Once again, the Rays are left contemplating post-season secrets

Street. Petersburg – Rays deserve your love. If not your love, at least your respect.

Year after year, they put together a winning product in the field even with the odds stacked against them. And trust me, percentages are definitely not in their favour.

While Major League Baseball hates to admit it, economics is important when it comes to winning. Over the last 15 seasons, 64 percent of playoff teams in the first half of the league have been on the payroll. So it follows that only 36 percent of MLB’s post-season teams were among the bottom half of the spenders.

Care to guess which franchise has had the most post-season appearances from that bottom line on the economic scale? You got it. The Rays have made the playoffs eight times, putting them in a gated community of Dodgers, Yankees, Cardinals and Braves teams.

When you look at it from this perspective, rays’ way of doing things should be celebrated. To be imitated and venerated.

But should it also be recalculated?

As far as the success they had in the regular season, the Rays were less efficient in the post-season. Which seems completely logical. The higher you go, the harder it is to breathe.

Guardians second baseman Andres Gimenez tags Rays' Manuel Margot for an attempted theft in Game 7 of Game 2 during the Wild Card series.
Guardians second baseman Andres Gimenez tags Rays’ Manuel Margot for an attempted theft in Game 7 of Game 2 during the Wild Card series. [ JOSHUA GUNTER | cleveland.com ]

But is it possible that the rays have reached a plateau?

X-rays don’t see it that way. As Eric Neander, the head of baseball operations, said, they’re not satisfied with thinking this way.

“If you tell me, over the next 10 years I can guarantee you one World Championship win, but that will come with eight seasons of winning no more than 75 games,” Neander said. “Or, over the next ten years, I can guarantee you nine win 90 seasons, but never a world championship. Which way do you take?

“Take the world championship. One hundred percent, no doubt. We take the world championship. But the problem is you don’t get that guarantee.”

There are a few teams that have used analytics to stay competitive while spending less money than their opponents in the division. Rays are the most popular, but Oakland has been using this formula for years. Milwaukee, Minnesota and Cleveland have also succeeded in pursuing similar strategies.

Among them, these five franchises have had 28 post-season appearances since 2008. They also do not have any world championship titles. For comparison’s sake, the Cardinals, Yankees and Red Sox also have 28 post-season appearances during the same period. They have collected four world championship titles.

High-revenue teams may have embraced analytics to varying degrees, but these strategies are supplemented by up to $100-150 million in annual salaries.

Of the 14 world championship champions since 2008, not a single one has been in the bottom half of the payroll. The closest were the Astros (#15) in 2017 and the Royals (#13) in 2015.

So, to put the question another way, is there something the rays need to do differently?

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Al Rayes weren't afraid to spend big to lock down Wonder Franco for the long term, but they don't tend to spend a lot of money in pursuit of free agents.
Al Rayes weren’t afraid to spend big to lock down Wonder Franco for the long term, but they don’t tend to spend a lot of money in pursuit of free agents. [ DAVID DERMER | AP ]

“The ultimate goal is not to make the playoffs; the ultimate goal is to win the world championship,” General Manager Peter Bendix said. “And so we asked ourselves — and we will continue to ask ourselves — how do we get over this hump? What can we do to build a team that can get through 162 games, but then also sprint to 13 wins (post-season)? This is a question we will continue to ask ourselves.”

There are some obvious answers. Spend more money and you have a better chance of winning. The Cubs signed free agents John Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hayward, Dexter Fowler, and Ben Zobrist, and were traded for Aroldis Chapman on Deadline. They nearly doubled their paychecks in two years, going from $94 million to $186 million. They also won the 2016 World Championship.

You can also build from draft. The Royals picked the top five of the draft four times in five years and turned those picks into Alex Gordon, Mike Mustakas, Eric Hosmer and Luke Hochvar. They won the world championship in 2015.

Conditions being what they are, neither of these options was available to the rays. They don’t have the revenue to justify payrolls the size of New York or Los Angeles, and they’ve won consistently to the point where they can’t pick high on the draft.

This leaves little room for maneuver. They still believe that preventing running is the best chance for success, so that won’t change. They also think they’re better off taking as many shots as possible in the post-season, and so will continue to juggle the roster to keep one eye on the future.

But, if the moment is right and the player is available, they will get out of their comfort zone to take a bigger swing than they normally would.

An example would be giving up a potential promoter, Joe Ryan, to get Nelson Cruz on the trade deadline in 2021. Pursuing Freddy Freeman in the latest season is another thing. This is how Tyler Glasno signed with a salary of $25 million in 2024.

Of course, the flip side to this whole idea of ​​changing their methods is:

The Rays came within two World Championship wins in 2020. When you’re so close to a copper ring — or in this case, a flashy diamond ring — why reconsider the winning formula?

“In trying to win the world championship, there’s a better way to deal with it,” Neander asked rhetorically. “It’s a very fair question, and it’s an appropriate question to ask until the day we win comes.”

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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