If you have been hanging around these parts for a while, you know that the model for this site is to tell you what the Rays have done, what they are doing and try to project what they will do, and why. Unlike most team blogs, we do not very often tell you what the Tampa Bay Rays should do. However, for the next 12 days we will step away from the standard, and we present to you 12 “presents” the Tampa Bay Rays should give to their fans.
On the first day of Raysmas, the Tampa Bay Rays gave to us, ONE impact bat to put the Rays over the top…
Based on the current financial landscape in Major League Baseball, the Rays will never be a major player in the free agent market. The Rays just don’t have the resources to compete with teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Mets for the top-tier of talent.
And even if the Rays were to go after a big time free agent, the Rays can’t afford the risk that is involved. If the Rays give $13 million a season to one player, and that player is injured, they are handcuffed with 20-25% of the payroll tied to one player. If the Yankees give $13 million a year to Gary Sheffield and lose him to an injury, they can afford to trade for another $13 million player (Bobby Abreu) to plug the hole in the lineup.
The other advantage big market teams have, is the willingness to add extra years to the contract. The Rays cannot risk a situation 4-5 years down the road in which 20-25% of the payroll is tied to one player that has started showing diminished abilities in the field. Of course, we saw how selling their souls to the Devil at the beginning of the decade, came back to haunt the Yankees in 2008 with a roster filled with over-the-hill and over-priced veterans.
In the end, it takes a perfect mix of conditions in which the Rays can even think about entering the free agent market with their eyes on a top prize. And this year may be that Perfect Storm.
- The Rays will return in 2009 with a roster that will look very much like their AL pennant-wining roster of 2008. With most of the same pieces returning, it allows the Rays to focus all of their resources on filling just one or two needs.
- The Rays one big need is not pitching. The Rays will never be big players in the pitching free agent market. There is just too much risk involved to put a lot of money into one player that could be lost for a season or longer.
- In 2008, the Rays offense posted a .762 OPS, good for only 8th in the AL. And while we can expect similar, if not better production from the rotation, the bullpen could take a step back in 2009. If the Rays want to repeat as AL champs, they will need more production from the offense. We can already expect a boost from players like BJ Upton, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena if they can stay healthy all season, and Evan Longoria who will have a year of experience under his belt. But adding an impact bat to the middle of the lineup will offer that one jolt that could put the Rays over the top.
- In 2008, Rays’ DHs posted a .760 OPS (8th in the AL). They were 20 points off the AL average for DHs. A contender should aspire to be league average at every position and above average at a few. The Rays certainly need an upgrade at DH.
- The market for DHs (and corner outfielders) is shaping into a buyer’s market with more supply than demand. With players like Milton Bradley, Jason Giambi, Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu and Raul Ibanez available and only a handful of teams looking, the price on these players is coming down. We already saw Ibanez sign with the Phillies for $10 million per season (3 years) and his signing cost the Phils a first-round pick. While most of these players had visions of $15 million sugarplums dancing in their heads, they are now looking at $7-9 million per season.
- The current state of the economy may also be holding back some teams from committing big contracts to all but the most lucrative free agents which may help push prices down even further. The Rays on the other hand are one team that may not have to tighten the reigns in 2009. With the benefit of revenues generated from eight playoff games and the expected boost in attendance along with knowing that most of the roster is already under contract for 2009 and beyond, the Rays are one team that can afford to increase payroll.
- With a depressed market, several free agents may be willing to sign a one year deal with a mutual 2010 option and an eye towards reentering the market a year from now when conditions may be more favorable. And if they choose that route, they may prefer to play for a team like the Rays that is a contender and offers an already strong lineup with lots of speed. It is not unreasonable to think a player like Adam Dunn or Pat Burrell could be inserted into the Rays lineup and produce 35 home runs and 110 RBI in just an average season. This would be a perfect scenario for the Rays, as they can avoid the risk of having an overpriced player on the downside of his career 3-4 years from now, at a time when a cheaper option could emerge from within.
It would take the Perfect Storm for the Rays to be players in the market for top-tier free agents. But in the current market, the Rays are in a position to sign a player that will likely produce above what he will be paid. The Rays current front office has always said they would be willing to sign free agents if they fit the needs of the team, and as long as the Rays can find a good deal. This off-season is shaping up to be that Perfect Storm.
On the first day of Raysmas, all Rays fans want is ONE impact bat from the free agent market wrapped in a ribbon with a bow on top.