I am not exactly why I used the word ‘topple’ in that title, to be quite honest. The Tampa Bay Rays just won 40 games - the second most of any team in all MLB in 2020 - and made the World Series in the process. The New York Yankees did neither of those things last season, and while they are certainly still incredibly formidable foes for the Rays in the AL East, lest we forget that Tampa won 96 and 90 games in the previous two seasons, respectively, as well.
Tampa is good. Not only are they good, they’re smart, they’re cold, and they’re calculated. They find talents in players cast off by other organizations, rarely (if ever) get themselves underwater on contracts, and seem to have leaned into the fact that their fanbase is relatively small to never fear moving on from players who would otherwise be considered fan-favorites.
As the inimitable Sam Miller intimated years back, it doesn’t really matter what transaction the Rays find themselves in, we’ve become conditioned to automatically assume they’ve won it.
LOVE this trade for the Rays. Who'd they give up? And who'd they get?— Sam Miller (@SamMillerBB) January 22, 2014
With that in mind, we’re going to spend a quick minute highlighting on this baseball blog three things that cheeky, little-engine-that-could team in Tampa can do to again pip the Yankees in 2021.
Acquire P Sonny Gray from the Cincinnati Reds, and make them still pay for him
The top prospect in Tampa’s stacked system is young shortstop Wander Franco, who by many accounts is the top prospect in all of baseball. He’s likely not going anywhere, especially since he’s likely big league ready already, but that kind of shortstop depth could give them the advantage needed to replace Charlie Morton in their rotation with Sonny Gray and avoid paying even the meager salary he’s owed.
They’ve got Willy Adames at short right now, but he’s young enough and affordable enough to be an incredible trade asset in his own right, and the Reds, as we all know, need a shortstop. So, they send him to Cincinnati, get a 1A in their starting rotation for free, and fill the hole in the infield with the best prospect in baseball.
Very Rays. Much Tampa.
Acquire P Michael Lorenzen from the Cincinnati Reds, truly turn him into P/OF Michael Lorenzen
Despite the lip service given to the idea that Lorenzen would be legitimately in the OF mix and despite the presence of the DH in the NL in 2020, it’s pretty clear the Reds do not intend to give time to their stud athlete as a position player. That’s despite a college track record of mashing already on Lorenzen’s resume and some impressive exit velocity from some of his limited big league swings.
Heck, despite the exodus in the Reds bullpen, Lorenzen’s reportedly again in the mix for a rotation spot for 2021, showing that the Reds still don’t really know what to do with their former 1st round pick, even though he’s in the final year of his club control.
If ever there were a club who could unlock The Llama’s two-way potential, though, it’s Tampa, who was on the cusp of doing that with Brendan McKay before his 2020 shoulder surgery.
Sign Kyle Boddy away from Cincinnati to be High Mage of Driveline Pitcherdom and Chief Spin Cleric of Tampashire
If you can’t be a baseball franchise that spends bajillions on established pitching, the next best thing is to invest a little money on the front-end in a pitching guru who can develop previously underrated pitchers into stars.
That’s precisely the kind of thing that small market clubs that have any money to spend whatsoever should spend their coin exploring. At least, that’s precisely the kind of thing that small market clubs with any ambition should explore.
Tampa’s a small market club with ambition. That makes the two a perfect fit for countering the 1⁄3 billion contracts doled out to the likes of Gerrit Cole.