In the American League East, the Tampa Bay Rays garner a lot of respect. Among fans, media, just about anyone that marvels how they keep up with the big boys on such a low payroll. There are ways O’s fans would love to see the Orioles emulate the Rays - mostly in how they win.
But probably not in actually how they get there, a point hammered home with their most recent big move.
But the Rays have done a lot of winning since 2008. From 2008-2013 the club won 90 or more games five times in six years, making four playoff appearances. They then lost four years in a row before a run the last three seasons producing two more playoff runs - one that came up two wins short of a World Series championship in October.
But while there may come times when the Orioles trade a key player before his contract is out, I would be surprised to see them do it under similar circumstances as with lefty Blake Snell. The Rays took him with the No. 52 overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. And two years after winning a Cy Young Award, he pitched them to the doorstep of a World Series title.
But with three years and about $39 million left on his contract they traded him a few days ago to San Diego for a package of four players. It was headed by 21-year-old righty Luis Patino. He is ranked as the Padres’ No. 3 prospect in a very deep farm system and is rated No. 16 in its top 100 by Baseball America and No. 23 by MLBPipeline.com.
Chaim Bloom is chief baseball officer for the Boston Red Sox. He worked from 2005 to 2019 for Tampa Bay and ended his run there as senior vice president of baseball operations. Few know better how the Rays keep winning on such a budget after dealing some away some of their better players.
“The reason Tampa Bay is as good as they are right now is because they had the guts to do those things even though they were painful,” Bloom told Boston reporters recently. “It’s easy to look at that and say, ‘Man, look at how they win despite how they do these things.’ I would argue they win because they do these things.”
If we were to fast forward a few years and the Orioles had a homegrown pitcher win the Cy Young and two years later pitch the club to within two wins of a World Series victory, I would certainly not expect them to trade that player. Certainly not if he had three years to go on his deal. And if his contract were reasonable, as with Snell. I mean this is a sport where some of the best pitchers make $30 million or more per season. Former O’s general manager Andy MacPhail was fond of noting often that pitchers can be both fragile and expensive. Some of the best teams acquire, rather than produce, top starters.
It is hard to produce frontline pitching. But if you can do it, why not hold on to it with so much time remaining on a contract?
But the Orioles trading a pitcher with Snell’s resume coming off a World Series appearance and with three years left on a reasonable contract would be very unexpected. I contend that Tampa Bay may be about the only team among 30 in the majors that would make such a move. But maybe it gets easier when you’ve done it before. But they never came that close to winning the World Series before.
Even if they made a long-range decision that Snell would have to be traded with two years left on his contract, they could try to make another run with him this year. Reporters that cover that team have made it clear this was not about Snell being pulled in the sixth inning in Game 6 against the Dodgers or any hard feelings that carried over from that. It’s more about the Rays doing business as they can and have before.
Would the Orioles consider such a move under similar circumstances? I can’t imagine that. The hope is that they would add to the roster, not subtract when they are that close to winning a championship. Hopefully, we get to find out what they would do in a few years.
Watching Tampa Bay keep winning doing business as they do, I marvel at it yet also wonder how much longer this can continue in the Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg area.