The Rays have been battling injuries all season long, but their AL East title hopes are still very much alive. Despite having a double-digit amount of players on the disabled list, the Rays have been able to hold their ground in baseball’s toughest division.
The team’s leader, Evan Longoria, has missed almost a month now with a hamstring injury. Incredibly, the Rays have managed to stay atop the division (now tied) and have actually gained a game on the Yankees since Longoria went down on the final day of April. But Longoria was just one of numerous injuries that caused the Rays to play shorthanded throughout the month of May. Leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings, Jeff Keppinger, Brandon Allen, Jeff Niemann and Brandon Guyer (out for the season) have all hit the DL this month, essentially weakening every part of their game to some extent.
Yet somehow the Rays have continued to win ballgames. How role players have stepped up with Longoria on the sidelines is what really tells me that the Rays will be able to fight through their injury issues and prevail with the division. Sean Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson, Jeff Keppinger, Will Rhymes and Drew Sutton have all contributed to replace Longoria at the hot corner. While Longo was hitting .329/.433/.561 with 19 RBI and 168 wRC+ before he hurt his hammy, here’s how the five fared:
Longoria made up for the lack of production from Rodriguez and Johnson, which is why there was obviously a major concern when he was put on the DL and was reported to miss over up to two months. To many’s surprise, the Rays had all five of Longoria’s replacements work together to put up some impressive numbers offensively following the injury:
If these five can keep up the good work for about another month—when Longoria could possibly to return—the Rays will stay on the right track and escape what could’ve been a disastrous fall in the standings. Once Longoria returns, the Rays will only get better, as his defense at third and his big-time power has been dearly missed
Longoria is not the only player that could help the Rays run away with the division once he returns. The Rays have yet to unleash the full potential of their base-running game, as the Rays’ three biggest threats on the bases—Desmond Jennings, Sam Fuld and B.J. Upton—have yet to play a single game together this season. As I said before, the Rays’ injury issues have negatively impacted every part of their game, and base-running has been a big one. Once Jennings returns (likely later this week), the Rays will get an instant boost on the base paths as they get back their talented stolen-base duo of Jennings and Upton.
Barring any more injuries, the Rays will also be bolstered by the return of Jose Lobaton, Jeff Keppinger and Kyle Farnsworth. Jose Lobaton provides the Rays with the switch-hitting catcher they need, as Chris Gimenez has hit just 0.59 off of right-handed pitching this season. Keppinger gives the Rays’ offense a huge boost against left-handed pitching (.417 against lefties this season), as well as some extra depth in the infield. And Farnsworth gives the ‘pen another good righty, which is preferable over the likes of Joel Peralta or Burke Badenhop late in games, considering the terrific job he did last year.
The Rays’s starting rotation, which—besides Matt Moore—is everything hyped up to be, is another reason to believe the Rays have what it takes win the AL East. It is once again the division’s best rotation, and it has continued to carry the Rays through these brutal injuries. Jeff Niemann, who has had a strong start to the season, broke his leg right when he started to heat up and really find his groove at the back end of the rotation. Luckily for the Rays, they happen to have the best starting pitching depth is baseball, and found an effective replacement for Niemann in Alex Cobb. Since being called up, Cobb is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA through his two starts. I believe with six starters as good as these, the Rays will simply out-pitch their AL East opponents just as they’ve done in the past years.
One more thing to consider when discussing which team is the favorite to win the AL East is the injury problems amongst the Rays’ competition.
Boston currently has seven outfielders on the DL, including stars Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford. Their pitching is their biggest weakness, injuries to three starters (Aaron Cook, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka) and their closer Andrew Bailey (likely won’t return until August) a big reason why.
The Yankees also have their share of injuries, as pretty much half of their bullpen is on the disabled list, including Mariano Rivera (out for the season), Joba Chamberlain (likely out for the season), and David Robertson. They’re also missing a much-needed solid starter in Michael Pineda, who will miss all of 2012 as well.
Even the Orioles, who have had a great start to the 2012 season, have been affected by injuries. The big bats of Nolan Reimold, Mark Reynolds and Brian Roberts are all on the DL. Starter Zach Britton—a potential key piece in Baltimore’s rotation—is also hurt.
Although the Rays have been bombarded with injuries right from the get go, their AL East foes by no means have been injury-free either. With the Rays having the benefit of less long-term injuries than than the Sox and Yankees thus far this season, I believe they’ll use that as an advantage down the stretch. As for the Orioles, well, the Rays hope their early-season success is just a fluke and they won’t be in the pennant race once October comes calling.
The latest Rays news and notes:
- The Rays tied the Red Sox 7-7 yesterday, as three big home runs avoided the Rays losing their 17th spring game despite some sloppy play. Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria, and Luke Scott all belted solo homers. Some other notable offensive performances came from Jose Lobaton (3-4 with two RBI) and Sean Rodriguez (2-4 with an RBI). Pitching wise, the Rays just did not have it yesterday. Jeff Niemann was scratched from his scheduled start with a nasty blister on his pitching hand, so the Rays went with the bullpen throughout the whole game. Kyle Farnsworth started the game allowing a run through his one inning pitched, then Joel Peralta and Burke Badenhop followed with scoreless outings. Wade Davis pitched three innings and allowed five runs, but only one earned. Still, he let up five hits, which is evidence that he wasn’t on his A-game Saturday. Boston only put out one Major League hitter throughout the entire game, which concerns me a bit. The Rays’ four errors were the biggest reason for the lost, something that’s very uncharacteristic of them. Click here for a full boxscore of yesterday’s game.
- The Rays added to their Triple-A depth yesterday, acquiring outfielder Kyle Hudson from the Texas Rangers for future considerations. Hudson, 25, hit .296 with 41 stolen in the minors last season (A+, AAA, AAA). The 5’11 left-hander has absolutely no power, but he has good speed and some contact ability. I had a feeling the Rays would make a minor league move within this week after hearing Andrew Friedman on a live telecast yesterday saying that he’d like to have a little bit more position player depth. It only took a few hours before Friedman pulled off a deal.
- The Rays continue to narrow down their roster, as Jesus Feliciano and Will Rhymes were reassigned to minor league camp yesterday. The latest round of cuts leaves Jeff Salazar as the front-funner for the backup outfielder job, but of course, Brandon Guyer still has a pretty good shot.
Baseball’s long winter is finally coming to an end. Today, pitchers and catchers will report to camp, concluding the four month offseason in the return of our national pastime. As expected, the financially-limited Rays didn’t make too much noise this winter. Coming into the offseason, there were a lot of questions regarding the multiple holes on the roster. The Rays knew they had to address the open spots at DH, first base, and catcher. Fortunately, the front office was able to fill in the holes during the winter, in efforts to bring back another successful season to Tampa Bay. Although the Rays did not make a huge splash in MLB’s Hot Stove frenzy, they have a pretty good amount of new additions joining the club this spring. Here’s an evaluation of every single Rays offseason move.
Back in October, the Rays were met with their first main task of the offseason. A decision had to be made on whether the Rays were going to exercise their club option on James Shields, Kyle Farnsworth, and Kelly Shoppach. The Rays picked up the options on Shields and Farnsworth, but declined Shoppach. By exercising Shields’ option, the Rays will be paying him $7.5 million in 2012. Farnsworth will be making $3.3 million during the 2012 season, which is $700 thousand more than he made last season. Shoppach, who’s now a member of the Boston Red Sox, recieved a $300K buyout by being declined. To recap the Rays’ decisions on club options, they were able to bring back their ace and closer from last season. Both Farnsworth and Shields were obviously a huge part of the Rays’ success last year. At 35-years-old, Farnsworth may of had the best season of his 13-year career with the Rays, posting a 2.18 ERA with 25 saves and a 5-1 record. Shields also had a career year, leading the Rays’ pitching staff in 2011 with ridiculous numbers. Shoppach on the other hand, was a disappointment. The backstop batted an atrocious .176 average while driving in just 22 RBI’s. Although he did much better down the stretch and his defense was not bad, it’s easy to see why the Rays decided not to keep Shoppach, even with their catching situation.
Overall Grade: A
John Jaso-Josh Lueke Trade
Even after signing Molina, the Rays surprised everybody by parting ways with another backstop. This time it was John Jaso, who was traded to Seattle back in November. In exchange for Jaso, the Rays recieved relief pitcher Josh Lueke and cash considerations (or a player to be named). Lueke has one year of big league experience under his belt, after pitching 32.2 innings out of the Mariners’ bullpen last season. He posted a high 6.06 ERA while struggling through his rookie year. Lueke’s under-par numbers may not be the biggest concern the Rays have about him. Lueke’s criminal past is something the Rays are very aware of. While playing in the Rangers’ organization in 2008, Lueke was charged with rape and would serve jail time. The Rays seem confident that Lueke’s legal trouble won’t be an issue in the future, and believe that he can help reinforce the bullpen. As for losing John Jaso, he probably won’t be missed much in Tampa Bay. The 28-year-old saw a big decline in his offensive numbers last year, while continuing to struggle defensively.
Overall Grade: C+
Acquiring Jose Molina
Once the Rays cut ties with both of their main catchers from 2011, it was imminent that they were going to find a backstop to fill in that big hole on the roster. The Rays took their first dip into free agency, and emerged with veteran Jose Molina. The 36-year-old was signed to a one-year deal including an option for 2013. Molina will be paid $1.5 million this season, and $1.8 million next year if the Rays exercise his option. He batted a career-best .281 last year through his 55 games with the Blue Jays. His defense and experience is what’s most attractive to the Rays, as Molina has a gun of an arm behind the plate. Molina threw out 36.5% of runners attempting to steal during the last four seasons, which is the MLB’s highest percentage during that span. Throwing out baserunners was one of the Rays’ weaknesses last year, and Friedman did a good job of addressing that by signing Molina.
Overall Grade: B+
Matt Moore Contract Extension
The contract extension of phenom Matt Moore was probably the highlight of the Rays’ offseason. The Rays were able to pull of a great move, locking up baseball’s most hyped-up prospect long-term. With the ridiculous potential that he has, the huge eight-year contract extension they signed with Moore is a bargain. Moore is guaranteed $14 million through five years, and has an additional three years of options. If Moore plays through all eight years of his contract, the overall value will be worth around $40 million. It’s a lot of money for a team like the Rays, but it’s well worth it considering the type of player Moore is. Below is a breakdown of Moore’s eight-year deal (courtesy of spotrac.com):
Overall Grade: A+
Burke Badenhop Trade
The Rays made their second offseason trade for a relief pitcher back in December, when they traded minor league catcher Jake Jefferies to the Miami Marlins in exchange for Burke Badenhop. “The Hopper” posted a 4.10 ERA and a 2-3 record out of the ‘pen last year, and owns a career ERA of 4.34 through his four big league seasons. As for the Marlins’ side of the deal, the Rays didn’t give away much at all by trading minor leaguer Jake Jefferies. The 24-year-old backstop has never made is a career .254 hitter, and has never made it past the Class-AA level.
Overall Grade: A
Signing Fernando Rodney
The Rays continued their emphasis on bullpen help when they signed veteran right-hander Fernando Rodney to a one year deal. This time though, they picked up a bullpen arm via free agency. The Rays signed the 34-year-old to a one-year deal worth about $2 million. Rodney struggled with his control last year during his season with the Los Angeles Angels last year, resulting in some disappointing numbers. He posted a 4.50 ERA with just three saves. Rodney has had success in the past, however, saving 37 games with Detroit in 2009. He has been on a downslide since then, but keep in mind that the Rays seem to have the magical touch of reviving relievers who are past their prime. Hopefully, Rodney can continue that trend and be solid arm in the bullpen this season.
Overall Grade: B-
Non-Tender Deadline Deals
The Rays had tender choices to make on seven arbitration-eligible players before the deadline last December. B.J. Upton, J.P. Howell, Joel Peralta, Jeff Niemann, David Price, and the newly-acquired Burke Badenhop were all tendered. The one player non-tendered was Andy Sonnanstine, who is now a Chicago Cub. The only unpredictable news that came out of the Rays’ non-tender deadline deals, was the tendering of J.P. Howell’s contract. As the deadline loomed, there was a big question whether Howell would be a Ray next year. The organization’s steadfast belief in Howell prevailed, and J.P. will get another shot to return to his top form with Tampa Bay.
Luke Scott Acquisition
With Johnny Damon a free agent, the Designated Hitter role was one roster hole the Rays knew they needed to fill in. They did exactly that, picking up veteran slugger Luke Scott off the free agent market. The 33-year-old was signed to a one-year deal worth $5 million, including a 2013 option worth $6 million ($1.5 buyout). Scott has spent the last four seasons in Baltimore, ending his tenure there with an injury-riddled 2011 season. Before 2011, however, Scott established himself as a consistent 20+ homer guy with the Orioles. He also owns a career line of .264/.349/.494 and a 162-game average of 79 RBI’s. Scott is the kind of quality hitter that the Rays need, and the stats definitely show that. His powerful left-handed bat fits perfectly in the meat of the Rays’ lineup, and is exactly what the Rays lacked last year.
Overall Grade: A-
Arbitration Deadline Deals
As the January arbitration deadline drew near, the Rays had six arbitration-eligible players to negotiate with. B.J. Upton, David Price, Burke Badenhop, Jeff Niemann, Joel Peralta, and J.P. Howell were all looking to work out a deal to avoid an arbitration hearing. Everyone except Jeff Niemann was able to agree to a deal, which resulted in just one player entering an arbitration hearing. Below are the details on all five of the deadline deals. Note that all projections are from MLBTradeRumors.com’s Projected Arbitration Salaries list.
- B.J. Upton- $7 million; $7.6 million projected.
- David Price- $4.35 million; $7.8 million projected
- J.P. Howell- $1.35 million; $1.4 million projected
- Joel Peralta- $2.175 million; $2 million projected
- Burke Badenhop- $1.075 million; $1.1 million projected
As you can see, the Rays did an outstanding job of negotiating before the deadline. The Rays agreed to a deal that was cheaper than the projected salary of every player, except for set-up man Joel Peralta. The highlight of the deadline deals was Price’s salary agreement, where the Rays saved some big bucks. Price will earn $4.35 million this season, in contrast to the $7.8 million that was projected. They also worked out a pretty good deal with Upton, keeping his 2012 earnings at just $7 million. As for Niemann’s arbitration hearing earlier this month, that also went well for the Rays. Not surprisingly Niemann lost, resulting in an agreement of $2.75 million. The salary is $350,000 less than the projection, and $450,000 less than the Niemann asked for. The penny smart Rays continue their undefeated arbitration record, as they’re now 6-0 (5-0 under Friedman).
Overall Grade: A+
The Return of Carlos Pena
Bringing back Carlos Pena to Tampa was probably the offseason’s most exciting moment for the Rays and their fans. With Casey Kotchman a free agent, the Rays were in desperate need of a first baseman. They found their man (our re-found) in Pena, signing him to a one-year deal worth $7.25 million. Pena spent four years in Tampa Bay (2007-2010), compiling a total 144 homers and 407 RBI’s with a line of .238/.368/.516/. He played one season with the Chicago Cubs last season, batting .225 with 28 home runs and 80 RBI’s. Pena’s big-time power is something the Rays really could of used last year. If Pena can continue his homerun-hitting consistency, his presence in the lineup can make the Rays a scary good team.
Overall Grade: A-
Signing Jeff Keppinger
Picking up someone to add to the middle-infield was apparently one of the Rays’ tasks this offseason. The Rays signed veteran Jeff Keppinger to a one-year, $1.525 million deal. Keppinger, who owns a career line of .281/.332/.388, is a pretty solid contact hitter. He’s not impressive on the base paths, defensively, or power-wise; but he has the ability to get on base. The Rays are looking forward to his right-handed average-hitting type of bat in the lineup. Keppinger also has some versatility; filling in at shortstop, second (main position), and third base.
Overall Grade: B
Russ Canzler Trade
In a trade that surprised many, Rays’ farmhand Russ Canzler was traded away to the Cleveland Indians for cash considerations. Canzler had a terrific season at Class-AAA last year, earning him the International League MVP award. He batted .314 with 83 RBI’s and 18 homers last year for AAA Durham. Despite good numbers throughout his minor league career, Canzler has never been considered a high-ranked prospect in either the Rays’ organization or the Cubs’ organization. The reason why he was traded to Cleveland was solely because he has no spot on the Rays’ roster. Canzler simply does not fit in on the Rays defense-based infield. Canzler can also play some corner outfield, but he also has no defensive value there. As for the DH position, that too is occupied with signing of Luke Scott.
Overall Grade: C
Joe Maddon Contract Extension
Skipper Joe Maddon’s three-year contract extension is the most recent news of the Rays’ offseason. This move may of been the biggest no-brainer of them all, as keeping Maddon was an absolute must-do. The two-time AL Manager of the Year will be paid about $6 million over the course of three years. Considering how much Maddon means to an MLB team, it’s one of the biggest bargains you’re ever going to see in the business. The Rays are going to love getting used to seeing Joe Maddon around, if they aren’t already.
Overall Grade: A+
Minor League Signings
The Rays signed a total of nine players to minor league contracts this offseason. Below is a list of all of them.
- OF Jesus Feliciano
- INF Matt Mangini
- 1B Juan Miranda
- LHP Jhonny Nunez
- INF Will Rhymes
- RHP Romulo Sanchez
- C Chris Gimenez
- OF Brad Coon
- OF Jeff Salazar
Players to keep an eye out for:
- Matt Mangini- The former first-round draft pick, owns a .321 with 104 RBI’s and 20 home runs through 175 games at Class-AAA ball. Mangini plays first base and third base.
- Juan Miranda- The 28 year-old first baseman possesses raw power, but his just .226 through his 111 career MLB games. Miranda also hit 37 RBI’s and 11 home runs in his four seasons of big league experience.
- Will Rhymes- The 5’9″ second baseman has spent his whole professional career with the Detroit Tigers’ organization. Rhymes has established himself as a good contact hitter, owning a career line of .283/.341/.370 through his 83 big league games and a career .291 average in the minors. His defense at second is maybe average, and his speed is pretty good.
Overall Grade: B
If one thing’s for sure, the Rays have to be satisfied with themselves entering Spring Training. The Rays were successful in filling in all three of their main roster holes; catcher, first base, and DH. Not only were they able to get the guys they needed this winter, but they also did plenty of bargaining. For a small-market team like the Rays, making penny-wise deals is crucial during the offseason. The Rays set a perfect example of how financially-limited teams should operate, by doing a terrific job of negotiating free agent acquisitions and contract extensions this winter. However, I don’t think it was a perfect offseason for Friedman & Co. The Rays may of whiffed at a few possible trades that should of been made, which would of traded away their surplus of pitching for a bat. One example of where the Rays could of been more aggressive was trading for top prospects Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal, who were both on the trade block and were perfect fits in Tampa. Instead, both of those big bats ended up in San Diego after a five-player swap with the Reds. Another player the Rays might of missed out on was Anthony Rizzo, who was traded to the Cubs last month. Looking at the players Chicago had to give up to acquire Rizzo, the Rays likely will regret not snagging a phenom first-base prospect like Rizzo. Back to the bright side of things, the Rays did avoid one trade that wouldn’t be such a smart idea. Despite trade rumors throughout the whole offseason, the Rays were able to hang on to B.J. Upton. Many will argue that trading away the Rays’ centerfielder is the right choice, but Upton is actually a big part of an offense that’s lacking. Along with Upton, the Rays were able to keep (or replace) all their main offensive figures from last season.As for the rotation, all the starters from last year will be back in Tampa this season, with addition of Matt Moore’s superstar talent.
At the end of the day, it’s hard not to say the Rays’ front office got the job done this winter.
Overall Grade for the Rays’ Offseason: A-
The Rays made a few minor moves earlier today. According to a Tweet by Matt Eddy of Baseball America, the Rays signed three players to minor league contracts. Among the new acquisitions, are ex-Detroit Tiger infielder Will Rhymes, outfielder Jesus Feliciano, and relief pitcher Romulo Sanchez. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that all three were handed an invitation to Spring Training.
Will Rhymes, who is incredibly just 5’9″ and 155 pounds, played a total of 83 MLB games through his two seasons in Detroit. He owns a career line of .283/.341/.370 in the big leagues, but had a much better 2010 (.304 BA) than 2011 (.235 BA). The 28 year-old second baseman is a good fielder and a good contact hitter; two things you must be if you’re under a 160 pounds in the majors. The Rays seem to be pretty set at second base with Ben Zobrist, but you’ll likely see Rhymes get some big league playing time in 2012.
Jesus Feliciano, 32, has spent the past five years of his pro career in the Mets’ farm system. The left-handed outfielder played 54 Major League games in 2010, batting .231 through 108 at-bats. Feliciano struggled in the minors last year (AA and AAA), after batting over .300 through four straight years (2007-2010) in Triple-A ball.
Right-handed reliever Romulo Sanchez is returning to the MLB after spending all of 2011 in Japan. Sanchez does have some big league experience, though, playing in both the Pirates’ and Yankees’ organizations. The 27 year-old Venezuelan has a career ERA of 4.04 through 35.2 innings pitched in the majors.