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Should a Neutral-Site World Series Become Baseball’s New Normal?

For the first time since 2013, the World Series does feature the two teams with the best record from each league. But Boras, who has signed current or former clients like Gerrit Cole, Bryce Harper and Alex Rodriguez to groundbreaking free agent contracts, said the Rays are an anomaly, with few highly paid free agents besides starter Charlie Morton, who signed a two-year, $30 million contract before last season.

“You hear the talk about what they’ve done to put their team together, but to me, analytics have created a base camp philosophy, and that is, they’re really not in the process to get to the summit,” he said. “You have to have oxygen to get to the summit, and that’s free agency. You’ve got to have the superstars; you’ve got to have those special people to get to the top.”

The Rays are no fluke; they had the American League’s best earned run average last year, at 3.65, and trailed only Cleveland among A.L. teams this year, at 3.56. But Boras said the truncated regular season had given the Rays an edge this October.

“In this 60-game schedule, when your relievers are only throwing 20 or 30 innings, you can now not have starters and win,” he said. “Throw relievers for three innings, and basically do two or three of those in one game and another game, and it creates a falsity of baseball that we know is not true over a 162-game schedule.”

Whatever the reasons for their success, the Rays have become a model for the industry by winning with low payrolls. Several big-market teams have poached Tampa Bay executives to lead their baseball operations, including the Dodgers (Andrew Friedman), the Boston Red Sox (Chaim Bloom) and the Houston Astros (James Click).

The free-agent market was strong last winter — led by Boras clients like Cole, Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg — but after a regular season without ticket sales, some teams may be less aggressive this time. That could be one industry aftershock of the pandemic.

As for the appetite for a neutral-site World Series, that will be hard to gauge from this year’s, given the limits on ticket sales (11,500 per game) and restrictions on the kinds of gatherings Boras imagines. But if the concept seems radical, another idea that intrigues him has roots that stretch to 1903.

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