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Over the last ten games, the Rays share a league-best 8-2 mark. Here are a few notes on the team as it looks to carry that momentum and regain its footing in a challenging AL East:
- The triceps strain that sent ace David Price to the DL could have major short and long-term implications for the Rays, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Of course, with Price now battling an injury after already struggling on the mound to start the season, the team is holding its breath that it will have its top pitcher in good form for a postseason run. But even more troubling, the injury could have a huge impact on the Rays' long-term plans. Topkin explains that Tampa Bay likely cannot afford to extend Price after giving a major contract to Evan Longoria. Instead, as with Matt Garza and James Shields, an eventual trade of Price seems likely. Not only will the injury likely foreclose a trade deadline deal this season (however unlikely that was to begin with), but could significantly downgrade Price's trade value next offseason. As Topkin notes, even if Price returns strong, this blip on the radar could suppress the willingness of trade partners to offer the truly monumental prospect haul that Price was expected to garner.
- As expected, Jake Odorizzi will take Price's spot in the rotation for the time being, reports Matt Snyder of CBSSports.com. Odorizzi, of course, was acquired by the Rays — along with the even higher-regarded Wil Myers and two other prospects — in exchange for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis. With Shields off to a fine start for the Royals, Odorizzi's ascension to the bigs will allow the Rays to begin adding production to their side of the ledger.
- Meanwhile, the Rays' success remains predicated, as ever, on executive vice president Andrew Friedman's uncanny ability to reclaim and restore veteran ballplayers. In particular, the club has stayed above .500, in spite of the surprising struggles of its pitching staff, by hitting above expectations. (The team is tied for third in all of baseball for team batting wins above replacement.) As Topkin writes, a major piece of the Rays' sudden offensive prowess is the much-maligned James Loney. Making only $2MM on a one-year deal, Loney is raking in Tampa, hitting .359/.415/.523 in his first 143 plate appearances. Since he showed the promise of this kind of production as a 23-year-old in 2007, the now-29-year-old has largely disappointed. Nevertheless, Tampa Bay banked on Loney's long-observed skill, and he has finally come through.
- Topkin goes on to list and describe several other successful Friedman reclamation projects, including relievers Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, and Fernando Rodney, as well as infielders Jeff Keppinger and Carlos Pena. Of course, the Rays are hoping that Rodney can turn around his poor start and at least approach his incredible 2012 season.
- Another player that could be added to that list is Kelly Johnson, 31, who has played all over the diamond this year for the Rays while posting a .273/.348/.496 line in 138 plate appearances. This level may be surprising given Johnson's mediocre 2011-12 seasons, but as the Rays were no doubt aware, Johnson has at least three seasons under his belt (2007, 2008, 2010) as a productive big league hitter. With the team on the hook for only a modest one-year, $2.45MM investment, a veteran gamble has once again paid big dividends to Tampa Bay.
- According to Fangraphs' WAR measurements, Loney and Johnson have been the 42nd and 62nd most valuable hitters (respectively) in baseball this year. With Loney's relative youth and Johnson's ability to play second base, continued production from these players could make them very interesting free agent cases in 2014.
Jose Fernandez of the Marlins, Aaron Hicks of the Twins, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. of the Red Sox are all on their teams' Opening Day rosters, even though that might make them free agents a year earlier, and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports is rooting for all three of them. Rosenthal says he's tired of watching talented players languish in the minors at the start of each season as their teams attempt to delay their service-time clocks. The best players should be on the field, Rosenthal argues. "The game is so flush with cash, teams are awarding hundred-million dollar extensions like Halloween candy," he says. "I’ll grant that certain low-revenue clubs need to watch their money more carefully than others. The rest of ‘em, no way."
- "The system" keeps the Rays on a winning path, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes. "One of the things I'm most proud of is that we've been able to remain committed to our plan," says executive vice president Andrew Friedman. "It takes a tremendous amount of discipline because there are times when it is very tempting to deviate from that plan, but I feel very confident that had we done that in '08 or '09 we wouldn't be sitting where we are today." Topkin notes that the Rays haven't been successful in every area — they haven't done well in the draft recently, and they haven't had much success with catchers and designated hitters. But a key area at which they have been successful is in developing their own starting pitching. By developing their own pitching, they're able to not only avoid expensive free-agent commitments, but to trade from their own stockpile, as they did when they sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals for Wil Myers and prospects.
- Bud Selig isn't concerned about the Cubs' debt, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun Times reports. The Ricketts family purchased the Cubs for $845MM in 2009, and the team still has substantial debt related to that purpose. "The Ricketts family worked closely with our office to develop certain financial structures designed to [ensure] the stability of the franchise at these debt levels," a spokesman for Selig says.
The nine top names to watch in Los Angeles baseball in 2013 include Chase Headley and Robinson Cano, argues Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. Headley could be an in-season trade target for the Dodgers, and Cano will likely be connected to the Dodgers as a free agent next winter. Shaikin also suggests that if the Dodgers don't do well in 2013, they could try to hire Rays GM Andrew Friedman. Here are more notes from the West divisions.
- The Mariners' decision to keep Jason Bay and designate Casper Wells for assignment doesn't make sense, Jeff Sullivan of USS Mariner says. Sullivan notes that Wells is younger, had four years of team control remaining, and has recently been the better player on both offense and defense — and the Mariners will likely lose him for virtually nothing. "Wells, probably, is going to end up getting traded to a team with a thin outfield in exchange for a non-roster barely-prospect," Sullivan says. Sullivan also points out that Wells was one of the key players in the Doug Fister deal with the Tigers. The Tigers already looked like clear winners in that trade, but it's even clearer now.
- The Giants' signing of Buster Posey to an eight-year, $159MM contract demonstrates the inequities between the Giants and the Athletics, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. The Giants have opposed the Athletics' move to San Jose. "It's more than mildly ironic that the Giants granted a single player a contract that exceeds the A's entire payroll by a factor of three," says San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo.
- The trade of Vernon Wells to the Yankees gave the Angels additional payroll flexibility, Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com writes. The deal leaves the Angels about $6MM under the luxury tax threshold, Gonzalez reports.
Happy birthday to Rays right-hander Jeff Niemann, who turns 30 years old today. Niemann, the fourth overall pick of the 2004 draft, is looking to rebound from an injury-shortened 2012 season and has also drawn some interest on the trade market — the pitching-needy Rockies reportedly asked the Rays about Niemann's availability. Here's the latest out of Tampa Bay…
- "In a perfect world" David Price says he would love to stay with the Rays and "in a vacuum," executive VP Andrew Friedman would love to keep Price for years to come, ESPN's Jayson Stark reports. Both men, however, are realistic about the difficulties involved in keeping Price in Tampa Bay over the long term. Price is under team control through the 2015 season and recently said he wouldn't take a discount on a new multiyear deal to remain with the Rays.
- Several recent additions to the Rays roster have checkered reputations off the field, MLB.com's Matthew Leach writes, and Friedman admits to making some "calculated risks" with such players as a function of operating in a small market. "And we're much more comfortable taking them now than we probably were in '07, just having more of a developed culture. So we go through things very methodically in great detail. And there have been guys we have determined wouldn't necessarily fit in, and others that we feel like the reward far outweighs the risk," Friedman said.
- Joe Maddon is a fan of Tim Beckham, telling MLB.com's Bill Chastain that the 2008 first overall pick "has a really high ceiling as a Major League player" and sees Beckham "playing at a very high end for a very long time." Beckham, 23, hit .256/.325/.361 in 323 PA at the Triple-A level in 2012 and was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for marijuana.
- Ben Nicholson-Smith reviewed the Rays' offseason earlier today on MLBTR.
Josh Booty has won a non-roster invitation to the Diamondbacks' Spring Training camp by emerging as the victor on The Next Knuckler, an MLB Network reality show. Booty, 37, was drafted fifth overall by the Marlins in the 1994 and accumulated just 30 Major League plate appearances with the Fish from 1996-98. Booty played third base originally but is now trying to make it back as a knuckleball pitcher.
Here's the latest from around the majors…
- Clint Hurdle is a favorite of Pirates owner Robert Nutting and has a better chance of staying with the team than GM Neal Huntington and president Frank Coonelly do if the Bucs struggle again, Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. Hurdle's contract was recently extended through the 2014 season.
- "It has always been hard to sustain success as a small-market team and the new CBA does not impact that very much," Andrew Friedman tells Erik Hahmann of the DRaysBay blog. "There are some interesting ideas within the new system but the overarching structure still tips the scales heavily in favor of the large markets (especially with growing revenue disparity). The key to changing that will be moving to a system that doesn't penalize small-market clubs-in the draft order, in the competitive balance lottery, in the international arena–for being successful." The Rays executive VP of baseball operations also addresses other league, management and roster topics during the interview.
- The Braves spent much more to sign B.J. Upton than the Indians did to sign Michael Bourn, but Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution feels the Braves' offseason was better served overall by moving on from their former center fielder.
- The Twins are known for their loyalty towards managers but MLB.com's Marty Noble writes that Ron Gardenhire's future with the team could be in question if Minnesota struggles again. The Twins are coming off back-to-back last place finishes in the AL Central, though these were only the second and third losing seasons of Gardenhire's 11-year tenure as skipper.
- The Royals' pitching acquisitions have left Aaron Crow with no immediate future as a starting pitcher, Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star writes. Crow was drafted (12th overall in 2009) as a starter but has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in the majors and performed well. Crow made the 2011 All-Star team and has posted a 3.13 ERA, a 9.2 K/9 rate and a 2.45 K/BB ratio over 126 2/3 relief innings in 2011-12.
- Mark DeRosa and Henry Blanco may have limited on-field value at this stage of their careers but Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos tells Sportsnet.ca's Shi Davidi that good chemistry is a crucial part of a winning team and that the Jays will benefit from the two veterans' clubhouse leadership.
- Baseball America's Ben Badler recaps each team's significant international signings from 2012.
When I asked Andrew Friedman how he’d assess the Rays’ starting pitching heading into 2013, he made his point pretty quickly. “It’s good,” he said. I caught up with Tampa Bay’s executive VP of baseball operations at the GM meetings in Indian Wells, California yesterday. Here are some of the details…
- The Rays will consider trading starting pitching since they believe in listening to trade offers whenever possible. Still, they realize pitching depth can be fleeting. “The one thing that we’re very wary of is waking up one day and not being able to fill out a rotation in the American League East.”
- The Rays could upgrade at a variety of positions with Jeff Keppinger and B.J. Upton hitting free agency and the versatile Ben Zobrist on the roster. “Our approach is to attack this with a very open mind and focus on guys that we want to acquire in a vacuum.” Once the Rays make one move, their focus will narrow depending on how the initial move affects their roster.
- The Rays like having the flexibility to pursue players at many positions. “That being said, you can’t get paralyzed by the flexibility and end up in January with way too many things to accomplish,” Friedman said.
- Friedman acknowledged that the Rays need position players and relievers. “We have a lot of things we need to accomplish without a ton of resources,” he said.
Rays executive VP of baseball operations Andrew Friedman was interviewed on 620-WDAE radio on Thursday, and Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times has a few of the interview's highlights…
- The team is "a little uncomfortable" in pairing an inexperienced catcher like Jose Lobaton or Robinson Chirinos alongside veteran Jose Molina, but Friedman thinks the Rays' catching situation has been upgraded from 2011. The Rays looked at a few different catchers this winter but, aside from Molina, weren't able to work out a deal with any of them. The 36-year-old Molina has spent much of his 12-year career as a backup, reaching the 245-plate appearance plateau just twice in his career.
- Friedman was very pleased with the fact that the Rays were able to add hitting and bullpen depth without giving up a starting pitcher or making a move that would hurt the team's defense. "If you had told me then where we stand now with upgrading where we did and also maintaining our depth in the meantime, I would have said that that was a dream scenario,'' Friedman said. "We still have a lot of work to do in terms of this division and this league, but as far within the scope of what we can do, this off-season worked out very well in our estimation.’’
- Friedman expects Joe Maddon to remain in Tampa Bay for years to come. Topkin reported two weeks ago that Maddon and the Rays are expected to announce a three-year contract extension for the manager before the start of Spring Training.
Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has already decided against taking the Astros GM job, tweets Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times. Joel Sherman of the New York Post agrees that Friedman is definitely staying in Tampa Bay. Friedman, a Houston native, was said to be the first choice of the new Astros ownership group.
Rockies senior vice president of scouting and player development/assistant GM Bill Geivett has interviewed for the Astros position, and Rockies folks told Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post today that Geivett has a real shot. I interviewed Geivett in August as part of MLBTR's GM Candidates series. Our top 20 GM candidates have been getting interviews and GM jobs left and right since the list was published on August 12th.
Former Astros GM Tim Purpura will be named the Rangers' farm director, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports. For details on who might be the Astros' next GM, keep reading…
- Cardinals vice president of player procurement Jeff Luhnow has interviewed for the job, reports MLB.com's Brian McTaggart (on Twitter).
- White Sox assistant GM Rick Hahn and Kim Ng of MLB turned down the opportunity to interview for the Astros GM job, according to Jon Heyman of SI.com (on Twitter).
- The Astros will do "whatever it takes" to obtain Andrew Friedman of the Rays, according to Jon Heyman of SI.com. However, Friedman's friends don't expect him to leave Tampa Bay.
- Rockies assistant GM Bill Geivett is interviewing for the Astros' GM job today, MLB.com's Brian McTaggart reports. “I’m very excited to be here and it’s a great organization and a great city and everybody knows a great state,” Geivett said. “I’m very excited and we’ll see how it goes today.”
The Marlins agreed to sign Heath Bell last night and they may make more major free agent signings later this month. Here’s the latest from Jon Heyman of SI.com, starting with a note on the Marlins (Twitter links):
- The Braves want a young outfielder and shortstop plus other players for Jair Jurrjens.
- The Yankees have looked at free agent left-hander Mike Gonzalez.
- The Nationals will push for C.J. Wilson, according to Heyman. They want a left-handed starter and Wilson appears to be their top target.
- The Marlins are optimistic about signing Jose Reyes and they are considering upping their initial bid (it was in the $75-90MM range). The Mets and Marlins appear to be Reyes' two main suitors, but interested teams view the Tigers as a threat to sign the shortstop. “They are good poker players,” one exec said.
- The Astros are shopping Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers and Carlos Lee. I’d guess it’s unlikely they make a move before they hire a new GM.
- The Astros "will do whatever it takes'' to hire Rays executive Andrew Friedman, according to Heyman. Friedman is unsure if he wants to leave the Rays, however.
- The Padres and Brewers are showing interest in former Mets and Expos GM Omar Minaya and he may make a decision soon.
- Jorge Posada would like to play if he can find the right job and Heyman suggests the Marlins are a possible fit for the switch-hitter.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: Andrew Friedman | Atlanta Braves | Brett Myers | C.J. Wilson | Carlos Lee | Houston Astros | Jair Jurrjens | Jorge Posada | Jose Reyes | Miami Marlins | Mike Gonzalez | Milwaukee Brewers | New York Yankees | Omar Minaya | San Diego Padres | Wandy Rodriguez | Washington Nationals