The Tampa Devil Rays currently own a 39-78 record, good for last place in the AL East, 33.5 games behind division-leading New York. This is their fifth straight year destined for a last-place finish in their division, starting with their inaugural 1998 campaign. Their 2002 record is the worst in baseball. Their 62-100 record last year tied the Pirates for worst in the majors. In 2000 (69-92) and 1999 (69-93), they were the 6th worst. In their inaugural year, 1998, they were 2nd worst-to the defending world champion Marlins. This year they project out to a 54-108 record, 47 behind the Yankees. This would be their worst record (by eight games) ever. Overall they are a combined 179 games behind the division leader, the Yankees all five years (that is, including the 2002 projection). The closest they have ever finished is 18 games out of first. The last time in 2002 that they were at .500 was April 11.
The Devil Rays deserve their record, not only because of their nonsensical nickname but because they currently are at or near the bottom in nearly every aspect of the game. In major-league team offense, they rank:
29th in home runs, on-base percentage and OPS (on-base plus slugging).
28th in walks and slugging average.
27th in batting average.
26th in runs and RBI.
25th in strikeouts.
In major-league team pitching, they rank:
Last (30th) in ERA, runs allowed, earned runs allowed, home runs, opponent's on-base percentage, opponent's OPS, and wins (of course).
29th in saves, holds, and balks (tied).
28th in walks, WHIP (walks plus hits per inning), and opponent's slugging average.
26th in opponent's batting average.
24th in striokeouts and wild pitches.
In major-league team fielding, they rank:
26th in range factor.
25th in fielding percentage, errors, and assists.
What makes it even worse for the Rays is that their 1998 expansion partners, the Arizona Diamondbacks, are on their way to their third division crown in four years and are attempting to repeat as the World Champs.
With new contraction rumors circulating seemingly with each Bud Selig appearance, one has to wonder why this incompetent bunch was not considered for liquidation before the division-leading Twins and the at least average Expos. That would, however, presuppose that contraction was more than an attempt to extort new stadium deals from the local gentry for those two franchises as well as to purchase a few more bargaining chips in the owners' poker game with the players union.
Why not contract the Devil Rays? If there's a team -outside of Milwaukee and in that case only on moral grounds-that deserves euthanasia more I don't know who they are. Tampa Bay has no real history, no apparent future and no real fan base. Put them out of our misery, please!
Their opening-day starter, Tanyon Sturtze, didn't win his first start until June 26 and is still seeking his second after 24 starts. Big name free-agent signee, Greg Vaughn had a .163 batting average, 8 home runs, and a .601 OPS in 251 at-bats before landing on the DL, hopefully prematurely ending his horrific season. Their team leader in home runs has 15, tying for 74th in the majors.
Look at their history: after entering 1998 with big salaries for Fred McGriff ($5.5M), Wilson Alvarez ($4.5 M), Roberto Hernandez ($4M), Paul Sorrento ($2M), Kevin Stocker ($1.8M), John Flaherty ($1.6), Dave Martinez ($1.5), and Wade Boggs ($1.150), they added Jose Canseco ($3.325M), Quinton McCracken ($1.85M), and Bobby Witt ($1.1M) for 1999. When those big salaries didn't do the job, 2000 brought even bigger ones, higher expectations, and only a half-game improvement in their record:
Greg Vaughn $ 7,097,962
Vinny Castilla $ 6,250,000
Juan Guzman $ 6,000,000
Roberto Hernandez $ 6,000,000
Fred McGriff $ 5,945,818
Kevin Stocker $ 3,300,000
Jose Canseco $ 3,000,000
John Flaherty $ 2,947,410
Gerald Williams $ 2,373,439
Dave Martinez $ 2,000,000
Quinton McCracken $ 1,850,000
Steve Trachsel $ 1,000,000
The Devil Rays are basically still reeling from that expenditure and its lack of improvement in their fortunes. It's odd because they followed the D-Backs' same expansion-team formula for success by spending early and often. Now they are becoming more austere and their lineup more closely resembles a Triple-A team. Randy Winn is the only established regular who could legitimately start on most other teams.
They remind me of another initially unsuccessful Tampa Bay expansion team, the NFL's Buccaneers. The Bucs ended their first season (1976) winless at 0-14. Their second year started just as bad with the Bucs losing their first 12 for 26 straight losses. They had been shut out 11 times in that streak, including four times in the final five games. Then incredibly -and I mean that literally since no one at the time could conceive of this happening-the Bucs won their last two games of the season by comfortable margins. In two seasons they would win the NFC Central and play in the NFC Championship game. Now they are one of the better NFL franchises.
Could such a turnaround be in the Devil Rays future or is the team totally unredeemable? Would their success after such poor seasons be without historic precedent? Let's take a look at the first five years of each of the major league expansion teams as compared to their records since to find out (2002 seasons projected):
First Five Years
Team W L PCT Rank
NY Mets 260 547 .322 14
Toronto 270 482 .359 13
San Diego 294 506 .368 12
Texas 309 499 .382 11
Seattle 290 465 .384 10
Tampa Bay 317 492 .392 9
Houston 333 475 .412 8
Milwaukee 337 466 .420 7
Montreal 345 458 .430 6
Anaheim 383 425 .474 5
Florida 354 390 .476 4
Kansas City 383 418 .478 3
Colorado 363 384 .486 2
Arizona 442 368 .546 1
Note that Tampa Bay ranks 9th out of the 14 expansion teams, higher than I expected. Now let's compare the teams overall records dropping the two new teams:
Total 1st 5 Total
Team W L PCT Rank Rank Change
NY Mets 3096 3408 .476 12 7 +5
Toronto 2018 2070 .494 11 3 +8
San Diego 2460 2921 .457 10 11 -1
Texas 3094 3563 .465 9 10 -1
Seattle 1930 2157 .472 8 9 -1
Houston 3229 3285 .496 7 2 +5
Milwaukee 2547 2829 .474 6 8 -2
Montreal 2602 2772 .484 5 5 0
Anaheim 3240 3434 .485 4 4 0
Florida 705 848 .454 3 12 -9
Kansas City 2679 2690 .499 2 1 +1
Colorado 742 815 .477 1 6 -5
Toronto, Houston, and New York improved the most. Florida and Colorado declined the most. The standard deviation of the change was 4.6 places, meaning that the most one would expect is a 4 to 5 place improvement/decline. Given that Tampa Bay is ninth, that's a swing from .485 to .454, any of which would be an improvement. Overall, the prognosis is not great given that no expansion team is projected to have a franchise record over .500 by the end of the year.
Given that Florida and Colorado constitute the previous expansion let's use them as guideposts. Doing this, the prognosis is not good for Arizona or Tampa Bay. The Marlins and Rockies represent the sharpest decline after the first 5 years. This may be due to an initial push to recoup the large expansion fee that MLB exacted. Those two clubs then slid in the standings. Tampa is already facing austere times after their great expenditures in the first three years, some of which they are still living with (e.g., Vaughn).
What does this all mean? On one hand, it seems that even the poorest expansion team improves to at least a .454 win percentage. That's about an average of 73 wins, something Tampa Bay has never even done before. On the other hand, it seems that there is a trend with the recent expansion teams to decline after the first five years. The aging Arizona lineup will probably face that fate soon. Why not the talent-poor Devil Rays? I think that these two competing forces, one towards mediocrity and one for a steep decline after year 5, will limit Tampa Bay to also-ran status for years to come. But as Baltimore showed this year, even with a young lineup that is not steeped in talent, great strides can be made toward near-mediocrity. I wouldn't be surprised to see Tampa Bay have its best year ever (not that that's such a feat) next year if it just lets its core of young players stick it out together. Of course, they'll start salivating when the overpriced free agents become available, and next year the starting outfield will consist of Vaughn, Brady Anderson, and Derek Bell. If so, Bud, please pull the plug now.