Ever since their inaugural season in 1998, we've been able to say "at least we're not Tampa Bay". No matter how bad things got in Seattle, it was always comforting to know that the M's still weren't the joke of the league. For ten years, the Rays have sucked. Sucked. They've topped out at 70 wins and only once finished outside of the AL East cellar. For nearly their entire existence, they've been a horribly-run franchise, and the results have reflected the incompetence of the front office. A perennial display of the bottom of the barrel, they've been a constant reminder that we should be thankful for what we have, however little that may be.
No longer. For the first time in my life, I'm finding myself having to come to terms with the fact that I think Tampa Bay might be better than us.
You've heard me gush over the amount of talent they've stockpiled in the system before (it's staggering), so it's not like I need to go into tremendous detail. You know this already. But today's trade gives me a good opportunity to remind everyone that Tampa Bay has gotten really good, really fast. Two years ago Andrew Friedman took over as GM and gave the Rays one of the brightest young management minds in the league, and now they have more talent than they know what to do with. They have quality pitching coming out their ears - not that anyone would know it, since the Rays' defense was far and away the worst in baseball last year, but now even that problem has been addressed. Among a myriad of other moves around the diamond, Jason Bartlett gives Tampa Bay a legitimate Major League-caliber glove at short to replace the three-headed honkey statue that was the Harris/Wilson/Zobrist experiment. You know how badly I want to get Raul Ibanez out of left field? This was Tampa Bay doing their version of that, only on an even greater scale. This is my early candidate for Unsung Improvement Of The Winter. We're probably talking three or four wins at shortstop alone.
And the Rays aren't done. Having put together arguably the best 1-2-3 in the Majors with Kazmir/Shields/Garza, they can afford to deal from pitcher depth to bring in one more bat. And when you factor in the news that they're about to sign Troy Percival, that one more bat might be all they need to really make a lot of noise next year. Looking up and down the organizational depth chart, it's hard to find many weaknesses. The Rays are in spectacular shape going forward.
This might be the year that they finally pass us up. Yeah, I know, they had a better record in 2004, but this might be the year that they leave us in the dust. They have the look of an 85-90 win team, and with their big edge in raw talent and bigger edge in front office acumen, you get the feeling like it's only a matter of time before we're looking up at them year after year, wondering how a team that bad got so much better than us practically overnight. It may not happen in 2008, but the time is coming, so you might as well get prepared. Because before you know it, that team you laughed at for the better part of a decade is going to find you at recess, and it's not going to play nice.
But hey, at least we're not Baltimore.