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Tampa Bay _____ RaysHoary wisdom

The Tampa Bay Rays have been quietly improving under the radar over the past couple of years. 2007 saw a couple of things bounce their way—finally—mostly thanks to the breakout year had by Carlos Pena. The one thing they have always really lacked is starting pitching, which should be less of a problem next year. So what do they still need to put them over the top? First, a solid bullpen, at least to save poor Scott Kazmir’s sanity. And second, veteran leadership. Sure, it’s great to have a lot of young talent and get excited about what they could do. But you need to have at least one guy in the clubhouse who can do the Crash Davis thing when necessary. Isn’t Tony Clark still available?

Baltimore Orioles – Cloning technology

The Baltimore Orioles are already a step ahead of last year, since at least they seem to have approached this hot stove season with something approaching a strategy. The O’s now need to keep dumping salary wherever and whenever they can; to move Erik Bedard before his value deteriorates; and to acquire other teams’ prospects willy-nilly. And wherever Nick Markakis came from, they need more Putting the mmmm back in Markakis.of that.

Toronto Blue Jays – Medical breakthroughs

Speaking of Bedard, boy could the Jays use him. Their pitching staff—and in fact, most of their roster—is the definition of mediocre. Last year, they looked pretty good on paper, before their roster imploded with injuries. But this year, I look at their team and don’t see a lot of upside (newly acquired Scott Rolen is no exception). Add a pitcher? Add a big bat? Sure. Add anything. Add something. At least let the current crop of big-salary-middle-of-the-road types play out their contracts while you get a farm system in order. But considering last year’s season, maybe the one thing Toronto should add if they want to make the playoffs is some really, really good team doctors.

New York Yankees – A scary starting pitcher, or, failing that, a healthy one

In October, the Yankees folded primarily because of limited starting pitching (well, that and A-Rod’s Octoberitis and Derek Jeter’s sudden propensity for hitting into double plays). Now January is half over and the New York Yankees still need solid starting pitching. Chien-Ming Wang anchored their rotation this year, winning 19 games and barely missing the 200 innings mark. Pettitte will return as No. 2, coming off a 15-win, 200+ innings season. However, Pettitte’s ERA last year cleared the 4.00 mark, which isn’t exactly lights-out. Of greater concern is Mike Mussina, who finished the year with an ERA over 5.00. The big gamble for New York is on their young arms: Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, and Phil Hughes—who came up to great fanfare last year, only to go down with an injury almost immediately. All three younguns will be on strict innings limits. When October rolls around again, will they have enough left in the tank to make it to the postseason? And assuming they bash their way into the playoffs, do they have the dominant, ace-caliber pitching you need to reach the World Series? Right now, the answer is no.

Boston Red Sox – A craving for Coco

The World Series Champs already look pretty good for next year. They need to think about 2011. A few of their key players are oh-ell-dee old. The hardest to replace will be catcher and team captain Jason Varitek. Boston is still looking for takers for Coco Crisp, and I would love to see them deal him for a catching prospect. The Red Sox have no one inspiring coming up at the position, and will be lucky if Jason Varitek clears .250 over the next three years (assuming he accepts Boston’s 2-year, $20 mill offer of a contract extension). I’d hate to see them deal Coco, who is a Gold Glove caliber centerfielder with excellent speed and offensive upside, for just anyone. But Ellsbury is the Boston CF of the future, and Coco is not a fourth outfielder. If they can’t get a young catcher for him, well, bullpen help is always nice. But I worry that if Crisp languishes in Boston another half-season as a backup, he’ll just end up…soggy.

18 Responses to “What They Still Need: AL East”

  1. Tom Hoffman says:

    I decided to get an Ellsbury jersey for my 11 yr old son, and had to go to three different malls because all were sold out of Ellsbury. After Xmas we learned that of 12 boys in his class, six got Red Sox jerseys, five of them Ellsbury. Also, I got him two Ellsbury Topps rookie cards, thinking he could keep one and trade one. No luck. Four other kids also got Ellsbury rookie cards. It should matter to the Red Sox what 11 yr olds think. Is there any way to forward this message to Larry Lucchino?

  2. Sarah Green says:

    Tom, I think you should call the Red Sox FO! Their contact info is as follows:

    Write the Red Sox:
    Boston Red Sox
    4 Yawkey Way
    Boston MA 02215-3496

    Call the Red Sox:
    877-REDSOX9

    Or click here to send them an email. And if they give you the runaround, remind them that as Larry Lucchino likes to say, they’re in the “yes business”!

  3. Coley Ward says:

    Sarah, I think you’re right that Toronto could use a big bat. Rolen might provide an offensive boost, but it’s such a crap shoot, given his injury history.

    I don’t think the Blue Jays need pitching. Last year’s team had good pitching. The team had a 4.00 ERA, second in the American League.

    What Toronto needs is hitting. For more on this see USS Mariner…

    http://ussmariner.com/2008/01/12/08-ms-meet-the-07-blue-jays/

  4. Sarah, the Rays got Cliff Floyd and Troy Percival. Is that enough?

  5. Sarah Green says:

    Blastings, Floyd’s old, but is he really a leadership type? He’s already on the record as saying “I’m not coming in to teach and be the big veteran guy.” But maybe that’s just the line to spout. Percival is known to be a leader in the bullpen, but whether that will translate to the rest of the team is uncertain. Plus, you could maybe make the argument that by removing nettlesome youngsters Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes from the clubhouse, you’ve already solved some of your immaturity problems.

    @ Coley, yeah, they had good pitching last year, they just had pitchers who couldn’t stay healthy. It was extreme of me to call their pitching mediocre—they weren’t mediocre, just unlucky. As for their offensive woes, when I looked at their starting lineup last year, it looked pretty powerful. Yet for some reason, they fell flat. We’ll see what happens when the moves they’ve made this offseason come to fruition, but I don’t know…so far it seems like they’re just swapping six of these for half a dozen of those, you know? Not a bad team. Just not good enough to win the division or the Wild Card. Middle of the pack. Now that *is* mediocre. If they want to break out, they’d have to add one or two special players—either on pitching or on offense, or even better, both—who can put them over the top.

  6. Paul Moro says:

    Well, as a Met, Uncle Cliffy was known as a veteran presence. The media often give him credit for taking David Wright under his wing for the first couple years of his career. Wright used to talk about Floyd as if he were an older brother.

  7. Sarah Green says:

    Hmmmm, then. What DO the Rays need? Or are they about to replace the Jays as the also-rans of the AL East?

  8. Nick Kapur says:

    I think the Rays are pretty loaded, at least offensively. What they really need is starting pitchers, which you mentioned, but which I think they really haven’t been able to address enough.

    I mean, are the Rays really just one Matt Garza away from winning the East? Doubtful.

  9. Paul Moro says:

    The Rays need time. And they need their young guys to stay healthy to gain experience. They don’t have a shot in hell in 2008, but they have a shot in 2010.

    And I’d love to see what a healthy Rocco Baldelli can do – if he ever COULD stay healthy.

  10. Sarah Green says:

    But the Rays have some good starting pitching prospects, though, as well! I think they’re ranked first in Baseball America’s young talent index, or whatever the heck it’s called. I just hope they get something going before Kazmir bolts. That would be sad. Yes, maybe instead of “hoary wisdom” the Rays just need “24 months.”

  11. Nick Kapur says:

    Yeah, I don’t think the Rays missed the playoffs last year because they lacked “hoary wisdom.” They missed the playoffs because they were last in the American League in team ERA. And it wasn’t even close.

    Unless Tony Clark can teach guys how to throw nasty sinkers or something, I’m not sure how much good he would do.

  12. Sarah Green says:

    Nick, as I’ve said about a billion times now, THE RAYS HAVE ALREADY ADDRESSED THEIR PITCHING NEEDS. This post was called “what they still need” not “what they needed last year at this time.”

  13. Nick Kapur says:

    Sarah, in what way have the Rays “already addressed their pitching needs”???

    Saying something a billion times doesn’t make it true, if it’s not true.

    The Rays have added exactly TWO (2) pitchers this offseason – Troy Percival, who is a 39-year-old relief pitcher with degenerative arthritis in his hip, and Matt Garza, who is perhaps a major-league average starting pitcher at best this year.

    If you think that adding just those two pitchers qualifies as “already having addressed” the needs of a pitching staff that posted a Major League Worst 5.53 ERA last season, than I’d hate to see what “need” the Rays still have that is more even pressing than pitching, because it must be something truly insatiable, like a newborn babe must be sacrificed to a malevolent Everglades spirit every fortnight or something.

    But seriously, if you really think the Rays still have a need more pressing than pitching, I’d be really interested to know what it is. I’m sure you don’t think they have filled all their needs and are fully primed to run away with the AL East this season…

  14. Sarah Green says:

    Among the Rays’ top ten prospects, 6 are pitchers. This list includes lefty David Price, the 1st pick in the 2007 draft, as well as Wade Davis and Jake McGee, who are both nearly major leagues-ready. It’s also worth mentioning that they acquired pitching prospect Eduardo Morlan in the deal for Garza, who has a plus slider and a wicked fastball that tops out at 97 mph, though he still needs to work on his ability to locate it.

    As for those nearly-ready pitching prospects, McGee has an electric fastball and Davis burned through Single A and Double A with his wicked curve. Price, though he was just drafted last year, is already a polished pitcher who has two plus pitches and great command. The Rays expect all three to be ready to be staples of the rotation by 2009.

    For what it’s worth, the Rays’ farm system has been ranked first in the majors by Baseball America for the past two years running.

    Or did you expect them to sign Johan Santana?

  15. Nick Kapur says:

    Well, that’s a good point about Morlan – I had forgotten about him, and he will most likely be in their bullpen come April.

    But as for the other prospects, while it is true that David Price, Wade Davis, and Jacob McGee are all highly regarded pitching prospects, neither Davis nor McGee has pitched above AA ball, and Price has yet to throw a pitch in the pros. As far as I’ve heard, none of these guys is projected to make the major league team this season. As you rightly point out, these guys could well make appearances for the Rays in 2009, but to say they can be “staples of the rotation” by next year would be a stretch. Actually, the last I heard on Davis, they were thinking of him as maybe more of a closer.

    The Rays pitcher who is actually the closest to the majors right now is Chris Mason, who also has not pitched above AA, and is the least regarded of the four, but had a breakout campaign last year, and has far more experience, having at least a whole year at AA, whereas Davis and McGee only just made it to AA at the end of last season.

    The Rays actually also have two other high-ceiling pitching prospects in Jeremy Hellickson and Jeff Niemann, but Hellickson is still in A ball, and Niemann has been wracked by arm injuries of late, making the bullpen his likely destination.

    So yeah, saying that the Rays have “addressed” their pitching is kind of an overstatement, since they haven’t really done much of anything this offseason outside of the Garza trade, and these prospects were already there before, and most importantly, these prospects are not ready yet.

    As of right now, the Rays starting rotation projects as:

    Kazmir

    Shields

    Garza

    Andy Sonnanstine (6-10, 5.85)

    Edwin Jackson (5-15, 5.76)

    and the bullpen projects as Percival, Morlan, Al Reyes, and then pray for a hurricane (6.16 ERA last year with 605 hits allowed in 497 innings).

  16. Sarah Green says:

    Having already noted that the Rays still need bullpen help in the post, I obviously agree with you there.

    Kazmir, Shields, and Garza are a respectable first three. And given the timeline we’re talking about for this team, I’d say a ballclub that is stacked with excellent pitching prospects who will be ready in the next one-to-two years has “addressed” its problem in that area, yes.

  17. Steve Slowinski says:

    To begin with, I believe that trying to make Sonnanstine out to be on the same level as Jackson is rather disappointing. Looking at the stats, Sonnanstine is primed for a breakout year, much the same way that Jamie Shields was last year. He’s put up amazing numbers in the minors and last year was his first experience at all in the majors. If you look at his WHIP (which is normally a good indicator of if a pitcher is throwing above or below their ability level), Sonny had a very respectable WHIP of 1.35. Jackson, on the other hand, had a WHIP of 1.76. To me, this shows that Sonny has the ability and for the most part, his inflated ERA was a result of bad luck and learning the league. His ERA will go down with time…to be honest, I’m more confident of him going into this year than I am of Garza. But that’s just me.

  18. Steve Slowinski says:

    Also, they also got Trevor Miller to go along with Percival and while he’s not amazing, used in situations with lefties up there, he’s a pretty solid pitcher.

    The addition of Percival as closer also bumps everyone down in the bullpen, making pitchers actually pitching in spots where they should be. Al Reyes is not a closer (though he did an ok just there last year), but he’s got the stuff to be a pretty solid set up man.

    The addition of Dan Wheeler at the all-star break last year cannot be ignored. Dan Wheeler is friggin’ awesome. I don’t care about his stats from last year…if you look at his career stats, last year was a complete anomalie. Maybe he won’t have a sub-3 ERA this year, but I highly doubt it’ll be above 4 again. He’s been lights out all throughout his career and he’s still young. In my mind, he’s the rock in this bullpen at the moment. With him, Percival, and Reyes…to be honest, I feel like that’s a dominant trio. At the very least, it’s league average. And for the Rays, that’s a huge improvement.

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