The Rays beat the Yankees in eight of their 10 meetings during the regular season, knocked them off in five games in the ALDS and are now on their way to the World Series, while the Yankees are over a week into their offseason.
And they’ve done it with a typically small payroll and very little — if any — star power.
“We’re not a team that is built with superstar after superstar,’’ manager Kevin Cash said after Tampa Bay beat the Astros in Game 7 of the ALCS Saturday night. “We’re a team that maximizes opportunities and tries to get matchups to help us win games. And we did that really well this year.”
They’ve done that really well each of the last three seasons — and especially the last two.
This year— with numbers somewhat skewed because of the abbreviated season — they had a total payroll of $28 million, according to Spotrac.com, third-lowest in the majors.
The Yankees, meanwhile, paid out $109 million in prorated salaries and other expenses.
“I don’t think it’s a payroll comparison in any way, shape or form,’’ Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Wednesday. “They’re forced to operate a certain way because of the market they are in, and we are permitted to operate in a different way because of the market we’re in, and both ways can have success.’’
Through draft picks and shrewd trades — and the very occasional dip into the mid-range of free agency — the Rays have built a roster that Cashman compared to a Swiss Army knife, while Houston manager Dusty Baker said, “They’ve got the same amount of men [on the roster], but it seems like they’ve got more men than you because they’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts and are used to using them.”
And now, the Rays will show off that roster in the World Series, although TV executives no doubt would rather have had the high-powered Yankees or even the loathed Astros advance to provide more storylines and better ratings.
The Rays, though, aren’t apologizing.
“I always say we don’t have a lot of household names,’’ Kevin Kiermaier said on TBS following the Game 7 win. “But at the same time, people are making a name for themselves right now, and if they don’t know, we’ve got some guys who can play.”
Randy Arozarena emerged as a force, hitting seven homers in 76 plate appearances after a late-August call-up and then hitting seven more home runs in the playoffs on the way to ALCS MVP honors.
Manuel Margot, Mike Zunino and Ji-Man Choi delivered big hits, while nearly the entire roster wowed on defense.
And while Diego Castillo struggled in Game 6, the bullpen was excellent in support of the rotation.
Asked if he wondered how good the Rays might be without such a small payroll, Kiermaier said he’d rather keep it the way it is now.
“I know what we’re working with,’’ Kiermaier said. “I understand the logistics and business-side of everything and the budget in general. It doesn’t bother me one bit that we’re not big spenders. I enjoy it. … We’re not the most popular team out there, but if you do all the little things right consistently, great things can happen, and we’ve that this year.”