As Spring Training approaches (not fast enough, despite my Indianapolis Colts’ moving the Bowl of all Bowls), there are several areas on the Tampa Bay Rays that are in need of shoring up. These five areas certainly “ray-se” concerns among fans, and failure for Andrew Friedman and company to address them may result in a long summer for the Boys in Blue.
Here are the five key areas of consternation heading into these few weeks before pitchers and catchers report:
Rays fans loved Pat Burrell in 2009.
He did an amazing job of keeping those in attendance at the Trop cool every night as the human oscillating fan. Hearing Dwayne Staats announce, “Swing and a miss,” with regards to Burrell never got old. Wait…it did.
No folks, “The Bat” was far from a fan fave-the typical fate of so many .221, 14 hr, 64 RBI guys making 9 million dollars. As of this moment Burrell is still a Ray-not for lack of trying, though. While the much maligned Milton Bradley’s name was bandied about as a possible replacement at DH, nothing happened. Tough to know whether that was for the best or not.
The question remains, though: Who will fill the DH role in 2010? There is no clear cut answer. It seems unlikely that Tampa Bay will look to free agency to find a Burrell replacement. The addition of closer Rafael Soriano and the resigning of Kelly Shoppach pretty much ate up the petty cash lying around Stuart Sternberg’s office. Promoting from within might occur, with Willy Aybar itching for a chance to play every day. A Burrell trade could happen too, but the price tag for the 33-year-old veteran might be a little high for most teams.
Perhaps Rays fans should prepare for another breezy summer inside the Trop.
This position was occupied by several people in 2009. Akinori Iwamura was certainly one of the Rays’ most beloved second basemen of all time (sorry, Brent Abernathy). However, he is now gone, doomed to the Sarlaac Pitt. Other second basemen of 2009 include Reid Brignac, Joe Dillon, Willy Aybar (what an experiment in futility that was) and the great Ben Zobrist.
While Zobrist may very well become the Rays everyday 2B in 2010, there could be a problem should Zorilla be moved to right field instead. Brignac probably will not be the every day answer-though it would be neat to see him break camp as the starter so we can see what he can do with consistent at bats-so the Rays might just consider the recently acquired Sean Rodriguez.
Side Note: I know that every team wishes they had a player with the last name “Rodriguez” simply so they can take that player’s first initial and add it to “Rod,” ala “A-Rod.” But, seriously, Rays fans, let’s please avoid calling him S-rod, ok?
Rodriguez has some serious pop (easily 20 hr power) and shouldn’t be a defensive liability should he take over the 2B position. I am sure that the Rays see him as a long term answer at that spot in the infield, but it will remain to be seen if Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon will give the youngster the green light coming out of Spring Training. If he can win the job when the team breaks from Port Charlotte, many things would be cleared up as Zorilla’s move to right would be set.
Should S-Rod (oops!) take the 2B competition, the question of who will be the next right fielder becomes simple arithmatic.
Zobrist’s bat and strong arm at the corner outfield position would be a perfect fit. He would seemingly complete one of the better outfields in the majors and finally settle the revolving door that the Rays have had at that position for years.
However, if Zobrist were forced to man the 2B position because Rodriguez was not ready for the majors and Reid Brignac was, well, the same ol’ Reid Brignac-a move that Maddon may not frown upon as much as may be thought-then the Rays could potentially be in trouble in right.
In the offseason they unloaded one of the Gabes (both Kapler and Gross were really one entity in 2009, but the Kap has stuck around for about a million in 2010) which means more playing time for Kap-should he earn it. But his struggles with righties means that the Rays will have only 1/2 of a right fielder-not ideal.
Right fielders in waiting (for how long is to be determined) might be Matt Joyce, Justin Ruggiano, Fernando Perez, and Desmond Jennings, but it is difficult to determine whether or not any are ready to be with the big club. Jennings, Ruggiano, and Perez may be better suited for CF, which limits thier contributions to RF to a simple “fill in” status from time to time.
Joyce was a big part of last year’s Edwin Jackson trade, a trade that Maddon has consistently said may work in the Rays favor despite Jackson’s double digit wins and All-Star appearance in 2009 and Joyce’s almost season-long stint at Durham. Will this be the year that Joyce shows his own All-Star potential and takes the right field spot by force?
If Rodriguez could take over 2B and Joyce was the every day RF (or at least could platoon with Kapler) then that might give Maddon the option of using Zobrist as that super-sub again-something that certainly worked in the past. Perfect scenario? Maybe, maybe not. It would seem that Zobrist would prefer to have his position staked out beforehand so he could maintain his focus throughout the long season.
This might be the most contentious position battle as we near spring training. However, the emergence of either Joyce or Rodriguez will clear everything up quickly.
The Rays seem to have gotten their money’s worth (we hope) in the Scott Kazmir deal. Adding the highly touted Sean Rodriguez and the potential of lefty Alex Torres and infielder Matt Sweeney (the biggest Sweeney) has put the Rays in a great position for the future.
However, after moving Mitch Talbot to Cleveland in the Kelly Shoppach trade (he was the player to be named later) the Rays find themselves potentially a little thin in big league ready starters.
Sure, the rotation looks fine at the top with James “Big Game” Shields and Matt “Just As Big Of A Game” Garza. Spots 3 and 4 should be fine with David Price and Jeff Nieman, especially if both build on their 2009 performances.
But where do the Rays go from there?
At the moment the 5th spot is manned by Wade Davis, but he was hardly consistent in his 6 starts last season in spite of his 2-2 record and 3.72 ERA. While he struck out an impressive 36 in 36 1/3 innings, he also had games where he simply blew up.
If Davis does win the 5th spot, who do the Rays turn to should somebody or, God forbid, two somebodys get injured? In the wings stand Jeremy Hellickson (he might be ready sooner than we think-hopefully) and-<gulp>-Andy Sonnanstine. Not exactly a scenario that inspires great confidence.
The likelihood of the Rays adding a 5th starter via free agency seem small, though veterans such as Vicente Padilla and Joel Pineiro might be interesting (both would likely expect more than the Rays could afford).
At the moment it seems that Joe Maddon’s squad will be content with the arms they have and head into Spring Training hoping for two things: 1) that those aforementioned arms remain healthy; and 2) that one of the guys in camp really stands out to claim the 5th spot.
We are now through the first week of Septemeber! The season is quickly approaching its final end.
It feels like a good time to get away from what the Rays might be doing on the field these days (especially since it could be better) and take a look at the guys who have been recently added to the expanded Rays roster.
Ginny at The Watercooler and Bob at More Cowbell are doing another co-post.
This time the duo will be analyzing the September callups of the Rays and deciding whether each player’s promotion to the big club should be designated a
GOOD CALL or a BAD CALL.
Remember, just because a guy is moved to the MLB roster does not always spell good things for the team. Or does it?
Let the debate begin!
After reading Bob’s analysis, click here to See what Ginny thinks!
.282 AVE 24 2B 8 HR 44 RBI 5 SB
This is the third time Brignac has been moved from Durham to St. Pete. Over the course of the season it seems that the guy has logged more air miles than a pelican! He has had so much promise, yet has yet to break Spring Training with the club and become a regular starter. All that aside, Joe Maddon has said that having Brignac is a good thing because when starter Jason Bartlett needs a day off he can avoid putting Ben Zobrist in a position he has rarely played this year and simply plug in Brignac. I like that idea. It allows Zorilla to concentrate on 2B or RF and keep his bat steady.
10-9 3.40 ERA 1.25 WHIP 158 IP 140 K
I get chills when I think about what this guy can do on the mound.
This 24-year-old righty has been seen as the next big thing in the Rays system. How amazing is it that the Rays can continually put out the “next big thing” for their fans year after year? (see: Evan Longoria, Jeff Nieman, David Price, Wade Davis) He will make his first start Sunday for the Rays against the Detroit Tigers, and I think that the entire Republic will have its eyes glued on the screen (or in person, hopefully) to see just what the kid can do.
Having him on the roster now gets him a few major league starts before Spring Training next year. He just might have a shot at cracking the rotation next year, especially with the move of Scott Kazmir out west.
.200 AVE 2 2B 1 HR 5 RBI (11 Games)
The call on this move is kind of tricky. I think that the addition of Gregg Zaun was a godsend for a club whose catcher play was inconsistent offensively at best. Seeing Zaun from the left side and Dioner Navarro from the right side has really helped the offense click a little more from the backstop position and the results have been pretty solid (who can forget Zaun’s grand slam!?). Adding Riggs might be a mistake, though. He will not log much playing time with the big club because of the reasons mentioned above and whatever playing time he does get will take away–and disrupt–the smooth flow that has been established by the Zaun/Navi platoon. It can’t hurt having Riggs on the bench, but if he gets some playing time I think the results will be less than desirable.
Last start: 4 IP 8 H 3 R 4 BB
Sonny is kind of a strange situation in that he was brought up September 1st because of the departure of one Scott Kazmir. His first start did not go much better than the previous 15 before it. This is a great chance for Sonny to earn a spot in next year’s rotation, but he did not impress in his first game back. He’ll be moved back one day to allow Davis to start at the Trop on Sunday and to get Sonny into the double header against the Yankees Monday. I am losing some faith in Sonnanstine’s ability to get batters out, and he may be ticketed for a long relief spot if he’s not careful.
.278 AVE 3 2B 0 HR 2 RBI 8 SB (13 games)
(This is Davey Lopes…but the ‘stache is the same–I can’t find a good pic of Perez’s stache!)
If the mustache doesn’t get you excited, then you must be dead!
This is one of my favorite players. The “Columbia Kid” was impressive in his stint with the Rays last season, culminating with a 2008 playoffs to remember. He is exciting on the basepaths and plays above average defense in center or right field. His bad is adequate, but he is also young (26) and will get better. His switch hitting ability is another plus.
He comes along at the right time, for BJ Upton’s ankle injury will sideline him for a few days. I think that this is a perfect chance for Perez to show the front office that he and BJ are the same age, possess the same skill set (minus the power for Fernando), but totally different salary situations. Hmmmmm….
The September callups for the Rays used to mean that the year was over. That it was time to figure out what to do next year.
I don’t think that is the case just yet, though things don’t look so great.
The guys above are all guys who could/should break Spring Training on the Rays major league roster. They should all be contributers to next year’s team as well.
This opportunity, though, comes with alot riding on it. Not only do they get to audition for the team for next season, but they can help get the team to the playoffs if they do well.
I’m hoping for some great baseball from these guys over the next few weeks!
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR OUR NEXT CO-POST, COMING SOON!