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May 19, 2008 at 5:30 am ET
Rays better than the Yankees? We’ll see

The Rays celebrate a victory over the Yankees.St. Petersburg Times writer Gary Shelton has dropped the big one, the bombshell you thought was impossible. Shelton thinks the Tampa Bay Rays are better than the New York Yankees.

OK, I will take the bait. Let’s go ahead and have the argument.

First, let me say this. The Rays have an impressive team. They have a talented lineup with several young stars. They have a starting rotation that gives them a chance to win every day. They have a decent bullpen, the best they have ever had.

One thing I can’t argue — the Rays are off to the better start. They are playing with confidence and swagger, which they should since they began play Sunday in first place in the American League East.

The Yankees, meanwhile, are limping along in last, the spot historically reserved for the Rays. They are aging, injured and haven’t gotten consistent starting pitching. They look terrible.

Is it possible that the Rays will actually finish ahead of the Yankees this season? Sure it is. But, it is way too soon for chest-thumping, gloating and Shelton’s bold, outright assertion that the Rays are better.

Here is some of what Shelton wrote.

It was sometime during last week’s games, when the Rays took three out of four from New York, that the notion arose. It began as a small idea, flitting around the eyes like a mosquito, then it grew into this question:

Brand names aside, would you trade the 25-man roster of the Rays for the 25-man roster of the Yankees?

Think of the audacity of the question. Throughout the entire history of history, such a question would have deserved only two answers: One: pointing. Two: laughing. That a person would even think seriously before answering says a great deal about the direction of both franchises.

At this point, the Rays are better.

Now, I don’t mean they are a better bargain than the Yankees, although that is certainly true. I don’t mean they happen to be ahead in the standings for the time being.

I mean they are better. Younger. Faster. Hungrier. They play the game so much harder that even Steinbrenner-the-sequel, the same guy who recently acted as if the Rays were kids who didn’t appreciate their allowance, couldn’t keep quiet about the embarrassment. You get the feeling Hanky the Yankee is ready to bowl over a Yankees catcher himself.

In other words, yeah, these Rays ought to finish ahead of these Yankees.

The Yankees have not looked good.Let me remind you, Rays fans. The season is only one-quarter complete. Yes, the Rays have shown they can sprint. But, can they run the whole marathon? Can they play with the big boys in September when the games mean something — an experience they have never dealt with?

You can feel good, sure, but you haven’t come close to earning the right to gloat. When you get to the finish line and you are still looking back at the guys with the NY on their shirts, then gloat.

Sure you look old, slow and uninterested when you aren’t hitting, which the Yankees aren’t right now. In recent years, though, the Yankees have made a habit of starting slowly only to right the ship and make the playoffs in the end. That can’t be discounted.

Anyway, Shelton also did a position-by-position analysis of both teams. Let’s go through it.

First Base
Yankees: Jason Giambi Rays: Carlos Pena
Shelton Says: Advantage Rays.
Me: I’ll agree with that. I would rather have Pena than anybody the Yankees have right now.

Second Base
Yankees: Robinson Cano Rays: Akinori Iwamura
Shelton Says: Advantage Yankees
Me: Again, I will agree. Cano started slowly, but he is one of the game’s bright young stars.

Yankees: Derek Jeter Rays: Jason Bartlett
Shelton Says: Advantage Yankees
Me: What do you think I’m gonna say? Jeter, of course.

Third Base
Yankees: Alex Rodriguez Rays: Evan Longoria
Shelton Says: Advantage Yankees
Me: A-Rod, of course. Oh, and by the way the fact that he has missed several weeks is one of the reasons the Yankees offense has looked so sluggish. It’s a big drop-off from A-Rod to Shelley Duncan as cleanup hitter.

Left field
Yankees: Johnny Damon Rays: Carl Crawford
Shelton Says: Advantage Rays
Me: Again, I agree. Crawford is a great talent, with speed and athleticism no one on the Yankees can match.

Center field
Yankees: Melky Cabrera Rays: B.J. Upton
Shelton Says: Advantage Rays
Me: Agreed, again. Cabrera is a good player. Upton will be a star for the next 12-15 years.

Right field
Bobby Abreu Rays: Jonny Gomes.
Shelton Says: Advantage Yankees.
Me: This is a no-brainer for the Yankees. If Rocco Baldelli was healthy and, well, Baldelli, it would be different. Oddly, I think this is Abreu’s last season as a Yankee.

Jorge Posada Rays: Dioner Navarro
Shelton Says: Advantage Rays
Me: I vehemently disagree. Navarro, the former Yankee farmhand, has had a disappointing start to his career and has had basically one good month this season. Posada has had a tremendous 12-year career, and had his best season last year. Unless Posada’s shoulder is damaged to the point where he can no longer catch, he is still better than Navarro.

Designated Hitter
Hideki Matsui Rays: Cliff Floyd
Shelton Says: Advantage Yankees
Me: Agreed. Matsui has long been, and still is, a terrific clutch RBI guy.

Starting Pitching
Shelton Says:
Advantage Rays
Me: At this point, you’ll get no argument from me. The Rays have cultivated a young, talented crop of starters. It is what the Yankees are trying to do with Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and eventually, Joba Chamberlain. The Yankee rotation, though, is still a work in progress. The Rays rotation, and the eventual arrival of ballyhooed top pick David Price is what will enable Tampa Bay to play with the big boys for the next several years.

Setup and Closer
Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera Rays: Dan Wheeler and Troy Percival
Shelton Says: Advantage Yankees.
Me: He’s right. No team in baseball can match the Chamberlain-Rivera combination.

Middle Relief
Shelton Says:
Advantage Rays
Me: I disagree. So what, the Yankees don’t have a lefthander in the bullpen. They have already reached down to AAA for Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras and Chris Britton, all of whom have done well. There are a lot more quality arms where those came from. I don’t think the Rays can survive injuries the way the Yankees can — and already have — in that area.

Shelton Says:
Advantage Rays
Me: I disagree. As Shelton says, the Rays are faster, more athletic and play better defense right now. The intangible he failed to mention, though, is experience. Remember, it’s a marathon and the knowledge that they have been through, understand it and have succeeded is an intangible the Rays can’t claim to have. I’ll call that one a toss-up.

So, what does all of this mean? Simply this. I know the Rays are good, I think everybody does. Good for them and their long-suffering fans.

But they haven’t earned the right to start talking down to the perennial big boys. Not yet.

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8 Responses to “Rays better than the Yankees? We’ll see”
  1. MB says:

    Did that guy just try to rate intangibles? As in, that which cannot be perceived?

  2. Jessica says:

    “But they haven’t earned the right to start talking down to the perennial big boys. Not yet”

    They? I think we can agree that most Rays fans wouldn’t make this statement. Nothing like jinxing everything good that’s been happening!

  3. Ed Valentine says:

    Agreed. I think it is very possible the Rays will finish ahead of the Yankees this season — it would not surprise me at all. Burying the Yankees is just premature, though, given recent history.

  4. Fencer04 says:

    There is no doubt that the Rays have been outperforming the Yankees this season but saying that they are clearly the better team is impossible at this point.

  5. Ed Valentine says:

    Thank you. That is all I was trying to say, and I used many, many, many more words.

  6. FrankDiscussion says:

    As it stands right now, the Rays are playing outstanding baseball. Energetic, excellent pitching and defense and timely hitting. Rays fans have a lot to be proud of and alot to look forward to. Their patience is paying off.

    The current Yankees are pathetic (and I’m a fan)… overpaid, bloated contracts for players who can barely get on base. Overhyped pitching prospects (Hughes and IPK)
    and a few veterans way past their sell date (Damon, Giambi). Not to mention a GM who can’t manage to even find a competent first baseman, much less put together an effective rotation.

    The future looks brighter, lots of good arms in the system and good position players as well. Lots of $$$ coming off the books in 2009, time to seriously rebuild this team.

  7. HVC says:


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