Over the weekend the Tampa Bay Rays continued their A to Z roster rebuild by trading long-time fan favorite Ben Zobrist to the Oakland Athletics.
The Zobrist trade is the latest move in a busy offseason for the Rays.
Since October the Rays have had to find replacements for president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who went to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and manager Joe Maddon, who is now manager of the Chicago Cubs.
Friedman and Maddon were the two people who were most often credited with the turnaround of the Rays. Under their tenure the Rays experienced their first winning seasons in team history along with some trips to the playoffs including a World Series appearance in 2008.
With the departures of Maddon and Friedman a sort of free for all trading of players ensued as the new president and manager sought to put their stamp on the franchise.
In addition to Zobrist, the Rays have also parted ways this offseason with their 2014 Opening day right fielder, left fielder, second baseman, catcher, shortstop along with six pitchers. By any calculation that is a very busy two and a half months.
With months to go before the start of the season it is entirely possible that even move roster moves will be made before Opening Day.
The only safe player on the roster appears to be Evan Longoria at third base but something tells me that the Rays would even entertain offers for him if they felt they could get enough prospects in return.
While each of the moves have stung to varying degrees, the Zobrist trade is perhaps the most puzzling.
By all account Ben Zobrist was one of the most popular members of the Rays organization having spent his entire nine-year career as a super utility player filling whatever spot in the infield or outfield needed him.
Off the field he was involved in numerous outreach programs within the committee showing that he was more than just a player there for a paycheck.
Speaking of that paycheck though, Zobrist was due to be a free agent at the end of the 2015 season and was certainly due for a raise in salary.
While the baseball economists will say that small market teams like the Rays need to trade players like Zobrist to get value in return instead of watching them depart in free agency.
The business model the Rays seem to embrace is shedding some salary and gaining some prospects in return that they hope will turn into Major Leaguers that they can sign on the cheap and then trade away when they are due for a raise. Lather, rinse, repeat and hope all goes to plan. That is far from an ideal way to run a fan driven business.
Despite the focus on television contracts and corporate sponsorships as revenue streams the fact remains that teams still need fans to be successful.
Most fans understand that baseball is a business and roster moves need to be made from time to time but when fans continue to see their favorite players traded year after year they can start to resent the organization.
In college athletics, especially basketball and football, turnover is extremely high as players leave college early to start their professional careers.
In the professional ranks however fans do not want to have to learn an entire roster every year.
Of course fall out from trading popular players like David Price last year and Ben Zobrist this year are far from the only issues facing the Rays who seem one the cusp of returning to their devilish losing ways.
Before when the Rays made their famous midseason salary dumping trades there were still enough key pieces left on the roster to absorb the losses. History also showed that the traded players seemed to struggle after leaving the Rays leading to the belief that the trade worked out in favor of the Rays.
But as the trades became more frequent, the remaining roster was left weaker and the returns diminished.
Instead of a team poised to win the American League East Division year after the year, the Rays find themselves once again as sellers among a retooling division that is adding pieces at a breakneck pace.
Most teams go through a natural process of up and down years so a couple of bad seasons will not necessarily spell doom for the Rays but any prolonged losing streak risks further alienating a fan base and making it more difficult to get the new Ballpark they so desperately want full of those suites for the big corporate sponsors.
There is no doubt that should Ballpark discussions continue to break down in St. Petersburg, cities like Montreal and Charlotte will be all too happy to make room for the Rays.
Montreal and Charlotte are certainly both good cities and both have a long history of supporting baseball but I do not think either of them should get the Rays.
Personally I hope that the Rays enjoy a long and prosperous run in the Sunshine State and return to their winning ways sooner rather than later. Failure to do that may mark the end of Major League Baseball on the west coast of Florida leaving the Miami Marlins as the only Florida based MLB team.
Of course should the Rays make the trek up to Montreal, I hope they put heaters in the sting ray tank and find a warm winter coat for DJ Kitty.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a new roster to learn.
Copyright 2015 R. Anderson