In 2008, Evan Longoria did not make the opening day roster. Many complained that the Rays were being cheap by delaying Dirtbag’s service time clock. In the end, he only missed the first 10 games and a week later signed a multi-year deal that rendered all the speculation meaningless.

In 2009, David Price did not make the opening day roster. Again, many complained that the Rays were being cheap. Unlike Longoria, it was easier to defend the Rays stance with Price as there were some obvious deficiencies in his game and many agreed that a little more seasoning would do him some good. Price would eventually be called up and made his 2009 debut in the Rays’ 47th game.

While the fates of Longoria and Price were hotly debated, there has been little discussion about the future of Wade Davis this year. Up until now, most have just assumed that Davis was a lock for the opening day roster and the 5th spot in the rotation.

But Joe Maddon insists there is a battle between Davis and Andy Sonnanstine for the 5th spot in the rotation, calling the race a “coin flip.”

Is JoeMa just pushing Davis or does Sonny have a legitimate shot? It is much worse than you think.

In fact, we now wonder if the job is Sonnanstine’s to lose. Why? For once, money may the lone factor.

Let’s look back at Price’s 2009 season, and the date he was promoted. By waiting until May 25th, Price’s big league service time at the end of the year totaled 164 days (172 days are required to receive credit for a full year). By waiting until May 25th, Price still has 6 more seasons until he is eligible for free agency. If he had started the season with the Rays, he would have been eligible a year earlier.

So while money may not have been the only factor, it was certainly a nice ancillary benefit in the end.

Now let’s look at Davis. Big Dub has 32 days of service time. If Davis starts the season on the opening day roster, he will eligible for free agency after the 2015 season. However, if the Rays wait until after May 17th, the Rays can delay his free agency clock by a year and Davis won’t be eligible until after the 2016 season.

So is 6 weeks of Sonnanstine in the rotation worth an extra year of Davis at a reduced salary? That would be 8-9 starts for Sonnanstine. On paper, the difference between Davis and Sonnanstine over the course of 8-9 starts might only be 0.5 Wins. But we are talking about a small sample size and teams don’t get half-wins in the standings. So maybe Davis is really worth more like 1-2 wins over that span.

What if the Rays miss the playoffs by 1 or 2 games?

If the Rays keep Davis in the minors for 6 weeks, they might save a few million in payroll 5-6 years down the road. That is nothing to scoff at when the Rays have a limited payroll. But is a few million dollars in 2016 worth more than 1-2 games in 2010?

What if the Rays miss the playoffs by 1 or 2 games?

And what about Maddon’s strong desire to get off to a better start in April? Are we supposed to think the Rays are giving their best effort if they purposefully do not field their best 25 players?

What if the Rays miss the playoffs by 1 or 2 games?

If Sonny versus Davis is a real battle. And if it is really about Davis’ service time. The only way Wade Davis is making the opening day roster is if he is significantly better than Sonnanstine this spring. Davis will have to be so much better that he leaves the Rays no choice. Even then, they may still choose the money.

And if they choose the money, we won’t see Big Dub back in the rotation until after May 17.

Lord help us all…

 
 

29 Comments

  1. Mike says:

    I thought WD40 was out of options which made his roster spot secure…?

  2. Gus says:

    If they do it, the union should greive the Rays for this, although it is probably an unwinnable case.

    I’m still not over the fact that Sonny got the home start against Boston after the Kazmirr trade when Davis should have gotten that start.

    If they were that worried about service time, though, why bring Davis up at all for any September starts? That seems foolish . . .

    • The upside to giving him 6 starts last year is that they got a chance to get a good look and see what they have. It might have made planning for 2010 easier. And the Rays like to plan ahead. Also you give him a few starts in meaningless games as a way to break the ice. Now there is less anxiety when the games actually matter.

      But yeah, as far as 2010 goes, it might hurt a little.

  3. td says:

    Looking at the Rays scedule, and off days, it appears the #5 spot would get only 5 starts if they skip that spot in the rotation whenever an open day appears.

    I’d prefer Davis, and if Sonny is used, he sure as hell better pitch well.

    • I thought about that. But JoeMa rarely skips starters in April, although he might have done it once last year with Niemann. However, he might be more inclined to do it this year as the top 4 all appear healthy and well-rested.

  4. KyleS says:

    Could Benoit’s readiness be the mitigating factor here? Suppose he’s looked upon as more of a 2nd-half contributor, then wouldn’t it appear that Sonny’s a lock for the pen, and Davis a lock for the 5th spot?

    I can’t fault them for wanting to save Davis’ clock–as we all know, these are the things they need to do to retain talent as long as possible, and we’ll see it again and again with Hellickson, Jennings, etc–but like you said, .5 wins on paper or 1-2 in reality is a big deal…..especially this year.

    • Considering it would be the 7th reliever (the “down 9-2 guy”) I think the Rays would be content to use Bennett, Swindle or Thayer for a month or two and let Sonny or Davis be the backup SP down in Durham.

      As far as faulting the Rays, I really don’t. I understand these are the things they have to do. And 5 years from now we may be very grateful they did it. But right now it worries me a bit.

      It also seems a bit disingenuous to say it’s an open battle if Sonny is, as FreeZorilla said on Twitter, pitching with a handicap.

  5. Michael says:

    The 5th game this year is at home against the Yankees on a Saturday afternoon, sure to be a full house. If Sonny does get the #5 job he’ll have the opportunity right away to either fail spectacularly (like he did against Boston when he got Kazmir’s start) or announce his presence with authority. I can only imagine the boos if he gets lit up by the Yanks….

  6. Maybe Maddon’s trying to keep the market warm to move Sonny. I don’t think the Rays are sold on him in the bullpen. And the Rays definitely have some options in AAA outside of Sonny if one of the 5 starters were to get hurt.

    It would be counter-productive to the market for Maddon to give Davis the nod and then try to trade Sonnanstine. With Sonny pitching well and Maddon saying good things, maybe they can get a little something-something from a National league team looking for their own Hammels.

  7. Beth says:

    I don’t have a problem with Davis’ contract being AMONG the things the Rays consider when choosing a 5th starter, as long as Sonny’s pitching merits inclusion in a major league rotation. I think the Rays understand the importance of getting off to a good start, and of taking advantage of what might be their last year with Crawford and Pena, and I can’t see them risking it for 2016.

    I honestly think that the decision to leave Price at Durham last year was a baseball decision (he really needed extra time at AAA, and I still wish he could have stayed there longer!). Not so sure with Longoria, but at least they didn’t hesitate to call him up as soon as Willie (Pipp) Aybar got injured.

  8. Gus says:

    Here’s the thing about Davis and why it is important. Everybody agrees this season is a window of opportunity. The Rays already torched last season (by trading Kazmir for both the future propsects and saving money). The Rays cannot sabotage this season to save a few weeks of Davis service time. April was a disaster last year as everybody used it as extended spring training, BJ and Percy rehabbed on the job and Price whiffed his way through the Carolinas. This division is too good to do garbage like that.

    Best players play. Best players make the team. The future is now.

    • Michael says:

      “Price whiffed his way through the Carolinas.”

      That’s weird, I seem to recall Price looking less than stellar during the time he spent in AAA last year. Looking at his 09 AAA stat line, he went 1-3 with 5 HRs and 18 walks given up in 34 innings. That doesn’t scream April-May difference-maker to me.

      I also can’t believe anyone can say with a straight face that the Kazmir deal alone doomed the Rays’ playoff chances last year. At that point I had already written off their playoff chances both because of where they stood relative to the other teams and the way they had played all year up to that point. No way in Hell does the Scott Kazmir or ’08-’09 put the ’09 Rays in the playoffs in a handful of August-September starts. I’ll give you that Sonnanstine personally put a giant nail in the coffin that night against the Red Sox, but you’re giving Kazmir waaay too much credit to think he could have saved the season.

      I guess people will remember events confirming whatever narrative it is they want to believe in.

      • Gus says:

        Kazmir himself and his remaining starts wasn’t the issue as much as it was watching the team waive the white flag. Just watching the Friday game at Detroit (and the ensuing losing streak was aggravating). They were only 3 games behind Boston at the time with the Bosox coming to the Trop the following week. Management gave up on them. That is how the players took it.

        The other players don’t want Sonny on the mound. He’s not a major league pitcher with major league stuff. If managment rolls him out there, it once again shows that $ first, wins second. Period.

        • KillaTapes says:

          “He’s not a major league pitcher with major league stuff”
          I’d have to day his 2008 season contradicts that point. If he really has figured things out like his command that was such an asset to him in ’08, then great. And if not, I’m sure he’ll be on a short leash anyway.

          • Gus says:

            Put aside our most resent sample — 2009′s 6+ ERA — Sonny is 25-28, 5.40 ERA over three seasons with a great defense running stuff down in a neutral park.

            Numbers like that means you’ll be selling insurance before too long unless you’ve got something else going for you — a power arm you’ve yet to harness, breaking stuff that still needs refinement, recovering from an injury. Sonny was as good as he could ever be in 2008 — and he still had an era in the mid-4.00s on a pennant winning team. He’s had his shot. He has no stuff (he was terrible in Durham in 2009 as well) and the Rays have FAR better options.

            He doesn’t deserve to be on the team. It is an insult to the fans if he makes it over Davis.

        • @Michael I have no problem saying with a straight face that trading Kazmir in August doomed the Rays playoff chances last year. While, statistically speaking, you’re probably correct… you’re not taking into account the psychological effect trading Kazmir had on the rest of the team. The FO conceded last season by trading Kazmir in August. Bringing in Sonnanstine for the 1st start afterwards only reinforced that.

          Gus is correct.

  9. Michael says:

    I think the doom-and-gloomers are over-estimating the actual difference you’d get in 6 to 9 starts between the two. Yes, Davis had some excellent starts last September, but he had a few clunkers as well. He’s not a lock to be this year’s Tommy Hanson by any means. Sure, just about EVERY start Sonny made last year was a clunker, but it would not shock me to see him return to his excellent ’08 form either.

    If Sonny is named the #5 guy to start the season I’d expect him to have a very short leash, and as I stated earlier we’ll find out very quickly against the Yankees if we’re dealing with the ’08 version or the ’09. I can’t imagine them giving him all 8 starts before May 27 or whatever if he’s getting his brains beat in again.

    • KillaTapes says:

      Exactly. Wade isn’t an absolute guaranteed win every time he takes the mound like some would have you believe. In the long term, yes, I believe he will be a great asset to the club, but I really don’t think having Sonny on a short leash will be a huge liability. If he turns out some ’08 reminiscent performances than great, we get Wade for an extra year, PLUS we have a nifty trade chip for when Wade can come up. Sonny helped us win the ALDS just 2 seasons ago, how quickly people forget.

  10. Erik Lurz says:

    I agree with Weber…I don’t know about anyone else but the race between Hammel and Niemann was a no doubter – the one with the brighter future, better stuff, and overall better value was the one we kept. Sonnastine has even more trade value because he won’t be going on waivers as Hammel would have because we have options on him. Both “races” might purely be ploys to milk a little more out of a possible trade. I’m of the opinion Sonny would do fine on a National League team, put him back in the AL East…not so much.

    If it were a true competition between Sonny and Davis wouldn’t they be alternating between starting and coming in for later innings? As pointed out earlier on this blog Davis has been getting more innings against starters – maybe so Sonny can pad the stats against the farm system guys. As deep as the Rays are at starting pitcher they might be trying to position themselves to get value in other places…there will be plenty of holes to fill after this season, starting pitching isn’t one of them.

  11. Matt says:

    Gosh, Sonnanstine isn’t a starter to me. His stats weren’t that great last year while starting and davis did pretty good. I know money is an issue, but sacrifice money for playoffs since making the playoffs=money.

  12. Don says:

    And you think Obama is in a tight spot with this health care bull shit…
    If Maddon (FO) even THINKS about this one… I know about 6 Plant City red necks that will be gunning for someone …Maddon with his bullshit
    “It’s a tight race…” DO they (he) think we are all blind….and stupid both…If Sorr. even gets close to the mound instead of Davis….
    It would be the biggest slap in the face for fans EVER…screw the money($) …6 years from now…..we pay for tickets…..TODAY!

  13. leningan says:

    if maddon does skip the 5th starter when he can, Davis would be in line to pitch against cleveland on the 18th. He would face the blue jays twice and the Red Sox once before the break. The rest of the East would not see him until after the break. I don’t want to see sonny implode every 5th day, but to have davis an extra year while keeping him away from our division rivals could be too tempting for Maddon and the boys… especially if Sonny only gets to the mound 5 or 6 times. just sayin…

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