There is no question that Major League Baseball has the most exciting off-season of all sports (as much as I enjoy the NFL Draft). The Winter Meetings, for many, are where you truly start to think about and get excited for the upcoming season. Pitchers and Catchers don’t report until February 15th but somehow during the month of December all baseball fans can think about is how their team is going to look. I can’t help but compare it to the NCAA Selection Show; In terms of anticipation, excitement, regret, and disappointment.
Here’s my report of the Tampa Bay Rays off-season…
The Rays were looked at as big “losers” during the Winter Meetings, with the loses of Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and Jason Bartlett. Crawford is a five-tool guy, almost impossible to replace. In the last five seasons with Tampa, Crawford has averaged 91 R, 14 HR, 74 RBI, 48 SB, and a batting average of .301. Pena on the other hand has not been nearly as consistent, however in his worst season with the Rays (2010), he was able to knock out 28 HR while driving in 84 RBI. His worst season, mainly due to the .196 BA but still…Pena was a big-stick; with one swing of the bat he could change the complexion of any game.
Then of course there’s Jason Bartlett. Bartlett had a break-out season in 2009 and had high expectations placed upon him for the 2010 season. After-all, the kid hit more home runs in 2009 (14) than in his four-year career leading into the ’09 season (11); batted .320, stole 30 bases, and earned a spot on the 2009 All-Start Team. Last year’s version of Jason Bartlett was a far cry from the ’09 edition as we saw career lows in stolen bases (11) and batting average (.254). While it may have been one of, if not the worst season of his career you could almost guarantee that his batting average and stolen base totals will rise back to their career average of .279 and 14.
The Rays were running low on options to replace the aforementioned Crawford, Pena, and Bartlett when all-of-a-sudden, enter the “idiots”. Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon agreed to terms with the Rays on January 21. At 37, it is unclear what to expect from Damon. You would have to go back to 2001, while with the Oakland Athletics, to find such pedestrian numbers like the ones Damon had in 2010: 81 R, 8 HR, 11 SB, and .271 BA.
Ramirez on the other hand has still shown some pop in his bat. His numbers in Chicago were…well let’s just say his SLG% with Chicago(.319) was very close to his career BA (.313). Despite the horrific end to the 2010 campaign, he put up 8 HR, 42 RBI, and a .311 BA while playing 66 games for the Dodgers in 2010. It’s also worth mentioning, when Manny was traded from Boston, giving him a fresh start in LA, he batted .396 with 17 HR and 52 RBI in just 53 games. This included two multi-HR games and two five-RBI games. When properly motivated, he can mash!
One thing, often over-looked in the immediate picture, is that the Rays now have a spot for uber-prospect Desmond Jennings. Jennings has been on the radar of every baseball junkie for several years now. I’m not saying that Jennings will fill the abyss that Crawford left, merely that the Rays have a spot for the young outfielder on their Opening Day roster. Too often we see players who are stuck on the farm simply because there just isn’t a spot for them on the big-league roster. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a bunch of malarkey! If you have a potential super-star, let him up. Aren’t we glad we were able to see Stephen Strasburg so quickly. Imagine if the Giants waited two years to call-up Buster Posey. No World Series title in SF last season, that’s for sure! Plus, not a bad group of veterans to mentor young Desmond. Sure why not, let’s call Evan Longoria a veteran too, he sure plays like one.
So, basically a Crawford, Pena, and Bartlett for Manny and Damon trade…Unfortunately for the Rays this is not 2004.
I give last seasons lineup was a C. The grade is NOT a reflection on the offense as a whole but more on how they performed versus what their potential was.
C- (slight “losers” during the off-season)
The Rays will struggle to duplicate the 802 runs scored from 2010 but you can bet that the team BA will be far better than the .247 mark that it was last season. Don’t be so quick to dismiss the offensive capabilities this season. A slight regression in offensive numbers is expected, but they’ll still provide David Price with plenty of chances to reach 20 wins.
Segue… (stay tuned for my Pitching Report on Wednesday, February 9th.)