Rays Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman held a conference call with reports Wednesday afternoon to look ahead to the Winter Meeting and discuss the trade Tampa Bay made yesterday to acquire catcher Ryan Hanigan and relief pitcher Heath Bell.
The Winter Meetings will take place next week in Orlando. We will have updates from the meetings both here on the blog and on twitter starting Monday. Join us next Thursday night for Countdown To Opening Day – Winter Meetings Edition as Dave, Andy and Neil broadcast live from the Winter Meetings at 7pm on our flagship station 620 WDAE.
While on the business side Rays officials were busy announcing details to freshen up Tropicana Field on Tuesday, Andrew Friedman and company have been awful busy revamping the Rays roster.
What a busy 48 hours it’s been for the Rays. Let’s start with the three-way trade with the Reds and Diamondbacks that netted the Rays a potential closer, and the closest thing they’ve had to a front-line catcher in quite some time.
The acquisition of Ryan Hanigan goes a long way toward solidifying the catching situation. Hanigan is known for his ability to frame pitches, block well, and call a good game. In addition, he has done well throwing out potential base-stealers, a major issue for the Rays last season. Hanigan’s reputation is terrific in the clubhouse, and he is a contact hitter. The players who have performed best the last several years that were brought in from the outside were all good contact hitters – Yunel Escobar, Casey Kotchman, Jeff Keppinger, and James Loney, just to name a few.
Some may wonder why the Rays would sign Jose Molina to a multi-year deal and then also trade for Hanigan. For one, when Molina was signed the Rays didn’t know they would beat out other competitors and trade for Hanigan. The catching market was closing quickly, and Molina signed with the Rays for less than he could have received elsewhere. Second, Hanigan is still the longer-term solution, as is clear by the long-term deal he signed with the Rays (three years plus a one-year option). And finally, in a market with a dearth of catching, the Rays have three available options for 2014, and can create a bidding war to fulfill other needs (with Jose Lobaton as the obvious bait).
On the bullpen side, acquiring Heath Bell has some risk, but not as much as you might think. For one, while he’s due $9 million in 2014, near half of it will be paid by his two previous employers, the Diamondbacks and Marlins. In addition, he adds to the Rays’ variety of looks and depth for late-inning high-leverage situations. With Bell, Joel Peralta, Juan Carlos Oviedo, Jake McGee and Alex Torres, the Rays have a multitude of options if there are injuries or regressions by anyone in this quintet.
Beyond that, the Rays are known for fixing relievers, and Bell actually improved last year in terms of strikeouts (25 percent) and walks (5.6 percent). That’s a terrific ratio, but for a second straight year (as Jason Collette noted) his BABIP was .340. Now part of that is bad luck or the wrong pitch in the wrong spot, but if you’re striking out batters and not walking many, eventually you would expect BABIP regresses to the mean, which is below .270 on average. Get Bell to league average, and the Rays have a chance for another bullpen success story.
Remember also that the Rays signed hard-throwing Mark Lowe to a minor league deal. With Cesar Ramos and Josh Lueke out of options, and Brandon Gomes in the mix, the Rays will have quite a competition for the remaining bullpen spots. Plus, they will also have (with options) Kirby Yates, CJ Reifenhauser, and Jeff Beliveau as potential candidates for 2014 and beyond.
What the last 48 hours have done is helped solidify the bullpen and catching situation for 2014. Remaining tasks are to solve the first base situation and build on the team’s bench and position-player depth. It should be an interesting remainder of December.
Today the Rays detailed their ballpark improvements for 2014, the major portion of which is creating a 360-degree pedestrian walkway that will cover the lower seating bowl at Tropicana Field.
Senior VP of Development and Business Affairs Michael Kalt explained that the project is productive for multiple reasons. For one, it will solve a long-standing problem at the ballpark. While Tropicana Field has many great individual spaces in it, many are hard to get to, and creating a 360-degree approach to the park will help solve it. Kalt says the project also is important because of the statement it makes:
So in essence, the project is designed to give fans an experience where they can move around during the game and still see the action, but also show fans in the Tampa Bay area the team is committed them and the market.
The project, which takes out about three-four rows of outfield seating depending on the section, will reduce seating capacity by just over 3,000 to just above 31,000 for a sellout. The reduction should be negligible, as most games will not be impacted. If anything, it will create a more intimate experience and create greater demand for meaningful games in September.
Here are Team President Matt Silverman’s opening remarks at the unveiling:
Ultimately the new look will create a cool place to hang out in center field, while also giving families the chance to walk around the park with their kids while also not losing touch with the game.
As for what baseball operations is doing prior to the Winter Meetings next week in Orlando, we’ll have another blog post later this afternoon.
Around this time of year, we’re all hopefully focused on what’s truly important, like family and friends. Certainly, many are starting to shop for bargains with Black Friday around the corner.
With bargains aplenty for shoppers, I’ve been wondering why the price has been going up for some in Major League Baseball. The saying goes that eventually you get what you deserve. I’m not sure that qualifies in terms of PED users.
In the past two years, Marlon Byrd, Melky Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta have been suspended for various PED violations. In addition, Carlos Ruiz was given a 25-game suspension for taking a banned stimulant. What they all now have in common, besides being busted, are HUGE raises.
Byrd had made 22 million dollars total in his career. He received two years for $16 million from the Phillies, with an $8 million vesting option for a third year. Cabrera had earned $12.6 million before signing a two-year contract a year ago for $16 million with the Blue Jays. Peralta had earned a total of 29 million dollars in his career. Now, he’s signed with the Cardinals for four years and $53 million. Ruiz had made 1$4.6 million, and then signed a three-year deal worth 26 million, plus an option for a fourth year. That’s four players busted, four players who received significant annual raises. Who says crime doesn’t pay? Nelson Cruz and Bartolo Colon are among those free agents who’ve served a suspension who haven’t signed. I can’t imagine they will fall into a different category.
I’m certainly not breaking new ground here, but it’s obvious that punishments are not stringent enough. Players like Brandon McCarthy, Brad Ziegler and others have been very active on social media over the past few days to push the same message. Here’s what I think would truly act as a deterrent regarding using, and teams shelling out contracts for players who have been caught:
- Make the first strike a punishment of one year. If a player is out for a full year it’s harder to maintain your skills, and less likely that player will receive a big deal thereafter.
- During that year no contact is allowed with your current team. To allow a player currently to serve a 50-game suspension, but work out at the team’s Spring Training complex and play in games the final couple weeks defeats the purpose. If you face a PED suspension you work out on your own and rejoin the organization when you’ve finished serving your time.
- Penalize the team that had the player based on that individual’s success. Since advance metrics are a big part of the game, that’s the way this will work best. The team that has the suspended player will lose games in the standings based on the WAR (wins above replacement) of the suspended player. If there’s no benefit (meaning 0.0 WAR or a negative number) then that team is fortunate in terms of the standings. For instance, this year, Peralta was a 3.3 WAR player. Take away three wins from the Tigers, and the Indians win the Central Division. Nelson Cruz was a 2.0 WAR player. Take away two Rangers wins, and Texas isn’t in a one-game playoff.
More stringent punishments for individuals and teams will lead to shorter and smaller contracts for those found guilty of using. Why would a team offer a large contract to a once suspended player, or a player believed to be using, if the risk is a loss in the standings? Ultimately, a change would reward those who are playing the game clean. And as we approach Thanksgiving, that would be something to truly be thankful for.
Tomorrow, November 20th, is another important date for the Rays as they prepare for 2014 and beyond. It’s the last day they can add players to the 40-man roster, or risk losing them next month in the Rule 5 Draft.
Here’s a simple way of explaining which players will not be protected unless they’re added to the 40-man roster:
-Players signed at age 19 or older and have played in four seasons
-Players signed at age 18 or younger and have played in five seasons
That would cover most college players drafted in 2010 or prior and high school / international players signed in 2009 or earlier.
If a player is taken in the Rule 5 draft, that player must spend the entire season in the majors, or be offered back to the team that had them initially. A Rule 5 player can be claimed off waivers during the season, but the rules are the same: that they must remain on the major league roster of the team that claims the player. When the Rays decide to protect a player, they’re considering a couple of factors. First, how important is that player in the short and long term. Second, if he’s unprotected, how likely is that player to stick in the majors for the entire 2014 season.
Last year, these Rule 5 selections stayed in the majors the entire season: (more…)
A little less than a year ago, Andrew Friedman made his toughest trade, dealing James Shields to the Royals with Wil Myers the Rays’ major return. Monday put a cap on Round One in the Rays’ favor, as Myers was named American League Rookie of the Year after helping Tampa Bay to the postseason.
Myers, who collected 23 of the 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America panel, is the third Rays Rookie of the Year, joining Evan Longoria (2008) and Jeremy Hellickson (2011). The decision to give Myers the award over Detroit’s Jose Iglesias and Rays pitcher Chris Archer was hardly surprising to Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon. Maddon felt Myers fulfilled lofty expectations, played at a high level, and had a deserving body of work. (more…)
We still have more than 140 days until the start of the 2014 season, but at least one phase of the off-season is complete: decisions on options. So it’s a good time to look at what the Rays did, and why they did it. Picking up the options of Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar were easy decisions. The choice to bring back David DeJesus was a bit more complicated, but an understandable move. Finally, the decision not to pick up Juan Carlos Oviedo’s option also made sense in context.
Let’s start with Zobrist ($7M) and Escobar ($5M). Both are extremely undervalued for their contracts. From a simplistic sense they were gold glove finalists this year and more than adequate offensively for their position on the diamond. Escobar provided tremendous energy in the clubhouse and Zobrist was a quiet leader. Both were steady performers. Looking at advanced metrics, retaining both also is a no-brainer. Escobar over the past seven seasons has averaged better than a 3.0 WAR player and Zobrist has been better than a 6.0 WAR over the past five years. Both are giving you much more value than you would likely find on the free agent market or the trade market.
Beyond that, Tim Beckham is improved but perhaps not ready to provide that valuable every-day role on a major-league infield and neither is Hak-Ju Lee, in large part because of last season’s season-ending knee injury. If one were ready you could move Zobrist to the outfield more regularly and that would provide more flexibility.
Because you can’t move Zobrist to the outfield on a regular basis David DeJesus’ return makes more sense. The Rays value run-prevention and DeJesus has been solid defensively. He can play three outfield spots and also provides consistency offensively against right-handed pitching. While he is 34, he has been fairly durable playing from 119-157 games in eight of the past nine seasons. Plus, he’s driven after getting his first taste of the playoffs last year. Another factor in bringing David DeJesus back is Matt Joyce. Joyce had his least productive season in 2013. His OPS has declined in four straight seasons and his WAR in three straight. In addition, he’s becoming more expensive as he enters his second year of arbitration. Can he turn it around? Yes, as he’s 29 years old. However, bringing back DeJesus gives the Rays a more consistent performer allowing Andrew Friedman and company more flexibility in preparing for 2014.
The other two factors to consider are that David DeJesus is a left-handed hitter and the free agent outfield market is NOT strong. With Wil Myers, Desmond Jennings, Evan Longoria and Yunel Escobar in the lineup in 2014 most days the Rays will need some lefties (or switch-hitters) to balance that out against right-handed pitching. DeJesus helps in this regard. In addition, after options that the Rays can’t afford (Curtis Granderson, Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo), there’s not much available among left-hand hitting outfielders who are in DeJesus’ category and price range. Looking through the available names, Nate McLouth and David Murphy come to mind, and while they may have a higher ceiling it’s not clear what the open market will lead to in terms of price with a dearth of good outfielders out there.
As far as Oviedo, $2 million does not seem like a lot for a potential back-end reliever. However, he has not pitched against any competition for two full seasons (aside from three rehab innings in 2012). Had Oviedo pitched this past September the Rays could better gauge what they might be getting in 2014. Even though the price tag on paper looks reasonable the Rays probably need a little more certainty in taking that risk. One has to wonder about Oviedo’s health going forward if the Rays didn’t pick up the 2014 option.
Oviedo is one of ten players with the Rays in 2013 who became free agents just after the clock struck midnight on Monday night/Tuesday morning. Jesse Crain, Roberto Hernandez, Kelly Johnson, James Loney, Jose Molina, Fernando Rodney, Luke Scott, Jamey Wright, Delmon Young join Oviedo. Generally the Rays are one to wait to see how the market evolves, and I didn’t expect any of the 10 to re-sign before the deadline.
The next key set of important dates is next week’s GM meetings in Orlando. Should anything of consequence occur, we’ll be sure to discuss it here.
It still may be over three months until pitchers and catchers report to Port Charlotte but that does not mean there is still not a lot happening around the big leagues.
Here is list of important dates to remember as we wait for Spring Training:
November 4 – MLB Player Choice Award winners announced – 8 pm on MLB Network
November 5 – BBWAA Awards finalists announcement
November 6 – Silver Slugger Award winners announced
November 11 –Jackie Robinson Rookies of the Year winners announced
Sporting News Executive of the Year named
November 11-13 – GM and Owner Meetings in Orlando
November 12 – Managers of the Year winners announced
November 13 – Cy Young award winners announced
November 14 – MVP award winners announced
December 9-12 – Winter Meetings in Orlando
December 12 – Rule 5 Draft
With Boston now up 3-2 in the World Series, I think many of us expect the Rays first trip to Fenway in 2014 to be against the defending world champions. Certainly anything is possible, but Boston is 58-30 at home this year and to see them lose back-to-back clinching opportunities would be beyond surprising at this point. (more…)
The 109th World Series begins tonight in Boston and although the Rays won’t be playing, we’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on the action. Here are predictions (and wishful thoughts) from Andy, Dave and Neil:
Andy – Boston in 5
Dave – ABB (Anybody But Boston)
Neil – Boston in 6