Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Tampa Bay

Beginning with the obvious and oft-repeated: The 2010 Tampa Bay Rays have the third best current talent in the American League.* But they are also the third most talented team in their division. This team has far too much talent to get any pity from me, though.

* I’d say “all of baseball,” but one could make an argument for the Phillies (Thanks, Doc!).

Straight up (not considering contracts or age), I’d probably take the 2010 Rays’ position players as a group over just about any other in baseball. They have something of a hole with Pat Burrell (possibly platooning with [shudder] Hank Blalock) at DH, although they could do much worse. Matt Joyce is probably around an average performer in right field, although if he’s platooned with ageless defensive-whiz Gabe Kapler, the Rays could get above-average performance out of the position. Those worried about Kelly Shoppach‘s contact problems forget that even with his worst offensive projection (ZiPS), he’s an above-average catcher. It’s a cliche to say that a team has bench players “that could start for a lot of teams,” but it’s true of Willy Aybar and Sean Rodriguez.

The next “rung” for most teams contains a few above-average players. The Rays, in contrast, have five “above-above average” players here, guys who are around 3.5-4.5 WAR: Jason Bartlett, Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist, and Carl Crawford. I know that is inadequate praise, but if I went on about all the individual talents on this team, this post would be 2,000+ words.

That’s it for the position players. Oh, yeah. Evan Longoria is the best third baseman in baseball. No, not just the “best value.” The best third baseman in baseball. Period.

Pitching lets the Rays down. Put away the torches and pitchforks. The bullpen is good enough (despite J.P. Howell‘s injury concerns) with off-season acquisition Rafael Soriano and Grant Balfour both being strong options. Many, many teams would love to have James Shields and Matt Garza at the top of their rotations, not to mention Jeff Niemann and (especially) youngsters like David Price and Wade Davis. What I mean by “lets the Rays down” is that when I look at the Rays’ projections next to New York’s and Boston’s, the biggest difference is in the starting pitching. Again, it isn’t that Shields, Garza, et. al. aren’t good. But there is a sizeable gap between, say, Shields and Garza (each project at around four WAR) and guys like CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, Javier Vazquez,* and Josh Beckett (each project at around five WAR).

* I actually had a Tampa Bay fan bring up Javy’s 2004 in New York as a reason he won’t be good for the Yankees in 2010. C’mon, Rays fans, I expect that kind of thing from Red Sox and Yankees fans, but not you, too!

I am not claiming that the Rays are “doomed because of their pitching.” They are definite contenders for the wildcard and even the divisional title. It is tough going up against Boston and New York, but the Rays have substantial hope. While the Rays’ rotation may not project to be as dominant as those of their chief rivals, it is younger. This means that there is more variance in the projections, and thus they have a greater chance of might be better than projected (of course, it also means they might be worse). The relative youth of the team as a whole means likely continued improvement and less attrition. While some might think the Rays have to “win now” (2010) because of Crawford and Pena’s expiring contracts, some of their best players are still developing, and much near-ready talent looms in the minors, as well: Jeremy Hellickson, Reid Brignac, and, above all, Desmond Jennings (who might show up sooner rather than later).

The Rays might not be the divisional favorites in 2010, but they are contenders, and they will be in 2011, and… well, that’s for the “Future Talent” post.



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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


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Boomer
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Boomer
6 years 4 months ago

” I actually had a Rays’ fan bring up Javy’s 2004 in New York as a reason he won’t be good for the Yankees in 2010. C’mon, Rays fans, I expect that kind of thing from Red Sox and Yankees fans, but not you, too!”

Matt, it’s written in blood in the fanbook of every AL East teamL it’s an old and hallowed tradition to hate on the other teams’ players. Get with the program.

LibertyBoy
Guest
6 years 4 months ago

Regarding their young pitching staff and its promise, the Rays installed Jim Hickey as their pitching coach in ’06 and he’s leveraged the talent-on-hand to some great results. Just a guy who knows his game.

MikeS
Guest
MikeS
6 years 4 months ago

So where do I buy a ticket to watch the “east coast bias” show that is sure to start up soon?

descender
Member
descender
6 years 4 months ago

its on the old hat store. explain how its biased and wrong in this aspect and you might get somewhere.

Chops
Guest
Chops
6 years 4 months ago

Longoria the best third baseman period? Obviously Longo is better defensively, but A-Rod’s decent drop in UZR last year could have been attributed to him just coming off of Hip Surgery, and I think he’ll rebound this year. Even CHONE predicts them to have the same WAR.

Chops
Guest
Chops
6 years 4 months ago

Also, I understand that its likely that Longoria will have a better season, but the tone of the post makes it sound definitive.

Mike K.
Guest
Mike K.
6 years 4 months ago

Matt,

Well, with ARod specifically, the doctors have some say in it. And they seem to believe that ARod’s hip is better now than it was at any point last season. Which of course doesn’t mean he *will* be better, but I think it’s possible.

But my gripe isn’t comparing ARod to Longoria. If you had written, “Longoria is the best third baseman in the American League. Period.” I would have no complaint. But I’m not sure how you can make that statement with Zimmerman in the NL. Longoria is only a year younger, and the two posted almost the same value last year. Yes, Zimmerman is in 4A, but…I don’t know if I’d be comfortable saying Longoria is “clearly” better than Zimmerman.

Chair
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Chair
6 years 4 months ago

Zimmerman is pretty close ain’t he?

Omar
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Omar
6 years 4 months ago

As to this, realistically, there was good reason for Alex to get surgery right away…but he decided to play. He still racked up 30/100 (I know) while missing a month, and he raked in the playoffs so it didn’t effect his hitting…defense, yeah it made a difference. So given that the injury didn’t totally derail a season, if he’s healed from it I don’t see why he can’t pick up seven or eight runs and just be slightly below average in the field as opposed to a win below average like he was last year. As to Longoria/Zimmerman? Yeah, I’ll agree that Longoria’s better…but the gap isn’t all that big IMO. I don’t see a huge difference between the two, not even much of a difference at all. Of course saying that Longoria might not be better than Zimmerman or might not be as good as the player who is likely to rack up 600 HRs before he turns 36 isn’t a bad thing. That’s like “She might not have as nice of tits as Katy Perry,” the fact that they’re up there is what counts.

Chops
Guest
Chops
6 years 4 months ago

I’m sorry, I phrased my post poorly. I didn’t mean to say that the hip surgery was the only reason for the UZR decrease. And yeah, it’s not like he was a good fielder before that either, but at least he hovered around 0 UZR (besides 2006). It seems like 2006 and 2009 are the outliers, not the other way around. The guy put up a 9.5 WAR season at age 32, I wouldn’t put it past him to top 7.2 this year. All I’m saying is that A-Rod is the last person I would underestimate.

Casadilla
Guest
Casadilla
6 years 4 months ago

But, if you asked me which one I wanted on my team for JUST next year? Longo.

LibertyBoy
Guest
6 years 4 months ago

ARod wasn’t a great 3Bman before the surgery, won’t be great after. Firstly, he still throws to first like a SS, dropping his elbow as if he had stride and body momentum behind him, although he’s big and strong enough to heave the ball over it’s not the most effective to throw. This was a problem with Giambi at first base, because Giambi had iron shoes. Tex is can cover the bag from all angles and his hands are faster on the scoop.

That said, Longoria is a 3bman by trade. Longoria gets the edge in the field, it’s no contest.

Casadilla
Guest
Casadilla
6 years 4 months ago

Klaassenger: Haha, you got me. I would so much rather have A-rod and his $30 zillion payout for every HR he hits until 2099. It’s not even close.

Ricardo Holdiness
Guest
6 years 2 months ago

Lady Gaga should be ashamed. But I am positive she is not. blasphemy Is wrong I do not care who it is performing it. But 1 point is confident they will have to solution to God for it.

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