Tampa Bay Rays World Series berth should give Cleveland Indians hope

The Tampa Bay Rays clinched a World Series berth for just the second time in club history and that should give the Cleveland Indians hope moving forward.

For the first time since 2008 and just the second time in team history, the Tampa Bay Rays advanced to the World Series after besting the Houston Astros in a series that needed all seven games. While the Cleveland Indians wish it were them, the Rays’ success should give the Tribe hope as they move into an offseason surrounded by speculation and question marks.

The Tampa Bay Rays made it to the World Series without a big name, something that is becoming more rare in the game of baseball. Their most well known player, starting pitcher Blake Snell, didn’t even get the start in the crucial game seven. The accomplishments of the Rays was a complete team effort made up of players that were, for the most part, homegrown.

Both the Rays and the Indians were well below the league average for team payroll this season, which was set at just over $59 million after salaries were adjusted for the odd season that was 2020.

The Indians ended up 24th on the list, spending a little over $37.5 million after the adjustments were made. Shockingly, the Rays were even lower on the list, coming in at 28th with a team payroll just barely north of $28 million. Only the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles spent less money on their roster.

We’ll come back to the Rays and the Indians, but the landscape of the league’s payroll is interesting in itself. In 2020 there were 16 teams that spent above the league average. Of those 16, just six teams finished above .500.

Due to the expanded playoff picture this year there were a few teams that made the playoffs, despite finishing below .500, like the American League runner-up Houston Astros. In a normal season, a .500 record at least would be needed to make the playoffs, showing that spending doesn’t always translate to wins.

Returning to the comparison of the Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays, it’s more than possible to win without breaking the bank. The Indians were in the bottom third of the league for payroll, but are expected to continue to cut back on player salaries this coming offseason. When it’s all said and done, Cleveland could be right around where the Rays are, if not below them, on the team payroll list.

While the Cleveland Indians are expected to cut ties with Francisco Lindor this offseason via trade, there are other ways that the team can win, much like the Rays have been able to of late. Much of this has been because of the Rays’ ability to develop players while also making key transactions.

Some of the Rays’ key players on the road to the World Series have come from blockbuster trades that some questioned at first. The most notable move being Chris Archer.

During the 2018 season, the Rays sent Archer to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Archer had just been an All-Star in 2017 and was a rising star in the game, and the Rays cashed in. Knowing they would soon have to pay up for Archer, they sent him to Pittsburgh for three prospects. Of those three, two have already been incredible in Tampa.

Although the 2020 season was rough for Austin Meadows, he was an All-Star a year ago while Tyler Glasnow has been solid as well. Both Meadows and Glasnow are still in the arbitration portion of their careers, saving a lot of money from what they would have spent on Archer.

This past February, the Rays made another move that has proven to benefit both sides, coming to terms with the San Diego Padres to acquire Manuel Margot. Having built up a strong farm system of starting pitchers, the Rays were able to trade Emilio Pagan for Margot. This is a type of trade the Indians have become known for, having dealt three high-quality starters over just the last season and a half.

So, why should the Tampa Bay Rays give the Cleveland Indians hope when they are in the same league? Well, they are built the same way. In some regards, the Rays should be in a worse spot than the Indians. Cleveland at least has household names in Lindor and Shane Bieber.

With the Indians most likely cutting more payroll this coming offseason and going to even cheaper contracts, the Rays can serve as a model of success. With Tampa Bay being able to make the World Series over teams like the Houston Astros and New York Yankees who spend and spend, it reminds the “small market” teams that it’s still possible to make it to the game’s biggest stage.