FIRST INNING (A look back)…
Last week the Rays traded Edwin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers for Matt Joyce…What does this trade mean to the 2009 roster?
Barring any further trades, it gives us a sense of who will be competing for which spots in spring training. Moving Jackson opens up one spot in the rotation. Ultimately that spot will go to David Price, but there is a good chance the Rays will let Price simmer in Durham for a while. That leaves Jeff Niemann, Mitch Talbot and Jason Hammel competing for the final spot. Talbot has minor league options and Hammel may have already exhausted his chances. That leaves Niemann unless one of the other two step up. To the bullpen goes the leftovers. There are one or two spots available in the bullpen and one or two of the aforementioned three, could step into those spots. As for the lineup, Joyce will ultimately be the most-days right fielder, but that may not happen in April. If he is not ready to be fulltime player, the Rays may prefer to have Joyce playing everyday in Durham over platooning against righties in the majors. A platoon situation at this point in his career will stall his development. That would mean Gabe Gross and either Willy Aybar or Ben Zobrist will platoon to start the season…A LOT MORE CLARITY, BUT QUESTIONS REMAIN
SECOND INNING (Headlines)…
With the Rays trading away a starting pitcher and bringing in a young right fielder…Which players already in the organization will be directly impacted by the move?
We already saw the Rays non-tender Jonny Gomes, but that might have happened anyway. Of the position players, Gross stands to be impacted the most as his skill-set is most similar to Matt Joyce. Once Joyce is deemed ready, Gross will be out of a job. For the pitchers, this move gives Jeff Niemann one last opportunity to be a big league starting pitcher for the Rays. The door will not be open long, so he needs to seize the opportunity…GABE GROSS AND JEFF NIEMANN
THIRD INNING (Headlines)…
The Rays left the winter meetings without offering a contract to any free agents, however reports suggest that the Rays and Cubs are the leading suitors for Milton Bradley…Do the Rays actually have a shot at signing Bradley?
When the off-season started, Milton Bradley was likely looking to make $12-15 million per season for 3-4 years. With Raul Ibanez signing with the Phillies for 3yrs/$30 million (and a first rd. pick), Bradley can only hope his deal is in the same neighborhood. While the Rays may be a more attractive option for Bradley (patient manager, DH), the Cubs are more likely to offer something similar to Ibanez’ deal. Already less than he was likely expecting, we have to wonder how much less he would be willing to accept for the chance to play with the Rays. Our guess is not much…GUT SAYS BRADLEY WILL SIGN WITH CUBS
FOURTH INNING (Headlines)…
In the Rule 5 draft the Rays picked up Derek Rodriguez from the White Sox organization…Does this addition ease the loss of Eddie Morlan in the same draft?
On the surface it does. But we have to wait and see how either pitcher does with their new teams. As the roster stands now, Rodriguez has a good shot at landing a bullpen spot. But those chances will drop quickly if the Rays trade for a relief pitcher as expected or sign a left-handed specialist…FOR THE TIME BEING
FIFTH INNING (Headlines)…
With Edwin Jackson gone, the Rays may be done dealing players off the major league roster…If a player is moved, who is the most likely member of the 25-man roster to be traded?
Of the pitchers, it is no secret the Rays would like to move Chad Bradford’s $3.5 million salary, but will they find any takers? If the Mets, with their payroll and need for a complete bullpen overhaul say ‘No’, we doubt the Rays will find a partner. As for the position players, this may depend on who the Rays sign to DH. If it is a right-handed bat (Pat Burrell) or switch-hitter (Milton Bradley), the Rays could look to move either Ben Zobrist or Willy Aybar. Both players are great bench players with good bats and the positional-flexibility that Joe Maddon covets. But do other teams see one or both as a potential starter? If so, the price might be too good to turn down…CHAD BRADFORD, BEN ZOBRIST, WILLY AYBAR
SIXTH INNING (A look outside the box)…
The Yankees recently signed the two biggest free agent starting pitchers…What do these signings mean to the Rays and their fans?
Obviously it puts the Yankees right back in the mix for the AL East and a playoff spot. And while the signings are enormous from a financial standpoint, there is a lot of risk involved for the Yankees (especially with AJ Burnett) and they still do not have much depth in the rotation. That coupled with a lineup filled with holes and the Yankees are not a lock for the playoffs. For the fans, it adds a new level of emotion to rooting for the Rays. In years past, contracts like these were just shrugged off as “the Yankees being the Yankees.” But that was when even Rays fans didn’t think the team could compete. Now, we have to sit back and watch the Yankees and Red Sox plug their holes just by writing a check, a VERY big check. And for the first time, we truly understand where we stand in the baseball universe…THE YANKEES ARE CONTENDERS AND THE RAYS WILL NEVER BE SPENDERS
SEVENTH INNING (Oddsmakers)…
Chances Jeff Nieman is named the fifth starter?
We have a feeling David Price will be in Durham for at least a few weeks. Of the remaining candidates, Mitch Talbot has options and Jason Hammel? Well, been there, tried that. Niemann makes the most sense, but there are several other options…34%
Chances Matt Joyce will be on the opening day roster?
We just can’t see the Rays platooning Joyce at this stage of his career for risk of stunting his growth against lefties. And we can’t see the Rays wanting to send out a lineup against lefties with two corner outfielders that blow chunks against lefties. With other options, the Rays won’t rush Joyce…14%
Chances Derek Rodriguez will be on the opening day roster?
As it stands right now, he has a good shot with two open slots. But the Rays rarely keep things status quo. We fully expect at least one more relief pitcher to be added to the mix and Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann need homes in 2009…10%
Chances Milton Bradley will sign with the Rays?
Bradley is already going to have to sign for less than hoped. We just can’t see him dropping his price any further than he has to. Unless he is willing to go with a one-year deal, and reenter the market next year, only the Cubs will pony up enough dollars…21%
EIGHTH INNING (On deck)…
Akinori Iwamura is on Japan’s roster for the World Baseball Classic…Which other players from the Rays’ roster are likely to miss a large portion of spring training while playing in the WBC?
Ultimately we think the Rays and Grant Balfour will reach an agreement that will keep him out of the WBC. Joe Maddon thinks Carl Crawford and a starting pitcher will be selected for Team USA. James Shields makes sense. If the Indians block Victor Martinez because of his health status, Dioner Navarro is probably a lock for the Venezuelan team. Carlos Pena might be safe from selection as long as Albert Pujols and David Ortiz are still on the Dominican team…CARL CRAWFORD, JAMES SHIELDS, DIONER NAVARRO
NINTH INNING (Putting out the fire)…
Jonny Gomes was non-tendered by the Rays…good move?
It was time for Jonny Terrific to move and hopefully find a home where he will get a chance at more consistent playing time…YES
Richard Justice says the Yankees are still just the third best team in the AL East…Is this possible?
If they are still behind the Rays, it is not by much. But, the Yankees still have several question marks in the lineup and some aging players. They are also one injury away from once again having a big hole in the rotation. We are not sure yet how we would rank the teams, but the Yankees are in the mix…YANKEES WILL BE MUCH BETTER IN 2009
The Red Sox may be backing off of Rocco Baldelli…Is there a chance he will resign with the Rays?
All of the other teams we hear to be interested are NL teams. Those teams have the extra bench spot which allows them the flexibility to add a player like Baldelli. But will Rocco want to be in the NL without the DH? Not likely. The Rays are probably his first choice now, but the Rays are waiting to see if he will fit into the mix…CHANCES ARE BETTER, BUT OTHER QUESTIONS NEED TO BE ANSWERED FIRST
‘Tis the season…Favorite Christmas movie?
“A Christmas Story” is great, but it still pales in comparison to “Christmas Vacation”…Oh, Eddie… If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am now.