2012 Organizational Rankings: #10 – Tampa Bay

Read the methodology behind the ratings here. Remember that the grading scale is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.

2012 Organizational Rankings

#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago AL
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland
#20 – New York Mets
#19 – Los Angeles Dodgers
#18 – Colorado
#17 — Miami
#16 — Diamondbacks
#15 — Cincinnati
#14 — Cubs
#13 — Milwaukee
#12 — San Francisco
#11 —  Washington

Tampa Bay’s 2011 Ranking: 4th

2012 Outlook: 63

After seeing a dramatic roster turnover between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, the Rays used last season as a “reloading” year. They weren’t rebuilding, per se, as they still had a solid core of talent intact and their roster was competitive enough to keep them in the playoff hunt, but they certainly used the season as a chance to take stock of their young talent and to set themselves up for a competitive run in 2012. They were patient, slow to move, and they didn’t make any dramatic roster moves in the hopes of bolstering their team in the short run (i.e. promoting Desmond Jennings early, trading B.J. Upton at the deadline, etc.).

As such, reaching the playoffs in 2011 was icing on the cake for the Rays. It wasn’t necessarily an expected outcome, nor was it an ending the Rays’ front office had been gunning hard for all season. They certainly had a good team, but the Rays weren’t willing to do anything that would hurt them in the long-term in the hopes of giving them a better shot at reaching the postseason.

Thanks to this long-term outlook, the Rays are again poised to make a serious run at the playoffs. Their rotation is headlined by two aces (David Price, James Shields), and they have two more potential front-of-the-rotation starters behind them in Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore. Their defense will likely only improve with the additions of Desmond Jennings and Jose Molina, and their offense — which was seventh-best in the majors last season by wRC+ — is arguably the best the Rays have had in recent years.

There’s a reason the Rays haven’t traded B.J. Upton or James Shields yet: they both make their team better in 2012. The Rays are tied with four teams for the fourth-best “2012 Outlook” ranking in baseball, and it’s looking like they are serious about making a run at the playoffs this season. Much like the Rays were willing to let Carl Crawford leave via free agency instead of trading him, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Rays hang onto Upton in the hopes of making a serious run in 2012.

2013+ Outlook: 64

The Rays may be tied for fourth-best in “2012 Outlook”, but they rate as the best team in the majors in future talent. Their major league roster is currently jammed full of young players that will be under team control for a number of years, including Desmond Jennings, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Matt Joyce, and (of course) Evan Longoria. They have an incredible core to build around going forward, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that they have Longoria locked up through the 2016 season and Moore signed through 2019.

That said, the Rays’ farm system has been critiqued some this off season by most prospect analysts, and the general consensus is that the Rays’ system has fallen from one of the best in baseball to one of the top-10 or so. This is largely a result of a lack of depth at the top of their system; while they have an impressive core of young talent in the majors right now, the top of their farm system is full of question marks. Their top pitching prospect behind Matt Moore is Chris Archer, who may end up in the bullpen if he never improves his control or refines a third pitch. On the position player side, Hak-Ju Lee, Tim Beckham, and Brandon Guyer are the only notable prospects in Double-A or above, and you can arguably make the case that Beckham and Guyer have moderate upsides.

The Rays restocked their farm system with a plethora of draft picks in 2011, and their lower minors are swarming with high upside, toolsy players. But for the next couple years, the Rays won’t have as much sure-fire future talent coming up through the pipelines. It shouldn’t hurt them over the next couple years — their roster has enough young depth to be competitive for the next handful of years — but their success in 2014 and beyond will depend on how well they develop the raw talent simmering in the low levels of their minors right now.

Revenue Resources: 31

And here’s the kicker. You are likely wondering why the Rays rate as low as 10th, especially considering they came in 4th last season, made the playoffs, and arguably have an even better team in 2012. How could a team with such an excellent roster, future prospects, and front office be rated so low?

It all comes down to the finances. The Rays polled out with the second-worst revenue resources in the majors, ahead of only the Oakland Athletics. Under the new weighting system, financial resources and present talent are equally weighted, but are much more important for a team’s overall score than their front office or future talent ranking. This is because it’s relatively easy to change a team’s front office composition and focus, while it’s much more difficult to change a team’s current talent level or revenue streams.

Make no mistake about it, the Rays are in a financial bind. Tropicana Field is located on the wrong side of the Bay from the heart of their metropolitan area’s population; they’re locked into a lease with St. Petersburg through 2027; and the mayor of St. Pete has shown no inclination to let them out of that lease early. Despite all the quotes thrown back and forth, there has been little to no progress made on stadium negotiations over the past few years, so the Rays are seemingly stuck in the Trop for the foreseeable future. Marketing can only get the Rays so far, and it would be an impressive accomplishment if they actually managed to draw more than two million fans.

Not only that, but while other teams are cashing in on television deals, the Rays are locked into their current deal through 2016. They have seen impressive growth in their television ratings since they became competitive in 2008, but the Rays won’t see any extra money for another five seasons. By that time, how far ahead will the rest of baseball be? The Rays are currently far behind when it comes to revenue streams, and the difference only figures to get larger and larger in coming years.

Baseball Operations: 69

What else needs to be said? Andrew Friedman and the Rays’ front office staff lap the field in this category, coming in a full five points ahead of the next closest team. This is possibly a slight exaggeration of reality — you can certainly make the case that front offices are more similar than dissimilar these days — but Friedman has earned this praise by making the playoffs on a shoe-string budget three of the last four years. It’s not exactly controversial to suggest the Rays have the best front office in the game.

Not only that, but the Rays also have a fantastic history with player development. They are very deliberate with how they promote prospects, and they have had few misses among their top prospects in recent years. It’s difficult to say how much of this is luck and how much is a direct result of the Rays’ organization, but you can make the case that the Rays are the best organization in the game at getting the most out of players and prospects. They maximize player’s potential through player development, stat-informed coaching, and savvy in-game management (platoons, shifts, etc.).

Overall: 53

There will likely be some hubbub over the Rays falling so low, but I like this ranking. Especially with the way that money is flowing into baseball these days, it’s important that we don’t sugarcoat the Rays’ financial situation and pretend that everything is okay simply because the team is still winning. Baseball’s revenue equality gap is widening with the advent of television contracts, and the Rays have already been playing with the deck stacked against them. How many more years can they realistically be expected to keep this up without some underlying change in their revenue situation?

Back when the Oakland Athletics were the Moneyball A’s, they had eight winning seasons in a row from 1999-2006. Over that time, they made the playoffs five times. So far, the Tampa Bay Rays have had four winning seasons in a row, and they’ve made the playoffs a total of three times. I’m as big a fan of Andrew Friedman as anyone else, but let’s not try and pretend that he’s somehow succeeded where Billy Beane failed — that Friedman has discovered the secret to sustainable success on a small budget.

I don’t buy that logic. Friedman still has a long way to go before he can match Beane’s run of success, and the margin for error is as slim as ever. Where would the Rays be if Evan Longoria didn’t develop into one of the best players in the game? What if he merely became an above average player, or his career went south like Eric Chavez’s? Where would the Rays be today if Ben Zobrist didn’t explode into a +6 win beast? Or if one of their many trades flamed out through sheer bad luck? The Rays are in the position they’re in today because they have been nigh perfect with their decisions over the past few seasons, and they have certainly been the beneficiary of their share of good luck.

Friedman is walking on a razor’s edge, and the only reason we don’t notice is because he’s made it look so gosh-darned easy. But unless the Rays’ underlying financial situation changes somehow over the next couple years — a new stadium deal would change this ranking a lot — their long-term outlook is as clouded as ever. Friedman and Co. will keep the Rays as competitive as possible for as long as possible, but nobody can fight against the current indefinitely.




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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.


60 Responses to “2012 Organizational Rankings: #10 – Tampa Bay”

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  1. some guy says:

    Being locked in to a TV deal until 2016 is a bad thing? Just ask the Braves who are locked in for like 25 more years.

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  2. VJO says:

    TV deal until 2016? Tropicana until 2027?

    How much longer can Friedman Moneyball his way into winning? Billy Beane clearly ran out of gas after a string of really impressive seasons given his budget.

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  3. Jacob says:

    Haha sometimes I wonder if GMs ever stopped doing deals with Beane or Friedman now out of a fear of looking stupid

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    • ccoop says:

      I don’t know…Ruben Amaro might have had a better run in trades of late. After all, he never traded Huston Street and CarGo for Matt Holliday and then flipped Holliday for two scrubs and Brett Wallace, who was then turned into Michael Taylor?

      So, from that concert of deals:
      A’s WAR: 2.1 (holliday) – 0.3 (taylor)=1.8 WAR
      Rockies WAR: 3.1 (street) + 12.7 (cargo)= 15.8 WAR
      Cardinals WAR: 3.5 (holliday in 09)

      ouch.

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    • SC2GG says:

      I wonder about the same thing with AA in Toronto. Can you imagine being the other GM? “hmm.. well.. he did manage to trade Vernon Wells to the Angels, and he really did seem to want to get rid of Brett Wallace and Zach Stewart like that.. I wonder why he’s offering me this guy? I’m scared, I think I’ll go talk to Omar Minaya…”

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    • Fletch says:

      and maybe Alex Anthopoulos now as well

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  4. xeifrank says:

    #10 is WAY too low imo. Consistent winner on shoe-string budget!! That has got to carry more weight. Great minor league system. This new criteria is dinging small market teams too much, especially the ones who win big on their lightweight budgets. I’d put them at #2. What they’ve done since making the World Series is nothing but SUPER IMPRESSIVE.

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    • MK says:

      Impressive yes, but if the team were for sale today at market value and then you were required to sell them in three to five years would this team still be your second choice?

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      Point: missed.

      I agree that what they’ve done in the past five years is ‘super impressive,’ but come 2014 if the team is still drawing tiny crowds to a crappy stadium with no new revenue streams to help them lock up the continuing stream of young players, then what? Or if the average payroll around baseball increases 20% but Andrew Friedman’s cunning stays the same, then what? I think the point about being on a knife-edge and getting freakishly lucky was well-made.

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      • xeifrank says:

        As they fail betwen now and 2014 you drop them in the rankings. Right now there is no point in dropping them on the “what ifs” you mentioned. Once they start to materialize then drop them in the rankings if it keeps them from winning on the field. Vegas has their over/under on wins at 87.5 so it sure isn’t this year.

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      • Cliff says:

        87.5 ain’t going to be #2 in the majors. This is an overall evaluation of the strength of the franchise, now and in the future.

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      • xeifrank says:

        Cliff, I didn’t say that. #Strawman

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      • Bronnt says:

        Exactly, English. It’s forward looking, not backward looking. If we were ranking impressiveness of achievements over the past few years, the Rays stand a lot better. But if you look at this year and beyond, you’re just wondering how long it is before the weight of their limited resources weighs on them.

        One thing that might be slightly underrated, though, is the limited future financial burdens that the Rays are carrying. Tons of guys are under team control for the long term with TEAM options That’s almost excessively team friendly. By 2014, they could pretty much afford for their entire current core to collapse, since they’d only owe $21.8M TOTAL from 2014-2018. Essentially, having so many team options allows them to easily cut ties with whoever they don’t need, while keeping around people who retain value for them. Even if they’re stuck with a payroll that’s bottom 5 in the game, they have a bit more financial freedom than perhaps a few other teams with significant future commitments.

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    • Sandy Kazmir says:

      The problem is that they’re giving a fully 35% of their weight to finances which is not the Rays bread and butter. I don’t think finances should be weighted that heavily, but what are you gonna do, huh? What are you going to do?

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      • xeifrank says:

        Right. But if you are going to weight it that heavily they should take in to account how efficiently teams are using their financial resources. If a team with the Rays financials is winning as much as a team with the Yankees or Red Sox financials that says something.

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      • Tom says:

        Xeifrank.. isn’t that what Baseball Operations does?

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      • xeifrank says:

        A gray area, but probably so. Imo more weight should be put on it and less on them being a small market team. #10org doesn’t pass my sniff test.

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    • Psst says:

      I want to agree with you, but untill they top 90 mil in salary for a few years in a row I have to wait

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    • Cliff says:

      So then explain why you would rank them #2?

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  5. AL Eastbound says:

    #10org

    Didn’t most prospect sites have Rays top 5 for overall rank? Matt Moore is still considered a prospect and is the best ARM overall. This seems a tad low.

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    • futant462 says:

      Try Reading. Their 2013+ outlook was ranked #1. The only thing dragging them down is their financials. Which is dragging them down a lot.

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    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

      i thought the opposite… if anything 10 is high. they dont have a revenue stream and the front offices leaguewide are rapidly catching up to them if they havent already.

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  6. bob says:

    “This new criteria is dinging small market teams too much,”

    Agreed, seems to me if the weight given is such that bad financial circumstances guarantee a ranking no higher than ~10 (4,1,1- near perfect in the other categories) this feature is as much a market ranking as an organizational one.

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    • adohaj says:

      Do you not want to believe that larger markets can cause an organization to be better. This isn’t “Team Rankings”.

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    • xeifrank says:

      Right! The realistic ceiling on the Rays is #10 given this criteria. The Rays could’ve won the last 4 World Series and probably been no higher ranked than #8. At some point the organization deserves some credit for the amount of wins it has consistently put up while on a small budget.

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      • Cliff says:

        Wrong. This is a numerical rating. Even though they are 1,1,4 in the other categories they still could be higher in those categories by a lot. If they had won 4 world series in a row and 100+ games each year, you can bet they would be higher.

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      • xeifrank says:

        Wrong!
        Figure it out and tell us what they would rank then.

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      • Cliff says:

        Do you understand how the ranking are calculated? If not, please go back and review that original post. If their numerical rankings increased, they position would be higher, even if their ordinal rankings did not. It’s arithmetic.

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      • xeifrank says:

        I know but there is still likely a ceiling since past World Series championships are probably not going to move any of the (20 – 80) numbers up much if any. Feel free to run the numbers for us though.

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  7. adohaj says:

    The last part of this article is spot on.

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  8. Colin says:

    “Friedman is walking on a razor’s edge, and the only reason we don’t notice is because he’s made it look so gosh-darned easy. But unless the Rays’ underlying financial situation changes somehow over the next couple years — a new stadium deal would change this ranking a lot — their long-term outlook is as clouded as ever. Friedman and Co. will keep the Rays as competitive as possible for as long as possible, but nobody can fight against the current indefinitely.”

    Spot on, finances play a huge roll. They have built it up using some savvy and good fortune but eventually it will change unless their bottom line increases.

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  9. j6takish says:

    I too feel that this is way too low for Tampa. I don’t like how much weight financials have in these rankings. A team that signed Ryan Howard to a 9 figure contract, gave Papelbon 50mm, signed Laynce Nix and Raul Ibanez to a multi year deals, traded Cliff Lee away for peanuts so they could re-sign him to a huge deal a year later is going to rank higher than Tampa just because they have the ability to spend lots and lots of money very very inefficiently

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    • bill says:

      Yeah but you’re ignoring the positives of that, which is being able to acquire a ton of good FA talent, which the financial flexibility gives.

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      • ausmax says:

        That’s also only cherry picking the bad deals. How much did the Phillies pay for Utley or Victorinio over the course of those deals? How ’bout that Roy Halladay contract?

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    • xeifrank says:

      Right! Efficiency.

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      • Anon says:

        Efficiency is part of the equation. Productivity is the goal. Whether the results are produced from $10 very efficiently or $1000 very inefficiently doesn’t matter.

        The Ray’s problem is their bad revenue situation is unlikely to change. An MLB front office can change quickly (see Astros, Houston).

        The rankings have it right.

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      • xeifrank says:

        I’m (Team A) winning 94 games with $50 and you (Team B) are winning 84 with $90 (fairly consistently) which is better? Which org is ran better and by how much?

        Yes, Team A is at a disadvantage in regards to revenue streams but I have shown that over four and likely 5-6 years in a row that I can outperform you and others that spend three times as much as I on a consistent basis. At some point you can’t lump me in with the teams that spend $50 and consistently win 70 games in this financial category. If you want to break that part of it up and put it in the “Operations” category that is fine, but you need to weight “Operations” heavier for me and Financials less because I have shown that I don’t fit the pattern of a “cookie cutter” small revenue organization.

        And yes, past performance should have a consideration (weighted most recent higher of course) when looking at current and future trends. Someone who has been a failure in the past vs someone who has been an amazing success in the past, whose model would you rather use?
        vr, Xei

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    • NBarnes says:

      Money matters a lot. A whole lot. What happens to the Rays if the Red Sox give their injury bug to the Rays for a season and Longoria plays 80 games, Upton 92, and Shields goes down for TJ after half a season?

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      • Shane H says:

        The Rays would have a much harder time getting the injury bug that has plagued The Red Sox and Yankees. 25 year olds (who are the healthiest human beings on earth) playing for short money are often taking top care of themselves looking for their big payouts down the line.

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    • bflaff says:

      Spending inefficiently is something the smartest low revenue teams usually avoid, but it also keeps them completely cut off from a) acquiring the best free agent talent, and b) keeping their best talent when it reaches free agency. (Extreme exceptions like Longoria notwithstanding.) A team with tons of money has a) a much wider margin for error – making an expensive FA mistake will not cripple the team, and b) they can keep their best talent around for as long as they want.

      These are huge advantages over a team with outlier revenue limitations like the Rays. So I don’t have a problem with penalizing them pretty severely for it.

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  10. YeeSawn says:

    How the rest of the top 10 should round out:

    9. Toronto
    8. Detroit
    7. Los Angeles (AL)
    6. Atlanta
    5. Philiadelphia
    4. St. Louis
    3. Boston
    2. Texas
    1. You ALL know who.

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    • Eric says:

      Round Rock Express?

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      • Michael Scott says:

        I think Boston would jump Texas for #2. Even with the TV deal letting Texas’ payroll climb to $120 million or so, the Red Sox are $170 million juggernauts who have one of the most cutting edge front offices in MLB. Plus with the 2 WC format, I’d say their 2012 outlooks are about the same.

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      • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

        i dont understand the “cutting edge” front office argument here…. how do you know what goes on in their front office? the guy currently running it has been on the job for one offseason and hasn’t done anything noteworthy at all, at least transactionally. its like youre just blindly guessing/hoping

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      • Chomp says:

        Andrew Friedman has been the GM of the Rays since the end of the 2005 season.

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      • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

        chomp – i thought it was clear michael was referring to boston

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    • killmak says:

      Well in the Baltimore rankings I am pretty sure it stated that they were in a division with 3 of the top 7 ranked teams. So I am going to guess that Toronto is going to be #7.

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    • L.UZR says:

      Atlanta #6org jinx.

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  11. Jimmy Wahl says:

    Cherington was an internal promotion for the Sox. Hes been around for a while. Losing Epstein isn’t going to bring the front office down to nothing. And what moves were there to make this offseason to improve the team? Add bullpen depth to replace Papelbon leaving and Bard converting to a starter.

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  12. CJ says:

    I think it’s difficult to reconcile the three things here, which are payroll, future talent, and present talent.

    The primary problem is that the real ramifications of payroll are felt, not now (present talent), not in 2012, maybe not in 2014 even (if you’ve locked up your cheap future talent), but in, say, 2022, when we have actual no idea who will be on an MLB roster.

    I mean, think about this. If you wanted to win now, you’d probably pick the Phillies, or the Yankees, or Texas or Boston or (maybe) the Rays, right? If you wanted to win in 2014, you’d take, I don’t know, Texas; St. Louis; the Rays; maybe the Royals.

    But if you wanted to win in 2020? The Yankees, and always the Yankees. Because after enough time, draft luck evens out. Nothing can replace being able to buy superstars, being able to take on salary from other, stupid teams.

    I feel that this fact – that if you had to bet on the best team in baseball in 2020 you’d bet on the Yankees – HAS to count for something. But you can make a very reasonable argument that it only applies so far in the future that it’s pointless to project teams for it anyway. I personally disagree; if the Rays are fringy this year, the fact they can’t go buy Cole Hamels is a genuine negative.

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