Marc Lancaster. You picked the wrong day to try and unload this garbage on us.

Willy Aybar is set to come off the DL in the next day or two. Aybar is being prepped on his rehab assignment to be a utility player upon his return, receiving playing time at first base, second base and third base.

As we have mentioned on this site, this will create quite a problem for Andrew Friedman, as he must decide who Aybar will replace on the roster. The only two bench players with options are Ben Zobrist and Shawn Riggans. As the backup shortstop and catcher, on the surface, it appears both will be staying put. On the other hand, the Rays have four players playing right field and DH. Cliff Floyd and Jonny Gomes are safe as the starting DHs.

That leaves either Gabe Gross or Eric Hinske as the odd-man out. Gross is the better defensive option while Hinske provides more offense and a bit of position flexibility (can play third, first). Without minor league options, if one of those players is moved, they would have to be traded or placed on waivers.

Lancaster provides two scenarios that would allow the Rays to keep everybody.

  1. Send Zobrist to the minors and let Evan Longoria serve as the backup shortstop.
  2. Drop a relief pitcher and keep an 11-man pitching staff.

Do these scenarios sound familiar? They should if you read the comments section on any Rays blog.

The problem with Lancaster’s presentation is that he presents the first scenario as if the move is a real possibility. He even seems to be hinting that the team is considering this option.

Sorting through the possibilities, an interesting scenario is beginning to emerge as an avenue to clear space for Aybar.

Where exactly is this emerging from? Lancaster’s mind? The thoughts of commenters on this or another site? Because it sure isn’t emerging from the team.

On Tuesday, Longoria said the Rays haven’t asked him about playing shortstop in a pinch, but he said he thinks he could handle the job.

So. Because Lancaster brought it up to Longoria, and he said he could handle it, then it is “emerging as an avenue”? In fact, Longoria admits that it would take “some work”. Not exactly the sort of thing that is easy to work on in the regular season, when he has not played the position since college.

Marc Lancaster: Evan, you took Spanish in college right? Well, the Rays get tour groups from Spanish speaking countries all the time. Do you think you could handle showing them around if the regular tour guide ever calls in sick?
Evan Longoria: I guess I could probably handle it, but I would need to spend some time brushing up on my Spanish.
Marc Lancaster: *typing on typewriter* An interesting scenario is beginning to emerge as an avenue to help the Rays out if their Spanish speaking tour guide ever calls in sick.

Shortstop is the most demanding position on the field. You can’t throw a guy out there cold-turkey. Yes, Dirtbag is a great defensive player. And yes he has played there before. This just in: Almost every player on the team has played shortstop at some point in the past. Alex Rodriguez was a gold glove shortstop. Yet, whenever Derek Jeter is injured, A-Rod does not shift over and play short. Why change two positions when the manager only has to change one?

Maddon loves positional flexibility. With only four guys on the bench, it is a necessity. Right now, he has 4 guys playing two positions. Keeping Hinske and Gross makes the team less flexible. Not more.

And what does Joe Maddon think of the possibility of going with an 11-man pitching staff?

the moment you think you can, you can’t.

Let us translate that for Mr. Lancaster: “No. Nope. Not going to happen. Don’t even bring it up.” And yet, Lancaster still brings it up as a possibility.

Marc Lancaster: Joe, Percy has pitched the last 3 days and Wheeler went 2 innings yesterday. With only 5.5 relievers (Miller only gets credit for 0.5), it seems like the bullpen is pretty thin. Have you thought about just letting Kazmir go all 9 innings tonight. That’s what they did in the old days.
Joe Maddon: *punches Lancaster in the nose*

Yes. As recently as 3-4 years ago, some teams were still using 11-man pitching staffs. However, with pitchers rarely working past the 7th inning, and the advent of lefty-specialists, the 12-man staff has become the norm. With the Rays starters pitching well, certainly it is possible. But as Maddon said, you never know when you will need that extra guy. Whether it is a pitcher getting knocked out in the 3rd inning, or an extra-inning game. With the 12-man staffs we are no longer subjected to seeing a positional player come in to pitch in the 14th inning because a manager is out of pitchers.

Also, baseball no longer schedules double-headers. The beauty of double-headers is that there were more off-days during the regular season in which pitchers could rest their arms. The Rays are in the midst of a stretch in which they will play 20 games in 21 days. Not exactly the time to have fewer pitchers.

Could the Rays implement one of the above strategies? Sure they could. But there is no indication they will, and even if they do, it will only be a band-aid move until a better solution presents itself.

We would love to applaud Marc Lancaster “for the effort”, but we can’t. He obviously did not think this through.

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2 Comments

  1. kyle says:

    guess I drank lancaster's witch's brew.

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  2. Robert Rittner says:

    I agree it is unlikely the Rays will return to the more sensible 11 man pitching staff. But your argument actually provides the reason they can.

    Unlike many other teams, the Rays have few pitchers who are 1 man or even 1 inning pitchers. Currently, only Trevor Miller is really a one man pitcher, and although there has been some criticism of Maddon using him for full innings and against righties, the fact is Joe does seem willing to let him do more than a typical Loogy.

    Only Miller and Percival are one inning pitchers. Every other pitcher in the bullpen has already gone more than an inning: Reyes, Wheeler and Glover regularly pitch as much as 2 full innings and Howell and Hammel are expected to go three and probably could manage more in a pinch.

    Additionally, your other point about Maddon's preference for multi-position players has some bearing on the issue. On the one hand, it does mean he can do with fewer reserves. On the other hand, every bench player has an important use and except for Riggans and Floyd, who are not going anywhere, all can cover more than one position.

    Although Zobrist is in RF today and has been used in CF, do you really think the Rays would be comfortable with his defense or especially his bat should he be needed for more than a game or two here and there? I doubt it, which makes Gross more secure. He is the only real center field reserve and has some skills at the plate as well. Should Upton be hurt, he is the only player close to the majors who could fill in adequately, at least on defense, for an extended period.

    Losing Hinske or Gomes also limits Maddon's options severely, taking away the two best bench bats against both a lefty and righty. Perhaps a trade is in the offing; I have expected something for a while now. But absent a trade, it seems to me to come down to the lesser of two evils-losing a useful reserve or eliminating the last option in the bullpen. Given that there are promising relievers in AAA, so that losing Glover can easily be rectified overnight, it seems to me sensible to go that route.

    I realize there are a number of promising outfielders as well as a lefty bat in Durham as well. But none of them (except Haynes) has Gross's glove, and while Glover has contributed little so far, both Gomes and Hinske have been useful. So why sacrifice a valuable player for one with no real worth to the team, especially when his hoped for contributions are likely duplicated at Durham?

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