How about them Tampa Bay Rays, getting past Texas in the tiebreaking 163rd game of the season for the second wild card spot? Now they have to get past Cleveland in another sudden death game, just for the right to face the juggernaut that is Boston . . . and if they get past Boston, they have to play the winner of the Oakland/Detroit playoff. Sheesh!
I became a full-fledged Tampa Rays fan this year, after more than two decades of following the California Angels -- er, excuse me, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim(!). I spent part of my childhood about 15 minutes away from what was then known as Anaheim Stadium, and still have fond memories of falling asleep at night as a pre-teenager while listening to Angels' games on the radio.
But, I haven't lived in the Anaheim/Orange County area since the mid-1980s, and it's been over eleven years since I lived in Southern California. I know that doesn't stop many baseball fans from sticking with their teams even as they move far away, but it did weaken the bond in my case.
Ultimately, though, I stopped rooting for the Angels because I got tired of reading about the latest ridiculous long-term contract they handed out to an aging player. First, there was Vernon Wells, who cost the Angels $20+ million a year for two years, during which he hit .218/.248/.412 and .230/.279/.403. He was 32 when the Angels acquired him, and while 32 is young in the real world, it's in the decline phase for most baseball players.
Then, the Angels went out and signed Albert Pujols to a TEN YEAR deal, starting when he was . . . you guess it, 32 years old. Now Pujols had been an awesome players for the St. Louis Cardinals for ten years, but there were warning signs. In his last year with St. Louis, his batting average, on-base average, and slugging average all dropped to career lows. Is that the time to give the guy a $250 million, 10 year contract??? His first season with the Angels resulted in yet new career lows in those offensive categories, although a late surge made his overall numbers look still respectable. But look at 2013, when he hit .258/.330/.437. The Angels still have EIGHT years to go on that contract. . . .
But wait, I'm not done! At the beginning of this year, the Angels signed Josh Hamilton, another(!) 32 year old player to a 5 year, $125 million contract. Now in 2010, Hamilton almost single-handedly won my fantasy baseball league for me. But he got injured and missed the last month of the season, and my team fell out of first place. And "injuries" and "Josh Hamilton" go together like peanut butter and jelly. There weren't as many red flags in his on-field performance before the signing, but giving a 5 year contract to a fragile player up to age 37 didn't seem like the wisest use of money. And while Hamilton played nearly a full season, it was pretty bad: .250/.307/.432.
The Rays, on the other hand, develop most of their own players, figure out early on which are going to be good, and then sign them to long-term deals when they're still young. They're shrewd traders, often plucking other teams' good young talent (like when they traded an established pitcher in James Shields to Kansas City in exchange for Wil Myers, who hit .293/.354/.478 as a 22-year-old). To fill holes, they sign veteran players, but not aging superstars and certainly not to long-term deals. Compare what the Angels got from Josh Hamilton and his $25 million/year average salary, with the Rays' Kelly Johnson, a more versatile player who played middle infield and outfield; Johnson hit .235/.305/.410 but for only $2.4 million.
Not only is Tampa Bay run smartly, but the Rays have to play in the same division as the freespending New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. To survive and thrive in that environment is admirable.
What's ironic, then, is that my fantasy baseball team (Oregon Drizzles) won easily with almost no contribution from any Tampa Bay players. I had a total of three Rays on my team, and they played a collective 40 games. My team was strongest up the middle, with Buster Posey (C), Brandon Phillips (2B), Ian Desmond (SS), J.J. Hardy (MI), and Adam Jones (CF); and in pitching, with probable AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, probable NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez, and Shelby Miller (likely to do well in the NL ROY vote as well).
That makes two years in a row that I've won outright (this year) or shared the league title. Unfortunately, I seem to be much better at fantasy baseball than at fantasy football, as I'm 1-3 in Professor Bainbridge's H2H league. My problem there is summed up in the "C" grade that the computer gave me for my draft. The funny thing is, because I was busy during the draft, I set it to auto-pick. So really, the computer is giving itself a "C."
I've got another football team, and I drafted for myself in that league. However, it's an ongoing league where you have to keep two players from the previous year. My team was so bad last year that I would've preferred to drop everyone and be able to draft fresh while others used their first two picks on their valuable keepers, but that option wasn't available. So in essence, I overpaid with my first two picks, keeping my best players (Victor Cruz and Andre Johnson) who would've been taken otherwise in the 3d or 4th rounds.
Through a dose of good luck, that team is 3-1 and in first place in my division despite being outscored by six of the other nine teams. . . . Obviously that kind of luck can't last, so I have to hope that I can start scoring lots more points. (Do you hear that, David Wilson???)