There's a lot to like about the Tampa Bay Rays.
They just finished with the best record (40-20) in the American League, won the A.L. East for the first time in 10 years, and qualified for the playoffs for a second straight season. They've advanced to the ALDS which begins Monday against the Yankees and are suddenly -- both in terms of animus and competitiveness -- the Yanks' actual rival, while the Red Sox lick their wounds and rebuild.
Their minor league system, having supplied the core of players to the current Rays team, was still ranked No. 1 by MLBPipeline before the start of this season. They still have the consensus best prospect in the game, shortstop Wander Franco.
But there's a flipside to the Rays' success: the team is mostly anonymous. Infielder Brandon Lowe has emerged as one of the top young players in the game, but is largely unknown. And in utilizing a deep, talented roster, manager Kevin Cash shuffles players around the field, highlighting their versatility while reinforcing the notion that no one is irreplaceable.
When Cash, in hinting at his ability to retaliate for some perceived beanballs from the New York Yankees warned the Yankees that "I've got a whole damn stable of guys who throw 98 mph,'' he was revealing more than a threat. "A whole damn stable of guys,'' might be the team's motto. Not many that you could name, true, but there's a lot of them.
Their achievements are impossible to ignore; but the end result is a team with little individual star appeal.
It should be pointed out that some of the team's anonymity can be chalked up to the market. Are the Rays players truly anonymous, or are they anonymous because they're Rays?
And now, as former Tampa Bay executive Chaim Bloom dives in his second offseason on the job, it's worth asking: would Bloom be satisfied with a successful Red Sox team made in the current Rays' likeness?
"I think certain core aspects of the approach that the Rays have taken are applicable everywhere,'' Bloom told BostonSportsJournal.com, "in terms of having as much depth as you possibly can, in terms of putting players in situations that maximize their ability and in terms of just wrapping up as many good players as you can possibly have and ensure you constantly have a pipeline of them. That plays everywhere.
"Obviously, every situation is different and every market is different and there is no such thing as a 'one-size-fits-all-approach.' But I think there are some things that we really valued while I was with the Rays that I think apply anywhere.''
Still, Bloom concedes that there are mitigating factors here that weren't present in Tampa Bay -- most obviously, the expectations that come from being in a large market and the need to have fans identify with the players.