February 26, 2013
Grapefruit League Journal: Tampa Bay Rays
After trading James Shields and losing B.J. Upton to free agency, the Rays find themselves in a nearly unique situation. Only 30 other teams, since the league's 1961 expansion, have lost both their home-run and innings-pitched leaders from the previous season. Of those 30, 17 saw their win total decrease the following year, but a few actually benefited from the purge. That list includes teams like the 2007 Marlins, who traded Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera from a 71-win team and then won 84 games in 2008, as well as the 2010 Diamondbacks and 2011 Athletics, who unloaded key contributors to poor rosters before righting their ships and capturing division titles.
But the Rays are part of an even smaller subset. Just five other teams had won 90 or more games in the year before they coughed up their top slugger and most trustworthy workhorse. Nonetheless, as Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman told us on SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio, “I think it’s always tough to go through the amount of turnover we do every year. I think after 2010 the mass exodus is much greater than it was this year. It’s certainly a challenge, but it’s something we kinda relish and thrive on: trying to put together a 25-man roster [where] the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Here’s the list of teams that have been in the Rays' current position before.
This is a particularly painful entry for Pirates fans, as the transition ushered in by their loss to the Braves in Game Seven of the NLCS led to their current two-decade stretch of losing seasons. Bonds, of course, left Pittsburgh for San Francisco and helped jumpstart the Giants franchise, and Drabek left via free agency to join the Astros. While Bonds went on to enhance his performance and Hall of Fame caliber statistics, Drabek topped the National League in losses in 1993, in the first year of a four-year, $18-plus million deal. Steve Cooke paced the Pirates with 210 innings in 1993 and Al Martin led the lineup with 18 homers.
In the aftermath of the Marlins' World Series championship, owner Wayne Huizenga went all Tobias Funke on baseball. Not only did he ship Alou to Houston for three prospects and Brown to San Diego for a Derrek Lee-led package, but by the end of 1998, 80 percent of the 1997 rotation and seven everyday players had been jettisoned. Cliff Floyd, who smacked 22 big flies, and Livan Hernandez, who logged 234.1 innings, were the team's leaders in those categories the following year.
Brown shows up again, as he helped the Padres upset the Astros and the Braves on their way to the World Series, where the Yankees quickly dispatched the Friars. The right-hander disappeared after the 1998 season, signing a seven-year mega-deal with the Dodgers at the age of 34, and Vaughn was shipped to Cincinnati in February for Reggie Sanders in a deal that saved then-GM Kevin Towers nearly $2 million. Woody Williams, one of three San Diego pitchers to throw at least 200 innings in 1999, led the staff with 208. Sanders' 26 homers were good enough to lead that year's Padres, even though the total was barely half that posted by Vaughn the previous year.
The Braves lost their leading home-run hitter and hardest-working pitcher in consecutive offseasons. Even more surprisingly, the Braves made the playoffs in each of the three seasons. Lopez and Maddux both left via free agency, with the former returning to the Cubs and the latter joining the Orioles. Gary Sheffield, the team's second-best slugger in 2003, bolted for the Yankees that same winter.
To plug one of those holes, the Braves acquired Drew from the Cardinals, and the right fielder promptly parlayed a career-best campaign into a five-year deal with the Dodgers. Ortiz fronted a rotation that lost Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz (who served as the closer), and later earned a four-year, $32 million contract from the Diamondbacks. Andruw Jones (51 homers) and Smoltz (229.2 innings) helped the team return to the playoffs in 2005, while Ortiz was released with $22 million left on his pact and Drew eventually opted-out of his commitment to the Dodgers to join the Red Sox.
All quotes courtesy of SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio Spring Tour.