First Pitch: The Rays vs Dodgers is the World Series of Our Time

There is something poetic about this year’s World Series.

The biggest market with the biggest payroll on one side.

The smartest of the small market teams, winning constantly with a small payroll.

It will be used to show that payroll doesn’t matter, and that small market teams can have a shot in the same way that large market teams can try and win a World Series.

Except one team has been here three times in four years, making the playoffs eight years in a row.

The other team was last here in 2008, and has made the playoffs three times in those last eight years.

The 2015 season saw their paths converge. The Rays were coming off a losing season, their first in six years. Andrew Friedman, their General Manager who was named Executive of the Year in 2008 when the Rays went to the World Series, went to the Dodgers as the President of Baseball Operations.

It took the Rays three losing seasons until they had a winning season, and another year to get back to the playoffs.

Perhaps that would have been inevitable had Friedman stayed. Small market teams operate under windows, rather than the promise of making the playoffs every year.

Friedman inherited that benefit in Los Angeles. It took him three years to get them from NL playoff losers to World Series losers.

It originally took Friedman three years to get the Rays from a losing expansion team to losing the 2008 World Series.

Friedman didn’t take the magic with him. He may have been the product of a system.

A system started by investment bankers, before Friedman was hired.

A system that is now run by the man who helped to make it possible for the current owners to own the Rays.

Matthew Silverman remained in Tampa. The Dodgers had stolen their corporate structure, and injected it with the steroids of local TV money.

Silverman rebuilt the system in Tampa. The smartest front office executive was still worth less per year than a number four starter or an average starting position player, and probably brings more value.

The players on the field don’t matter to the Rays. They’re all ultimately investments, bought when their value is lowest, and sold when their value is highest, aiming to get a few more investments to grow in the process.

Through exponential gains, one draft pick can become a star, can become three top prospects, can become multiple stars, who can each turn into three top prospects, and continue the cycle.

The Dodgers are the 1%. They know that players and people have value, and they pay for them. They can afford to pay Clayton Kershaw $31 million a year, and can pay Mookie Betts $27 million. They don’t mind giving a 35-year-old Justin Turner $20 million, or a reliever like Kenley Jansen $18 million. And you know that the only way Cody Bellinger is leaving is via free agency, and not in a trade to get value before his free agency hits. If they want continued value from Bellinger, they’ll pay him for it.

It’s the way the game was supposed to be played from the fans’ perspective. You follow your local team, and you know that within that local team contains a group of players who will be leading your team on attempted World Series runs year-after-year until they retire.

It’s also a game that has been priced out of some markets.

A new game was created, one where the players no longer mattered, because as good as Clayton Kershaw and Mookie Betts are, there are always new players entering the league, with a new draft and a new international class every year. There are always new prospects soaring up the top 100 lists and making their jump to the majors. Somewhere in that sea of talent is a Kershaw or a Betts, even if you have to create them in the aggregate.

So you hire the smartest executives, tasked at figuring that out.

Because in the end, the Dodgers paid Andrew Friedman $35 million for five years, while the best players make about that per year.

The Rays can’t pay the best players. They can pay the best executives. Or they can easily replace them when they leave.

And that approach allows them to find the best players, before those players become the best players.

And that approach is sustained by the Rays selling the best players right in the middle of when they are the best players.

And while the best players are still winning for Los Angeles, the Rays are getting their next batch of the next best players, aimed at their next run at the Death Star.

The window is open.

The players on the field are a snapshot in time.

Going up against timeless stars who will likely be back here next year in the same uniform.

This World Series sees the dying of the way the game used to be played, surrounded on all sides by the rising of the way the game is played now.

There used to be value in people.

Now the value is people who can find value in people.

One team still pays the people.

The other plays them like a hand of cards.

Trapped in a game.

Controlled by the dealer.

Who let one team start off with a disproportionate amount of chips.

A mountain of a stack that somehow is seen as irrelevant because there are two people at the final table.

It makes you wonder which one would win if they started with the same amount of chips.

Instead we’ll watch to see if Mikey McDermott can spot KGB’s tell in time.

And turn a small investment into a chance at a World Series.

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First Pitch