Ask Gary: The Rays trade away others, too

by Gary Shelton on May 20, 2017 · 4 comments

in general

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You wrote an interesting article this week about all the good starting pitchers the Rays have moved over the years. Alex Cobb will no doubt be added to that list this year. The larger point to this story however is the Rays routinely move ALL their top players (other than Longoria and, this year, K.K.) when the market demands they must get paid. The list of players other than starting pitchers includes Ben Zobrist, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour (in his prime), Rafael Soriano, Jake McGee, Logan Forsythe last year and countless other lesser players all were deemed to cost too much and were moved when they were at or near the peak of their careers. Some of these players signed huge contracts that the Rays clearly could not afford to pay. The point is this: Hasn’t this practice finally caught up with the Rays with the result being that they are doomed to be cellar dwellers as long as this ownership refuses to pay market price to retain their best players and continues to employ severe, self-imposed salary restrictions on the team.

Larry Beller

Larry, the Rays have never paid market-price for their players, not even when they were in the World Series. Small market baseball is a fact of life. It goes on in Minnesota, in Oakland, in Milwaukee just to name a few. Those teams all try to wrap up their superstars, then build around them.

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John McHale Jr. , when he was sent in to run things instead of Vince Naimoli, endorsed the formula. Wrap up your special 1-2 players, then build around them.

The thing is, for the cheaper plan to work, a team has to excel and drafting and developing, and this one hasn't. It has to be as smart as it is thrifty, and that's up for question, too. Put it this way: This team will never be able to spend with the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers. Simply won't happen. And so it needs to be more efficient and smarter. It hasn't been.

Sure, most of us have hated to see many of the players you mentioned leave. None of us want to hear about a budget standing in the way of winning. It hurt when Crawford and Zobrist, most of all, left. But I don't stay up nights wishing that Cabrera was still here, or B.J. (Melvin) Upshaw. I'd trade McGee for Dickerson all over again.

These days, small-market teams thrive by deciding who they can keep and who they can spare. I've written before: Forsythe was a nice player and I liked him (especially considering his successor, Brad Miller). But he wasn't Ryne Sandberg, you know?

A town cannot have the expectations that it's going to win year after year with this kind of payroll and this kind of attendance. It has to come in cycles.

Try this: Take most small market teams, and then measure them over the last 10 years. The Rays haven't done badly with their plan. I know it's frustrating when the team sputters, but limited resources are a fact.

Still, I know it's disappointing when the team trades away favorites and doesn't win afterward. But I don't think the problem is in the plan. It's in the execution.

Chris Archer will make about $6.4 million in 2018, and Alex Cobb becomes a free agent in 2018. What is the likelihood that one or both will not be Rays when the 2018 season begins?

Scott Myers

I think it depends on a few things, Scott. I think it depends on the way the team is playing; does it have a legitimate shot to think about a run? I think it depends on which teams are interested and what they're offering. It depends on whether this team thinks it could get more if it waited. Naturally, it depends on the contracts.

The contracts are going to be a factor for both players. Cobb is up, which means he'll probably have to be dealt. Archer's salary increases by $1.5 million, but given today's salaries, I think he's worth hanging onto.

When I wrote recently about all the pitchers that have been dealt by the Rays, I was amazed at how little return the team has received in return. And most of the pitchers, except for David Price, haven't been a great asset once they left.

I think you could make an argument to keep Archer because his results haven't matched his talent. You could make one to deal him now and risk him becoming a star. If the team continues to hover around .500, I'd hang onto him until the season is over.  A year from now, who knows?

As for Cobb, he's only going to get better. It would be a shame to lose him. But unless he's willing to agree to a club-friendly contract, I think he's probably gone. Hey, I know that Cobb will probably be better next year than this one, but you can't lose him for nothing. I really like the guy, and I'd love to see him stay. But I fear he's gone.

I would guess the odds on Archer going before next  Opening Day is, what, 40-60. I think it's 25-75 against Cobb staying. I would imagine one of them would stay, which is a good argument for Archer. Someone has to pitch, and Blake Snell isn't as ready as the franchise thought.

Either way, you can bet the fans will be disappointed that more young arms are being dealt, and that the return won't be overwhelming (prospects who will be ready in 2021). And they'll have a right to be.

How long can the Rays keep trading pitchers? Do they have many prospects left in the farm system?  

Jim Willson
Teams always have prospects, and prospects always have stats. It's how they fool the customers.
The Rays have Jose De Leon,who is listed as their top prospect  although he's pitching at high Class A. They have Brent Honeywell, who is No. 3. They have Jacob Faria, who is No. 6. Obviously, they have Blake Snell.
Those guys would all be promising if they were joining the top pitchers, not replacing them. But Cobb may go this year, and Archer may follow soon afterward. And no matter how high they are rated, it probably won't be as high as Jeremy Hellickson or Snell.
It's better on a young pitcher if he can start as the fifth starter and work his way up than if he's thrown in as the No. 3 and told to go get them. Sure, there are stats, and these guys might end up being pretty good until it's their turn to be traded.

Why does the NHL allow its top stars to play in these international hockey tournaments that seem to go on before and after every season? Victor Hedman narrowly missed having a significant injury in the tournament under way now. Isn’t the long, grueling NHL season enough stress on the bodies of these players?

Larry Beller

The only possible answer, and I'm sure you've thought of this, is the growth of the game. If you want to be able to lure the best players from Europe, well, you have to establish that this is where the best players play.

If I ran a team, personally, I wouldn't want any of my players out of my control. When Hedman was cut last week, we all wondered what might have happened if it had been worse? What if it had been a knee? You're paying for this guy's house, remember? Not to pick on Hedman, because these tournaments have been going on for years, but it would make me nervous.

The length of the season, as you mention, is another factor. Rest is a good thing. Most athletes acknowledge that. Most hockey players finish the season with various aches and pains. So let them recharge and then built up to their workouts.

I'm sure that contract language has something to say about players representing their countries. That's a big ego boost for the player, and playing for his flag has to mean something. I get that.

I just question its worth, to be honest. If it was up to me, I would continue to say no even to the Olympics.

How about ranking the following sports events based on how much they get your juices flowing – no ties, and some commentary if you please!

The Masters


March Madness

Kentucky Derby

Opening Day, MLB

Opening Day, NFL

Opening Day, NCAA Football

World Series


Stanley Cup Final

Feel free to add some, like an Honbasho, if you happen to be a fan of Sumo!

Cecil DeBald

Cecil, that's a daunting list. This will either annoy you or amuse you, but my favorite sport to watch was always my children's soccer (and tennis and football) matches. I have a rooting interest there, one that impartiality usually prohibited. I use to amaze people when I'd say that I'd rather see my daughter's tennis match than a Super Bowl; certainly, the tickets weren't as much.

1. Olympics: Of the sports you mentioned, I'd start with the Olympics. I did 10 of them, and I loved them all, the flag waving and the backstories and the surroundings. I stood on a balcony in Italy with the surviving member of a team whose teammates died in a plane crash. I was there for Tonya and Nancy. For Dan Jansen. For Michael Phelps. For Carl Lewis. There has never been  17 days' worth of games that was better.

2. Super Bowl: I came up as a football writer, and that was always the crowning achievement. I did 29 of them, which means I went to games that the Patriots didn't win and the Bills didn't lose. It's an entire week's worth of work; they even give out two credentials (one for the week and one for the game). You get a lot of access, although it's hard to get in a line of questioning for the bozos shouting out questions about what kind of tree the guy would be.(Best game: 49ers over the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII).

3. Wimbledon: The only major event I ever went to as a fan (standing-room only tickets can be bought on the day of the event). I love the grounds, the accents, the surroundings. My mother was from England, and I have relatives all over the country, so I would take a few days and spend with them. The thing is, the sun is out so late in England that you can work yourself to death. But one year, Filip Bondy (New York Daily News) and Harvey Araton (New York Times) and I shared a house right outside the grounds. It was great. If it was raining, you didn't have to show up until the players were on the court. It isn't the vacation some think of because of that, but it's still a cool place to be. (Best match: Pete Sampras vs. Andre Agassi on July 4).

5. The Stanley Cup: I've been to bits of a few of these, and of course, I went the distance with the Lightning as it won in 2004. The grind is simply amazing. There is nothing else like it in sports. Players are beat up and bleeding, and yet, it's such an effort sport that they keep pushing. I didn't grow up around hockey (my first coverage was the old Atlanta Flames), but a friend of mine once said that one game makes you a fan, and three makes you a coach.(Best game: Lightning over Flames, game six, the contest before they won the Cup. I was also there when Steve Yzerman won his first Cup with Detroit).

6. March Madness: I'm glad you referred to the whole tournament instead of just the Final Four, which is terrific in itself. I've done 11 of them, and I think most of them were terrific games. I loved the early rounds of the tournament, when you could hang out with a guy like ex-Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser and get to know him. The games get more intense, but the access is good.  (Best game: Florida over Ohio State, where the Gators barely guarded Greg Oden and worried about stopping everyone else).

6. College football national championship: You didn't mention this one, but I've always loved college football. Before the playoffs, we had the BCS, and even before that, there were games that were obviously for the national championship. I went to 12 of these. I wish I could go to 12 more. (Best game: FSU over Auburn. I went to Auburn, so it was interesting to see my alma mater lose to Jameis Winston.

7. The World Series. My biggest problem with the World Series is the lateness of the games. It means you're always on deadline, and you're always working with your head in your laptop. Still, baseball is such a great sport, isn't it? I love the matchups, and the way the starting pitching changes everything. Close behind are the division series, where a guy like Matt Garza can regather the Rays and will them to win. (Best game: Yankees vs. Mets. Roger Clemens is still trying to defend throwing a bat at Mike Piazza. He still sounds loony.)

8. The Masters: A confession: I'm a horrible golfer. Dreadful. I have a bad swing and worse head. But in Augusta, it doesn't matter. It's great real estate, especially Amen Corner. I can see why the Club gets letters every year from people wanting their ashes spread there. (Best tournament: In 2005, Tiger Woods beat Chris DiMarco in a playoff. Who knew that would be his last Masters' win?)

9. The World Cup: I only covered it once, when it was in America. But it's similar to the Olympics with the different languages and the colors and the passion. I loved the Cup.

10. Opening Day, baseball: I'm not a huge fan of Opening Day. Maybe I'd feel different if I lived in a cold climate and Opening Day was the first hint of the summer to come. It's often mistaken for a hint of what is to come, but it's only 1/162 of a season. Still, it means that spring training is finally over. (Best Opening Day ever: The Devil Rays' first one, which was like taking the wrapping off of a precious gift.)

11. Opening day, NCAA football: This is an event that's actually getting better. For years, the thing wrong with college football's first day was that there weren't enough directional schools in Louisiana to go around. But this year, FSU plays Alabama and Florida plays Michigan. What could be better? Add in the traditions of the game, and the mascots, and the fight songs. I can't wait.

12. The Kentucky Derby: A friend of mine, ex-ESPN writer Wally Matthews, used to tell me this was the best thing we covered because the interviews are at dawn and your day's work is over by 10 a.m. But you're in Louisville, in a lousy hotel. Big deal. I just didn't get it. A friend of mine was listening one day as two of America's best racing writers were talking about dosage index and length and surface, and he leaned his head in and said "I like the brown one." Classic. (Best race: I liked George Steinbrenner, and I remember when Bellamy Road was favored in 2005. It didn't win, but I felt good for George).

13. Bowl games. Yes, there are too many, and yes, too many weak teams qualify. But the bowl games are a hoot. I remember seeing Bo Jackson play against Doug Flutie in one. I saw Steve Spurrier coach against Bobby Bowden. I saw Bear Bryant against Joe Paterno. (Best game: Texas over USC. I've been wrong about a lot of players, but never one more so than Vince Young. Against USC, Young never made a wrong decision. He passed when he should have passed, he ran when he should have ran, and he beat the mighty Trojans for the national title.)

14. The Daytona 500. I was never much for auto racing. I remember my first race, when everyone in the press box stood and gasped. I still have no idea what they were seeing. The lead didn't change hands, there wasn't a wreck, and no pretty girls walked through the stands. Nope, it wasn't my element. But I admired the skill it took. (Best race: Dale Earnhardt's win in 1998.)

15. All-Star games. I've covered baseball's, and hockey's, and basketball's. And it's all a waste of time. You cannot replicate the passion shown in even the most meaningless regular-season game. So why try? (Best game: The 1992 NBA game in Orlando. No one wanted Magic Johnson to play because he had been tested for HIV. But Johnson put on a show.)

16. Auburn-Alabama: I've often said it. A lot of rivalries are good on game day. But Auburn-Alabama is a rivalry on May 3 and June 14 and Feb. 15. There are tales of fans who will pull into a gas station, see the emblem of their rival, and will drive on to find a friendlier merchant. (Best game: the 1981 game in which Bear Bryant became, at the time, college football's winningest coach.

I've never covered an Iditarod (none in Florida), but I understand it's cool. I've never done sumo. I covered curling at a couple of Olympics, and I had quite the fun with it, but the readers were incensed. They took it a lot more seriously than I did. I never covered cricket, but I spent a day playing it once, and it didn't convince me it wasn't boring.

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