Perhaps the most emphatic sign that the Rays are a different kind of team this year is the news that Ken Griffey jr. is considering waiving his no trade clause should he be shipped to Tampa Bay.
No, he's not the Griffey of old. "...It was no accident that 600th homer came on a breaking ball," says a scout within Stark's latest rumblings column. But his name alone stamps a sort of certificate of legitimacy on this Rays season. More than his name, he'd be bringing experience to a pretty young and unproven clubhouse, and his bat, which with the extra games at DH, could prove that much more potent. Within that same Stark piece, another scout imagines, "You run him out there with his big smile and his sweet swing, and it's a drawing card. And even if he's slipped, you're putting another left-handed bat in the middle of that lineup. Could be scary."
This calls to mind the 2002 Expos. Shocked to find themselves in contention at the end of June, only months after being threatened with contraction, they traded for the best pitcher on the market, Bartolo Colon, and then for Cliff Floyd, similarly considered one of the best available bats ( a relative title if there ever was one). Colon went 10-4 with a 3.31 ERA, but Floyd couldn’t add as much on the offensive end and when the Expos saw two new teams leap ahead of them in the Wild Card standings he was jettisoned 19 days later. The Expos finished the season a respectable 83-79, but 9 games back of the WC Giants.
They took their shot and missed; they traded Colon that winter. But the Rays are in a very different position than the Expos. The Expos, toiling under Selig’s thumb, were, at best, in limbo, and at worst, just playing out the string. Their trades were a last gasp, a desperate reach for relevance.
Aside from the rare Cliff Floyd pinch hit, these Rays are every much the opposite of the 2002 Expos; they evoke freshness with their new name and new uniforms, and management has their eyes focused firmly on the future. They’re playing better ball than those Expos too, currently leading the wild card race.
The Griffey trade is not make or break for them, it can only have a positive outcome. Because even if the do finish out the playoffs, they’re almost sure to set a team record for wins (as we predicted here), and even without on-field results, the deal will surely be a marketing boon at the very least. More importantly the Rays are a team built for the long term: they have the 4th youngest roster in the majors and have been making a point of securing their young stars for years to come.* And while they’d never send a Colon-type package to the Reds, whatever youngsters they did send, they could afford to do so without sacrificing their long-term plans.
Hopefully they make the trade, make a splash, and do better with the pressure of expectations and winning than their 2002 counterparts.
* They just signed Kazmir, Shields, and RP Dan Wheeler to extensions, locked up Evan Longoria for 9 years, and still own the rights to Crawford and Upton for another 2 years+ each.
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