Big League Stew - MLB

Hope will always spring eternal in baseball, but it's rare that evidence from the previous year allows cellar-dwellars to repeat that line with any deep conviction. This year, though, the downtrodden can cast their eyes upon the shining beacon that is the '08 Tampa Bay Rays  and immediately be filled with hope that their team can do the same.

Yes, we're headed for a spring deluge of nearly every second-division team being christened "the new Rays" in the avalanche of optimism that annually covers Arizona and Florida encampments.

Chances are we'll hear this comparison even more than the omnipresent mentions that Jim Leyland likes to smoke or Joe Torre has a little book out.

No matter that the Rays' worst-to-first story is a rarity in today's game or that the '08 American League champions were the result of a multi-year process of stockpiling and carefully developing a decade's worth of high draft picks.

And no matter that most of these teams won't have the defense or bullpen to dream of joining the Rays in the ranks of the redeemed. 

But because it's an easy angle and because the shivering folks back home will like imagining a similar summer run from their squad, we are absolutely destined to see this again and again. 

The first few examples are already starting to surface. First up for the tiara fitting in '09 are the Rangers, writes Andrew Johnson from FanHouse:

"Now that the Rays have been all the way to the World Series and back, it's hard to find a more futile franchise than the Rangers. Texas has been to the playoffs just three times in team history — a history that stretches back to Washington and 1961. The Rangers have never been to the World Series and have all of one playoff win to their name. In the decade since their last postseason appearance, they've had a winning record once.

"But hey, if the Rockies and Rays can make the Fall Classic in successive seasons, if the Tigers can go from 119-game losers to American League champions in three years, then there has to be hope for Texas."

Of course, many of these coming arguments are going to have huge holes in them, which will give rise to another subset of articles: "Why the (insert team here) are NOT this year's version of the '08 Rays. 

First up in that category are the 2009 Royals. Despite being touted as the next big surprise on MLB Network's Hot Stove program, FanGraphs' Eric Seidman contends there's no way that turnaround is happening: 

"I can unequivocally say that the 2009 Royals will not be the 2008 Rays. The 2008 Rays were a well-oiled machine with incredible defense, great starting pitching, and a solid, interchangeable bullpen. The 2009 Royals have little in their bullpen outside of Joakim Soria, are going to be dependent on another solid season from Gil Meche and a breakout campaign from Zack Greinke to make even their 1-2 pitchers effective, and despite a solid defensive output last season, are well behind the Rays in that category."

All of these articles are going to make for an interesting, if somewhat predictable, spring. What I'd like to do here on BLS is to make it a running feature. If you see an article, capsule or quote comparing one of this year's squads to the '08 Rays, email it in.

We'll try to keep a running list — time and Internet space permitting, of course.  

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