FIRST INNING (A look back)…
It has now been 3 weeks since the Rays lost the World Series, but at the same time concluded one of the most remarkable and improbable World Series runs in the history of the game…Looking back now, is there anything we have learned?

We feel it is pretty obvious the city of Philadelphia sold their soul to the Devil in order to win the World Series. First the Devil Rays split their ties with the Devil and in the next season won 97 games and the American League pennant. But the clearest piece of evidence is the grip the Devil has on Philadelphia’s beloved “Iggles”. We hope Philadelphians enjoy their World Series because their Eagles are going to be home for the playoffs for the second straight season after their tie against the Bengals who have only one win this season…THE PAIN, THE PAIN

SECOND INNING (Headlines)…
David Price is expected to be in the rotation next season, replacing either Andy Sonnanstine or Edwin Jackson…Is there a scenario in which the Rays would keep both Sonnanstine and Jackson next year?

If we assume that neither pitcher is traded, one must be moved to the bullpen. Sonnanstine was clearly the better starting pitcher of the two (it wasn’t even close). So if both pitchers are on the roster in 2009, Jackson would have to be in the bullpen (he is out of minor league options). The question then becomes: Is Jackson more valuable to the Rays as a relief pitcher or as a trade piece? Unless you can make a strong argument that Jackson will become a dominant closer, it seems that his true value is as a trade piece. Finding middle relievers in baseball is not easy, but it is not impossible either. The Rays are evidence of this. From the middle of 2007 until Spring Training of this past season, the Rays were able to completely overhaul their bullpen. On the other hand, there are plenty of teams desperate for starting pitching…ONLY AS A LAST RESORT

THIRD INNING (Headlines)…
If the Rays are going to trade Andy Sonnanstine or Edwin Jackson…Who is the most likely to be moved?

From the last question it might seem that Jackson is the obvious answer, but not so quick. Jackson and Sonnanstine are polar opposites when it comes to young pitching talent. Sonny is dependable and consistent. He is a “what you see is what you get” starting pitcher. Meaning, he will win 12-15 games every year. He won’t break down. But he also won’t get much better than he is already. On the other hand, Jackson is still a work in progress and he has the arm to one day win a Cy Young award. But he also could completely fall apart and lose 17 games. If you polled 30 GMs, it would not surprise us if half preferred Sonny and half preferred Jackson. One thing is certain. The Rays like both pitchers. If the Rays stand to bring more back in return for Sonnanstine, Jackson will be the Rays 5th starter in 2009…NEITHER WOULD SURPRISE US

FOURTH INNING (Headlines)…
Outside of Andy Sonnanstine and Edwin Jackson…Who are the other players that could be moved this offseason?

The biggest name that has a good chance of being moved is Jeff Niemann, who is out of minor league options. There is a need for a long reliever in the bullpen, but like Jackson, Niemann has more value to the Rays as a starting pitcher trade chip than as a once-a-week relief pitcher. Another big name is Carl Crawford, although we think this is a very long shot. He only has 2 years left on a deal in which the Rays owe CC $18 million. If the team wants to save a few dollars, this is the player they will look to move. Crawford may even prefer a move as he has openly complained about how the FieldTurf is hard on his legs. To a lesser extent, it would not surprise us if either Willy Aybar or Ben Zobrist are traded. While the Rays would certainly prefer to keep both, another team may view one of those players as a potential starter. If so, the package offered could be too good to ignore…JEFF NIEMANN, CARL CRAWFORD, WILLY AYBAR, BEN ZOBRIST

FIFTH INNING (Headlines)…
Rocco Baldelli has filed for free agency…Does this mark the end of his career with the Rays?

The funniest thing we have heard during the Hot Stove season so far is the suggestion by some that the Rays should somehow convince Rocco to retire and accept a job as a coach with the Rays. Why would any fan ever prefer to see Rocco coaching over playing, even if it is with another team? There will be plenty of time for Rocco to come back as a coach once his playing career is over. In the meantime, he has made it very clear that he wants to play in 2009 and thinks he can play about 100 games as a DH and occasional outfielder. There are enough rumblings that other teams are interested in Baldelli’s services (Boston, Philadelphia) that we have to wonder if he will be back with the Rays in 2009. Still, we think Rocco’s preference is to play with the Rays and we have to assume the Rays want him back…NOT YET

SIXTH INNING (A look outside the box)…
With most of the Rays roster set for 2009, the team figures to be very quiet in the free agent market…What other team should RAYSHEADS watch closely during the Hot Stove season?

CC Sabathia to the Yankees appears to be a foregone conclusion. The only question at this point is how much he is going to cost. Certainly Sabathia makes the Yankees a contender again in ’09, but this signing could eventually help the Rays. It has been reported that the Yankees initial offer would be the biggest contract ever for a pitcher. If Sabathia can drive the price up even further, that is less money the Yankees will have to spend elsewhere (even the Yankees have a budget). And the Yankees have a number of holes to fill, especially on the offensive side of the ball…NEW YORK YANKEES

SEVENTH INNING (Oddsmakers)…
What are the odds of the Rays trading either Andy Sonnanstine or Edwin Jackson?

There are reports that many teams are expressing interest in one or both starting pitchers. It is not impossible that both pitchers are kept around, at least for the beginning of the season, but in the end, somebody will make the right offer…90%

What are the odds of Rocco Baldelli playing for the Rays in 2009?

If Rocco is back with the Rays in 2009 it will be because this is where he wants to be. It will not be because of money as it is likely that he will receive a more lucrative offer from another team. And while we would never fault a player for taking the biggest offer, it will not surprise us if Rocco bases his decision on his mitochondrial disorder. With the Rays, Rocco has a team that knows him and his condition. The Rays know what Rocco is capable of and how best to utilize him. Also, with the Rays, Rocco may feel a sense of obligation. A sense of “unfinished business”…60%

What are the odds of Jeff Niemann being part of the Rays bullpen in 2009?

Certainly Niemann could be the Rays long reliever in 2009 and there is a chance he could be groomed to be a future closer. But once the Rays go down that path, any value in the trade market Niemann might have as a starting pitcher prospect goes out the window…10%

EIGHTH INNING (On deck)…
The Rays still have Troy Percival signed for the 2009 season, but with potential surgeries for his back and legs, his health is in question…Who will be the Rays closer in 2009?

The most important question is: How healthy will Troy Percival be and is his body able to handle a full season at his age (and size)? As we saw last week, Percival was an effective closer in 2008, when he was healthy. But there are still questions about whether Percy needs offseason surgery on his back and possibly his knee. If he is healthy, Percival will be the closer. If he is not 100%, look for Joe Maddon to treat the bullpen the same way he did in the postseason, even if the Rays do sign a free agent relief pitcher. Maddon will play the matchups each night with Dan Wheeler receiving the majority of save opportunities. Grant Balfour and JP Howell will also see their fair share of 9th innings…TROY PERCIVAL OR COMMITTEE

NINTH INNING (Putting out the fire)…
Joe Maddon is one of 17 nominated by writers for the Sports Illustrated “Sportsman of the Year”…Does he actually have a chance of winning?

We have no idea what criteria Sports Illustrated plans on using this year. Sometimes it is on field accomplishments. Sometimes it is off-field endeavors. But Maddon and the Rays are certainly worthy of consideration…YES

David Price is one of four finalists for ESPN the Magazine’s “Next” title…Should Price be the favorite?

Matt Ryan is certainly a legitimate candidate, but the other two are a driver and a European basketball player that hasn’t even been drafted yet…YES

According to at least one book, the Rays are tied for the 8th favorite, at 16/1, to win the World Series in 2009…Too high or too low?

If they played the 2009 season 16 times, the Rays would once? Considering the two biggest favorites are also from the AL East, that sounds about right…ABOUT RIGHT

 
 

10 Comments

  1. Doug A. Milhoan says:

    As you’ll see in an article I’ll post tomorrow (continuation of the one linked, too long), Sonnanstine pitched at a level slightly below an average #1 starter in 2008. Jackson? A slightly above-average #5. And yet people still argue Jackson is better. And, Jackson actually was better in ’08 than ’07. Sonny? Was a #2 level in ’08 in MLB, a #1 in AAA. And thanks for the links! – Doug

  2. chezzmxd3 says:

    You could make the case that Price isn’t “next”, but already here after his world series closes

  3. stunna says:

    I’d like to see Balfour close, with Howell or Wheeler as a setup man. Wheeler scares me sometimes, but Howell is as consistent as they get. All he does is get the job done. Howell might be the most underrated reliever in baseball. If Balfour can learn to throw a decent changeup, he has the potential to be one of the best closers in the majors.

    Prof, what happens if Jackson AND Sonny are traded? Doubtful I know, but not impossible. Then Niemann is our 5th starter and we have Wade Davis right around the corner. That would be my guess at least.

  4. stunna says:

    Also, even if we did trade Sonny AND Jackson, and Niemann is hurt or traded…..I’m going way out on a limb here…..but I think everyone can agree Hammel is good enough to be a 5th starter.

    I don’t know what I’m getting at, but bottom line is that management can basically do whatever they want, and trade whoever they want. It’s great to have options

  5. The Professor says:

    And don’t forget Talbot. check those numbers in that starting pitcher link above and Talbot’s numbers are much better than Niemann.

    I still think Niemann is the better pitcher, and he pitched much better towards the end of the season, but Talbot could be serviceable as a #5. He has a great changeup. Not as good as Shields, but maybe the second best in the organization.

  6. The Professor says:

    as for Balfour. I am not sure he will ever be able to learn an effective change. the most important thing about a change is make it look like the fastball. everything has to be identical in the delivery. i don’t know how easy it would be to throw a change when the delivery on his fastball is so balls-out. can he still be that intense and generate the same arm action even if he knows it is only going to go 87-88? I don’t know. i am trying to think of another pitcher whose fastball required so much effort and yet still had a strong changeup. I can’t think of one off the top of my head. he may be better of just throwing a second fastball that is 91-92 with movement. a 2-seamer or a cutter.

  7. Justin says:

    What is Balfour’s current fastball? A four seam?

  8. stunna says:

    Good call Prof, I completely forgot about Talbot.

    And I see what you’re saying about Balfour. I’m just wondering how long he’ll be able to keep overpowering batters with just one pitch. Plus, if he gets older, injures his arm, etc and loses some arm strength and throws low 90′s, he’d pretty much be done if thats all he had to rely on.

    Didn’t John Rocker have a somewhat similar delivery? What did he throw, besides a killer fastball?

  9. The Professor says:

    Justin, yes, Balfour throws a 4-seam fastball. generally the harder throwers throw 4-seamers. The guys the want more movement throw 2-seamers, but it has a little less velocity.

  10. The Professor says:

    Stunna, Rocker is a good example. He was fastball-slider. His slider was actually pretty good. He also had a curveball, but like a changeup he had a hard time with it because he threw it too hard. it ended up being more slider than curve but was thrown a little slower than his regular slider so it wouldn’t have the same bite.

Leave a Comment