Blogging the Offseason: Tampa Bay Rays

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Blogging the Offseason is a 30 team series in which I ask a blogging representative from each MLB team a series of ten questions about their desires and thoughts surrounding the offseason. Check out all of them here.

Today's AL team is the Tampa Bay Rays and our guest is Cork Gaines from the renowned Rays Blog Rays Index.

1. Were you for or against the shedding of Kazmir's contract via the Waiver Wire? Given your Kazmir 300 game winner thread from years past I'd guess no, but perhaps times have changed. What is your assesment of what they got in return?
I don’t know if I was really for or against the trade, but I knew it had to happen. With the built-in raises and arbitration cases, it was well-known that the Rays would need to trim $10-15 million from the 2010 payroll and Kazmir was the obvious candidate. What I had a problem with was the timing. Would Kazmir have been the difference between making the playoffs or not? No. But, there are those that think it signaled to the players that the front office was more concerned with the bottom line than winning. In the 37 games between the All-Star game and the trade, the Rays were 21-16. In the games following the trade, the Rays were 15-21. Whether it was the trade or a coincidence, the Rays were a much worse team after the trade. As for the players coming back, I am not excited about any of them. Sean Rodriguez looks to me like a poor man’s Ben Zobrist, which is not necessarily a terrible thing, but I don’t think he will ever be an all-star.

2. Speaking of the cash shedding, what will the Rays utilize that money saved on? Free agents? Contract extensions? Are there any viable free agents out there that you think they will attack?
During the 2009 season, owner Stuart Sternberg made it clear that the team was stretching the payroll just to get to $63 million. Prior to moving Scott Kazmir, the 2010 payroll projected to be in the mid-$70s. Moving Akinori Iwamura along with Kaz brings the 2010 payroll back to the low-$60s. And with the disappointing attendance this season, it is not likely to be much higher than that on opening day. While contract extensions (Matt Garza, BJ Upton) are possible, the Rays are not likely to pick up much more than a couple of cheap relievers in the free agent market.

3. Do you think the Rays should trade away Carl Crawford this offseason? If so what do you think they could get in return and where do you think would be a likely destination?
Carl Crawford is the tough question. About half of the Rays 2010 payroll is locked up in Crawford, Pat Burrell and Carlos Pena. That is a tough situation for a cash-strapped team. The problem is, the Rays are a playoff-contender and they are a better team with Crawford in 2010 than without. They do have another great outfielder just around the corner in Desmond Jennings, but he is still a half-season away at best. The Rays will certainly listen to offers, but it will take something astronomical to pry Crawford loose. More likely, the Rays will wait until July and see where they are in the standings. If they are out of it, he will be moved prior to the deadline. If not, they will hold on and take the two draft picks.

4. It seems like every starter on the Rays took a step back in 2009, do you think the extra postseason work had anything to do with it? Where do you see the ERAs of Price, Shields and Garza in 2010?
The extended 2008 season almost certainly affected the 2009 seasons of Matt Garza and James Shields. What is interesting is that both pitchers had almost identical numbers in 2009 as they did in 2008. But we didn’t see was the occasional dominating performance. The two combined for 6 complete games and 3 shutouts in 2008. They had none in 2009. The Rays were ready for this and handled each (and David Price) with kid gloves. And at the end of the year, all three had innings pitched totals right where the team wanted them. So the good news is that the reigns will come off all three in 2010 and will be free to pitch 200-220 innings. Assuming all three stay healthy, I’d expect Shields and Garza to have ERAs between 3.00 and 3.50 and Price to be in the 3.50-4.00 range.

5. What did you think about the trade of Iwamura? Do you think Zobrist is for real and will be able to come close to replicating his 2009 breakout campaign?
The Rays had a nice problem with Iwamura. On the one hand they had a very productive player at a reasonable price. But they also had some in-house options that are even cheaper. Zobrist is the real-deal at the plate. He has always had excellent command of the strikezone. That combined with a tweak to his swing that allowed him to better drive the ball and I fully expect Zorilla to be right back in the 25-home run range next year. What I do worry about is a step-back defensively. Iwamura was a very good defensive middle infielder. Zobrist has improved, but he is not nearly as good as his 2009 UZR would leave you to believe. Taking a step back defensively is a risk for a team that puts so much emphasis on being strong defensively up the middle.

6. What kind of effect does the impending building of a new pirate ship, I mean stadium, have on the Rays offseason? Is the stadium actually going to get built?
Well, the original design on the St. Pete waterfront has been scrapped. There are still talks of building a new stadium, but nobody can agree on where. Eventually the Rays are going to get a new stadium, whether that is in St. Pete, Tampa or San Antonio.

7. You've gassed your owner and convinced him to spend like the Yankees, which three free agents are you bringing to the Trop?
Wow. Tough question. I love pitching and I love catchers. The Rays are set everywhere else. There is not much of either that tickles my fancy in this year’s free agent class. I would love to add a near-top-of-the-rotation veteran starting pitcher. Can Erik Bedard be that guy again? I would certainly take a look. But if I can bend the rules a little. If payroll is no longer an issue, I would unload the farm system and make the Twins and Jays offers they can’t refuse for Joe Mauer and Roy Halladay and then give each player a blank check.

8. Which Rays prospect are you most looking forward to in 2010?
I am curious to see if Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez can be everyday big leaguers or if they are destined to be platoon-types. But the players I am most excited about are Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson. Neither will start the year with the Rays, but there is a good chance we will see both at some point during the season.

9. I'm giving you the option to cut players without any salary repercussions, which Rays do you part way with?
The obvious answer is Pat Burrell. He was a waste of space in 2009. But at the same time, I think he will come back in better shape and more determined in 2010 as he plays for his next contract. But will he be worth $9 million? Probably not.

10. Final Question, you've got a crystal ball, the Rays will finish _______ in the AL East in 2010.
Second place (AL Wild Card)

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