30 Teams in 30 Days: Tampa Bay Rays Roundtable

Rays

Our guest bloggers is Matt Seybold from The Sporting Hippeaux and Thomas Gemkow from Tampa Bay Rays Fan.

Question 1 – What will Pat Burrell do this year?
Thomas: It is hard to imagine Pat Burrell being much worse than we was last year. Burrell, .221 batting average, 14 home runs and 64 RBIs last year were certainly disappointing, and not the norm for Burrell. As Rays fan, I really hope that Burrell can rebound. I can see the reasoning behind people saying his adjustment to being a DH versus outfielder could have contributed to his decline in numbers. I also know that Burrell battled back problems all last year. So far this spring, Burrell’s attitude has been rather “blah” for lack of a better term. Burrell has hinted at being bored while playing in Tampa Bay, and their has been talk of him splitting at bats with Hank Blalock, should he make the 25 man roster–but the likelihood of carrying two players on the 25 man roster who are liabillites in the field is not very good.

All in all, I would not be surprised to see Burrell bat a .235 with 18-20 home runs and 65-75 home runs–and improvement over last year for sure, but not the numbers that the Andrew Friedman and the Rays expected when they signed the slugger to a 2 year, $16 million dollar deal in 2009. However, do not be surprised if the Rays continue to find a match to trade Burrell, even if they have to eat a large portion of his salary this year.

For more on Pat Burrell, check out Tampa Bay Rays Fan.

Eugene: Also, Burrell has had some huge numbers in walk years in the past. I could see him playing much better with a contract on the line again.

I’ve also heard that the transition to DH can be rough for some players. When they were in the field, they’d be moving and involved the game. When DHing, they sit on the bench until they hit; they can lose focus easily. Sure, some may go to the cage, but it’s not the same.

Thomas: I would agree with you there. The thing that has been just as disappointing as his numbers is Burrell’s attitude. When the Rays were courting him, Jason Giambi and Milton Bradley last season, I was all for bringing in Burrell, whom had never been in the press for his arrogance, or for any sort of outbursts or steroid abuse. Given that he was a huge under performer last season, you would think he would be “johnny go get em” this spring, and be the most positive guy in the club house, but so far this has not been the case.

Matt: I don’t have high hopes for Burrell this year. If he doesn’t get off to a blazing start, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rays just released him outright, or sent him to an NL team for a bag of balls and a bullpen catcher.

Frankly, the Rays may be able to do better right out of the gate. Sean Rodriguez has owned the Grapefruit League (1567 OPS), and several other Tampa Bay prospects have played well also. The Rays are going to be looking to find at-bats for Rodriguez, Matt Joyce, Wily Aybar, and, maybe, Blalock, not to mention guys who could be inseason callups, like Justin Ruggiano and Desmond Jennings.

I just don’t see a franchise with playoff aspirations being patient with Pat the Bat for more than six weeks.

Question 2 – If the Rays are out of the race by the deadline, will they trade Carl Crawford?
Thomas: Well here is the deal. The Rays have two key guys with expiring contracts–Carl Crawford & Carlos Pena.

We know with a low budget like the Rays have, they can not afford to keep BOTH past this season, however the talk is they are going to do their best to try and keep either one around.

If they are out of the playoff run before the deadline comes, I would say we definitely see one move, although I don’t know if we can count on it to be Crawford.

The Rays spent some money to bring in first base prospect Leslie Anderson, a Cuban defector with a tremendous upside. They also signed Hank Blalock to a minor league deal, so these moves lead me to believe that Pena, not Crawford could be the one to get moved. Though Pena has been a great find for the Rays, and really resurrected his career, it is safe to say a slugging first baseman that is aging is easier to find than a young outfielder who is going to bat above .300 each year and is a threat to lead the league in stolen bases every year.

I envision Pena being traded if we are out of the run, and Blalock combining with Willy Aybar to bridge the gap until we can develop someone like Anderson to take over at first.

I really believe that the Rays are going to make every effort to keep Crawford. Their is even talk that they would pass on resigning BJ Upton after this year to focus on keeping Crawford around. Crawford has been open about not being opposed to staying in Tampa.

Though I like Crawford and Pena both–you couldn’t ask for better people to represent your team–I think that long term, and star power wise–it makes more sense to keep Crawford and unload Pena.

Eugene: I agree that Pena is the more likely to be traded, but I wouldn’t rule out both being in play. Tampa has a crowded outfield that will be cost controlled for some time – Jennings, Joyce, Ruggiano, Perez – on top of Upton. Zobrist can play the outfield if they want to use Brignac or Sean Rodriguez at second. Trading Crawford would be able to bring in some more talent to join their great farm system and they can absorb the hit of losing Crawford.

Thomas: I feel that we will see Rodriguez in the outfield before Zobrist…he has been my surprise of the spring. The outfield is certainly loaded, I just see Crawford as one of the rare, once in a life time guys–no matter how good Jennings is, he will never put up the numbers on the base path like Crawford did. From 02-07 Crawford’s average increased each year…from a paltry.259 to a stellar .315. He lapsed in 08 hitting .273 but jumped back to .305 in 09. I remember reading somewhere that the increase he saw each season from 2002-2007 had never been replicated.

Matt: There’s no denying Crawford is a special player, which is why I fear his future is inevitably elsewhere. Crawford will get a nine-figure deal in 2011, and even if the Rays are willing to give out such a contract (which I doubt, based on their “Moneyball” philosophy), I think other teams (New York, Boston, San Francisco, etc.) will be able to go $10-$20 Million higher than they would ever dare to reach. Pena, on the other hand, might be available for half the price, which makes him slightly more likely to resign.

In the end, I think both players are probably playing somewhere else by 2011. And, if the Rays are out of it by July, Tampa Bay will extort another contender for a huge package of prospects by dealing one or both of them. However, I don’t expect the Rays to be out of contention in July. In fact, I expect them to be in the hunt all the way to the end of the season, so I think they’ll end up settling for a couple of compensation picks, which is just fine, if it means they are still playing in October.

Question 3 – Which player will surprise everyone this year – good or bad?
Matt: On the positive side, I think the Rays have a plethora of good options in right field. Sean Rodriguez and Justin Ruggiano have been tearing up the Grapefruit League. Both Rodriguez and Matt Joyce could bring added power to the Rays lineup and, of course, Desmond Jennings isn’t far off either. I think both Rodriguez and Joyce will make the Opening Day roster, and both are capable of putting up solid numbers immediately. By midseason, the Rays may be trying to find ways to get both in the lineup.

Jason Bartlett may be the one endangered. He had a great year in 2009, but his .320 average and his .490 slugging percentage were both dramatically out of line with his career norms. Bartlett hit more homers in ’09 (14) than in his previous 1700 plate appearances (11). Rarely does a 30-year-old player discover new skills. What should worry the Rays most of all is that while Bartlett was knocking the cover off the ball in ’09, he suffered the worst season of his career defensively (-5.5 UZR). If he returns to being the “slick-field, no-hit” shortstop he was in ’07 and ’08, when he was definitely among the top three defensive shortstop in the AL, he’ll be fine. But if he becomes a “no-field, no-hit” shortstop, the Rays may consider moving Rodriguez or Ben Zobrist into his position.

Eugene: I was pretty happy that the Rays got Rodriguez last year; he was blocked with the Angels and deserved a shot. The Rays can use him at multiple positions and is a nice player off the bench.

Question 4 – How will the Rays finish?
Thomas: I think they will finish no higher than 2nd in the AL East–New York should by all means be the top in the division, but I think the Red Sox team this year is weaker than in years past, and I feel Baltimore and Toronto will be able to take some wins from Boston, where as in years past, Boston did very well in those series. I feel the Rays will be too strong for those two teams…I anticipate the Rays getting the Wild Card nod this year also.

Matt: I think the Rays are one of the top three teams in the American League. Unfortunately, the other two are also in their division. I expect the Rays to challenge the Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East and for the Wild Card. I think that advancement with eventually be determined by whether the Yankees can stay healthy. They have the best roster on paper, but the Rays and Red Sox both have substantially more depth. If the Yankees suffer a couple of key injuries, the Rays and Red Sox should surpass them. If they don’t, I think the Rays may be the odd man out, again.

Eugene: I really want the Rays to make the playoffs again, but I just can’t see if happening. Both New York and Boston have better teams. Tampa will finish a close third.

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