Rays White Sox BaseballTwo nights ago, Joe Maddon decided to give Evan Longoria a night off to rest his sore hamstring. Finding a replacement was easy, as Maddon had Willy Aybar sitting on the bench. And figuring out where to bat Aybar was apparently easy also, as Maddon slotted him right into Longo’s #3 spot. Maddon’s move paid off as Aybar had 3 hits including his 7th home run. Not bad for a guy that was making only his third start in the past two weeks.

Such is life for the manager who was handed the best bench in baseball at the beginning of the year. A bench that included Aybar and Ben Zobrist.

And who can argue with the numbers. If Aybar’s and Zobrist’s stats are projected over a full season (600 plate appearances each), Aybar would hit .285-25-88 with .380 OBP and an .859 OPS. Zobrist’s numbers would be even more impressive at .297-37-107 with a .419 OBP and a 1.052 OPS. Add to that the fact that both players can solid defense at multiple positions. Aybar has started games this season at 3 of the 4 infield positions, while Zobrist has started a game at every position except catcher and first base.

The advantage of big payroll teams is not their high-priced starting lineup, although that certainly helps. No, it is their ability to overcome injuries and free agent mistakes. Low payroll teams can’t afford too add payroll or give big money to non-starters.

In a world where the Yankees have a payroll ($201 million) three times as big as the Rays ($63 million) and the Red Sox have a payroll ($122 million) twice that of the Rays, the Rays bench has been one of the great equalizers.

How many teams have a Ben Zobrist who can fill in as an everyday second baseman as he did when Aki Iwamura went down with a knee injury? And Joe Maddon still has Will Aybar on the bench who would start for most teams.

Meanwhile, the Yankees find out that Alex Rodriguez can’t play everyday, so they traded two prospects so Eric Hinske can start one game a week. And later this month, the Yankees will ship out more prospects and assume more payroll to fill the holes in their bullpen. These are moves a small market team cannot make.

But with the depth of the pitching on the Rays and in their organization, and the emergence of The Wonder Twins, Aybar and Zobrist, the Rays can now compete with the Big Boys without taking on more payroll or trading away the future.



  1. Ernie says:

    Aybar and Zobrist are great guys to have as backups for sure.

    The Yanks did not trade 2 "prospects" as much as they traded 2 "minor leaguers." There is a difference. Neither Erickson nor Fryer would have ever played for the Yanks and it's unlikely they'll ever play in the majors. It's not like they traded anybody of any significance.

    And they're not going to need bullpen help because for the past 2 months, after they re-configured their bullpen, it's been dynamite. They might do it anyway, but they're certainly not in a position where they need to.

    • the point with Hinske was just that the Yankees had to make a move at all and teams like the Rays can't afford a player like Hinske playing once a week. As for the bullpen, it has been better, but there are many that still think they need a proven 8th inning guy and chances are if they do make a trade it will be somebody else's high-priced closer.

      And then let's consider the hypothetical. What if somebody like Mo or Jorgie or Jeter is lost for the season in the next week or two. Are the Yankees filling that hole from within? No way. They are knocking on Clevelands door about Victor Martinez or somebody else out of the race with salaries being dumped. These are re things the Yankees can do that the Rays cannot.

      And I am not complaining, it is just the way it is. The Yankees can fix holes from outsidethe organization, the Rays cannot but luckily they have had Zobrist and Aybar this season or maybe they are already out of the race.

      • Ernie says:

        The Yanks are actually receiving $400,000 of the remaining $800,000 of his contract from the Pirates. It's not like he's that expensive. He provides cover at multiple positions, as the Rays know from last year. Hinske is not expensive. The Yanks didn't "need" Hinkse as much as he was an incremental upgrade. Obviously, Zobrist and Aybar are better, but if they were not there, I would think the Rays could pay Hinkse $400,00 for the rest of the year if they needed to.

        The Yanks don't need an 8th inning guy. Bruney, Hughes, Coke, Aceves and Robertson (and eventually Melancon) are more than enough. Just because some idiot NY sportswriters think that they need "an 8th inning" guy doesn't mean they actually do. They also think that Joba should be in the bullpen, which shows you their baseball IQ.

        If Jeter, Mo or Posada were lost for the season, I'm sure they'd see what's available. However, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't want to pay the freight in young talent it would take for Martinez. It's not quite as easy as you're making it out to be when talking about getting replacements for guys like that. Hinske and Martinez are not comparable.

        The Yankee have wisely held onto their youth in the last few years, recognizing that they were getting too old, so I don't see them trading prospects for big-monied quick fixes so easily.

        I will concede that not every team can take on money like the Yanks and it allows them to patch up their mistakes. However, in fairness, the Yanks pay a ton of money in revenue sharing and luxury taxes and opposing teams always love a Yankee visit to the ballpark to bring in fans.

  2. Don says:

    Actualy they are not really "bench" players, but couldn't crack this infield, and Maddon didn't help calling them "utility" players...he along with the public/media finally changing their tune!
    Hard telling how many teams they would start for....


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