Usually I reserve my baseball blogging for the Toronto Blue Jays, but this season there has been an incredible story that has captured the interest of all baseball fans - and that’s the sudden rise of the mighty Tampa Bay Rays.
The Tampa Bay Rays are the Cinderella story of the 2008 season thus far, with fans and experts scratching their heads as to why they are suddenly the best team in baseball. In order to find out how the Rays are where they are today, we need to start at the beginning.
Since their first season in 1998, the Tampa Bay Rays (formerly Devil Rays) have never had a winning season. Their best season to date was in 2004 with a 70-91 record. Up until this year, they have pretty much been the laughing stock of baseball - consistently finishing in the bottom of the division. But beneath all those losing seasons, they were developing young talent that would emerge as superstars.
Scott Kazmir has emerged as the Rays ace, and consistently performed well since joining the league in 2004. Initially, Kazmir was a prospect of the New York Mets, but was traded to the Rays for pitchers Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato. To this day, Mets management has been criticized for the move. Along with young pitchers James Shields and Matt Garza, the Rays starting rotation is among the best in baseball.
The great thing about consistently finishing among the bottom of the standings, is that you get great choices in the MLB draft. Evan Longoria is a great example - in his rookie season, he has absolutely lit it up on the field, and is arguably the runaway candidate for rookie of the year thus far. Other players brought up through the Rays system include Scott Kazmir, Andy Sonnanstine, Dan Wheeler, Carl Crawford, and B.J. Upton.
Another amazing fact about the Rays is that they have managed all this success with the second lowest payroll in baseball; a mere $43 million. At the beginning of the season, who would have ever predicted that the teams with the two lowest payrolls in baseball (the Marlins and the Rays) would be in the playoff race at the mid-way point this season. I certainly didn’t.