Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 14, 2008
BASEBALL: Hot Stove Roundup: Tampa Bay Rays
Let's look at a few things happening in the Tampa Bay Rays' offseason. It's been a busy offseason off the field, as Tampa dropped the "Devil" to simplify their team name and make it more flexible, something I thought they should have done years ago ("Rays" is a pun, for a team in the Sunshine State), and pushed forward with plans for a new stadium without taxpayer funding (I guess they think an outdoor field will be more appealing to the fans they still don't have, though my own experience at the Trop convinces me that what they really need is more parking, aside from the obvious need for a better team).
On the field? Well, good luck to Cliff Floyd, who signed a 1-year deal with the Rays reportedly in the neighborhood of $3 million, which is pennies to most teams but actually a fairly big line item to the Rays. You would not have expected Tampa to be importing veteran outfielders a year ago, but the departure of Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes clears some of the logjam for an outfield of Crawford, Upton and (when available) Baldelli, and Floyd and Jonny Gomes will presumably form a left-right DH platoon and fill in when Floyd is healthy and Baldelli is not. Floyd replaces Greg Norton, who is actually the same age as Floyd, and he's an upgrade on Norton.
Floyd should help the team in the short run, but one hopes, for Tampa's sake, that the Rays aren't just opening the bankroll for the likes of Floyd only to pass on spending money on younger and better options that have more to do with building an actual contending team, which requires them to shore up the pitching staff and fix the team's worst-in-the-AL defense.
The Young deal takes a step in that direction, but at a steep price. The media attention seemed to focus on the idea that Young was ditched because of character issues, and thus the drama was set as a debate between those who saw Young as a ticking time bomb wisely removed (along with Dukes) from the roster and those who saw the Twins as savvily snapping up a very high-ceiling young slugger while his stock was down.
That may have been part of the motivation, although Young actually doesn't have a serious rap sheet beyond that one ugly incident in AAA; the Dukes deal is more of a straight-up "dump the jerk" deal, though Dukes batting .190 obviously didn't help.
The larger theme is Young for Matt Garza, which is obviously a risky move to trade a young hitter for a young pitcher. Not for nothing is Young regarded as a great prospect despite the fact that he is still very far from being a great player. 3 of the top four of Baseball-Reference.com's list of most similar 21-year-old players are in the Hall of Fame (Tris Speaker, Roberto Clemente and Joe Kelley; the fourth is Baldelli, lest we get too enthused). I looked at Young's numbers here.
Anyway, the overlooked part of the deal was the acquisition of Jason Bartlett from the Twins. Bartlett had the best Zone Rating in the AL last year (his range factor was less impressive, THT's range metric rates him closer to the middle of the pack; by fielding Win Shares he rated fifth in the AL). In any event, whether you rate Bartlett as a superior or merely slightly above average fielder, he gives Tampa stability in the middle infield that was sorely lacking. Combined with the 1-2-3 of Kazmir-Shields-Garza, that promises the possibility of the Rays actually keeping some runs off the board, which they dramatically failed at last season. Of course, that assumes that their other infield overhauls - Akinori Iwamura to 2B, rookie Evan Longoria in at 3B - actually works out.
Meanwhile, Jae Seo, who when he left New York looked like a guy who could have a real career, cut bait on the big leagues and headed back to South Korea after posting an 8.13 ERA that made him the least effective of a very ineffective crop of starters in Tampa. And the Rays have wisely not been suckered by Carlos Pena, refusing to offer him the long-term contract hoped for by his agent (cue menacing theme music) Scott Boras. Tampa is better off taking what they can in the two years remaining on Pena's current deal.
Finally, Tampa shelled out $8 million over two years for Troy Percival. Percival can apparently still pitch, and as closers go that's not all that expensive (it beats a 3-year, $10 million deal for Scott Schoenweis); I would not be thrilled with the deal but you can forgive the Rays for deciding after Al Reyes' unraveling after a solid start that a bargain-basement closer wasn't in the cards for them. As with the Floyd signing you can't really evaluate this one without knowing how they expect it to affect the rest of the team's budget.