The Rays chose a different path. They cleaned cellars for years and years, alienating their fan-base and giving them no hope. When ya get the top 45 of 100 of the nations draft picks, it's not hard to finally field a winner. So, instead of a large payroll, they have a poor fan base. And when their players get close to leaving, they are traded or the Rays take the picks.
There aren't many expansion teams that make it to the playoffs quickly. There certainly are some, but my guess is they are more of the exception to the rule. TB was horrible for 10 years. That is not good for building a fan base, I agree. However, I do not think it was totally management's fault. The Florida market is full of fans already loyal to other teams as transplants from other regions of the nation. They also have more than their fair share of senior citizens, and people who are more into football, NASCAR, and other sports than baseball. The stadium is a joke. Maybe management could have tried to get another stadium built or moved the team to a better baseball area (like NC), so I guess they could be blamed for that, but I feel that even if the Rays had become winners faster, their fanbase would not be much better. The Rays have been a very good team for 4 straight years. They went up about 400,000 from 2007 to 2008, but have leveled off. They have been about 12th to 13th every year since in attendance. They can't even sell out some playoff games! The old management team did try and make some FA splashes and failed miserbly. (Greg Vaughn was a disaster.) There is no doubt, the team is successful in large part due to the top picks they got for years and years. I'm not sure where the 45 out of the top 100 number comes from, but they did get a lot of top 3 picks for years, and made good use of most of them (unlike many consistent lsoing teams).
The team changed management in 2006, and the new management team made some crucial changes in their scouting and development areas, as well as philosophical approaches to trades and free agents. On the surface, they appear to trade their good players no matter if they are in a race or not (Kazmir). They let good FAs walk rather than pay top dollar to keep them. Last year, they broke records for comp picks due to lost FAs, but not so amazingly to me, they stayed competitive due to comp picks and trades of top players from years before taking those departing players places. In the process, they have restocked their system to fill future departing player's slots as well...and then some. To me, this team's mid to long term outlook looks brighter than the present. Maybe the fans are tired of saying "wait till next year" as Sox fans were for decades and decades, but it is not encouraging to not see any attendance growth for 3 straight years! There just isn't that much more revenue to be had in that market. As long as they stay in TB, they will always be limited by money and payroll, unless their owner decides that winning is more important than making money. I don't blame any owner for not looking to make money first.
Boston/NY have to sustain their fan base by competing every year. They haveto spend. The Rays have no such fan-base, so they can't spend.
You are right. They could win 3 WS in a row, and probably wouldn't crack 2,000,000 in attendance or see a big rise in TV market share.
And while NY/Boston continue to field winners, the Rays will eventually revert to lower status when their farm isn't as productive. This won't happen anytime soon, but it will happen. They won't get the the high number of picks as they continue to compete.
The exact opposite has happened, in terms of quantity of picks (not quality, as in top 5-10 picks overall). By losing multiple players to free agency, they just stockpiled an already full minor league system and barely lost any competitive edge on the big club.
Let's look at a few areas:
1) They only had to pay Manny $87,000. I do not think they are in salary dump mode this winter.
2) Free agents to be:
2011- Damon (their highest paid player at $5.25M), Peralta, Juan Cruz, and Kotchman
2012- BJ Upton and JP Howell. (Option years for Shields, Farns. & Shoppach)
These are not even close to what they have lost recently.
3) They have lots of arb raises coming up, but not any huge contractual raises coming up. The biggest raise goes to Longoria ($2.5M to $4.5M then $6M in 2013)
4) I don't see TB trading Shields like they did Garza, but it could happen next year or next winter since he has a $13M 2013 option. They could deal Upton this winter, but I don't see that as a big loss. They still have Jennings, Joyce and Fuld plus upcoming prospects.
5) Most core players are locked up for several years ay relatively low cost:
Zobrist: 12:$4.5M, 13:$5.5M, 14:$7M club option ($2.5M buyout), 15:$7.5M club option ($0.5M buyout)
Longoria: 12:$4.5M, 13:$6M, 14:$7.5M club option ($3M buyout), 15:$11M club option, 16:$11.5M club option
Price: 12:$1.5M then 3 arb years
Davis: 12:$1.5M, 13:$2.8M, 14:$4.8M, 15:$7M club option, 16:$8M club option, 17:$10M club option ($2.5M buyout)
Niemann: $903K then 3 arb years.
The rest are all not even at arb level.
C: Jaso (27) / Shoppach (31) / Chirinos (27)/Lobaton
1B: ??? (Leslie Anderson)
2B: Zobrist (30) / Olmedo
3B: Longoria (25) ? Mayora
SS: Rodriguez (26)/ Brignac (25)/ E. Johnson (27) /Beckman
(Hak-Ju Lee is a highly regarded prospect at SS)
LF: Jennings (24)/ Fuld (29)
CF: Upton (26) /Brandon Guyer (25)
RF: Joyce (26) /Ruggiano, Canzler, Carson, Shelby
(Perhaps the easiest 2 positions to fill in MLB are 1B and DH)
S1) Shields (29) 1 year, then $13M option for 2013
S2) Price (25) 4 more years of control at low cost
S3) Hellickson (24) 5 more years of control at low cost
S4) WDavis (25) 4 more years at relatively low cost
S5) Niemann (28) 3 more arb years
S6) A Cobb (23) 5 more years of control
S7) Sonnanstine (28) 2 more arb years
S8) Matt Moore ( ) 6 years of control
S9) Chris Archer
Others: Paduch, Torra, Dyer, Colome, Barnese, Lobstein, Baker
This is the "meat" of this team and they will be strong for years to come. They also drafted soem pitchers this year high in the draft, so they will not get any weaker for many years to come on this front.
The pen, as with most teams, is sketchy going forward, but TB seems to do well finding gems for cheap: Sorianno in 2010 and Farnsworth in 2011.
They do have:
Cesar Ramos (27)
Adam Russell (28)
Brandon Gomes (26)
Jake McGee (24)
Rob Delaney (26)
Jay Buente (27)
Alex Torres (23)
Mike Ekstrom (27)
All have MLB time this year.
TB is not going away over the next few years.