Earlier today, Joe Maddon raised some eyebrows by indicating that Hank Blalock now has a shot at making the opening day roster. With a decision on the final rotation spot expected tomorrow, and several key players still nursing injuries, let’s see what these decisions mean for the opening day roster projection…

Notes on the 25-man roster projection…

  • SECOND BASE: Ben Zobrist has played almost exclusively at 2B this spring indicating that it might not be much of a platoon after all. Still, Reid Brignac’s spot on the roster seems safe, and we would expect him to get ~2 starts per week versus righties.
  • RIGHT FIELD: Matt Joyce won’t be able to play in the field until next week. His job wasn’t safe before the injury, so the lack of playing time doesn’t help. He will either be on the DL or back in Durham playing catch-up. So if Ben Zobrist is at 2B most days, that leaves Gabe Kapler and/or Sean Rodriguez. We think Rodzilla has impressed enough this spring to get most of the RF starts to start the season.
  • BENCH: If healthy, Willy Aybar gets one spot. Another goes to Dioner Navarro if healthy, but we suspect the Rays will be very patient with his recovery. That opens the door for Alvin Colina who has a little big league experience and much more AAA experience than the other options. Reid Brignac seems safe to us as the backup middle infielder, and should get plenty of ABs during the season. That leaves one spot for Gabe Kapler or Hank Blalock. So what is more valuable? A Pat Burrell/Blalock DH-platoon with Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist in RF or Burrell at DH with Rodriguez and Kapler in RF? We’ll take the former.
  • ROTATION: With JP Howell on the DL, Andy Sonnanstine will likely head to the bullpen, giving the 5th spot to Wade Davis by default. The interesting question is what happens when Howell returns and Davis is only pitching so-so.
  • BULLPEN: With JP Howell, there are 2 spots up for grabs. One seems destined to be Andy Sonnanstine’s. The other will go to Joaquin Benoit if he can go back-to-back games. If not, Jeff Bennett would be the leading candidate, but we wouldn’t be surprised if the Rays went with Dale Thayer, Carlos Hernandez, Winston Abreu, Joe Bateman, Mike Ekstrom or Heath Phillips.
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35 Comments

  1. Joel says:

    I kind of agree with you re: keeping Blalock over Kapler, but three problems I can think of:

    1. That means Brignac or Sean John would have to start against lefties, and neither of them seem to know what to do with MLB lefties (with an admittedly small sample size).

    2. Having two players who basically have no defensive value in Burrell and Blalock. I guess Blalock is serviceable enough to fill in as the 1B backup to Peña until Aybar is healthy, but what happens when Aybar comes back? Kapler is also a halfway decent option as a pinch runner, though I guess Brignac/Sean John (whoever isn't playing) can fill that job well enough.

    3. We're going from having all the Gabes in baseball to being completely Gabe-free? That's a little more than I can stand.

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    • 1. Definitely could be a problem. Brignac won't face lefties. But Rodriguez has a good track record against them in the minors (career .950 OPS but only .729 last yr).

      2. I'm definitely not a fan of having less flexibility on the bench. And Maddon will hate it. But is a left-handed bat with pop more important than a 5th outfielder? It might be.

      3. Very sad indeed.

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  2. Mike says:

    Not sure I understand why we would put Rodriguez in right and Zobrist at 2nd. Rodriguez is a second baseman and has been his entire career. I understand wanting him to be able to fill in in the outfield but not putting him there full time, especially when we know Zobrist is more than capable of playing a pretty good OF.

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    • Two things...

      1. Why has zobrist only played 1 game in RF this spring? I actually have no idea unless the Rays want Zo to be at 2B almost everyday.

      2. Rodriguez was a CF in high school and played their a bit in the low minors. the biggest worry would be his arm strength. But all indications are that he has a very strong arm.

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  3. KillaTapes says:

    Benoit looks absolutely filthy, if he can stay healthy than that's one heck of a pickup.

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    • I agree. I think if his arm holds up, he could end being as big a pickup as Soriano. I think Brnoit is going to end getting a lot of those high-leverage outs in the 7th/8th innings.

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  4. TheRevTy says:

    I actually really like this set-up. Rodzilla showed himself to be at least an average defensive outfielder, and it would be tough to keep his bat out of the lineup. Him in RF opens up more time at 2B/SS for Brignac, thereby helping to justify starting his clock (as opposed to him rotting on the bench). Plus, Blalock at least isn't as awkward in the field as Pat. But then again, a one legged dog eating peanut butter out of a jar isn't as awkward as Burrell attempting defense.

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  5. Robert says:

    i think this makes sense, especially if you consider that Rodriguez is not out there everyday. Zobrist is going to get some starts. And honestly, I would not be shocked to see Burrell in RF once or twice the first month. With Joyce and Kapler hurt last few days I think Burrell has gotten just as many RF starts as anybody else. Yeah he sucks, but he supposedly he has a great arm. Just have BJ cheat over a little bit. Not ideal, but wouldnt shock me.

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    • TheRevTy says:

      I don't care if he literally has a cannon strapped to his shoulder, it doesn't matter if he can't get to the ball.

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      • What if they give him a REALLY BIG glove or a Go-Go-Gadget left arm?

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        • TheRevTy says:

          I'm thinking a big net on a long pole. (I had already typed "like one you might use to catch crabs" but thought better of it.)

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          • Sublime says:

            Road Trip Game vs. The Rockies, Pat playin' RF, My favorite (only) Pat Burrell quote from last year, "I got the chalk, BJ will have to get everything else"...LMAO!

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  6. Joel says:

    Perhaps we could talk MLB into letting us put pictures of porn stars on the baseball. Pat will get to that ball.

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  7. Thrill says:

    I kinda think it's POSSIBLE, that the Rays would LIKE Burrell to be the odd man out. IF Blalock is really an option in their eyes AND IF they could get anyone in the AL to pay a couple million this year to take Burrell off their hands, I think they'd do it in a heartbeat and they'd be a better team for it.

    I just think the combo of Blalock, Aybar, Rodriguez, Brignac, Kapler and Backup Catcher is much more versatile than any combo including Burrell and at least as potent, if not maybe a little moreso.

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  8. Beth says:

    Re: Jeff Bennett. Wasn't he AWFUL last year? Has anything changed this spring? My recollection is that every outing was a disaster. I just checked and his ERA in his few innings with the Rays was close to 10.0. I was sure we would not see him back.

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    • He was terrible. But relievers are so hard to project from year-to-year. He could get hot and pitch well for a month or two. Also, that last spot is not going to be asked to make important outs. He is going to be the "down 9-2 guy."

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      • Sam A says:

        My concern is that he will suck so bad that he can only go 1-2 innings. When you are down 9-2 you don't need a guy who is lights-out but you do want him to be able to eat some innings. Think how much sooner the bullpen would have fallen apart last year had Cormier not pitched so many innings in April.

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  9. Gus says:

    Best roster ever. Especially if it is Gabe-free.

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  10. I like Blalock. I hope Maddon figures out a way to keep him on roster. I dislike Bennett and Sonnanstine in the bullpen. I also dislike the Howell's arm is blown out. Hope he gets well soon.

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  11. Alex says:

    That bullpen is scary, scary bad. Balfour looks like he's ready for another disaster of a season. Wheeler is well Wheeler. Hopefully Cormier wasn't a fluke. Benoit will either get injured or be Balfour jr. And Sonny is Sonny

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  12. Alex says:

    Why is there such an apparent lack of care in our organization for the bullpen? Who besides JP have we crafted ourselves? Balfour was good for one season. Wheeler is serviceable but he's gone next year. Cormier is no spring chicken. We need to start making some of these starters into relievers or we need to start trading for a younger bullpen. Look at Boston. That team produces relievers like cars produce CO2.

    I think one thing we could do is: If price struggles again as a starter why not make him a reliever? If Hellboy can show staying power then you would have a nice commodity in the bullpen. Unless the Rays plan on shipping Garza off soon. Which wouldn't surprise me

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    • Joel says:

      If you're going to invest millions in selecting and developing a player, would you rather spend it on:

      1. A guy who will pitch 219.2 innings in a season (Shields '09), or

      2. A guy who will pitch 57.2 innings in a season (Wheeler '09)?

      That's not to say that the bullpen isn't important, because we all know that it is. But one starter is most definitely more important than one reliever.

      The other problem is that bullpen guys are, for the most part, a total crapshoot. It's very difficult to project year-to-year with most bullpen arms. Even closers are a crapshoot - just ask Phillies fans.

      Price had a couple of good games as a reliever, when teams had very little idea what to expect from him. What makes you think his struggles as a starter - remember, he's young - would suddenly translate to being a super reliever? You don't spend a #1 pick on a reliever unless he's a bona-fide, indisputable bust as a starter.

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    • (Since list are in vogue for this section, i'll got with one)
      1. The lack of organizational care for our bullpen only translated into a $7mil closer, a high risk/reward Benoit, and more than likely transitioning a likely above average starter in Sonny to the bullpen.
      2. JP Howell was not crafted by us by any means, he was a college arm who spent his first two season in KC
      3. Balfour had an above average FIP last year for a reliever, while trying to mix in pitches he was unfamiliar with, that's more than acceptable.
      4. Agreed on Wheeler
      5. On Price as CL, your last point covers that. Garza will become too expensive for this team and need to be shipped off for prospects. As for the Price component, he was a bona-fide #1 overall pick and still has all the potential in the world, heck Randy Johnson couldn't throw a strike early in his career. Give the guy more than just one season to show his pedigree before relegating him to 60 IP/yr.

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      • Alex says:

        Technically JP was crafted by us. He was terrible as a starter in KC. We sucked the Royals into taking Gathright off our hands. We tried him as a starter and he was bad. Then we threw him in the bullpen. We could of easily just given up on him.

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        • Just because we didn't give up on a guy doesn't mean we 'crafted him', we didn't like him as a starter so we did what every org. does with unsuccessful starters, but him in the BP.

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  13. Dirtbag Fan says:

    I don't see the inherent value in keeping Kapler... nothing he does is overly impressive, except maybe flexing the non-performance-enhanced-guns.

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    • .931 OPS vs. LHP in '09 (not an outlier over his last couple of seasons), and way above average defense in RF for several years runnings, not including six games there in '08. While it would be nice to have the roster flexibility, Kapler does have a place on this team as a PR, platoon RF, and PH vs. LHP. Even if we assume that Sean Rodriguez could post decent numbers vs. RHP, no projection would put him a head of Kapler on defense or offense.

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      • Dirtbag Fan says:

        the sample size which produced that OPS v lefties is waaay too small, and if you watch him play RF you know for a fact that his fielding capabilities are definitely not above average

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        • His recent sample size is small but it is all we have to go on seeing as he is a platoon player whose specialty is ~30% of pitchers (.850 career OPS vs. LHP in 1,053 PA's). And I agree with your eyes, at the beginning of last season he appeared to be a bad fielder, but the numbers say he has great range, with additional value from low error totals, but a weak arm. That all adds up to a top 25% defensive RF'er (approx. one std. dev above the mean for the last 7 years), in his smaller than preferable sample size. Sean Rodriguez's MLE's vs. RHP look good but they're still less than Kaplers career totals and in an 'all-in' type of year you go for the more sure thing.

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          • Dirtbag Fan says:

            So, go with a slightly better (maybe) aging guy with no upside or develop new talent with a fairly nice ceiling?

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          • You can see it that way, but you can also view it as preserving the service clock of a guy with a higher ceiling. A guy who more than likely will not approach the numbers Kapler would in the same role, who could use everyday playing time, and someone who would not force us to eat a million dollars in salary.

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  14. Matt says:

    I don't understand why Alvin Colina would be the back-up if Navi got hurt. Give it to Jaso or Lobaton, not Colina whose hitting is around .077.

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    • Dirtbag Fan says:

      bear in mind that the catcher has to control the game, Colina has the most experience with major league game control... offense from a catcher is a bonus

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  15. Erik Lurz says:

    I still consider it a strong possibility, since both Zobrist and Rodriguez play middle-infield, that Brignac begins the year in AAA. Even if Joyce begins the year on the DL, I believe the guy that will replace his spot is Blalock. Releasing Kapler for Brignac not only burns a million bucks and drops a veteren presence in the clubhouse but will cost them money on Brignac. If they can keep Brignac in AAA they can keep the arbitration clock from starting its count down for another year. Also, if the club can't afford JB after he hits free agency and Brignac is the starting SS of the future, wouldn't it behoove the franchise to have him playing everyday in that role in AAA rather than being back-up to the Zobrist/Rodriguez duo?

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