There are teams that emerge from nowhere, burst onto the scene and reach the World Series - before fading back into oblivion.
The Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays don’t appear to fall into that category. They may have reached the grand stage in surprising fashion, but they appear to have staying power.
Which means the 2008 World Series - clinched Wednesday night by the Phillies - could be just the beginning of a prolonged run of success for both previously tortured franchises.
Each club is loaded with young stars who are already locked up to long-term deals. Each has only a couple of significant offseason decisions to make. And each will ride the wave of momentum generated during its unlikely postseason run to perhaps bolster its roster heading into 2009.
“We’re losers no more,” Philadelphia cleanup hitter Ryan Howard said. “The organization, we’re winners.”
The Phillies had been perennial contenders for the last half-dozen years, but until last season had failed to reach the playoffs and until this season had failed to reach the promised land. Now they find themselves in the enviable position of defending their title with virtually the same roster that just stormed the field at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night in celebration of the franchise’s first championship since 1980.
Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Brad Lidge are all signed through 2010 or beyond. Howard can’t become a free agent until 2011; ace Cole Hamels and center fielder Shane Victorino can’t until 2012. Of that group, only Lidge is over 30.
The only two prominent players whose contracts expire this fall are left fielder Pat Burrell (who was 0-for-13 in the World Series before a key double in Wednesday’s clincher) and left-hander Jamie Moyer (who is about to turn 46 but seems to want to return).
Actually, the franchise’s most important decision this winter could have nothing to do with the roster but with the man who must build it. General manager Pat Gillick is expected to retire after a storied career that saw him take four different franchises to the playoffs and win three World Series rings (two in Toronto, one in Philadelphia).
Even that decision may prove to be a simple one. Assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has long been groomed to be Gillick’s successor, so the transition could be seamless.
The Rays are in even better position to sustain their success. After languishing at the bottom of the American League East division for a decade, they’re now stocked with young talent that remains under their control for years to come.
B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria, David Price, James Shields, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine all have less than three years’ big league experience and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
And in what looked like unconventional moves at the time but could now spur other clubs to copycat, Tampa Bay locked up rookies Longoria and Price to long-term deals already to go along with other players who signed extensions earlier this season (Shields, Carlos Pena, Scott Kazmir, Dan Wheeler).
The Rays’ toughest offseason decisions will be whether to pick up options on veteran designated hitter Cliff Floyd and outfielders Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli.
General manager Andrew Friedman acknowledged before the World Series that it’s going to be tough for the low-budget Rays to contend long-term with the free-spending New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, but the organization has taken what preliminary steps it can toward keeping as much of its nucleus together as possible.
More than anything, Tampa Bay has established a new culture of success that has members of the franchise believing the best is still yet to come.
“We expect to be back here next year,” Price said inside the visitors’ clubhouse after Game 5. “And the year after that. And the year after that. I’m expecting to be here for the rest of my life.”