Monday, February 13, 2012

Offseason Review: Tampa Bay Rays

My pick for AL ROY 2012
This time last year the Rays were a team patching up a roster that had a budget-induced wound the size of the highest paid outfielder of all time. They replaced Carl Crawford with Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, the latter of whom was suspended and subsequently retired amidst the deserving boos of many-a Tampa Bay fan. They lost their closer to free agency and replaced him with aging reliever Kyle Farnsworth. They lost game after game after game. ESPN posted an article written to express that, while the season started rough for many teams, it would only be a matter of time before they righted the ship. The Rays, however, were doomed.

Come October, they proved them wrong. The upstart Tampa Bay Rays played solid, determined baseball through the entire second half of the season. The incentive of a championship was so far removed from a logical conclusion that the determined, focused style of play exhibited by Tampa Bay can only logically be attributed to immense talent. They didn't make it out of the first round, but the fact that the ragtag Rays even made it to the postseason was landmark.  I remember the night when they locked down the wild card, as does anyone else who cares about baseball. It was epic, and the only team who I wanted to see win the whole goddamn mess more was my hometown Brewers.

Today is Monday, February 13th, and I hate the Tampa Bay Rays. And why is that? Why would I hate a team with such a Cinderella conclusion to what should have been a totally shitty season? Why would I hate a team that does all of the little things a team with a tiny budget has to do to stay competitive? A team with an elite pitching staff, won of whom took home rookie of the year for last season and another one who I'd put money on to do the same this year, why?! A team that in many ways is structured the way my hometown team was for years, why the hate?! Here is why.

 Two pretty quiet and inconsequential moves brought a sex offender and red faced racist to the team. Former Oriole Luke Scott was picked up out of free agency after a totally unimpressive years where he batted .220 with a .301 OBP and 9 hate fueled home runs. He also took time away from his mediocrity to tell a reporter that he didn't believe that Obama wasn't born here, and throw plantain chips at his black teammate while telling him to stop behaving like an animal. Then there is Josh Lueke. Acquired from the Seattle Mariners for catcher John Jaso. A relief pitcher with great stuff, major league promise without a doubt. He's also a TOTAL RAPIST.  I don't want to get too in to the details because it doesn't really have to do with an offseason review, just Google Josh Lueke and it'll come up almost immediately. I usually don't let ethics or opinions interfere with my ability to like an athlete or a team, but rape and blatant, vocal hate cross lines. It's one thing for an athlete to be a prototypical jock, or say something stupid in the heat of the moment, but what happened with these dudes is totally inexcusable. I've said it before and I'll hold to it if it ever occurs, if people like this were on my team, I'd root for someone else.
I'm gonna step down from my pulpit and actually analyze the moves they've made. They are scarce so there isn't much to say. Jeff Keppinger provides some depth to an already pretty decent infield. Luke Scott is replacing Johnny Damian at DH... I can't really explain that one, pretty dumb given Damian's affordability and maintaining solidity. Carlos Pena returns to Tampa which is a step up from Dan Johnson as far as offense is concerned, and since they let Casey Kotchman walk defense obviously doesn't mean shit to them, so that's cool. The best thing they did was locking up Matt Moore for five years at $14MM. Moore at just 17 days of major league experience and 10 innings of purely brutal postseason madness and proved the quality people had expected of him. Assuming he stays healthy, $14MM over five years is gonna look awfully affordable for that dude.
"Baseball genius" Joe Maddon
Also extended this offseason was the Napolean of a roster with consistently hemorrhaging talent, manager Joe Maddon. Year after year this dude brings it to the table and proves that he ain't nothin' to fuck with, bringing his small market team a .509 W/L record in the toughest division in baseball. This extension TOTALLY RULES for Maddon. It puts slack on the pressure that comes with being largely accountable for the performance of a team totally stilted by a low budget. If young'n GM Andrew Friedmen's luck runs out, it doesn't necessarily spell the end of Maddon's tenure as manager, even if it does diminish his credibility.

So where does that leave the Rays for 2012? In a competitive seat for sure. No one in the AL East is ever definitively behind the steering wheel, but the talent that exists in the Rays (no matter how loathsome some of it is on a personal level) can't be denied. Keep an eye on Desmond Jennings and Matt Moore if you're interested in seeing some crazy electric talent in its blossoming stages.

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