This is part of a series of posts in which we call out all 30 teams for their wily offseason moves and tragic offseason blunders.
The Devil Rays made many changes this offseason. First off, they changed their name (to take effect in 2008) — soon they’ll be Just Plain Rays, thankyouverymuch. (No word on whether pressure from the Christian right contingent in Florida had anything to do with it. Nevertheless, I think we can all agree that “Tampa Bay Rays” is vastly superior.)
The [pause] Rays also added yoga to their Spring Training regimen. And they redid the turf in the Trop, making it a bit slower. It’s the same as those football turfs that have a surface like blades of grass, though the Rays are the first baseball team to use it. And now, without further ado, the roster moves:
The big acquisition for the [silence] Rays is a new Japanese third baseman, Akinori Iwamura. You will be forgiven for not hearing about this sooner, because Aki, as he is known, went to the [ahem] Rays and not to, say, the Yankees or the Red Sox, and he’s not the best or second-best pitcher in the home country. Nevertheless, he is a .300 hitter who is expected to hit 20 HR and knock in about 60 or more RBI. He’s also made a bit of news for himself by having his own stylish BP bat, shown above, with “no pain, no gain” stenciled on it in Japanese. Seems like someone’s trying to make up for lost publicity…and seems like it’s working, too:
He also wore a pair of Oakley sunglasses with mp3 earbuds. The name “Aki” and his No. 1 were stitched across the chest of his Nike warmup shirt. Even his black socks had No. 1 on them. He took grounders with a black glove with green stringing and, as he promised, a piece of alligator skin in the webbing.
But aside from the name, the yoga, the turf, and the Aki, it’s la plus ca change la plus c’est la meme chose for the [sound of wind blowing] Rays, who are still young, cheap, and likely to finish at the bottom of the AL East. Last year, they scored the fewest runs of any MLB team, and their pitching and defense were similarly wretched. Not exactly a recipe for success.
The one area where the [tumbleweed blowing by] Rays actually look like a decent, professional ballclub is the outfield. Carl Crawford, their leftfielder, has been steadily improving at the plate every year, to the point where he hit .305 last season and knocked in 77 runs, also contributing a respectable 18 homers. Oh, and his range factor was the best of any leftfielder in the AL. Not too shabby, Carl. As for the centerfielder, Rocco Baldelli is another steadily imrpoving .300 hitter who’s pretty solid on defense and can occasionally hit for power. (Also, he has to have one of the best names of any active player. “Now batting…the centerfielder…Rocco Ballllldelli!” That’s hot.) Delmon Young, the rightfielder, only got in 30 games last year (his first in the majors) but managed to hit .317 with 9 doubles, 3 homers, and a total of 40 hits. Not too shabby. You can see why [yippee tai yai yo, git along little dogies] Rays’ fans are excited to see more of him. All four of them, that is. And outfielder/DH Jonny Gomes showed up to camp looking and feeling better than he has in years; so good, in fact, that some of his teammates didn’t recognize him. This may complicate things for young Delmon, since Gomes was going to be stuck DHing and at first if his shoulder was still icky.
The infield, aside from Aki, is rather boring. The only offseason action of note was utility man Ty Wigginton delivering his own baby, as his wife suddenly went into labor in the master bedroom closet. Word on the street is that this season, Wiggy may get some more time at first, while B.J. Upton will become a sort of super-utility man, a la Chone Figgins of the Angels. Ben Zobrist, who took over from Joey Gathright at short last season, has no offense to speak of, and neither does catcher Dioner Navarro. And second baseman Jorge Cantu, unlike the outfielders on the team, has been steadily getting worse–though he came up in 2004 hitting .300, he has since slid down to the .250 range. Team defense may—may—improve this year with the slower turf.
As for their pitching this year, the [crickets, crickets] Rays’ rotation is hardly jaw-dropping. However, they have a bit of a bottleneck for their fifth slot, and recently acquired South Korean pitcher Jae Kuk Ryu from the Cubs for two minor leaguers. (Yes, the guy who once killed a bird with a baseball.) They will at least have a decent shot at winning one game of every five thanks to the rocket arm of staff ace Scott Kazmir. The rest of the rotation? Basically a bunch of guys you’ve either never heard of, or you say to yourself, “Oh yeah, we had that guy a couple years ago. He wasn’t….terrible.” And the bullpen? What bullpen? Honestly, the [house creaking] Rays would be better off converting it to a ballpit or a strip club or a roller rink—anything that would get them some attendance. One stat I found said that the Rays were ahead in 121 games last year, but managed to squander the lead and lose 60 times. Ouch.
Poor, poor benighted [howl of lone wolf baying at moon] Rays. They are truly the 3rd-world country of the American League—improvement is always just around the corner, never actually arriving.
Losses: Travis Harper, Travis Lee, Tyler Walker, Brian Meadows, Damon Hollis
Acquisitions: Akinora Iwamura, Al Reyes, Stephan Andrade, Tony Peguero, Dustan Mohr, Hee-Sop Choi, Jorge Velandia, Bredan Harris, Gary Glover, Jason Grabowski (don’t “Grabowski” and “Glover” sound like good fielders’ names?), Yamid Haad, Scott Dohmann., Jae Kuk Ryu.
Projected Rotation, Lineup, and Closer:
CF Baldelli (.302, OBP .339)
RF Young (.317)
3B Iwamura (projected .300, 20 HR, 60 RBI)
LF Crawford (.305, .348 OBP, 18 HR 77 RBI)
1B Wigginton (.275, .330 OBP, 24 HR, 79 RBI)
DH Gomes (.216, .325 OBP, 20 HR, 59 RBI)
2B Cantu (.249, 62 RBI)
C Navarro (.254)
SS Zobrist (.224)
Scott Kazmir (RHP, 3.27, 10-8 last year with a WHIP of 1.27) to be followed by any combination of the following spare parts: Jae Seo, Casey Fossum, Tim Corcoran, Jamie Shields, Brian Stokes, Jason Hammel, Jeff Nieman. A closer is the least of their worries, alas.