There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball (MLB). Unlike other major professional sports, like in the NFL, NBA and NHL, there is no salary cap in MLB.
That means there can be a huge disparity among teams in terms of payrolls. There are four teams currently in MLB with payrolls that top $200 million, according to spotrac. This includes the Los Angeles Dodgers ($245,982,272), the New York Yankees ($202,347,501), the Boston Red Sox ($201,819,709) and the Detroit Tigers ($201,496,375).
Now compare that two the two teams with the lowest payrolls in MLB. That would be the Tampa Bay Rays ($72,053,720) and the Milwaukee Brewers ($61,080,781).
But even with the enormous discrepancy in salaries, the Rays and Brewers are two of the surprise teams so far in MLB in 2017.
Based on their 2016 records, both the Rays (68-84) and Brewers (73-89) were expected to be on the bottom of their respective divisions this year.
However, the Rays currently have a 29-27 record and have won six straight series. But in the tough American League East, the Rays are still only in fourth place, 4½ games behind the New York Yankees.
The Brewers meanwhile, are currently 29-25 and lead the National League Central. That is somewhat shocking at this point, seeing as the World Champion Chicago Cubs and the always tough St Louis Cardinals reside in the same division.
Now I know it’s only early June. But if both teams are still playing well at the All-Star break in July, then there might be some cause for real excitement in terms of gaining a spot in the MLB postseason.
The managers that run both clubs know what it’s like to win a World Series, plus both grew up in the same region where the two teams play.
Kevin Cash grew up in Tampa and played with five MLB teams (including the Devil Rays) over eight seasons. Cash also played with the Boston Red Sox in 2008 when the Sox won the World Series.
Craig Counsell grew up in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, which is a suburb of Milwaukee. Counsell also played with five MLB teams (including the Brewers), but played 16 years in the big leagues. Counsell was part of two World Series-winning teams, the 1997 Florida Marlins and the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks.
Counsell was the NLCS MVP in 2001, plus scored the game-winning run in the 11th to defeat the Cleveland Indians in 1997 World Series.
Both teams epitomize the hard work ethics of their managers when they were players. Neither Cash or Counsell were overly talented, but their grit and determination kept them in the Big Show for a combined 24 seasons.
The front office of each team uses the analytical approach in adding talent to the team. Each team has to use that approach, based on their limited spending ability.
Both teams are in the top 10 in terms of their farm systems. The Brewers rank fifth, while the Rays are ranked 10th.
The front office of the Rays is headed by Erik Neander, while David Stearns handles the same job with the Brewers. Both general managers are very young, as Neander is 34, while Stearns is just 32. Both are also New York natives.
Stearns dipped into the front office of the Rays when he was hired in 2015, as he hired Matt Arnold away from the Rays, naming Arnold as the assistant general manager of the Brewers. Arnold was the Rays director of player personnel before he came to Milwaukee.
Both teams rely heavily on their farm systems.
Neander has been part of the Rays organization since 2007, and that is how the the Rays became a force in the AL East, as then GM Matthew Silverman built up an outstanding farm system. The result? Four postseason appearances and one World Series appearance from 2008 through 2013.
Stearns came to Milwaukee from Houston, where he was assistant general manager. The Astros used the same approach in terms of adding talent, as they built up their farm system and now have the best record in MLB (38-16).
Stearns took over from Doug Melvin in 2015 as GM, as the Brewers badly needed to upgrade their farm system. Melvin had traded a number of prospects to acquire players like C.C. Sabathia and Zack Greinke to help the team gain a playoff spot. The Brewers did just that in 2008 as a Wild Card and again as NL Central division champs in 2011.
Add to that, the farm system wasn’t at a top level any way for the Brewers, but Stearns has definitely changed that since he has become GM.
Besides using their farm systems to add talent to their rosters, both Neander and Stearns have to be thrifty and shrewd when they make trades and pick up free agents.
For example, Neander traded for Corey Dickerson in 2016. No. 10 is having an All-Star season for the Rays in 2017. Last year, Dickerson only hit .245, but did have 24 HRs and 70 RBIs. This year though, Dickerson is hitting a robust .341, with 12 HRs and 25 RBIs.
Two examples of that for Stearns and the Brewers have been the 2017 offseason acquisitions of 3B Travis Shaw (trade with Red Sox) and 1B Eric Thames (free agency via Korea). Shaw is hitting .292, with 9 HRs and 36 RBIs, while Thames is hitting .277, with 14 HRs and 28 RBIs.
The ownership of each team is also similar.
The Rays are owned by Stuart Sternberg, who is originally from Brooklyn, New York and is a Wall Street investor. Sternberg has been the managing general partner for the Rays since 2005.
The Brewers are owned by Mark Attanasio, who is originally from The Bronx, New York and is in the investment business. Attanasio has owned the Brewers since 2004.
Because of their great farm systems, both the Rays and Brewers should be consistently successful for years to come.
Currently the Brewers have a big advantage there, as the team plays at Miller Park, which is one of the better venues in baseball and provides a source of revenue.
The Rays, on the other hand, currently play at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the venue is considered one of the worst in baseball, mostly because of the aesthetics. Plus, the Rays generate very little revenue at “The Trop” currently.
The good news is for the Rays is that things are moving along for a new stadium, although nothing has been finalized as of yet. Nor has the location, as both Tampa and St. Petersburg want the Rays to play in their locale.
But from a purely baseball standpoint, both the Brewers and Rays have to be excited about their futures. Both have excellent farms systems and both seem to have the right management people in charge in the front office.
Plus, the teams are led by managers who know how to win it all.
Counsell wants to take the Brewers back to the World Series for the first time since 1982, when they were known as Harvey’s Wallbangers, as the Brew Crew lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.
That was the Brewers only World Series appearance.
Cash wants to do the same with the Rays, as the team made it’s only World Series appearance in 2008 versus the Philadelphia Phillies, when Philly won in five games.
It’s apropos that the Brewers and Rays will meet each other this season, as Milwaukee will travel to St. Petersburg to take on the Rays for three games on August 4th, 5th and 6th.
Time will tell how the 2017 MLB season will go for both the Brewers and Rays, but hope is definitely on the horizon, because of the talent in their farm systems.
We saw what happened last season with a team who had a similar situation with tons of talent in their minor league farm system. Yes, the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series since 1908.
Plus there was a Rays/Brewers connection for the Cubs as well. The manager of the Cubs is Joe Maddon, who used to be the skipper for the Rays when they were regularly making postseason appearances. He also had two former Rays on his World Series-winning club, Ben Zobrist and Mike Montgomery.
Also, former Brewer Chris Bosio is the pitching coach for the Cubs.
Like the Cubs did, the Brewers and Rays have to keep adding pieces from their talented farm systems and also add pieces here and there via trades or through free agency to get to the ultimate goal in MLB.
No matter what, both the Brewers and the Rays should be contenders for that goal in the near future, based on the great young talent each club has down on the farm.