Behind the Rays’ Historic Start

The Tampa Bay Rays‘ perfect 2023 season rolls on after they won their 13th straight game 9-3 over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday afternoon. The club matched the 1982 Atlanta Braves and 1987 Milwaukee Brewers as the only teams since 1900 to start 13-0.

Manager Kevin Cash’s club has outscored its opponents by a steep 101-30 this season, far and away the best run differential in the league. So far, the long ball has been this team’s best friend. Tampa Bay is the first team since the 2020 New York Yankees to homer in each of its first 12 games. They also lead all major league clubs with 32 home runs, joining the 2019 Seattle Mariners and 2000 St. Louis Cardinals as the only teams to hit 30 homers in their first 12 games.

The stats go on and on. The Rays pitching staff, led by early Cy Young candidate Shane McClanahan, has just a 2.17 ERA to start the season, and that’s with Tyler Glasnow and Zach Eflin on the injured list. But as rookie Taj Bradley proved, this organization is swelling with young talent. His five-inning win in his first MLB start proves the Rays have the reinforcements ready to handle whatever the season throws their way.

How the Rays Managed Their Historic Start

Cultivating Young Talent

Having a deep, young organization has been the Rays’ M.O. for years now. They build their team through the amateur draft, international signings, and smart free-agent moves. While the endless spending of the Red Sox and Yankees keep those perennial powerhouses in contention for the AL East crown, Tampa Bay quietly builds its young talent in what some would argue is a smarter way. The Rays have been at the forefront of the analytics age of baseball, and their success has been a testament to the value of building a baseball team with analytics in mind.

In the first two weeks of the season, it’s truly been a team effort. Former AL Rookie of the Year and 2020 ALCS MVP Randy Arozarena is making just $4 million. He has 16 RBI in the first 13 games. The aforementioned McClanahan and fellow starter Drew Rasmussen, who’s only allowed three hits in 13 innings, are only earning approximately $700,000 through arbitration.

Doing More with Less

Just two years ago, Tampa Bay gave its largest contract ever to 22-year-old super prospect Wander Franco. The 11-year, $182 million deal won’t start paying the shortstop big bucks for another two seasons and so far, Franco is giving his team an early return on their investment. After playing in a total of 152 games the last two years, he has a .321 batting average with four homers to start 2023. The Rays have their budding star locked up, and he’s the perfect centerpiece for a team that’s sticking to its formula.

Tampa Bay is 28th in payroll this season, paying its 26-man roster a total of $74,537,681. In fact, since the organization joined Major League Baseball in 1998, it’s only been in the top 20 in payroll twice. Yet, since the beginning of their 2008 AL pennant season, the Rays have a winning percentage of .546%. In that time, they’ve appeared in the playoffs eight times and reached the World Series twice.

It’s a model that every business hopes to build: keep costs low, retain young talent, and produce a quality product. It’s been the Rays’ model for 15 years now. All-Star players like Evan Longoria and David Price came and went. Key architects Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman moved on to bigger things. But this organization keeps winning. Can they win it all? They certainly have the tools to do so. For now, this start by the Rays is historical, as is their style. It doesn’t look like they’ll be changing it any time soon.

All salary numbers were gathered from Spotrac

Photo Credit: © Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Players Mentioned: Shane McClanahan, Tyler Glasnow, Zach Eflin, Randy Arozarena, Drew Rasmussen, Wander Franco, Evan Longoria, David Price

Managers Mentioned: Kevin Cash, Joe Maddon