Orioles can look to Rays for how winners are constructed - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Orioles can look to Rays for how winners are constructed

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

Oriole fans watching the American League Championship Series might not have a strong choice in deciding who to root for.

In the National League Championship Series, former Orioles Nick Markakis and Darren O’Day are playing for the Atlanta Braves. Catonsville’s Adam Kolarek pitches for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

There’s not a former Oriole on either the Houston Astros or Tampa Bay Rays. Oliver Drake, who pitched 30 games for the Orioles from 2015-2017, was taken off Tampa Bay’s roster during the Division Series after he suffered a right flexor tendon strain and was designated for assignment on Sunday.

Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias was hired away from Houston in November 2018 but shies away from comparing the Astros’ rebuilding situation to that of the Orioles, and not just because he doesn’t want to bring up the electronic sign-stealing scandal that cost general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch their jobs.

Although Elias drafted two vital pieces of the Astros, shortstop Carlos Correa with the overall No. 1 pick in 2012 and third baseman Alex Bregman with the second pick in 2015, the economics of the two teams are different.

Houston is the eighth-largest television market in the United States; Baltimore is 26th. Of major league teams, only San Diego (29), Kansas City (32), Milwaukee (35) and Cincinnati (37) are smaller.

When the Astros were in contention in late August 2017, they didn’t hesitate to pick up the remaining  two years of Justin Verlander’s contract, although the Detroit Tigers paid $8 million of his $28 million salary.

Houston negotiated a two-year, $66 million extension for 2020 and 2021 for Verlander, whose Tommy John surgery won’t allow him to pitch next season.

Last July, the Astros moved decisively to pick up the last 2 1/3 years of Zack Greinke’s $206.5 million deal. (Greinke’s former team, the Arizona Diamonbacks, is paying just under $26 million of his remaining salary.)


They also awarded a seven-year, $163.5 million extension to second baseman José Altuve, and a five-year, $100 million contract to Bregman. Both contracts run through 2024.

The Orioles aren’t going to be in that kind of financial position any time soon.

But, as Elias has pointed, they can look to the Rays, Indians and A’s, all playoff teams in 2020, for comparisons.

Those teams, as he has described, are “transactional.” They make calculated and smart trades.

Tampa Bay is the best example because, like the Orioles, they have to play in the American League East where the other three teams — the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays — have much more money to spend.

The Rays’ opening day payroll was $23.773,481, 28th in baseball, barely ahead of the Orioles’ $23,770,983 according to the Associated Press.

The Orioles have two large contracts that are winding down — Chris Davis’ seven-year, $161 million deal has two years left, and Alex Cobb’s four-year, $57 million has another year to go.

They don’t have any other large contract on the books.

Tampa Bay has given out moderate-sized extensions. Pitcher Blake Snell has a five-year, $50 million contract that extends through 2023, and centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier has a six-year, $53 million deal through 2022 with a team option for 2023.

Second baseman Brandon Lowe, who was a rookie in 2019, accepted a six-year, $24 million extension that continues through 2024 with team options for two more years.

Kiermaier, Lowe and Snell are the three most prominent Rays’ draft choices on the team.

Tampa Bay has freely traded, and pulled off an excellent deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates in July 2018 when they snapped up pitcher Tyler Glasnow and outfielder Austin Meadows for underachieving starter Chris Archer.

Glasnow will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, and Meadows won’t enter the arbitration process for another year.

Other key Rays pieces — Willy Adames, Nick Anderson, Randy Arozarena, Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz, Pete Fairbanks, Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, Joey Wendle and Ryan Yarbrough — were also acquired in trades.

Mike Brosseau, who has terrorized the Orioles in his first two seasons in the major leagues, was signed as an undrafted free agent from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, a school that’s produced only one other major leaguer.

Tampa Bay generally signs only modestly priced free agents but made an exception two winters ago when they signed  dependable right-hander Charlie Morton, who left the Astros. Morton, who will be 37 next month, signed a two-year, $30 million contract for 2019 and 2020 with a vesting option for 2021.

They also signed Japanese outfielder Yoshi Tsutsugo for two years and $12 million last winter.

Elias knows the Orioles aren’t close to competing with Tampa Bay. The organization is still short on depth and his trades were moving pieces nearing later years of arbitration or free agency — Richard Bleier, Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, Miguel Castro, Mychal Givens, Tommy Milone and Jonathan Villar.

For these veterans, the Orioles have received a mixture of teenaged players from the Dominican Summer League, and minor league prospects. (The players from the trade of Milone to Atlanta have yet to be identified.)

Only first baseman Tyler Nevin, acquired with infielder Terrin Vavra from Colorado for Givens, and right-handed pitcher Isaac Mattson, one of four pitchers in the Bundy deal with the Los Angeles Angels, are considered possible contributors to the Orioles for 2021.

It’s clear that Elias is methodically accumulating his “elite talent base” so that at some point in the near future, he can use some of these players to deal for what the Orioles need.

The Orioles have a huge advantage that Tampa Bay doesn’t have. The Rays’ stadium, Tropicana Field, is one of the worst in the major leagues. The Orioles have Camden Yards.

Tampa Bay has tried to solve its stadium situation for years and still doesn’t appear close to a solution.

The Rays, who had the best record in the American League this season, 40-20, are in the American League Championship Series for only the second time but seem to have the pieces to continue their run for several years.

Tampa Bay also has a first-time manager, Kevin Cash, who has grown in his job since taking over for Joe Maddon in 2015. Cash has been extended through 2024 with an option for 2025.

Brandon Hyde, who grew in his job this season, can only hope that Elias can acquire the type of talent the Rays have in the next few years.

If Tampa Bay can put together a first-rate club with all its inherent disadvantages, there’s no reason the Orioles can’t.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB



  1. dlgruber1

    October 12, 2020 at 8:43 am

    Very good and interesting article. What was missing tho was the tremendous success the Rays have had compared to the O’s with developing their pitching. For years now they always seem to have a formidable pitching staff, both starters and relievers. This season is no different. They are to pitching now what the O’s were decades ago.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 12, 2020 at 8:57 am

      Thank you, David. Only five of the 14 pitchers on their ALCS rosters were originally signed by the Rays. They actually haven’t drafted all that well, but they acquired them through trades, and the Orioles are trying to be able to do that, too.

  2. Baltimore Castaway

    October 12, 2020 at 9:30 am

    Excellent article Mr Dubroff.

    The Rays are indeed the Model Franchise for any small-market team (which we now are thanks to Bud Selig/Rob Manfred and the Tribesmen Cabal of MLB team owners).

    I have full faith in Mike Elias to everything he needs to do to bring the Orioles to the forefront of the games best-run and successful franchises.

    Now—-let’s hope that the city will be safe for the team’s fans to come and watch them play at OPACY beginning next year and beyond.


      October 12, 2020 at 9:42 am

      Elias wants the O’s to be Astros North, not Rays North.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 12, 2020 at 10:45 am

      Thank you, Mr. Thompson.

  3. Baltimore Castaway

    October 12, 2020 at 10:01 am

    Your comment is an opinion like everyone else’s here.

    I will take the Rays North or the Astros North—gladly. We have been stuck-in-the-mud since before Mr. Angelos purchased the team.

    I want a team that we can follow because they have heart and play hard, that is talented, and can beat the big boys to our North. A team that has homegrown talent. There. I said it.

  4. sportscoper

    October 12, 2020 at 10:21 am

    Trying to figure out the math — how can the O’s payroll be just under $24M if Davis and Cobb combined are making $34M?

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 12, 2020 at 10:48 am

      Players were only paid 37.7 percent of their salaries for this year. Obviously, if there was a full season, it would have been much higher, but it still would have been about what the Rays’ was.

      • sportscoper

        October 13, 2020 at 9:34 am

        Duh……thanks for the wakeup call Rich!

    • BobKominski

      October 12, 2020 at 10:59 am

      Yes – Davis and Cobb cost us $12.6M this year – still half of what we spent in total. In some ways the shortened season was a blessing for the Orioles – they avoided 100 losses, they saved $ on Davis while burning off a year of his time, they got to road test their kids in a less intense environment, Mountcastle is still (technically) a rookie, there was no desire to rush Mancini back, and they got to develop their academy concept. They turned this lemon into lemonade.

  5. Orial

    October 12, 2020 at 10:42 am

    Absolutely agree Rich that Tampa IS the organization to model the O’s after. A hidden advantage that the O’s may have is an abundance of 1-3 picks on board. If I’m not mistaken Tampa always drafted a little further on down. As you mention the Rays real “talent” has been the ability to pull off smart/fruitful trades. Another of their strengths piggy-backs BACK to last week’s Duquette article–developing pitching at the Minor League level something never done in Duquette’s time. Another of the pros vs cons in the Duquette debate. Ranking 26th is a challenge but think where it would be if this was 1995 without a team 40 miles away. Rich I’m concerned about the signabilty of Valaika/Iglesias after last week’s comments concerning the financial throes the O’s and most of baseball are in. Once again they’re talking about Realmutto and Bauer for the Yankees so I guess there are still a few immune to this stress(disgusting)

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 12, 2020 at 10:51 am

      Orial, as I pointed out earlier, the Rays’ drafting hasn’t been all that great. They’ve had some good picks and many excellent trades and inexpensive signings. During the latter years of the Duquette regime, the Orioles’ payroll was in the top half of MLB.

      The richest teams will always have the advantage with free agents, but since the Yankees spent so much on Gerrit Cole last year, they may not be able to afford another megacontract on a pitcher.

      I would guess that Jose Iglesias would be back. Valaika is another story.

  6. Boog Robinson Robinson

    October 12, 2020 at 10:43 am

    First things first. Let’s start trying to win games today … not 2 years from today.

    Maybe then Tampa & Houston will be hoping to become Baltimore south.

    • Baltimore Castaway

      October 12, 2020 at 10:58 am


      You are a man of your convictions—gotta respect that.

      How though, can they win now w the talent they currently have?

      This is an important year for talent procurement;
      – selecting 5th in the July Amateur Draft
      – should be starting to sign some impact players through the International Draft, and
      – will have an important Minor League Season to further develop the current base of young players.

      And so it goes on the Orioles torturous path to relevance.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        October 12, 2020 at 11:35 am

        You missed the key word here BC …. the key word is “try”.

        Where any sport is concerned, especially a professional sport, I don’t consider many things, if any, lower than a team that doesn’t care about winning every game they play. Is it too much for the fans to expect an honest effort? (and I’m not talking about the players is this case)

        One more thing, I fully expect them to win next year with the current talent they have. You’ll never know until you “try”.

        You play the game to win. It’s a matter of scruples.

        • willmiranda

          October 12, 2020 at 3:34 pm

          Boog, you reminded me of one of my favorite quotes. When Lou Holtz was coaching Notre Dame, a reporter asked him what he did to motivate his players. He answered, “Nothing. If they’re not motivated, I get rid of ’em.”

  7. Bhoffman1

    October 12, 2020 at 2:02 pm

    I was thinking of all this before you wrote this article. Yes Tampa has probably the worst stadium in baseball and always around the lowest payroll but they compete every year and usually cannot keep their big name players once it comes to big contract time. The trade for Glasgow and Meadows was genius. The signing of Morton compared to our signings of Ubo and ex Ray Cobb shows me they had a better GM and front office then DD and Buck. Kevin Cash and whoever they have for pitching coaches are excellent. Plus they always seem to have a solid defensive infield even as players change frequently. Rich if San Diego has a smaller TV revenue then the O’s where do they get the big money to sign all theses free agents

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 12, 2020 at 5:13 pm

      Bruce, last year, the year Machado was signed, San Diego’s payroll was among the lowest in baseball. They drew nearly 2.4 million. That helps pay for free agents. They had the youngest club in the major leagues, and salaries for young players are low.

    • Bhoffman1

      October 12, 2020 at 6:15 pm

      I think they spent big money this year getting Clevenger and others

      • Rich Dubroff

        October 12, 2020 at 7:55 pm

        Machado, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers each earn over $20 million. Clevinger was only supposed to make $4.1 million this year. No other player above $8.5 million.

  8. Bancells Moustache

    October 12, 2020 at 2:18 pm

    The idea of the Orioles becoming an Oakland A’s type team is not enticing to me. Sorry, but no. It’s the ultimate “rooting for laundry” state of being. Don’t get me wrong, making the playoffs is great, but a revolving door of guys you barely know, and being all but guaranteed that once the Rutschman’s and Mountcastle’s of the world hit their peak, they are sold off for something else? I know its quaint and out of fashion, but I’d like my kids to know there will be a Ripken or a Murray to see when they go to the ballpark. And talk of cheap payrolls means nothing to me. If Elias cuts the payroll down to 30 mil, are we going to get free parking? A 50% ticket price reduction? Cans of beer you don’t need to secure financing in order to purchase? Hardly. they’ll still soak us for every dollar they can. The Baltimore Orioles are a storied and proud organization and should be one of Major League Baseball’s flagship franchises. Is imitating a team no one shows up to watch in a decrepit old stadium really the best we can do?

    • NormOs

      October 12, 2020 at 2:42 pm

      Great Post! I agree completely. I wouldn’t want my team to be compared with the Astros or the Red Sox or any other CHEATERS!. The commissioner is a WUSS! Slaps on the wrist was no punishment.

  9. willmiranda

    October 12, 2020 at 3:41 pm

    I don’t think there’s any one system or model for success. They all require specific resources, so some definitely won’t work for a given organization. What successful organizations have in common is making good decisions, which takes a combination of intelligence, experience, and dumb luck. On another tack, it’s easier to explain why the Orioles lose than why the Yankees don’t win.

  10. WorldlyView

    October 12, 2020 at 4:42 pm

    My pessimism is still tracking upward: Tampa Bay clearly provides some compelling lessons for a fellow small market team to follow. Unfortunately, the Orioles are still going their own way, one that may or may not prove successful anytime soon. I am unable to accept Rich’s assertion that “It’s clear that Elias is methodically accumulating his “elite talent base.” Elite talent? Excluding the draft, we have mostly been acquiring teenagers with little or no professional experience and minor leaguers with less than stellar numbers. The Rays, on the other hand, have acquired talented major leaguers in their trades. Also worrisome–if the numbers mentioned above are correct–the O’s payroll, after you net out CD’s and Cobb’s salaries, is about $12 million. If accurate, this could be the lowest MLB payroll in history,when adjusted for inflation. Optimism about an Oriole turnaround before 2023, I would argue, rests on an incredibly, unlikely quick blossoming of our existing prospects, pitchers in particular. Furthermore, I may be mistaken, but having a great stadium doesn’t override the fact that strong attendance figures don’t necessarily materialize when a subpar home team is put on the field. A lousy stadium in Tampa Bay (and relatively low attendance?) did not prevent the Ray’s from getting to the playoffs and beating the Yankees.
    Interesting payroll numbers: according to the Washington Post, the original Yankee payroll for the season was $265 million. Three other playoff teams, the Rays, A’s, and Marlins COMBINED were due to pay their players $288!

  11. Rob IsraOsFan

    October 13, 2020 at 1:20 am

    Rich, so much information in just one article! Thank you for your excellent piece…looking forward to your next one, as always.

    The O’s have also had their fair share of bad luck while trying to mimic the Rays methodology. They go out and sign Alex Cobb after having decent success down south with a 48-35 record over six years. Unfortunately Corn Cobb (I still love the name, CalsPals) hasn’t put up similar numbers up north, a disastrous 7-22 over three years. Just saying…

    • CalsPals

      October 13, 2020 at 7:46 am

      Also interesting that the Rays didn’t want to sign him, they knew something…go O’s…

  12. Rob IsraOsFan

    October 13, 2020 at 1:39 am

    Rich, you wrote that Camden Yards is a huge advantage the O’s have over TB. One major disadvantage, though, is that good pitchers typically don’t want to sign to play in OPACY where a lazy fly ball to left reaches the seats way too often.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 13, 2020 at 8:11 am

      That is correct, Rob, but I was referring to the Rays’ needing a new home while the Orioles have an excellent facility.

      • WorldlyView

        October 13, 2020 at 2:36 pm

        If I had to choose, I would far more likely buy tickets to see an excellent baseball team in a sub-par stadium than vice-versa.

  13. Hallbe62

    October 13, 2020 at 2:33 pm

    It doesn’t matter which team or model the O’s rebuild resembles.

    After a big SWIG of my Natty Boh,….my “crystal beer” tells me it’s 2024-2025 before my beloved O’s are relevant again.

    Not particularly happy about that but there isn’t a damn thing myself or any Orioles fan can do about it.

    Acceptance and the ride along. That’s what it means to be an Orioles fan these days

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