Why Pirates Fans Should Be Rooting for the Tampa Bay Rays This Postseason


Steve Nesius/Associated Press

If you are a Pittsburgh Pirate fan who believes no matter what the team does, Bob Nutting will ruin their success, this article is not for you.  If you do not understand the flaws in baseball and why smaller market teams are at a significant disadvantage, this article is not for you.  If you believe that the Pirates just “trade away the good players when they get good”, this article is definitely not for you. 

However, if you understand that small market teams can still compete within the confines of the current MLB structure, but have much less room for error than larger market teams, this article is for you!

Without a salary cap and a centralized television contract in baseball, smaller market teams, like the Pirates, have to work within the sport differently than larger market teams.  Teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Los Angeles Dodgers have much more room for error.  Meaning, they can agree to giant free agent contracts, have that player(s) not perform, and still have enough room to allocate money to other free agents and players.  The smaller market teams like the Pirates, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Oakland Athletics cannot.  I.e. Gregory Polanco not working out really making it difficult for the Pirates. 

MLB Markets

I am not saying the smaller market teams cannot succeed.  In fact, the MLB has the greatest variance of playoff teams from a year to year standpoint of all the major sports.  However, whether they are varied or not, there are always more large market than small market teams making it.

For example, this year we see teams from New York, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, and Houston all in the playoffs.  According to Sports MediaWatch, those teams make up the three largest markets with New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and all those listed rank in the top 10, with Boston being the smallest at 10.  And this ranking is among all sports markets, not just those with Major League Baseball teams.

Furthermore, Sportico ranked all MLB teams by valuation and the top three highest valued franchises (New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Los Angeles Dodgers), and five of the top ten, all made the playoffs.  In contrast, only two of the bottom ten valued teams made this year’s postseason.   So ultimately, despite the variance, we typically will still see the number of larger market teams outweigh the smaller markets with this year having a 7-3 split in favor of the larger markets.

Also, if you need further proof of the league favoring larger markets, just wait and see what changes are made if the Los Angeles Dodgers lose in the Wild Card game tonight after the New York Yankees lost last night.

All of this information tells me one thing.  It is very possible for smaller market teams to make the playoffs.  However, it is less likely to occur and it is less likely to occur several years in a row.  Therefore, while larger market teams can employ a “buy the top players” strategy, smaller market teams must be craftier with the way in which they compete.

And no team is craftier than the Tampa Bay Rays.

Hoping the Rays Are the Future Pirates

With a payroll of just over $70 million, the 2021 Tampa Bay Rays had the most regular season wins in the American League with an even 100.  They employed a perfect strategy of using several veterans that developed through their system among youngsters that were acquired through the draft or through trades.  One of these trades is infamous in Pittsburgh, when the Rays acquired Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and Shane Baz for Chris Archer.  However, instead of being jealous of the Rays, we must root for them.

I understand there are those out there who do not want any team to be successful using this type of strategy.  The argument being that if Bob Nutting can see that this strategy works, he will never sway from his cheap ways.  However, fans need to understand that with this ownership group, in Pittsburgh's market size, under the current circumstances of how Major League Baseball conducts business, this is the only way the Pirates can be successfully ran. 

So instead of agonizing over it, root for it to work.  This is exactly how GM Ben Cherington is conducting business and it is working.  The Pirates farm system has sky-rocketed to the tops of the majors because Cherington is acquiring young talent through the draft and through trades.  Also, it isn’t the right time to start spending money on veterans just yet.   As mentioned before, the Pirates cannot miss on these types of signings.  

The Rays knew it was the right time to trade Archer, just as the Pirates knew it was the right time to trade Jameson Taillon and Josh Bell.  The Rays also did not shy away from trading away prospects for 40-year old Nelson Cruz when the time was right.  What the Pirates cannot do is be pressured by the fans to trade away prospects for veterans when the time is not right.  This is exactly what happened with the Archer trade.

I also vehemently deny the notion that the Pirates will not spend the money when the time is right.  The Pirates payroll neared $100 million in both 2014 and 2015.  They also traded prospects for pieces like Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau, and J.A. Happ, to name a few.  The time was right for those transactions.

Concluding Thoughts

So do not wallow in the misery of being a fan of a small market Major League Baseball team. Instead, cheer for a team who can compete the way in which the Pirates dream of doing and are working toward at this very moment. 

I am a Rays fan from now until the end of the postseason because I root for small markets, especially ones the Pirates are mirrored after.  I also don’t want to root for St. Louis and Milwaukee who are the other smaller markets.  I don’t like them.  Sorry.