The RI Confidence Graph will appear every Monday and is a look at how much confidence we have in the Tampa Bay Rays at this moment. The graph is designed to give us a look at how our emotional bias as Rays fans fluctuates through time. The “confidence” in the team is an inexact measure of how we feel about the team’s current strength as well as how much confidence we have in the Tampa Bay Rays moving forward. You can think of a “confidence” rating of 10 as an indication that we believe the team is “playoff-caliber”. A rating of 0 is a strong indication that we need to start reevaluating the process that led to us becoming Rays fans. Notes on this weeks agida-level can be found after the graph..
Notes on the RI Confidence Graph…
This past week saw the Rays acquire Willy Aybar from the Braves to be the Rays super-utility guy (even though he has only played two positions in his career) and possibly be the opening day third baseman if Evan Longoria starts the season at AAA. This move is horizontal at best. No matter what your stance is on Longoria, the Dirtbag can out-hit Aybar right now without any further seasoning in the minors and all reports indicate that he could probably out-field him also.
If we are resigned to Longoria being in Durham on opening day, that indicates that Aybar is now in place to compete with Joel Guzman to be the most-days third baseman. While there is no doubt that Aybar is a better hitter than Guzman now, the acquisition of Aybar will further hinder any development we would could have expected from the Guzman. Guzman is still only 23 and has a huge upside. If given an everyday job and a spot at the bottom of the order, Guzman could finally find the plate discipline that has evaded him and blossom as a major league hitter. At worst, he could become a trade piece when Longoria makes his awaited debut. Keeping Guzman hidden in the bottom of the order would not be a complete waste of a spot in the lineup as his glove is clearly a step-above Aybar’s. At this point, our best hope is that Guzman and Aybar form a platoon at third base.
Also puzzling in this trade is the movement of Jeff Ridgway, a left-handed reliever. While we had no expectations from Ridgway, it is interesting that the Rays would cut-bait on a left-handed relief pitcher that is a borderline major leaguer, when the Rays have openly stated they are seeking to acquire a left-handed reliever for the bullpen. At worst, Ridgway would have given the Rays some depth of left-handed relievers in an organization that has an obvious dearth of them.
On the upside this past week was the Rays are proving what they have said all along…That they will spend money when the opportunity to improve the team presents itself. First was the 3-year contract agreement reached by the Rays and Carlos Pena which allows the team to maintain a stable power source for the next three years. In addition word came down that the Rays are looking to lock-up James Shields for the next seven years. While we admit there are some serious risks signing a pitcher to a deal of that length, we feel it is a risk worth taking. While neither of these moves have any bearing on the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, both of these moves make us feel all warm-and-fuzzy inside and give the Rays an air of legitimacy in the baseball community.
Unfortunately, the warm and fuzzy feeling is tempered a bit by the inability of the team to sign their most important piece to a long-term deal. While the Rays avoided arbitration with Scott Kazmir, they were only able to agree to a one-year contract with the young ace. Having Shields and Pena locked-up would be nice, but we will reserve excitement until Kid K signs a multi-year extension or the top pitching prospects prove themselves at the big league level and prove replacement-worthy of Kazmir should the Rays lose him to free agency following the 2010 season.
In the end, the Confidence Graph maintains a status-quo from the previous week. We still feel this team is heading for about a 75-win season. The back of the rotation continues to scare us, until somebody steps up. The back of the bullpen is solid on paper, but in reality it is too much to expect the AARP members, Troy Percival and Al Reyes to remain healthy all season and there is a very good chance one or both will be traded during the season along with Dan Wheeler, who is a pending free agent. Rocco is running, but only three days a week. There is a lot to like about this team, but there are still too many holes in the pitching staff and the lineup will suffer from cold-spells during the season. And while the team is spending more money, there is still a big question mark with Kazmir and the Longoria decision may be in large part based on the idea of holding off on the start of his arbitration clock.
That being said, we feel an up-tick is on the way. It is only natural to be pessimistic at this time of year. Everybody hoped that their team had done more in the off-season and right now teams are starting to look like what is to be expected in Spring Training. As we get closer to Spring Training, the juices will start flowing and we will get a closer look at all the changes the Rays have made and whether or not those changes will manifest itself into more wins.