With MLB’s Winter Meetings starting this week and the Rays loaded with useful pieces, the time has come for Tampa Bay to blow it all up with a little extra explosives, writes Rays columnist J. Scott Butherus.
I keep watching this weekend’s failed attempt at bringing down the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit whenever it pops up on my social media feeds. The futile fire and fury is hilariously sad, leaving a pile of precariously perched rubble waiting for gravity or a stiff breeze to finally finish the job and possibly crush a few transients in the process.
When it comes to blowing things up, you can’t go halfway. You got to take it all the way down to its foundations.
Which is why when Rays general manager Erik Neander walks into the MLB Winter Meetings in Orlando this weekend, he better be wearing a sandwich board announcing Tampa Bay’s front office is ready to deal. Sort of like those sign spinners hocking timeshares and cheap theme park tickets on the corner of International Drive.
“Need Pitching? Ask Me How.”
Sorry Rays fans, this needs to happen. The sooner the better.
Treading water in the American League East is a dangerous place to be, just ask the Baltimore Orioles. The Rays’ divisional rivals, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees appear poised to battle over the top spot for the foreseeable future. Boston has a young and talented core of players that will be together for a while. Meanwhile, last year’s Wild Card winner, New York will have some added payroll flexibility to do some Yankee-like things in free agency to add to a young and talented nucleus of their own.
Further complicating matters is the team’s housing situation and its future all together in Tampa Bay.
Take it Down
It’s the perfect time for the Rays to hit the reset button and if Neander and company time it out right, their window to make an extended postseason push could open just as the league’s behemoths get bogged down by the inevitable gaudy contracts to aging players. There’s no guarantee Neander can pull it off but a complete and total rebuild from within is something that small market teams have to do every five or six years to avoid being mired in mediocrity.
Look at what the Houston Astros were able to pull off this year or Kansas City a few years before that. They rode their homegrown talent to a World Series title. With a Wild Card appearance in 2017, the Minnesota Twins’ window appears to be opening after their rebuilding efforts. The Chicago White Sox sold off every player of value for prospects last season. They now have, arguably, the best farm system in baseball.
Of course, it is going to be painful to watch. Kansas City lost an average of 96 games between 2004 and 2012 before making the World Series in 2014 and 2015. Houston lost 324 games between 2011 and 2013 before hoisting the trophy this season. If Chicago wins more than 62 games next season, it would be the biggest surprise in baseball.
All the Way Down
Although not quite the same situation since they were an expansion franchise, Rays fans will remember those horrendous seasons that made it possible to draft guys like Evan Longoria, Melvin “BJ” Upton and David Price. That core led the team to a World Series in 2008 and postseason appearances in four out of six seasons.
The Rays finished two games under .500 last season. There weren’t a whole lot of places on the roster that anyone can point to and say “if only” that would have caused the 10-game swing it would have taken to topple the AL East front runners. While the players currently on the roster aren’t likely to be a World Series contender as a whole, they do have something to offer other teams.
That’s why the Rays front office needs to blow it all up, starting at the Winter Meetings. All the way down to the foundation. Otherwise, they have to try again later or wait for the cracked remains to finally crumble on their own.
If they do that, they risk finding the broken body of Longoria underneath slabs of concrete in a few years.
Follow @JScottButherus on Twitter
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