Big League Stew - MLB

As the playoffs wear on, the eliminated teams are entering an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategery. 

Meanwhile, the fans of those squads are looking at the prospect of spending the winter with the warm memories of a team that earned a playoff berth but the cold reality of ultimately falling short. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're asking a blogger from each team to write a cathartic missive to their 2010 squads.

Next up among the playoff bounced is our pal Cork Gaines, who runs the always-excellent Rays Index. We're thankful he's safe from the team's upcoming salary purge.

Dear Tampa Bay Rays,

Now that it is over, I can't help but think that you will end up being my big regret — The One That Got Away.

As I write this letter, I decided the best way to get into the right frame of mind was to return to the place where we first met, an empty Tropicana Field. And as I ponder what was and what could have been, I am filled with emotions. Some good. Mostly bad. And all of them make me want to punch Dioner Navarro(notes) in the face. (Don't worry, Navi isn't pregnant in his face).

The realist in me understands that I am just going through the first step in the natural progression of a break-up. In baseball, 29 out of every 30 relationships don't end well. And the bad endings are often so bad, that it is impossible to remember any of the good times. At least at first.

But as they say, distance makes the heart grow fonder. And I am sure that at some point in the future, I will have distanced myself from the 2010 Rays enough that I will be able to remember the good and may actually have trouble remembering the bad.

But unfortunately, that is when the pain will really set in. It is then that I will wonder why it had to end the way it did. And I will realize that it was great. And it could have been greater. And I will realize that I may never find another team as great as the 2010 Rays. I will finally realize that despite all the times you left me angry or sad, that you were THE team. And I will spend the rest of my life comparing all future seasons to the 2010 Rays. And I am worried that none will be as great.

Yes, I will always be Chasing the 2010 Rays.

The Good Times: There was a lot to love about you:

Carl Crawford(notes): He may not have had the breakout postseason that he hoped for, but after 1,256 games in a Rays uniform, it seemed like every night he hit a home run, stole four bases, made a diving catch in left-center and performed the Heimlich on some old lady in the front row. And in the end, CC had the best year of his already great career.

Evan Longoria(notes): Here's the deal. Longoria is the best there is. He wakes up in the morning and pisses excellence. And unlike Crawford, Longoria can't leave us. He is signed through 2016 for about $132 and unlimited groupies per year.

Rafael Soriano(notes): The fans call him MFIKY which stands for ****** ******* I'll Kill You (I substituted asterisks for letters to protect the kids). And for the first time, I understood what it was like to be a Yankees fan and have a player like Mo Rivera to turn nine-inning games into eight-inning games. Now I don't mean to say Soriano will ever be Rivera, but for this one season, he came close. And it was fun.

Jeremy Hellickson(notes): The Rays are going to cut payroll next year. Maybe as much as $20 million. Players like Crawford and Soriano will be gone. But the rotation will still be in place. And if the Rays do decide to trade one of their starting pitchers to plug another hole, Hellboy, one of the top prospects in baseball, will be ready to step in. And we already saw late in the season just how great the young gun from Iowa will be.

The 2010 AL East title: No matter how it ended, we will always love you for giving us the second division title in three years. That is a hell of an accomplishment. Think about that for a second. Two AL East titles in three years. Going toe-to-toe with the Yankees and Red Sox. That is more division titles than the Red Sox have in the last 15 years combined.

The Bad Times:  We can live with one ugly loss. Heck, we were Devil Rays fans ... we can live with a LOT of ugly losses. But at times, you made the 2004 Devil Rays look like the 1927 Yankees.

Two no-hitters. How do you let yourselves get no-hit, TWICE? And make that three in a 12-month span. Two of which were perfect games. There were four other games this season in which you didn't have any hits through five innings. We have no idea if that is a record, but for the sake of baseball fans everywhere, we hope nobody else ever has to root for a good team that can raise the sucktitude bar so high, so often.

So in the end, the way you took a dump on the field for five games in the ALDS shouldn't have surprised anybody. Twenty-eight hits in five games. I don't care if Sandy Koufax started all five games, you have to find a way to get more than 28 hits in five games!

It's Not Just You: Sometimes it is the division. It wears a team out. It wears the fans out. Don't get me wrong, winning the AL East brings a level of satisfaction that just doesn't come with winning the AL West or the NL Central. If the Rays were in one of those divisions, they would have been able put the car in neutral at the All-Star break. And it is not just playing the Yankees or the Red Sox. There is also the stress of trying to figure out who to root for when the Yankees play the Red Sox.

In the end, I always end up just hoping that both teams get mauled by grizzly bears. So disappointment is always the outcome.

Shape Up or Ship Out: Joe Maddon, I like you. You're crazy, but I like you.

But I have also long wondered if you and Lou Piniella managed this franchise in the wrong order. That is, your specialty is the maturation of younger players and the growth of the team, while Piniella may have achieved more once the players were ready to compete. And now we are beginning to wonder if you will ever get the Rays over the top.

Ninety percent of the time, you are one of the best managers in baseball. But the other half of the time you manage like you are in a Little League and you want to make sure every kid gets a chance to play. And why are you constantly trying to reinvent the game? You often succeed, but many times you fail. And when you fail, you do it in grandiose fashion.

Hey Joe, remember that time you started Rocco Baldelli(notes) in Game 1 of the ALDS even though he only had 24 at bats all season! He was a minor league instructor when the season started (that sound you just heard was my head hitting the keyboard).

And what about Pat Burrell(notes)? Yes, he was brought in to be the DH. And yes, Don Zimmer is a better defensive outfielder than Burrell. But would it have killed you to send Burrell out to the field every once in a while? Burrell made it clear he wanted to play defense. Maybe you could have given him a glove and told him to go stand in foul territory. But when he went to the Giants and started playing the outfield again, he instantly morphed back into The Bat. You don't think his bat wouldn't have helped against the Rangers?

And why must you tinker soooo much. Don't you think 129 different batting orders in 162 games is a little much? You never met a split or a matchup you didn't like and now I am convinced you would have benched Babe Ruth against a tough lefty.

In the end, you stayed a little longer than you were supposed to, Rays. We probably should have just listened to all the experts and their preseason predictions. We probably should have just called it off after the regular season. Then you got hot and played well. You were a first-place team almost wire-to-wire. But just when you were starting to get interesting you go and lose to a Texas Rangers team that had a smaller payroll than you.

Do you know how much that sucks? Now we can't even play the "payroll card."

And yes, raising that division title banner next spring will be nice. But just remember, the Yankees and Red Sox put their pants on just like the Rays, one leg at a time. Of course after they have their pants on, they win championships.

I'll take you back next year. I always do. But now I'm scarred.

And I will always remember just how great you could have been.

See you next April,

Cork Gaines

 * * *

Follow Cork on Twitter — @RaysIndex

Read Big League Stew's previous Dear John letters here

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