- Brilliance either way:
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.
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.
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.