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Cash cowards

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff September 1, 2009 09:46 AM

All in all, it probably would have made little difference. The Red Sox own a five-game lead on the Tampa Bay Rays heading into this weekís three-game set at Tropicana Field, the one-time Party Zone that has become a House of Horrors.

But you might have noticed that Scott Kazmir will take the hill tomorrow night.

In Seattle.

For Anaheim.

Of course, a quick scan of Kazmirís numbers this season (8-7, 5.92 ERA) and it doesnít seem that the lefty was going to be an integral part of Tampa Bayís fading playoff hope. This, of course, is furthest from the truth.

Consider that the Rays have to face the Red Sox and Yankees a combined 13 more times this season, as well as three more against wild card combatant Texas. Thatís exactly half of their remaining schedule against teams the Rays will be directly (or probably in the case of New York, indirectly) battling for the AL wild card.

Kazmir against those three teams this season: 5-1 with a 2.92 ERA.

At a time when every win is precious, Tampa went ahead and dealt a 25-year-old guy who was 2-0 against the Red Sox in 2009. Tonight, facing Jon Lester, Tampa will start Andy Sonnastine, straight from the minor leagues.

The white flag is blinding. But weíll always have 2008, Tampa.

Despite how the Tampa media is spinning it, it doesnít take a genius to understand the catalyst behind trading Kazmir was the money involved. With the deal, the Rays will save $25 million over the next three years. Thatís all well and good, but this isnít a deal that could have developed in the offseason perhaps? The Rays thought it better to deal a pivotal member of their rotation during a pennant race?

This is baseball at its ďSeligian worst,Ē says TSNís Will Hill, who writes:

Should the Rays be forced into drastic decisions like this when their payroll is already half that of the Angels or the Red Sox, the team they're chasing for the Wild Card, and less than a third of the Yankees who have once again returned to their customary spot at the top of the division?

No, they shouldn't.

This is baseball at its Seligian worst, with the teams and markets that matter most to Bud -- New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles -- spending more than ever before on 1) player payroll, 2) international free agency and 3) amateur draft signing bonuses.

Don't discount that last point. For many years, the Yankees and Red Sox took a Cliff Fletcher-like approach ("Draft-schmaft") to the amateur draft. When they finally figured out that teams like the A's and Twins were winning on the cheap through skillful drafting, the Evil Empires turned their attention to the June Draft. They slowly began choking off the supply of talent to those clubs by repeatedly making a mockery of the slotting process. "Moneyball, Billy Beane? We got your Moneyball right here big boy!" Other big money teams followed suit or, in the case of the Angels, had already been supplementing their Major League talent with a very aggressive approach in the draft of their own.

So the smaller teams in baseball struggle to keep their top players from fleeing in free agency, can't get a sniff of the best talent from Asia, South America, Central America and the Caribbean and now watch helplessly as some of the top amateurs in the June Draft go to the top paying teams in the game instead of those positioned at the top of the draft board.

Thatís an excellent point. In fact, it was the Raysí shrewd drafting that built the team they have today. Now, the system works against them to a certain degree.

Attendance hasnít been as great as the Tampa franchise would have hoped following last seasonís memorable World Series run. Is that really a shock to anyone, considering the crowds rarely even bothered to show up until last September anyway? Want another head-scratcher? As Hill points out, the top prospect the Rays receive in the deal is Matt Sweeney, a corner infielder. A couple guys named Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena currently hold down those positions.

Of course, Pena is slated to make $10 million next season. It very well may not be in Tampa.

The Haves and Have Nots isnít exactly a new development in baseball. But when a trade like Kazmirís goes down with a team that could have emerged as a long-term power in the American League, it waves the white flag not only for this season, but years to come.

After all, if attendance isnít what you hoped this season, of all seasons, then exactly what hope is there for the Rays in Florida?

The Rays can cut Bostonís wild card lead to two games with a sweep this week at the Trop, where the Red Sox are 2-13 over the last two seasons. (Gerald Williams, where have your days gone?) Having Kazmir might have helped make that happen.

Then again, Tampaís scheduled starters this week, Sonnastine, Matt Garza, and David Price are a combined 4-0 vs. Boston this season. Against the Yankees and Texas though, they donít a have a win among the three of them.

Kazmirís presence makes the Angels a scary opponent for Boston and New York come October. His subtraction in Tampa just hints at more to come down the line.

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