Tagged: Kelly Johnson

Ranking the Rays’ Best Bargaining Chips For the Trade Deadline

Just two weeks away from the trade deadline, the Tampa Bay Rays have clearly emerged as contenders in the AL East, standing atop the Wild Card race and just 2.5 games out of first place in the division.

Like usual, GM Andrew Friedman and the Rays probably won’t make much noise at the deadline, but it is likely that we see at least one minor trade later this month.

Here’s my ranking for the organization’s top four best bargaining chips.

4. Ryan Roberts

Ryan Roberts is one of the most likely trade candidates for the Rays at the deadline. With the team healthy and the offense functioning well, Tampa Bay simply does not have a spot for him on the roster, which is why he’s currently playing in Triple-A.

If the Rays do try to make a move at the deadline, expect to see them shopping Roberts.

3. Enny Romero

One of the Rays’ top pitching prospects, Enny Romero was just selected to his second consecutive All-Star Futures Game earlier this week. The 22-year-old left-hander has exciting potential and has looked good this year with Class AA Montgomery.

With the emergence of Chris Archer, Alex Torres, Alex Colome and Jake Odorizzi, could Romero be a possible trade candidate?

I don’t expect to see Friedman even attempt to trade him, but if he does decide to dig deep for prospects, this may be a good time to deal Romero with his stock pretty high.

2. Kelly Johnson

Could Kelly Johnson be a potential trade target for clubs seeking a bat and some depth? The 31-year-old is enjoying a strong comeback year in Tampa Bay, posting a .762 OPS with a 113 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) and a 1.8 WAR.

Since his contract is expiring at the end of the year, Andrew Friedman may listen to some offers for Johnson but I doubt he’ll pull the trigger. He’s a key part of a team that plans on competing in October, so I don’t think it would be the right choice to deal an important piece like Johnson.

1. Roberto Hernandez

Roberto Hernandez’s numbers this season in the back end of the Rays’ rotation aren’t too pretty: 5-10 with a 4.90 ERA and a 4.58 FIP. However, Hernandez has shown some flashes of his All-Star Fausto Carmona days, posting a career-high 3.36 K/BB rate.

With rookie Chris Archer appearing to be more than capable of pitching in the Rays’ rotation and Alex Cobb returning soon, the Rays may look into trading Hernandez, who will be a free agent after this season.

If the Rays decide to hang on to him, he might find himself with a role in the bullpen.

Re-Grading Every Rays Offseason Acquisition

It was a productive offseason for general manager Andrew Friedman, as he significantly bolstered the Tampa Bay Rays’ offense and organizational depth.

The Rays made headlines this winter when they pulled off a huge blockbuster with Kansas City, trading away James Shields and Wade Davis for a talented haul of prospects which included Wil Myers. Tampa Bay also filled in some crucial holes on their roster via free agency, signing James Loney to play first base and Yunel Escobar for shortstop.

Of course, some acquisitions haven’t turned out to be as good as others, but at the end of the day it was a successful offseason for the Rays.

Here’s my updated evaluation and grading on every offseason signee.

*Take note that only players on the 25-man active roster are included. I also excluded players who were re-signed (Kyle Farnsworth and Luke Scott) from this article.

Kelly Johnson

Kelly Johnson has been arguably the best free-agent acquisition for the Rays, well exceeding expectations so far this season. Johnson, who had not very productive 2011 and 2012 seasons, has rebounded in a huge way in 2013.

He’s posted a .275/.340/.515 slash line with 10 homers, 35 RBI and a 134 wRC+. Johnson has been strong defensively as well, compiling a 2.4 UZR after putting up a -6.9 UZR last season.

It’s safe to say that he’s well worth the $2.45 million that he’s being paid in his one-year deal.

Grade: A+

Roberto Hernandez

When the Rays lost James Shields and Wade Davis in the Wil Myers blockbuster, Andrew Friedman felt that it was necessary to pick up an additional arm that can contribute to the starting rotation and/or bullpen. He went out and signed veteran sinkerballer Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, to a one-year deal worth $3.25 million.

After 10 starts with the Rays, Hernandez has posted a 4.87 ERA with a 4.69 FIP and 7.85 K/9. Nobody really expected him to return to frontline-starter form, but if he keeps up this kind of performance he’ll eventually be demoted from the rotation to either a bullpen spot or the minor leagues.

With the emergence of Alex Torres, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome, Hernandez’s job is definitely in jeopardy. If Hernandez can’t maintain his rotation spot, hopefully he can make a positive contribution to the bullpen with his groundball services.

Grade: C-

James Loney

After a down year with the Dodgers and Red Sox in 2012, the Rays didn’t know how much production they would get out of James Loney this season. So far he’s been more than a best-case scenario, batting .324/.390/.516 with a very impressive 150 wRC+.

The $2 million that the Rays are paying their starting first baseman this year is more than a bargain.

Loney has not only outperformed Carlos Pena offensively as Tampa Bay’s first baseman, but he’s also provided a lot of value defensively, as he’s been one of the better fielding first basemen in the league for a while. He’s been a key part of both the Rays’ improved offense and defense in 2013.

Grade: A+

Yunel Escobar

Acquiring Yunel Escobar was another smart pick-up by Andrew Friedman this offseason. Adding Escobar was a great decision in all respects; the Rays only gave away a Single-A [not-top] prospect in the trade for him and also have the veteran shortstop under a reasonable $5 million contract through 2015.

Although Escobar hasn’t been very productive offensively (currently owns a .299 wOBA, which is actually higher than projected and not too bad for a shortstop), he’s been extremely valuable to this Rays team.

In the previous two seasons, the Rays couldn’t get any kind of stable production from the shortstop position, tooling around with different mediocre-at-best players such as Sean Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson and Reid Brignac. With Escobar, the Rays no longer have that problem.

For the first time since 2010, Tampa Bay has a defensively-solid everyday shortstop.

Grade: A+

Tampa Bay Rays First Quarter Grades

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It hasn’t been an ideal start to the year for the Tampa Bay Rays. With one quarter of the season already behind us, the Rays currently stand at an even 20-20.

The’ve really underachieved overall as a team, as things simply aren’t falling into place for them just yet.

With a strong offense and a struggling bullpen, it’s looked like 2009 all over again so far for Tampa Bay. They missed the playoffs and finished the season with just 84 wins that year, so Rays fans hope their team is not going down a similar path.

After the first 40 games of the 2013 season, here’s a graded evaluation of the Rays’ offense, starting rotation, bullpen and defense.

The Offense

The Rays currently have the third best offense in Major League Baseball with a wRC+ of 108.

Evan Longoria and James Loney have both enjoyed red-hot starts to the season. Longoria has posted a .417 wOBA and Loney is leading the league in batting at .367.

Kelly Johnson and Sean Rodriguez have both been pleasant surprises. Johnson’s posted a 119 wRC+ and Rodriguez has looked like a much-improved hitter, putting up a .326 wOBA in 60 plate appearances.

Below’s a chart of every player’ wOBA compared to their preseason projections (Fangraphs’ ZIPS projections):

Overall Grade: A-

With statistically one of the league’s best offenses, I thought the Rays deserved a high grade here. The difference between an A- and an A+ for me was the first two weeks of the season where the offense was anemic. Since late April, however, the lineup has been scorching hot.

The Rotation

“Disappointing” is the best word to describe the Rays’ starting rotation at the first quarter mark. Tampa’s starters have posted a collective 4.05 ERA (16th in MLB) and a 4.22 FIP (18th in MLB).

Shockingly, the starting pitching struggles have stemmed from the rotation’s front two: David Price and Jeremy Hellickson. Price—who’s now on the 15-day DL—is 1-4 with a 5.24 ERA through nine starts and Hellickson is 1-2 with a 5.25 ERA through eight.

There has been two bright spots in the rotation, however, as youngsters Matt Moore and Alex Cobb have both shined. Moore is an impressive 7-0 with a 2.44 ERA and a 9.56 K/9, while Cobb is 4-2 with a 2.89 ERA and a rotation-leading WAR of 0.9.

Roberto Hernandez has been nothing more than decent in his first seven starts. He’s 2-4 with a 4.43 ERA, but he’s actually looked pretty encouraging. His career-high 8.65 K/9 rate, 3.43 SIERA and 3.45 xFIP are possibly signs of a comeback year for Hernandez.

Overall Grade: C-

The Bullpen

What was expected to be one of the better bullpens in baseball as turned out to be somewhat of a disaster. Tampa’s ‘pen ranks fourth worst in the league in ERA (4.67) and sixth worst in FIP (4.04).

Closer Fernando Rodney has been suprisingly lousy so far, blowing three saves in 10 opportunities to go along with a 5.28 ERA and a pair of losses. Jake McGee (8.80 ERA), Kyle Farnsworth (6.52 ERA), Jamey Wright (4.24 ERA) and Brandon Gomes (5.40 ERA) have all struggled as well.

The Rays have held leads in 34 of their 40 games this season, and have blown countless leads late in games. The bullpen is simply going to have to improve if the Rays want a shot at competing in October.

Overall Grade: D

The Defense

As expected, the Rays are one of baseballs’ strongest fielding teams. They’re tied sixth in the league in UZR at 8.6. Other notable numbers include Tampa’s 9.7 RngR, -0.3 ErrR and -1 DRS.

They have the best defensive corner-infield combo in the game with Evan Longoria and James Loney, Longoria, as usual, has been nothing short of amazing this season, leading the team with a 3.8 UZR as he continues to play like a Gold Glove caliber third baseman.

In the outfield, Desmond Jennings has done a fine job adjusting to centerfield, posting a 3.2 UZR. Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce haven’t done a very good job in the corners, but Fuld still covers plenty of ground and Kelly Johnson has bolstered the outfield defense a bit.

Johnson’s also played very well at second base thus far, owning a 0.8 UZR at the position.

At shortstop, Yunel Escobar has proven to be the defensive upgrade he was signed for. He gives the Rays the adequate-fielding everyday shortstop they haven’t had since Jason Bartlett in 2010.

As for the Rays’ catching tandem, both Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton have been below average in terms of throwing out runners and blocking pitching. It’s obviously a big minus for the overall defense, but it doesn’t erase the fact that Molina is the best framing catcher in the game.

Overall Grade: B

Four Biggest Barriers Standing in the Way of Rays Division Title

It’s been a rough start to the year for the Tampa Bay Rays. Anemic offense has been the theme of the first two weeks of the season, which shows in the Rays’ 5-9 last-place record.

But of course, it’s still very early, and anything can happen in the next 149 games. Life in the AL East is never easy, however, as the Rays have plenty obstacles to overcome in duration of the season if they want to be crowned division champs in October.

Without further adieu, here are the four biggest barriers for the Rays standing in the way of a division title.

Heavy Competition

The Rays have their work cut out for them this year, as they compete in what is maybe the toughest divisions in all of sports.

The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles are all potential playoff teams in 2013. Each one of them is a definite threat to a division title, but the Rays have a good enough team to compete with all four of these talented clubs.

There are a few things we’ve learned about Tampa Bay’s competitors after the first two weeks of the season. If one thing’s for sure, the Yankees are no team to overlook. Despite having a huge chunk of their roster out with injury, the Yanks stand at a surprising 8-5, as they’ve been finding ways to win ballgames while on the mend.

Once they get the rest of their team back—which includes Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Michael Pineda—they should be very dangerous.

The Red Sox didn’t come into the season with high expectations at all, but have started off the season very strongly with a first-place 10-4 record. Boston’s rotation was supposed to be the team’s main weak spot, but has shockingly been outstanding thus far. Their rotation has been by far the best in the division and probably the best in the American League, posting a 2.30 ERA and a 3.45 FIP.

The Orioles have began to prove that their 2012 success was not a fluke. They’ve played solid baseball and appear to have a pretty well-rounded team. The O’s are a team to watch out for if Chris Davis continues to put up big-time numbers at the DH spot.

As for Blue Jays, it’s been a disappointing start for them. As bad as they look right now, they’re a team that can turn things around quickly with that star-studded roster. Jose Reyes’ ankle injury, however, will be a big blow for them until he returns after the All-Star break.

The Offense

The Rays’ offense has been flat-out awful in the first two weeks of the regular season. With a wOBA of .277 and a wRC+ of 77, they are currently the worst hitting team in the American League.

Outside of Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Kelly Johnson, who’ve all had solid starts to the year, nobody in the lineup has given the Rays any kind of significant production offensively.

Lack of power is one of the main issues for Tampa Bay, as they’ve posted just a .113 ISO. Another major concern is the how much runners the Rays are stranding on base. They’ve had a very tough time getting the man in, hitting just .192 with RISP.

Although the offense is very worrying for Rays fans at the moment, there is an optimistic way of looking at it: It will more than likely only get better from here.

Designated hitter Luke Scott has been out with a calf injury since spring training and has yet to play this season. Once he gets back, the lineup will surely be more potent with Scott in and Sam Fuld out.

As the season progresses, the Rays will also get a boost from their minor league system. Wil Myers should be terrific addition later in the year, and Brandon Guyer could also contribute.

Injuries 

In 2012, the injury bug was the largest barrier that stood in the way of a third division title for the Rays. Evan Longoria’s hamstring tear highlighted a plethora of injuries suffered by a very banged-up ball club.

So far this season, the Rays have done a pretty good job avoiding the DL. Luke Scott is the only player who has missed any time at all this year due to injury.

For this team to function properly, the entire team is going to have to stay relatively healthy throughout the season. I don’t see the Rays winning the division as a possibility if they’re hit with injury issues again.

Prospect Development

Tampa Bay has a handful of prospects who could be a key part of the team later this season.

Wil Myers, who is arguably baseball’s top hitting prospect, may be the Rays’ X-factor once he’s called up to the majors. He appears to be about ready for The Show, but it’s possible he won’t make his MLB debut until July due to financial reasons.

Whenever he is called up, his immediate impact will be crucial, especially with the lineup as weak as it is.

Outfielder Brandon Guyer and middle infielders Hak-Ju Lee and Tim Beckham are other position player prospects who could all see big league action this year. All three have the potential to bolster both the Rays’ offensive and defensive depth down the stretch.

the Rays have probably more pitchers on the verge of breaking into the majors this season than they do hitters. Chris Archer—the organization’s top upper-level pitching prospect—looks to be ready to take over a spot in the rotation once the time comes. This time, he’ll likely stay there for good.

The development of these Triple-A prospects will definitely come to play in this year’s pennant race. They Rays might need as many minor league contributions as they can get in order to win the AL East.

Jake McGee’s Ugly Outing Spoils Opener as Rays Fall to O’s 7-4

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A tough loss spoiled what was great Opening Day atmosphere at a sold-out Tropicana Field Tuesday afternoon.

Cy Young award winner David Price took the mound against former Ray Jason Hammel. It wasn’t one of Price’s better starts, as he struggled with command throughout the game.

Matt Wieters—who was one of three Orioles hitters to have big games offensively—started the scoring with a two-run homer in the first inning.

Although those were the only two runs Price would allow, he didn’t exactly settle in after the first. He managed to get through only six innings (100 pitches), and finished the day with 7 hits, 2 walks and 4 strikeouts. Great defense behind him, most notably from Evan Longoria who made three outstanding plays at third, helped out Price a lot in this ballgame.

Overall, it was a pretty solid start from Price, who kept his team in the game throughout. The three issues he had were with efficiency, some mislocation—which led to a handful of hard-hit balls—and velocity. It shouldn’t be a concern, though, as it was his first start of the season.

Offensively, the Tampa’s bats were worryingly quiet in the first three innings. They put together only one single, which was the only runner to reach until the fourth.

Ben Zobrist, who had that only hit, opened up the scoring for the Rays with a solo dinger to right, making it a one-run ballgame. All the way up until the sixth, Hammel was still flying through frames, on pace for a complete game in terms of pitch count.

The Rays were able to get to Hammel in the sixth. Kelly Johnson started off the rally with a leadoff walk, and then Desmond Jennings—who looked great all day at the plate—followed with an game-tying double down the third base line. After a Sam Fuld bunt, the Rays took the lead with a sac fly off the bat of Zobrist.

Jake McGee entered the game in relief of Price in seventh, looking to keep it a 3-2 game in Tampa’s favor. Unfortunately, it was the turning point in this game as things would unfold for McGee and the Rays.

McGee found himself in a jam: Two runners on with two outs and Adam Jones up to bat. Two high-velocity fastballs got him ahead in the count 0-2, leaving Jones—who hadn’t had success at all in the past against McGee—in a bad position. But McGee, who was struggling with command from the beginning of his outing, missed location very badly, giving Jones a fastball right down the middle:

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He took advantage, and raked the pitch into the left-center field gap for a two-run double, giving Baltimore a 4-3 lead.

After intentionally walking Matt Wieters, the lefty swinging Chris Davis was next to face McGee. With two men on, Davis crushed the first pitch he saw for a three-run blast, blowing the Orioles’ lead open to 7-3. He was served with a slow 91 MPH pitch in a terrible location:

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It was a day to forget for McGee, who is one of baseball’s best up-and-coming relievers, but simply didn’t have it Tuesday. He gave up five earned runs on four hits while recording just two outs in what was the worst performance of his big-league career. He allowed just 12 runs in the entire 2012 season (55.1 IP).

There wasn’t much action in this game after the seventh. Jamey Wright, who relieved McGee, escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth without any damage. Cesar Ramos had a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

The Rays tacked on one more run via a Sam Fuld RBI groundout in the eighth, but weren’t able to get any kind of rally going against Baltimore’s strong bullpen.

Here’s some notable stat lines from Tuesday’s game:

  • D. Jennings: 2-4, 2 R, RBI, SB
  • B. Zobrist: 2-3, R, 2 RBI, HR
  • E. Longoria: 1-4
  • A. Jones: 3-5, 2 R, 2 RBI
  • M. Wieters: 2-3, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB
  • Here’s a full boxscore

The Rays return to action tonight against the Orioles for Game 2 of this three-game series. Jeremy Hellickson will start against right-hander Wei-Yin Chen.

Scott Hurt as Rays Beat Twins 7-2

The Rays defeated the Twins Sunday afternoon by a score of 7-2, improving their Grapefruit League record to 7-3.

David Price was on the hill for Tampa, and looked very sharp in his three scoreless innings allowing just one hit and striking out five without a walk (29 of his 41 pitches were strikes).

Three potential Opening Day relievers also made appearances in this game. Jamey Wright gave up a run in one inning, followed by Joel Peralta and Jake McGee who pitched one scoreless inning each.

The offensive got the job done as well, as the Rays compiled seven runs on 10 hits.

Some big hits in this game came from Kelly Johnson (two-run double) and from Chris Gimenez (two-run homer and sacrifice fly). Matt Joyce and James Loney also had an RBI hit each.

Evan Longoria was back in the lineup for this game, and hit a double in three at-bats. Wil Myers had a triple in two at-bats.

It wasn’t all positives Sunday, however, as DH Luke Scott caused some concern after exiting the game with a tight hamstring. He hopes to be back in “a couple of days”, but it definitely still worries Rays fans considering how injury-plagued Scott was in 2012. He missed a pretty good amount of time last season due to the same injury.

Here’s a complete boxscore of yesterday’s game.

Projections for the Rays’ Opening Day Roster

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With spring training now in full swing and the first games nearing, the Rays’ 2013 roster appears to be coming together.

Tampa Bay has made their share of roster moves and put their final touches on signings this month. Now all that remains are spring training battles that will take place next month before Opening Day.

If one thing’s for sure, skipper Joe Maddon will likely have some tough choices to make when deciding who makes the cut.

Without further delay, here’s my prediction of what the Rays’ Opening Day roster will look like.

Starting Lineup

C: Jose Molina
1B: James Loney
2B: Kelly Johnson
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Yunel Escobar
LF: Matt Joyce
CF: Desmond Jennings
RF: Ben Zobrist
DH: Luke Scott

Barring any injuries, this will more than likely be the Rays’ starting nine for Opening Day. There aren’t really any battles for starting spots in the lineup.

The 2013 lineup will feature a few changes. James Loney will be replacing Carlos Pena at first, and recently-signed Kelly Johnson will take over second instead of Ben Zobrist who will start in right field. Also, the Rays will finally have an everyday shortstop with Yunel Escobar in lineup.

Another thing worth noting is key loss of B.J. Upton, who will be replaced in centerfield by Desmond Jennings.

Bench

C Jose Lobaton
INF Sean Rodriguez
UTIL Ryan Roberts
OF Sam Fuld

Ryan Roberts, Sean Rodriguez and Jose Lobaton making the roster seem to be sure locks for the Opening Day lineup, but it will be interesting to see who wins the battle for the backup outfielder spot.

Sam Fuld, prospect Brandon Guyer and veteran slugger Shelley Duncan will all vie for the job this spring.

I predict Fuld edges out Guyer and Duncan, and there are a couple reasons. He has the most experience with the Rays out of the three, and Maddon likes the plus speed and defense he brings to the team—two things Guyer and Duncan can’t offer.

Starting Rotation

1. LHP David Price
2. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
3. LHP Matt Moore
4. RHP Alex Cobb
5. RHP Jeff Niemann

Joe Maddon has already made it clear that David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb will all be in the rotation to start the season.

The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation will without a doubt be the fiercest spring training competition in Port Charlotte. Jeff Niemann, Roberto Hernandez, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi will all fight for the spot.

It’ll be a difficult decision for Maddon, and it’s really going to come down to spring training performance.

Bullpen

Closer: RHP Fernando Rodney
Set-Up Man: RHP Joel Peralta
Middle Relief: LHP Jake McGee
Middle Relief: RHP Kyle Farnsworth
Long/Middle Reliever: RHP Roberto Hernandez
Lefty Specialist: LHP Cesar Ramos
Groundball Specialist: RHP Jamey Wright

Besides for Jamey Wright, we can expect to see all the names above in the ‘pen for Opening Day.

With right-handers Josh Lueke and Brandon Gomes also looking for a spot on the roster, Wright will likely have to pitch pretty well this spring to make the cut.

Another notable name in my bullpen projection is Roberto Hernadez. The 32-year-old veteran, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, would serve as a long/middle reliever if he were to lose the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation.