Coming off a postseason berth, the 2010 Rays were gutted beyond comprehension. Their star left fielder and sparkplug Carl Crawford left for Boston. Their shut down closer Rafael Soriano, now sporting pinstripes. Carlos Pena going to the windy city, Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett dealt for prospects, and a bullpen left in tatters. All that they got to replace these cornerstone players was a past-his-prime outfielder and a few relievers. Yet some how, some way, the Tampa Bay Rays are now once again back in the post season.
Does a story like this ring a bell?
If it does, the 2002 Oakland Athletics is most likely what you are thinking of. As most of you know, the A’s lost their star outfielder, first baseman and closer, yet were able to still make the playoffs. Now so too have the Rays, losing their star outfielder, first baseman, and closer; not to mention nearly their entire bullpen, their shortstop, and one of their top starters; yet now stand tall as wild card winners in a dramatic game 162.
The 11 players the Rays lost this past offseason have earned around $67 million, about $25 more than Tampa’s entire payroll. They spent just under $15 million in signings to replace those players, and yet they came up with the same result: October baseball.
The Rays, much like the A’s of 2002, have a terrific 1-2-3 punch in the rotation, and two solid sluggers in Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton; the rest are rookies, journeymen and once washed up veterans. They have defied the odds to top the $160 million dollar Red Sox, now they take on the $92 million dollar Texas Rangers in a 2010 ALDS rematch. The A’s had the second smallest payroll in the American League, the lowest in their division, and beat the $105 million Texas Rangers, the $80 million Seattle Mariners, and the $61 million Angels to take the division with 103 wins.
The 2002 A’s stunned the baseball world to return to the playoffs after losing nearly every key franchise player, the Rays have now done exactly that. Of course Tampa fans will be hoping for a better result in the postseason than the 2002 Oakland A’s, but there are numerous similarities. The Rays didn’t exactly use sabermetrics like the A’s, but they still managed to take a no-name lineup -with the exception of Longoria and Upton- and bullpen, and make it to the playoffs. They were gutted beyond recognition, yet still clawed and scratched their way to October.