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PLAYERS & TEAM EARNINGS

Randy Arozarena: Postseason Superhero

Tampa Bay Rays phenom Randy Arozarena has established himself as one of the most electric playoff performers in baseball. And he’s still just a rookie.

In the 2019 MLB postseason, Randy Arozarena had five total plate appearances. He did not get a hit or draw a walk, instead reaching on an error once and stealing a base. That was for the St. Louis Cardinals. After a trade that sent him to Tampa Bay and the shortened 2020 season allowing him to make the big league roster, the outfielder has made a name for himself — especially in October.

Arozarena is still technically a rookie. He only appeared in 19 games with the 2019 Cardinals and only 23 games last year in St. Petersburg. This season, Arozarena was a key hitter for the AL East champs, finishing second in average (.274) and fourth in home runs (20). He also stole 20 bases and drove in 69 runs.

Those numbers are solid, but the postseason is where he transforms into a superhero.

The ascent to MLB Playoff stardom began last year. Arozarena hit 10 home runs in 19 postseason games and was named American League Championship Series MVP as the Rays came two victories short of winning a first-ever World Series.

In Game 4 of the Fall Classic against the Dodgers, Brett Phillips served up a game-tying single — but the Dodgers misplayed the ball in the field, sending Arozarena around third. After stumbling on the basepath, LA booted another defensive play. Instead of recording a routine out in a rundown, Arozarena slid in headfirst to score the winning run.

Typical day at the office for the pride of Havana.

Since arriving in Tampa and becoming an everyday outfielder, he has often been a one-man power plant for a team that has been among the MLB’s best and most consistent the past few years. Tampa Bay has won a combined 140 games (out of a possible 222) the past two seasons, second-most behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. Arozarena is a symbol of the winning business model the Rays have implemented: scout well (both in theirs and their rivals’ farm systems), let the players that fit the roster the best play as quickly as they develop, and maintain organizational stability to see things through.

The Arozarena Brand

So far, Arozarena’s potential brand power — to say nothing of his incredibly modest pay — has yet to catch up with his postseason greatness. But it’s quite likely to be only a matter of time. On one hand, baseball needs exciting, young stars, and Arozarena has both the skill and personality to fit the profile. On the other, he plays for a so-called small-market team with few fans and limited marketing reach.

Randy Arozarena’s career earnings through the 2021 season, via Spotrac

Certain elements of his past are unavoidable, however, and potentially mitigate just how high his star can rise. Shortly after his postseason run last year, WonderFilm Media announced plans for a biopic on the Cuban slugger; just a few weeks later, however, he was arrested in Mexico following a domestic dispute. Ultimately, no charges were filed.

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Postseason Feats

  • Career Postseason Stats: 92 AB | .348 BA | 11 HR | 1.206 OPS
  • 2020 ALCS MVP
  • First player with a straight steal of home in the postseason since Jackie Robinson (1955)
  • First player in MLB history to hit a home run and steal home in the same postseason game.

In Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday against the Red Sox, Arozarena added to his legend by stealing home. It’s this kind of moxie and confidence that he plays with — as a rookie! –that allows him to excel in the postseason. He’s the first player ever to swipe the dish and hit a homer in the same postseason game.

“He goes to a different level in the postseason,” teammate Nelson Cruz said after Game 1.

Associating yourself with an uncommon feat most frequently linked to Jackie Robinson is amazing on its own. But to do so as a rookie for a team like the Rays shows that Arozarena is made for the moment. He elevates his play as the games get more important and the Rays benefit from his productive energy.

And he’s aware of it.

Like most baseball players, he has his superstitions and rituals to help him play well. Take, for example, his lucky cowboy boots.

“I put the boots on before the game, just like I did before the first game of the playoffs last year, and in that playoff game against the Yankees, I hit a home run,” Arozarena said through interpreter Manny Navarro after Game 1. “I hit a home run today, so that just shows that the magic is working from the boots.”

(Perhaps it’s time for Nike to take notice and make him a player exclusive pair.)

To this point in his career, Arozarena has been unfazed by the weight of the biggest moment. This time around, he’s been seen eating popcorn in the Rays’ dugout, messing with rookie pitcher Shane Baz after his start in Game 2 of the ALDS, and just enjoying himself. And with each moment of flair and expression of character, his stock simply rises.