Lessons learned for the San Diego Padres from their appearance in the 2020 MLB playoffs.
In a matchup of opposites, the Los Angeles Dodgers and their $107 million payroll and the $28 million Tampa Bay Rays have made it to the World Series. Historically the San Diego Padres have never stood out as big spenders. However, thanks to the current ownership, the team ranks ninth in payroll at $73 million this year. Realistically though, the Padres will never compete dollar for dollar with the top spenders and can certainly learn from studying the Rays’ road to success.
The Dodgers’ record of 43-17 led baseball, with the Rays coming in a close second at 40-20. Only the New York Yankees had a higher payroll than the Dodgers, while the Rays ranked 28th. With big spenders like the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox in their division, the Rays always face an uphill climb, just as the Padres must contend with the Dodgers in the National League West.
In 2012, Major League Baseball awarded the Dodger franchise to the investment firm Guggenheim Partners for the whopping sum of two billion dollars. That same year the Seidler/O’Malley family and Ron Fowler purchased the Padres for $800 million, a princely sum but far less than L.A.’s perceived worth.
The Dodgers’ storied franchise dates back to 1883, and the Major League team won its first championship in 1955. The Rays, on the other hand, debuted in 1998 and appeared in the team’s first WS just ten years later in 2008 and, of course, this year. Ironically during that same time frame, the uber-rich New York Yankees have appeared in only one.
L.A. plays in the iconic Dodger Stadium, which opened in 1962. The Ray’s home ballpark, the domed and possible doomed Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg attracts far fewer fans. In fact, the Rays have been discussing a replacement ballpark since 2007. Petco Park obviously gives the Padres an advantage over the Rays’ situation.
Andrew Friedman, the current President of Baseball Operations for the Dodgers, started his career in Florida with the Rays. He replaced the team’s first general manager Chuck Lamar at the age of 28 at the end of the 2005 season. Under Friedman, Tampa Bay made the playoffs in 2008, 2010, and 2013. In 2014, the Dodgers lured him to Los Angeles, where he became the highest-paid front office executive in baseball.
Friedman’s experience with the low budget Rays makes him doubly dangerous now that he has a budget he couldn’t have dreamed of in Tampa Bay.
To say that the Dodgers have more pressure to succeed than the upstart Rays would be an understatement. Los Angeles baseball fans have become increasingly frustrated by a championship drought that has lasted since 1988. In 2017 and 2018, the Dodgers made it to the WS but lost both years. That 2017 loss especially rankles considering that the Houston Astros cheated their way to the title*.
This year the Rays sent the Astros packing in the American League Division Series. Houston fought back from a 3-0 deficit in the series, but the Rays finally won 4-2 in Game 7 on October 17. The Dodgers got off to a slower start in the National League Division Series, and the Atlanta Braves had a 3-1 advantage only to lose 4-3
While the Dodgers can afford to acquire Mookie Betts from the Red Sox and then sign him to a 12-year $365 million contract, San Diego can’t play in that dollar zone. During General Manager A.J. Preller’s tenure, the Padres have gone into a comparative financial stratosphere, signing Eric Hosmer for eight years at $144 million, Manny Machado for 10 years at $300 million, and extending Wil Myers for six years at $83 million.
This year, thanks to a global pandemic and the resultant loss of income, the Padres, like most teams, will have to tighten their belts. But for the Rays, that’s just a way of doing business.
The Most Valuable Player award for the National League Championship Series went to Dodger shortstop Corey Seager. Seager’s salary? $12 million. The Rays’ Randy Arozarena won the American League award. Arozarena’s salary? $563,500
During the postseason, excluding the WS, Arozarena batted .382 and hit seven home runs, a rookie record. Acquired in January, Arozarena hadn’t even been the main target of the trade that brought him to Tampa.
Another surprise performer for the Rays has been former Padre Manuel Margot, who makes $3.2 million with Tampa Bay. Although a strong defender for San Diego, the team questioned his ability to hit. This year in his first eight playoff games, Margot made his usual highlight-reel plays in the outfield but also drove in eight runs.
In 2018 the Rays experimented with the opener strategy after injuries decimated the starting pitching corps. The fact that the Padres also tried that same tactic, albeit with less success than the Rays, shows Preller’s willingness to try creative strategies.
This year in the playoffs leading to the WS, the Rays’ top starters have been Tyler Glasnow (2-1, 4.66 ERA , 1.29 WHIP), Blake Snell (2-2, 3.20 ERA, 1.32 WHIP), and Charlie Morton (3-0, 0.57 ERA, 0.96 WHIP). Glasnow — who signed at the age of 17 —started Game 1 of the WS, which ended with an 8-3 loss. Obviously, that puts the low-budget Rays in a precarious position. However, the team has been there before.
For the San Diego Padres, the offseason has not been encouraging so far. First came the news that outfielder Tommy Pham had been stabbed in the back outside a “gentlemen’s” club. Then the Padres announced that pitcher Luis Perdomo had undergone Tommy John surgery and would be unavailable in 2021. And Tuesday, police in Georgia arrested catcher Luis Campusano (the number two prospect in the organization) for possession of 79 grams of marijuana. In California, that would be considered a misdemeanor, but not in Georgia, where he was charged with a felony.
Obviously, the Padres’ front office will have to deal with the fallout from these occurrences and the effect they will have on the team next year. When the attention returns to the makeup of that team, the San Diego Padres would be wise to study the Rays’ ways. Whether or not Tampa Bay digs its way out of this hole or not, it sets an example for all but the wealthiest MLB franchises, including the Padres.