FIRST INNING (A look back)…
The Rays added three players to the 40-man roster last week to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. The most notable exception was Eddie Morlan…Was it a mistake to leave Morlan unprotected?
A quick look at the numbers shows Dale Thayer (2.82 tRA, 10.0 K/9 at AAA) was much stronger than Morlan (4.40 tRA, 8.62 K/9 at AA) this past season. Of course Thayer will be 28 next season and Morlan will only be 23. Morlan is only one season removed from being one of the best relief pitcher prospects in baseball. Still, Thayer is more likely to help a major league club in 2009. So if it is Thayer versus Morlan for one spot, we would have understood either choice. Of course, the Rays still have an empty spot on the roster, so the question is really: Morlan or the roster flexibility that comes from having an empty spot on the 40-man roster. The Rays chose the latter and as a result there is a good chance Morlan will be taken in the Rule 5 draft…GOOD CHANCE RAYS WILL LOSE MORLAN
SECOND INNING (Headlines)…
The biggest need for the Rays this off-season appears to be a right fielder…If the Rays do not bring in somebody from outside the organization, who will be the starting right fielder on opening day?
The Rays have options (Fernando Perez, Willy Aybar, Ben Zobrist, Jonny Gomes) but are any of them appealing as an everyday option? The Rays were well off the pace of league-average right fielders in 2008, and we don’t see anybody in that group that will change that scenario. Perez still has holes in his swing (172 to 66 strike out to walk ratio). We refuse to believe that Zobrist is suddenly going to slug .550 for a full season. The Rays clearly have lost faith in Gomes. That leaves Aybar. Maddon probably prefers to keep Aybar as a bench guy that receives 2-3 starts a week, but if the Rays are unable to make a trade or sign a free agent, Aybar will be the guy, although others will see time…WILLY AYBAR
THIRD INNING (Headlines)…
Rocco Baldelli met with Red Sox officials last week…Does this hurt the Rays chances of resigning Rocco?
There is a lot of sentimentality to keep Rocco and there is little question he can still be a force off the bench. But right now it seems like the Rays would rather see what else is out there before making a commitment to a player that won’t be able to play the field and might only face left-handed pitchers. If the Rays don’t bring in a full time DH, we can see Rocco resigned and forming a platoon with Willy Aybar at DH. But, by the time the Rays try to play that hand, we have a feeling Rocco will be gone. And boy is it gonna suck to see Rocco in a Red Sox uniform facing Scott Kazmir in Fenway in that second or third game of the season…ROCCO MIGHT HAVE TWO FEET OUT THE DOOR
FOURTH INNING (Headlines)…
The Rays still have an open slot on the 40-man roster following the most recent additions…Is there a possibility for the Rays to select a player in the Rule 5 draft?
One thing that will take a while to get used to, is the Rays drafting at the bottom of the board. In the Rule 5 draft next month and the Rule 4 draft next June, the Rays have pick #30. The chance a player worth keeping on the major league roster is still available is slim. Besides, the Rays prefer flexibility and a borderline major leaguer without an option is the opposite of flexibility. And looking back, this front office has yet to take a player in the Rule 5 draft for the purpose of keeping the player…NOT LIKELY
FIFTH INNING (Headlines)…
With the Rays declining the option on Cliff Floyd, the Rays suddenly have a need for a left-handed hitting DH…Is there any chance the Rays sign Jason Giambi?
We would love to see the Giambino in a Rays uniform next season. And we are not going to say it is impossible but a lot needs to happen before the Rays are even rumored to be serious suitors. The Rays first need to trade for a cheap right fielder. They need to move Carl Crawford and insert Fernando Perez in left field (saves Rays $8.25MM). The Rays need to sign a left-handed reliever for less than $2 million and they need to trade the arbitration-eligible Edwin Jackson (saves Rays $2-4MM). With Rocco’s $4 million buyout, the Rays payroll is already pushing $60 million. That is quite a leap from the opening day payroll of 2008 (~$43MM). Our gut says the Rays are looking at $60 million as a ceiling for the ’09 roster. So if the Rays want to add Giambi’s $10-12 million salary, they need to cut salary in other areas first. And even then…VERY LITTLE CHANCE
SIXTH INNING (A look outside the box)…
Last week it looked like a foregone conclusion that CC Sabathia would sign with the Yankees. Now the Yankees have set another one of their arbitrary deadlines…What will happen to the Yankees if Sabathia signs with another team?
Even better is Phil Rogers scenario: What happens if the Yankees fail to sign Sabathia, AJ Burnett or Derek Lowe, the three biggest free agent pitchers? Mike Mussina has retired and if you heard the press conference you know the Yankees won’t be able to talk him out of it. The Yankees would certainly stop playing hardball with Andy Pettite, but are the Yankees a contender with a 37-year old Pettite, Chien-Ming Wang, Phillip Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain
Darrell Rasneras their rotation? That team could lose 90 games… WE WILL POP THE BUBBLY IF SABATHIA SIGNS WITH THE DODGERS OR GIANTS
SEVENTH INNING (Over/Unders)…
Date for the Rays first trade of the off-season: January 1
All signs indicate that the Rays are going to be very patient this off-season. Then again, it was the end of November last year when the Rays sent Delmon Young to the Twins for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. We would not be surprised if a deal is made before the new year, but it seems like the Rays would rather play this hand slow and see what others do first…OVER
Number of players currently on the 40-man roster that will be traded prior to opening day: 2.5
The Rays have some decisions that have to be made. Jason Hammel, JK Ryu, Edwin Jackson, Jeff Niemann and Jonny Gomes are all out of minor league options and few remaining roster spots. And while there are a number of people that think the Rays will keep both Andy Sonnanstine and Edwin Jackson, the addition of David Price would mean Jackson would have to be moved to the bullpen. Keep in mind Jackson is arbitration eligible and will be a very expensive middle reliever if he is kept. If Jackson stays, that is one less spot available for Hammel, Niemann and Ryu to compete for. The biggest question is whether there is a market for Hammel, Ryu or Gomes. We guess there is, but don’t expect much in return…OVER
Starts for David Price in the first week of the regular season: 0.5
The Rays kept Evan Longoria in Durham for two weeks prior to his promotion. Of course, he had yet to make his big league debut. It will be interesting. Price still only has 20 professional starts and only 5 above double-A. But how many rookies already have a game 7 ALCS save under their belts? While 4-5 starts in Durham would not surprise us, we think Price will be the #4 starter come opening day…OVER
Rays opening day payroll: $60 million
We have a feeling that $60 million is the number the Rays are trying to stay under. If we ignore Rocco Baldelli’s $4 million buyout, the payroll projection as of today is about $54.5 million. That includes our best guestimations on arbitration cases. That leaves some room to add a free agent right fielder or relief pitcher and we don’t see either of those costing more than $2-3 million. There is also room to free up some space if a player like Carl Crawford or Edwin Jackson is moved…UNDER
EIGHTH INNING (On deck)…
[Rain delay: queue The Baseball Bunch]
NINTH INNING (Putting out the fire)…
Joe Magrane is leaving the Rays for the MLB Network…Who is most likely to take his place in the TV booth?
The two biggest candidates are Todd Kalas and Brian Anderson. Both subbed for Magrane when Magrane participated in the Olympic baseball coverage. Kalas seems more like a play-by-play guy to us. Anderson is certainly rough around the edges, and we suspect he would step on a few of Dewayne Staats calls (there is nothing more annoying in broadcasting than when a play-by-play guy is making a call during a dramatic moment of the game and the color guy tries to insert his two cents at the same time). Still, Anderson is probably the leading in-house candidate…BRIAN ANDERSON
The Bucs are 8-3…Is there any chance they miss the playoffs?
If the playoffs started today the Bucs would be the 2-seed. Even if the Bucs lose to the Panthers and lose the division, they still have a 1-game lead on the next three teams for the Wild Card (Was, Dal, Atl). The Bucs also have the tie-breaker over two of those three teams (Was, Atl) and a better conference record than all three. Those teams would have to win two more games than the Bucs in the last five. The Bucs are in the playoffs. The only question now is “what seed?”…NO