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Did the Rays just blow their best shot at a World Series title?

Big League Stew

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I feel bad for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Over the next few months, we'll be reading plenty of stories about how this team is ready to be a power for a long time. About how this World Series appearance will serve as the beginning of a joyous run through MLB for the next decade. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel told Joe Maddon as much last night.

"You're going to be around here for a long time," Manuel said to Maddon.

I'm here to tell you that Manuel — as well as everybody else who believes the Rays will continue to challenge for a World Series championship — is wrong.

The Rays led baseball fans on a magic carpet ride throughout the season, and gave fans hope that any team has a chance to turn things around if they make the right front-office moves. The problem is that recent history and baseball economics tell us that the Rays won't be able to stay on top for long.

Let's press the rewind button and go back just one year ago. The Colorado Rockies were last year's Rays. They were young, they were talented, and everyone thought they would be around for years to come led by Matt Holliday, Troy Tulowitzki and Manny Corpas.

Now fast forward 12 months. The Rockies slumped for most of the season and finished 14 games under .500. Tulowitzki and Corpas, who dominated teams during the '07 postseason, signed new deals in the off-season, but promptly failed to live up to the higher expectations. Holliday, once thought to be the new face of the franchise, finds himself sitting on the trading block.

In the blink of an eye, the Rockies' fortunes have changed.

I know what you're saying:But, the Rays aren't the Rockies, they have more talent, the pitching is much better, and the vast majority of Tampa Bay's core is already under contract. They're not going anywhere.

OK, that may be true, but like everything so often does in baseball, and every other professional sport, it all comes back to money. At the end of the season, people started to forget this fact.

Think about this, though:

2008 New York Yankees: payroll: $209,081,577
2008 Boston Red Sox payroll: $133,390,035
2008 Tampa Bay Rays payroll: $43,820,597

Yes, the Rays are good. Yes, they have young players who are locked up in multi-year deals, but I just don't think they're going to be able to compete for years like everybody else thinks. They have a small fanbase, which should get a boost next season, but still isn't going to be very big. The team plays in an antiquated dome, and they're hoping against hope that somehow a new ballpark will be built for them, which seems extremely unlikely. This year, the franchise had to change its way of thinking when GM Andrew Friedman approved to add Chad Bradford's salary — Chad Bradford! — to the bullpen. While the Rays have a great core, how will they afford to add the key role players to keep the team on top?

As a baseball fan, I hope the Rays continue to do well. But, as a person who has watched the game closely for the last decade, I know better. Do you really think that Steinbrenner Inc. is going to sit and watch the Rays — THE RAYS dominate the AL East? Do you think Theo Epstein isn't going to swing a few deals to make sure Tampa Bay doesn't knock them off once again? This isn't the Rockies' NL West, it's the toughest division in baseball.

Sure, the Rays may be competitive in coming years and it's unlikely they'll sink back to their 60-something win seasons. But opportunities to win the World Series don't come along every year and the Rays are going to regret that they couldn't capitalize on their best chance.

Count on it.

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