Hot And Not

  • Brilliance either way:

The overwhelming reactions to the Rays “combo” signings of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez have tended toward the ludicrous with a fair amount of ignorance thrown in.

To think that the Rays do anything just “because” is missing out on the way the front office has run their club since gaining their footing after a rough first year.

Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez for a combined $7.25 million for 1-year? In what world would this be considered laughable, risky or something any club wouldn’t do if given the opportunity?

Contrary to prevalent perception, the Rays were still going to be dangerous this season despite the free agent losses they mostly allowed without a fight. Of all the players they lost, the only two they presumably lament are Carl Crawford and Matt Garza, and they had justifiable reasons for their departures; apart from that, Carlos Pena was a declining force at the plate; Grant Balfour, Lance Cormier, Rafael Soriano, Jason Bartlett—all were pickups whose value was extinguished and are replaceable.

They couldn’t afford to keep Crawford—plain and simple—and they didn’t put up the pretense of an offer that was doomed to fail. Garza was growing more expensive and the Cubs gave up a massive package for him to augment the already bursting Rays farm system. Along with all those draft picks they accumulated with the other free agent defections, the Rays are well-stocked for the future.

With the rotation and lineup—a sum of the parts entity that was third in the American League in scoring despite having no DH; a first baseman batting under .200; and subpar performances from Ben Zobrist and Bartlett—they’re still dangerous.

It’s conveniently ignored that the majority of the players who left had ready-made replacements or were part of a bullpen that the Rays patched together with stuff they essentially found in the dumpsters of other clubs.

Manny was not the Manny we’ve come to expect last season, but he’s not finished either. His overall numbers—9 homers, 42 RBI, 25 extra base hits, a .298 average and .409 on base in 90 games look pretty good to me considering that the Rays designated hitters from last season were Pat Burrell (released) and Willy Aybar (whose main problem is that he’s Willy Aybar).

Manny Ramirez for $2 million? The Yankees would’ve jumped on that deal too.

Add in that the Rays know how to build a bullpen on the cheap and will have the prospects to be able to make a big mid-season splash if they need to bolster the bullpen. As I said a few days ago, there are going to be a lot of closers entering their walk year; a couple of their clubs are going to have down seasons and look to deal. If something can be worked out with Francisco Rodriguez‘s contract option from the Mets, he’s one to watch as are Francisco Cordero of the Reds and Heath Bell of the Padres.

The question of where this places Desmond Jennings is reasonable, but I wouldn’t be stunned to see Damon playing some first base to ease—not eliminate—but ease the amount of running he’d have to do on the Tropicana Field turf. People don’t realize that the first baseman, sometimes, does more running than an outfielder with covering the base and functioning as the cut-off man, but the Rays are willing to think outside the box and their current first baseman is listed as journeyman Dan Johnson. Why not Damon there for 50 games or so?

Teams that win know when to take a chance on a veteran who is approaching the end of his career, but still has something useful left. The Rays got themselves two and they got them cheap. If you’re laughing at them for it, it’s either due to fear of what they might accomplish this year or because you haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about. These are two brilliant moves even if they don’t work.

  • Then there’s this:

This deal isn’t as awful as it’s being portrayed, but it still makes little sense for the Angels.

The Angels and Blue Jays completed a trade that sends Vernon Wells and $5 million to Anaheim for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.

It’s January and Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos deserves to win executive of the year for getting Wells’s contract off the Blue Jays books and getting pieces of use in the process.

The Blue Jays are still relying heavily on a very young starting rotation and their offense is diminished from last season; they’re also hoping either Octavio Dotel or Jon Rauch can close—they have issues of concern—but getting the Wells contract off the books is a tremendous coup. That they received Mike Napoli—who replaces the no-hit Jose Molina as the primary catcher—and Juan Rivera, who will hit his 15-20 homers and play a serviceable left field, makes the trade a total win for the Blue Jays.

As for the Angels?

So it’s not that terrible. But that doesn’t make it wise.

Here’s the big problem with Vernon Wells: he’s a good player making Albert Pujols-level money. And this can’t work. Apparently $5 million went from the Blue Jays to the Angels as if that’s going to make a dent in the financial catastrophe that is the Wells contract which still has $86 million to go through 2014.

The Angels have money to spend—judging from this move, money that was disagreeable to owner Arte Moreno to hold onto. That’s dismissible I suppose. As long as it doesn’t stop them from making other necessary moves, it’s explainable. But what about the players?

They’re shifting Wells to left field for Peter Bourjos to get a legit shot at center field and Bobby Abreu to DH. Does this make them any better? They’re replacing Napoli behind the plate with Jeff Mathis (can’t hit, mediocre defensively); Bobby Wilson (28-years-old and yet to hit in the big leagues; has a good arm); or Hank Conger (23, has hit and thrown well in the minors). Unless Conger delivers at the plate, do you see the problem here?

It’s a lateral leap and doesn’t help that much in the short or long term.

The caveat of “not that bad” aside, this makes no sense for the Angels right now. If, in the short term, it catapulted them over the divisional competition—the Rangers and the Athletics—for 2011, then it made sense; but they picked up a financial albatross at age 31 who has pop, but doesn’t improve on what they gave up and it costs them a ton of cash.

The Angels offense and bullpen were their main obstacles to contending before and this doesn’t do one solitary thing to fix that; if anything, it makes them more expensive and less flexible.

It won’t be a disaster, but it won’t be good either.

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  1. #1 by Jane Heller on January 22, 2011 - 7:20 pm

    I’m not laughing about Manny and Damon going to the Rays. I would have been perfectly happy if they both went to another division/league. They can still hit the ball. Well, at least Damon can. Manny’s an enigma.

  2. #2 by norm depalma on January 23, 2011 - 2:23 am

    Re. Wells- I think once the Jayson Werth signing raised the bar for 30+ year old decent 5 tool player contracts, the Wells contract starts looking more reasonable.
    As a Toronto (and occasionally a Met) fan I see a probable problem: notwithstanding the financially sound move of removing Wells’ contract from the Blue Jays’ books, the move smells of a ‘diminish expectations’ strategy, similar to the one Alderson seems to be employing.
    It may be too soon to judge Alex Anthopoulous, and he seems like a decent guy, but it is a bit curious that in a season where the AL East is as ‘wide open’ as it will be for many years due to the Yankees rotation crisis and the Rays losing Crawford and Garza, that the Jays seem to have given up on contending. They have been arguably one good left handed bat away from contending for 3 years now. If they would have kept the lineup from 2010 and added Johnny Damon as DH, I could see them having a chance at winning 92 games which could be enough for a wild card this year.
    Similarly, the Mets. Actually they are worse. Alderson seems like a disingenuous careerist and a master at diminishing expectations. And his hiring of two Moneyball acolytes fails the smell test too. And of course begs the question why did the Mets need to pay big bucks to 3 GM types for the purpose of making zero important moves in the off season? You could have paid any sabermetric geek 100 grand to negotiate a Chris Young contract and to try and get rid of Perez and Castillo? Are you telling me that the Mets needed to ‘lock down’ Ricciardi and LaPodesta before some other organization grabbed them so that when the Mets are ready to spend (2012?2013?) they will be available to them?!! Who the heck was going to hire JP?!!

  3. #3 by Gabriel Gutierrez on January 23, 2011 - 3:16 am

    Actually, I think the Blue Jays now don’t have to send cash to the Angels, it was a straight two-for-one trade. I’m not very happy because I like Wells as a player. I just hope that money that came off the books is well spent and takes the Blue Jays into contention, since the division is a nightmare.

  4. #4 by Joe on January 25, 2011 - 3:47 pm

    Lateral leap in the short term? Napoli is as good if not better than Wells. Rivera might be as good too. Neither is expensive, while Wells is. And before last year, when Wells was good, he was below-average for 3 straight years, and makes $20 million a year. This is one of the worst trades in baseball history, easily.

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