October 6, 2013

On Baseball: Like the Rays, but with money

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BOSTON - Billy Beane and his Moneyball approach to the game ignited a new trend in baseball thinking, complete with a bestseller and Brad Pitt movie.

Now that Ben Cherington has produced a worst-to-first winner in Boston, his blueprint is being analyzed, over and over.

But that blueprint is not complete, nor is it original.

Boston took a page out of the Tampa Bay Rays' playbook and added a few million here and a bunch of millions there.

In time the Red Sox will resemble the Rays even more, only with a higher payroll and thus a better chance at success.

Boston would love to develop talent like Tampa Bay does. The Red Sox appear on the way to doing just that and unlike the Rays, have the resources to keep their players.

Why follow the Rays' ways? Simple. Tampa Bay has reached the playoffs four of the past six years with one World Series appearance. And the Rays have done that with a $62 million payroll, up from $44 million in 2008 when Tampa Bay went to the World Series.

There have been smart trades, good drafts and unexpected success from role players.

But two words capture Tampa Bay's winning approach:

Homegrown pitching.

The Rays go after good, young pitching through the draft and trades.

"They might be the model when it comes to drafting and developing starting pitching," Red Sox Manager John Farrell said. "They've done a great job at it."

Look at Tampa Bay's rotation:

David Price (first-round draft pick, 2007).

Matt Moore (eighth round, 2007).

Alex Cobb (fourth round, 2006).

Jeremy Hellickson (fourth round, 2005).

Chris Archer (obtained in Matt Garza trade).

When you look at previous Rays teams, you see the same thing. Those 2008 American League champions featured James Shields (drafted), and both Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza (obtained in trades while they were still developing).

"I think a lot of it has to do with the original scouting concept: who you sign to begin with, whether it's a good delivery," Rays Manager Joe Maddon said.

"Character and makeup are the kinds of things that are very important to us, also."

And many more ingredients.

"I just think we're patient with our guys," Maddon said. "It's nothing really complicated. ... Just letting them develop."

Price didn't like his organization's patience.

"I can't tell you how many times I texted my agent when I was in the minor leagues," Price said, "telling him, 'Let's go. Get to me to Double-A or get me to Triple-A. I feel like I've been here long enough.'

"That didn't matter. They have a process that they want to stick to."

As good as Price has been, Tampa Bay may not be able to afford him much longer. He already is the highest-paid player ($10 million) and has two more arbitration years left, meaning the salary will keep climbing. The Rays may have to trade Price, like they traded Shields in the offseason.

"Those thoughts have crossed my mind," Price said.

That is where Boston has an advantage with its big-market money. The Red Sox can keep the pitchers they develop.

And they are developing a bunch.

Here is a possible rotation in 2015:

Jon Lester (second-round draft pick, 2002)

Clay Buchholz (supplemental round, 2005)

Felix Doubront (signed out of Venezuela, 2004)

Brandon Workman (second round, 2010)

Henry Owens (supplemental round, 2011).

Lester, Buchholz and Doubront are already in the rotation. Lester will eventually have to be re-signed (he is a free agent after 2014).

Workman and Owens are not locks because the Red Sox are busting with prospects at the moment.

From the draft they have Drake Britton, Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes.

From trades they have Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Steven Wright.

All of them, except for Ranaudo, Barnes and Owens, already have pitched in the major leagues.

"To be able to groom your own starting pitchers," Farrell said, "whether it's the next wave (of prospects), whether it's Workman, Webster or De La Rosa that's the lifeblood of an organization over the long haul."

The long haul. The Boston blueprint appears prepared for it.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: @ClearTheBases

 

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