On August 23rd, The Athletic published their weekly powering rankings of all 30 teams in baseball. At the time of publication, the Tampa Bay Rays held the best record in the American League and third best in all of baseball. The Rays were 4.5 games up over the New York Yankees in the division as well.
However, in their description of the team, the writers revealed their lack of knowledge of baseball’s team with the second best record since the start of the 2019 season. In their first paragraph on the Rays, they write mostly about the New York Mets. In fact, the Mets are mentioned four times in the blurb. The Rays — the first place team ostensibly the subject of their post – just twice.
The next paragraph is more egregious though as they begin their summary of the Rays in which they manage to sweep the bingo card in all of the usual Rays related items.
And then there are the Rays, who play in a circus tent and have the 26th-highest payroll in baseball. Their roster is largely anonymous, and they seem to abide by a rule that if any player becomes recognizable enough that a front office member’s parent texts about them, that player must be traded within six months.
Some of what is said in that brief statement is true; Tropicana Field does look like a circus tent and the Rays do have the 26th-highet payroll in baseball.
But to say the Rays roster is largely anonymous really says more about the Athletic, which has not had a beat writer covering the Rays since 2019, than about the Rays.
Sure there are unsung heroes and relative unknowns on most big league rosters and the Rays certainly wouldn’t succeed without more than their fair share of these guys. However, the players that make up their core are worth recognizing and certainly worth remembering.
Wander Franco, Randy Arozarena, are Brandon Lowe are the stars of the team.
Franco, most should know by now, as he was baseball’s top overall prospect at just 19 years old and has been featured in numerous stories by national publications over the past few years. He has already accomplished things that have placed him among the greatest to ever play the game, Ken Griffey Jr and Mickey Mantle.
Arozarena took the baseball world by storm last October, shattering numerous notable postseason records as he continuously belted baseballs out of the park. He is currently the front runner for the American League Rookie of the Year award, unless Wander Franco is able to surge and take that spot from him.
Lowe, if you don’t know him, it’s truly because you haven’t been paying attention. He started the 2020 season off at an MVP pace. Over the past 2 calendar years, Lowe ranks 17th among all position players in fWAR and 16th in wRC+. The 45 homeruns that he has launched over those 24 months, ties him for 13th most in the big leagues. The names below him on theses lists include Carlos Correa, Rafael Devers, DJ LeMahieu, and Freddie Freeman, just to name a few of the ‘star’ players that rank below him.
That’s just naming three members of the Rays core. The team also has a potential future Hall of Famer in Nelson Cruz, they had three All-Stars (Andrew Kittredge, Joey Wendle, and Mike Zunino — and are All-Stars, by definition, ever anonymous?), and then you have the best defensive outfielder in all of baseball over the past half decade in Kevin Kiermaier.
That’s not to mention the ever growing lovability of Ji-Man Choi and Brett Phillips. Choi, who merited possibly the best chant in Tropicana Field history and Phillips who was responsible for one of the greatest World Series moments, ever. Phillips also makes himself lovable to those who aren’t fans of the team. Ask any fan in the stands of opposing teams’ stadiums that gets to interact with the delightful outfielder on a given night and they will quickly testify to how endearing ‘Maverick’ is.
You could say few Rays players are celebrities. You could say few of their players are household names. But if folks who consider themselves baseball fans haven’t heard of Franco, Arozarena, or Lowe, well, then we have to wonder if they are really following baseball.
To the Athletic: maybe assign someone to watch a few Rays games, then you’ll see how exciting, how recognizable, these players are.