2009: '09 (>) '08
Joe Maddon isn't exactly a mathematician, but it's been shown from how the Rays defied the odds by winning the AL East that his players understand his "math". He did this with the 2nd lowest payroll in baseball and without a player having an outrageous, anomalous season. For those not familiar,"9=8" means 9 players playing hard every game equals one of the 8 teams in the playoffs. It basically told every player was that if they played as a team and played hard, they were good enough to be a playoff team. Maddon was right, they improved from being 66-96 into a 97-team without doing anything major(traded troubled former top prospect Delmon Young and pieces for former troubled former top prospect Matt Garza, an error-prone SS and a reliever currently on the brewers. Troy Percival and Cliff Floyd were their Free Agent signings that offseason), but each provided their worth as the season went on. As a Rays fan, I bought into Maddon's "funny math" as the season went on.
It was revealed today that Maddon's Motivational Motto for the 2009 is " '09>'08". No brainer for the common onlooker, but there's more to it. Maddon had said in the offseason that, outside of the bullpen, there was room for improvement in the offensive, defensive and base-running facets of the game. They're gonna also have to be better than they were in 2008, due to the fact that the Yankees just spent 485 Million to compete again, Boston has "re-tooled" and the fact that they're no longer a surprise to any team in baseball. Also, it is to be said that he(Maddon) doesn't exactly want the word "greater" used for this motto(again, he doesn't want unneeded pressure to be put on his team), but there's no mathematical symbol for "better". If there's a t-shirt printed for the motto, the ">" will be put in a circle(which he says would mean better). This offseason also seen the Rays make more prominent moves; As they signed Pat Burrell, Joe Nelson, Gabe Kapler, Adam Kennedy, Brian Shouse and Morgan Ensberg and traded for Matt Joyce. Only 4 of the 7 aforemention septet are expected to make the Opening Day roster, but there's reasons why they were acquired.
The resounding sentiment from the national media is that they feel the Rays will become too complacent on how they made such a tremendous turnaround and the magic that got them there will no longer be there. It happened with the Rockies, happened with the Detroit Tigers and has historically happened to every team that has undergone a 20 game or more turnaround. Kinda like the old saying of taking 1 step forward, but 2 steps back.
To counter this, the Rays loaded up. There aren't many competitions in Rays camp, but just about every position has someone that could readily take over and produce, if an injury were to occur. Outside of maybe James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, Dioner Navarro, Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena, just about every player has their head on a swivel because there's another player that could easily be ready to take their spot. With the young Rays, how can you be complacent when you're paranoid?
I didn't list BJ Upton or Carl Crawford as players who are "locks" for their spots, due to the fact that Upton could be held out for early in the season from offseason surgery to fix his seperation-happy shoulder. His CF spot is likely to be manned by Fernando Perez, until he returns and is deemed 100%. He, then, truly will be a "lock". However, how Perez plays in that span, could spell the end of the Carl Crawford "Era" in Tampa Bay. While Crawford is deemed to be a franchise player, his contract is up after the 2010 season and he is likely to explore the Free Agent Market than resign. Why not try to trade him as long as he remains a household name, as one of the best basestealers of this generation? He could net the Rays a nice assortment of players in return, perhaps. With the Rays newfound success, it is less-likely that they'll draft automatic everyday players and have to rely more on luck and a good scouting department. If they traded Crawford, the net sum in the return for him would act as a security blanket to insure the Rays continue to be a Top 5 Farm System.It's going to be 4-5 years before their historic Brazilian Academy starts producing any prospects that will be stateside-worthy.
When a teams' perceived "franchise" player is probably going to be playing paranoid and with a chip on his shoulder(due to doubters, another post for another time), complacency is not gonna be an issue.
I wonder if the Atlanta Braves heard things like this in the offseason leading into 1992(Year 2 of the 15 year division title run).