Trying to bring a little common sense to the game of baseball. But considering many of the people who read baseball blogs, I'm probably just pissing into the wind.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Tampa Bay Rays preview

How the mighty have fallen. They’ll still be a good team, but I doubt if they contend this year. One player doesn’t make a difference, but three do. The new additions just can’t compete with those they are replacing. That being said, they still have good pitching, can hit the crap out of the ball, and might just make it interesting.


John Jaso, mostly, with Kelly Shoppch getting a lot of time also. Jaso gets on base a little, but has no power, while Shoppch is not there for his bat. Neither is known for their glove, but this is the same tandem that got them to the playoffs last year, so you can’t fault that. Jaso is a second year player and Shoppch is a year older, so any improvement will be good, but not really expected. They don’t have the same offensive team as last year, so any help on offense will be an advantage.

Upside:  performs the same as last year

Downside:  they can’t sustain last year’s performance and no one is available to step in

Score:  0

First base:

Dan Johnson. Johnson actually had slightly better numbers than Pena last year, albeit in a quarter of the plate appearances. At 30, he’s a little old to step up and replace a guy like Perez, and isn’t as good defensively. Playing time will get him homeruns and he’ll walk, but will he be able to do enough of either one? He won’t make any of the fans forget Pena, but he really isn’t that much of a downgrade offensively, and they’ll have to live with his defense. If he hits, he plays. If not, Zobrist takes over.

Upside:  exceeds Pena’s performance last year

Downside:  can’t improve the position and someone else has to play

Score:  - 1

Second base:

Sean Rodriguez. A super sub type who will get his chance again, until someone comes along to push him. He has some speed, but doesn’t get on base often enough to do anything with it, and the power is park related.  An average defender, he is better suited to a utility role, but the Rays don’t have that luxury. They have other super subs like this to replace him, but no one major league ready at this time. If the Rays are contending, they look to make a move here.

Upside:  none really. He’s holding the position as long as he can

Downside:  they can’t find anyone to replace him

Score:  - 2

Third base:

Evan Longoria. The stud of the team and getting better every year. The way things are looking, it’s a good thing he’s signed long term. Seems to get some nagging injury every year, but that might not be a bad thing. As long as they aren’t serious, it gives him a chance to rest. There will be a lot of pressure on him to pick up the slack of the departed, and if the new additions can’t do it, he’s going to walk a lot. He’ll have to be really good defensively this year, as the team has lost a lot. He’ll be good, but will he have to do too much?

Upside:  continues to improve

Downside:  no one else steps up and he doesn’t get to swing the bat

Score:  + 2

Short stop:

Reid Brignac. About the same offensively as Jason Bartlett, but not quite the defender. He’s not going to hurt the defense, which should help out Rodriguez somewhat. He hasn’t shown much yet, and this is his chance to step up and impress everyone. He doesn’t have to be an All Star, or even a star. He just has to be average, and not do anything to hurt the team. As long as he is, he’ll play. The team needs help in other areas, so he should be okay unless he just tanks.

Upside:  does what Bartlett did last year

Downside:  none yet. He should get the entire year, and team success or failure won’t come down to him

Score:  0

Left field:

Johnny Damon. Not a bad pick-up, but he’s not Carl Crawford. And he won’t be able to do what Crawford did, which will be the problem. He’s going to hurt them defensively, unless he takes over at first, which might happen. If he has his normal year (at least for the last 3), he’ll help the team offensively, but that’s the problem. When Damon’s production is a positive, then the offense is not the best around. He’s going to help, and the team has to hope Johnson can hit, so that Damon stays in left, and Manny stays at designated hitter. He’ll hit some more homeruns, and continue to get on base, but his game just isn’t the same anymore.

Upside:  hits well enough to keep Manny out of the field

Downside:  has to move to first because Johnson doesn’t hit

Score:  0


B.J. Upton. A lot of upside here, even though he’s still hasn’t really hit his stride. He has regressed, and that should be a concern, but this might be what it takes. He has to step up this year, and maybe he’ll react to that. The defense and speed are okay, and I’ll bet on more power. What else he does is anyone’s guess, and he needs to have more plate discipline. This will be his make or break year. If the Rays contend and he’s not hitting, he’s going somewhere for an infielder. If he’s hitting and the Rays aren’t winning, same thing. But I see a bounce back year.

Upside:  finally does what everyone thinks he can

Downside:  continues to regress and the Rays have to make a move, which they really can’t at this stage

Score:  + 1

Right field:

Ben Zobrist. Not what you traditionally think of for a right fielder, but he should be okay. He had a down year, and he needs to get back to what he’s done in the past. Decent power, he’ll get on base and play good defense. Having him start in right keeps him off of second, or out of the utility role he excels in. If one of the infielders falters, he won’t be here long, particularly if Matt Joyce can deliver. A good player, but he seems to be out of position here. The Rays need help.

Upside:  gets to stay here all year because everyone else performs

Downside:  he’s at a different position by mid-May and no one can replace him out there

Score:  + 1

Designated hitter:

Manny Ramirez. Showed he could hit without a high-powered offense while in Los Angeles, but they were better than this. Keeping him here and out of the field is a good move, and maybe he’ll be able to concentrate more on swinging the bat. He’s on the decline, but he’s not done yet. This is a good park for him to hit in, and he should provide some help for Longoria. What they can’t afford is for him to be a head case, and they need to make sure his locker is as far away from Upton as possible. He needs to have a good year for the Rays to be competitive, and he doesn’t, he’ll become a problem.

Upside:  decides he likes hitting baseball more than staying at home

Downside:  Manny being Manny

Score:  0

Backup catcher:

Don’t really have one, as both Jaso and Shoppch will get a lot of playing time. If one of them goes down, it will be Jose Lobaton, who probably isn’t the answer, or some sort of roster move. The hope would be that one of these guys, mostly Jaso, steps us and gets 130 starts, leaving the other as a pure backup. That would be the best scenario, but probably won’t happen. An injury or lack of production will really hurt.

Upside:  they do what they did last year.

Downside:  an injury or lack of production makes one of them start too many games

Score:  - 1

Backup first baseman:

Zobrist or Damon, which will be a big problem, as this will put the outfield into flux, and cause Manny to use his glove. This could actually end up being an upgrade at the position, but not worth the cost elsewhere. It would all depend on how well Matt Joyce plays, and when Rocco Baldelli comes back from retirement.

Upside:  Johnson is good enough that one isn’t really needed, beyond a few days off

Downside:  they really end up needing one

Score:  0

Back-up infielder:

Ben Zobrist. Are you starting to see a pattern here? And a problem? If Zobrist is filling this role, who is filling his? Zobrist is suited to do this and be a super sub, but he’s supposed to be a starter. There is no one else on the depth chart, so no one is ready in the infield for the Rays. On the bright side, there are plenty of guys out there who can fill this role, and picking up one of them and leaving Zobrist alone would be a better move. Unless they find a right fielder.

Upside:  everyone stays healthy and hits

Downside:  Zobrist has to become the super sub again

Score:  0

Back-up outfielder:

Matt Joyce. Not a bad choice, as he has some pop and can get a base a little better than average. He can also play all three positions adequately, so he can give them all a rest when needed. If something happens in the infield, he could fill in and do okay. He might actually be a better option in right field, with Zobrist taking over another position. That leaves Desmond Jennings as the fourth outfielder, which would work also. This will actually be strength for the team, amongst a host of weaknesses.

Upside:  doesn’t have to start and gets to do his thing well

Downside:  has to become a starter and doesn’t get it done

Score:  + 1

Rotation (front 3):

David Price, James Shields, and Wade Davis. Minus Price, this rotation was actually below average last year, but I don’t see that happening again. Price is turning into a big time pitcher and Shields had an off year. I expect him to return to form, and Davis has the potential. They’re going to have to be good, because the offense won’t be what it was. More strikeouts are important also, as the defense won’t be quite as good as last year. They have to step up, but they also have the ability to do it. The team’s fortunes ride on how good they are.

Upside:  everyone pitches to his capability

Downside:  Matt Garza was more important than they thought

Score:  + 1

Rotation (back end):

Jeremy Hellickson and Jeff Neiman. Neiman is average and is 27. It’s make or break for him, but he shouldn’t hurt the team unless he has a complete meltdown. Hellickson pitched well at the end of the year and has a lot of upside. As long as these two aren’t required to do more than the team needs from them. They might even surprise and become a strength. They should get the job done, just as the starters will.

Upside:  can just go out and pitch without worrying about too much

Downside:  the team has to rely on them too much

Score:  0


Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Adam Russell, Andy Sonnanstine, and J.P. Howell. This is a train wreck waiting to happen. When Farnsworth is a major piece of the puzzle, you have pitching problems. The bullpen was good last year, and was a big help, but it won’t be this year. The starting pitching will have to step up and pitch well, and a lot. Relying on the pen is not going to get them back in the playoffs. The bullpen might make the bench look even better.

Upside:  the roster moves start before spring training

Downside:  Farnsworth takes over as the closer

Score:  - 2


Jake McGee. A converted starter who saved all of one game in the minors, he’s a rookie, left handed, and not a reliever. This one doesn’t make sense, as he could be better used in the rotation when he’s ready. His numbers in the minors were good, but he has no history at this. It doesn’t mean he’ll be bad, he’s just unknown, and for a playoff contender, it’s a strange move. Losing Rafael Soriano is going to hurt.

Upside:  does his best Todd Worrell impression

Downside:  not suited for the role

Score:  - 1

Team speed (which includes base running):

Good speed. Not quite as good as last year, but Damon can still run, when needed. They could have 5 guys with 20+ steals, and they might need it. They’ll be good on the bases also, and will need to be, as the power isn’t there. It will also help in the outfield with turf. They’ll need all they can get.

Upside:  everyone hits well enough that the stolen bases aren’t as important

Downside:  it becomes too important a part of the offense

Score:  + 1

Team defense:

Not going to be as good this year. Average at most positions, and none are really standouts except Longoria. They’re going to have to be good, because the pitching will need all the help it can get. Fewer runs by the offense means less free runs for the opponents is that much more important.

Upside:  there isn’t one. They won’t be bad, but they won’t standout either

Downside:  too much shuffling around the field exposes the weaknesses they have

Score:  0

Team batting:

Going to be a problem. They will be average at best. Older players and unproven ones have to step up to support Longoria, and they’ve lost more power than they replaced. They’ll get on base, but will they be able to move around them without a track meet? They are going to have trouble competing against the Yankees and Red Sox.

Upside:  If they have to make a move for the line-up, it should be for a bat

Downside:  everyone stays healthy and this just enough to stay in the line-up

Score:  0

Team pitching:

Going to have to be good, and will be from the rotation. They won’t get a lot of support, so they can’t give up much. They starters will have to pitch well, and pitch deep. They can’t let the bullpen control games, and with an unknown closer, it will be all that more important. The team’s chances will depend on how little the rotation lets the bullpen pitch.

Upside:  the starters go deep and can put in a lot of innings

Downside:  the bullpen gets into too many close games

Score:  0

Total score:    0

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