SAN DIEGO — Three of the four teams that advanced to the League Championship Series this season had a common thread. They are run by executives who got their start in baseball working for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Rays senior vice president of baseball operations Erik Neander was a Tampa Bay intern in 2007. Astros general manager James Click started with the Rays in 2006. Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman worked in finance before joining the Rays as director of baseball development in 2004.
Tropicana Field is an awful place to watch a game but there’s obviously something good going on behind the scenes in the team offices.
“We have a lot of talented people in our front office,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said Saturday before Tampa Bay and Houston met at Petco Park in Game 7 of the ALCS. “Stu [Sternberg], our owner, he’s got a knack for hiring the right people and those people that he hired, they’ve taken his lead.
“With our ability to allow people to develop at their pace where they can be tremendous baseball people, it’s a great reflection on the Rays.”
That would seem to bode well for the Red Sox. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom had internships with Major League Baseball and the Padres before joining the Rays in 2005.
Bloom spent 15 years with Tampa Bay, working under Friedman and Neander in different roles and alongside Click. He surely has the recipe for the secret sauce that can get the Red Sox back in contention.
If only it were that easy. Virtually every team understands the value of building up the farm system with sustainable talent, being creative in using the pitching staff, and incorporating statistical data into game planning.
Whatever advantage the Rays gained with their approach has been chopped down.
“We’ve already seen that,” Cash said. “Players are getting better, people are getting smarter and using more information. We’ve already seen that. We’ve just got to do everything we can to keep being the best version of ourselves.”
For the Red Sox, the neighborhood around them is changing.
The American League East has produced nine World Series champions in the last 25 years. All belong to the Yankees and Red Sox. The Blue Jays haven’t won it all since 1993 and the Orioles since 1983. The Rays are still searching for their first as a franchise.
But the division is trending away from the Red Sox and Yankees hosting all the parades.
Tampa Bay obviously has taken a major step forward by making the playoffs each of the last two seasons after a five-year gap. They’re set up for long-term success, particularly if they can keep their talented rotation together.
Baltimore, now run by former Astros executive Mike Elias, has undertaken a rebuilding phase and modernized its decision-making process. They are likely several years away from contention but are moving the right direction as they bulk up the talent base.
The Blue Jays have a core of talented young players managed by Charlie Montoyo, a longtime minor league manager with the Rays who was considered for the major league position when Cash was hired before the 2015 season.
In Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Teoscar Hernandez, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., the Blue Jays have a group of young hitters who could develop into a core similar to what the Astros have in Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and George Springer.
The Red Sox face a much more complicated terrain than only a few years ago. The Rays, Yankees and Blue Jays all made the playoffs this season and are positioned to return again.
Mookie Betts made a spectacular catch Saturday for the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves. That trade looks worse every day for the Red Sox, but what matters now is how they use the payroll flexibility gained in the deal to catch up with teams like the Rays.
The Sox were adept at quick fixes after last-place finishes earlier this decade, even going from worst to first and then a championship in 2013. But that won’t be as easy to pull off now.
Bloom could well be the next member of the Rays Alumni Club to find success with another team. But as Cash pointed out, the formula is out there and spreading.