triple hit by first baseman Yandy Diaz (not pictured) during the third inning during game five of the 2020 World Series at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /
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If Tampa Bay Rays fans are dis-spirited by the trade of Blake Snll, they shouldn’t be

Once again the Tampa Bay Rays have traded away their best pitcher, and once again the moaning and groaning in the Tampa Bay area approaches meme status.

There are large elements of truth in each of those laments. The stadium is difficult to reach and parking is limited. And while Tropicana Field isn’t quite the structural equivalent of a leisure suit, the comparison isn’t all that far off.

Money? The point is cheerfully granted: The Rays are on course to rank 27th in team payroll in 2021, more than $100 million behind either of their two main divisional rivals, the Yankees or Red Sox. And that’s before anybody signs a free agent…which the Rays are unlikely to do.

More Rays. Kiermaier likely the next to go. light

But before Rays fans spill too many tears into their lattes, a question must be addressed regarding all of the above: So what?

The reality is that compared with fans of most major league teams, Rays fans have it pretty good. Maybe very good.

Remind me which team won the 2020 American League pennant. Granted, Tampa Bay failed to win the World Series, but so did 22 other teams this just-concluded decade.

Across the decade, the Rays four times made it to post-season play. Sixteen other Major League teams wish they could say as much.

Beyond that, when Tampa Bay Rays fans do go to the Trop, they see a winner. Tampa Bay’s .529 winning percentage for the decade of 2011-20 ranks seventh in all of baseball, behind only the game’s elite: The Dodgers (.581), Yankees (.566), Cardinals (.556), Nationals (.551), Indians (.542) and Red Sox (.532).

Among the glories franchises behind Tampa Bay in decade winning percentage are the two-time World Series winning Giants (.499), the Cubs (.511) and the small-market club everybody thinks is brilliantly managed, the Oakland Athletics (.523).

The secret weapon that Rays fans consistently under-estimate in all their moaning is the team’s front office. It is becoming a veritable graduate school for baseball leadership. Three men who run big league teams – Andrew Friedman in Los Angeles, Erik Neander at Tampa Bay and James Click in Houston – learned their craft in Tampa Bay.

Their teams’ combined 2020 winning percentage was .575, all three reached post-season and Friedman’s Dodgers beat Neander’s Rays in the World Series.

Neander is a genuine efficiency expert. In 2020, he paid about $700,000 per victory. Only Friedman’s Dodgers won more games, and Friedman paid $2.52 million for each of them. The major league average cost per win was a shade over $2 million.

Rays fans have one other reason to celebrate rather than complain about their baseball fate. Not only do they regularly watch good baseball, but they do so on the cheap…at least by MLB standards. Until Covid intervened, the average 2020 ticket price of $56 to watch a Tampa Bay game was to be the fourth cheapest. The only three teams it would have cost less to watch, the Reds, Tigers and Orioles, played .444 ball. The MLB median price was pegged to be just under $70.

If Rays fans want to feel bad, they may wish to save some sympathy for fans of the Mariners, Phillies, Mets, Reds and Angels. For the entire decade, fans of those five teams rooted home a post-season club only four times…none since the Mets reached the World Series in 2015. With the sole exception of the Reds, they also paid more to watch losing baseball.

Three questions after the Blake Snell trade. dark. Next

Despite trading their ace, if history means anything the Tampa Bay Rays will soon be back in contention. They are both well and efficiently run. The same cannot be said for many other MLB teams.