February 26, 2008
MORE OF A CONTENDER:
Bonds Could Actually Make Rays a Contender (TIM MARCHMAN, February 26, 2008, NY Sun)
In any reckoning of a potential relationship between Bonds and the Rays, the fact that the team is actually pretty good is certain to go lightly noted. This is understandable — the franchise is a laughingstock, and if they manage not to lose 90 this year, it will be the first time they'll have avoided doing so. Even so, while signing Bonds would be generally taken as desperate flailing on the part of a sad-sack franchise, it would in truth be more like a shrewd bet on the part of a team that's much closer to a playoff spot than most realize.
Baseball is all about talent, and the Rays, even after trading off bad citizens Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes this winter, have gobs. First baseman Carlos Pena, 29, ranked second in the league in home runs, third in walks, and third in OPS last year, more than fulfilling his long-lost early promise. B.J. Upton, 23, hit .300 BA/.386 OBA/.508 SLG, and finally settled on center field as a position after years of fruitless attempts to master the infield. Left fielder Carl Crawford, 26, is as good a hitter as Johnny Damon was in his prime. And third baseman Evan Longoria, 22, is by acclamation the best position prospect in the league, ready to make as strong an impact as David Wright did on his debut. Even their lesser players are solid. Shortstop Jason Bartlett, 28, is a terrific fielder and passable hitter who never got a fair shot in Minnesota, and right fielder Rocco Baldelli, 26, is, while injury-prone, otherwise just as good as Crawford.
On the pitching side of the ledger, the Rays are nearly as strong. Scott Kazmir, 24, and James Shields, 26, struck out 423 in 421.2 innings last year. No. 3 starter Matt Garza, 24, put up a 3.69 ERA in half a season's worth of starts for the Twins last year, and has long been considered one of the safest bets among all pitching prospects to have a solid career. The team's bullpen is a travesty, and the back of the rotation is nothing much, but on the other hand the team has a horde of potential top line starters, such as David Price and Wade Davis, in the minor league system. [...]
Early statistical projections tip the Rays as about a .500 team — and that comes playing in the stronger league, with the Yankees and Red Sox taking up about a quarter of their schedule. The only clearly superior National League teams are the Mets and the Cubs. The Rays might be widely regarded as a joke, but that probably has more to do with the unfortunate color of their uniforms and the beasts atop their division than anything they're likely to do this year. I think they'd give the Mets a tougher race than Philadelphia will. (Phillies fans are more than welcome to remind me of this claim in September.)
Whether anyone likes it or not, if they sign Bonds, the Rays will be, on paper, something like an 85-win team.
Especially if the Yankees are foolish enough to try moving Joba to the rotation, the Rays also have a better bullpen than New York (Troy Percival, Al Reyes, Dan Wheeler, Scott Dohmann, Chad Orvella, Kurt Birkins & Juan Salas). Plus, remarkably enough, it is the big payroll Yanks who are force feeding young pitchers while the Rays depth (the 4th and 5th starts, Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine, are both breakout candidates) allows them to be a bit patient with Price, Davis, Jacob McGee & Jeff Niemann. They may be too young to put it all together right away, but they're a better team already than either the Sox (whose pitching gives them an edge for now) or Yankees...and the rest of that talent is coming. Posted by Orrin Judd at February 26, 2008 11:57 AM