Sunday, March 6, 2011

Can Tampa Contend?

This is perhaps the most intriguing question of the 2011 AL East race. I think many experts are going to project the Red Sox and Yankees as playoff participants, probably with the Red Sox winning the East and the Yankees winning the Wild Card. I'm not yet sure where I'm going to call it. The jury, however, is still out on a Tampa team that resembles Ireland right around 1850 - everyone emigrated away.

Let's just list it right out here: They lost their starting 1B/DH in Pena, their starting LF in Crawford, a middle-of-the-rotation starter in Garza, their closer in Soriano, their setup guy in Joaquim Benoit, two good relievers in Wheeler and Balfour, and two additional relievers with debatable value in Randy Choate and Chad Qualls.

They added Syracuse Chiefs closer Joel Peralta, and their bullpen will be led by the veteran presence of Kyle Farnsworth, who was on the Yankees during this blog's infancy and has been largely combustible despite having highly-acclaimed "stuff." The Boston Globe said that putting together a bullpen that resembles the Washington Sentinels (with Farnsy playing the role of Shane Falco), pitching coach Jim Hickey is faced with the challenge of making - Cafardo's words, not mine, "chicken salad out of chicken manure." JP Howell and Juan Cruz are two other names thrown out there, and the point was made that Tampa's bullpen was just as questionable last year as it was this year. You could actually say the same in 2008, when the bullpen looked bad on paper but killed it during the season.

I think the Rays' starting rotation might be the most predictable of the three big players in the AL East. You know what you're getting with these guys a lot more than you know what you're getting with Ivan Nova, Daisuke Matsuzaka, or John Lackey. You can give Price the wash with CC and Lester, and you can give Big Game James the wash with Burnett and Beckett. Beyond that, I trust the Rays more and I probably take the Rays.

They'll miss Crawford and a healthy Pena. But even with those guys (you know, giving Crawford the ability to be on two theoretical teams), I still like the Yankees' and Red Sox' lineups as currently constituted a lot more than the Rays'. Are the Moneyball 1.5* acquisitions of Damon and Manny going to make an impact? Moneyball 1.5 acquisitions are rolling the dice in the first place.

Don't get me wrong, I think the Yankees and Red Sox both are going to need to get a couple of breaks for things to ultimately go well for them this season. But you gotta think that both teams have stable lineups and bullpens that will at least not be catastrophic. But the Rays are going to need to work their magic on two different fronts this year in order to contend. I think for it to happen, given reasonable expectations, they'll need a little luck and one (or both) of the giants from the northeast are going to have to catch some bad breaks.

*Moneyball 1.0: OBP; Moneyball 1.5: Aging veterans who might have something less in the tank; Moneyball 2.0: Defense.

4 comments:

the gm at work said...

For what it's worth, additionally, I think Tampa's bench is pretty great. Kotchman is a good addition to any bench, although at first base he won't be able to bring much platoon value as both he and Dan Johnson hit lefty. Shoppach is a serviceable backup catcher and I believe he can platoon with Jaso when needed. Plus, I think Manny's a bench/DH player right now. Very good bench.

However, I'd rather have a very good lineup and a decent bench than a good lineup and a very good bench.

Patrick said...

the answer to the question you present is, in my opinion, no. before i get into that, i do think they will be good enough to make things difficult on the yankees and red sox. not in terms of biting at their heels all season. but in terms of how tough they will play them. tampa bay has developed mini-rivalries with both of these teams the last few years (with a lot of heated play), and i think manny and damon will play their best baseball in the 36 games against the yankees and red sox as they try to stick it to them. so, i think tampa bay will be good enough against the yankees and red sox to be a factor in deciding which of them wins the division and if the other gets the wild card. but i don't think they'll be good enough in their other 126 games to contend themselves.

the main reason for that is where are their runs coming from consistently? manny and damon would have to both stay healthy go back to mid/late-00's form alongside longoria in order for this team to have offensive impact. not far behind that is, who is getting outs out of the bullpen? i suppose you could compare this bullpen to the 2008 version, but their bullpen was considerably better last year, especially with soriano anchoring the 9th inning. i totally agree with you that this team probably has the best rotation in the division on paper (though you're not going to hear that as everyone goes goo goo ga ga about yankees vs. red sox), even despite losing garza. they have a lot of talented pieces on the rise like desmond jennings and jeremy hellickson, but i just don't think it matches up for them this year. you can piece together one between offense, starting pitching, and relief pitching if you are strong in other areas. they need to piece together two. that's too much.

one way to look at situations like this is this: people are worried that the yankees don't have a 4th and 5th starter locked in. what would they be saying if new york and tampa switched rosters? they'd be talking about boston and tampa bay running away with the division and wild card and the yankees not having a chance. i'm not saying this is definitely what is going to happen to tampa bay, but i think we have to be fair when assessing this by considering how much we would be crushing this roster if either new york or boston assembled it.

Anonymous said...

DV

Can the Rays contend? Absolutely. We see mediocre teams contend almost every single year. They don't always make the playoffs, but year in and year out you see random mediocre/good teams making a run at the postseason (and in some cases the World Series--the 2006 Cardinals and 2010 Giants come to mind). The traditional heavyweights aren't always there at the end.

The better question is WILL the Rays contend. And I don't think they will. They have talent in Upton, Longoria, Zobrist, Jaso, Price, and Shields. But I doubt they have the depth and the losses they are about to deal with appear to be just too much to overcome.

--the Gunn

the gm at work said...

Guys,

I agree with you. They can be a great spoiler, and you gotta think that this year, they might go back to the team who might pick fights with one or both of these teams because they can't run with them in terms of talent. Beyond that, I also don't see it happening.

Pat, I'm glad you mentioned the 2008 bullpen - and, really, team in general. I didn't think there was much talent there, but they caught lightning in a bottle, then returned to reality in 2009. I see this year's bullpen resembling 2009 more than 2008. The 2010 team won the division because they were there; because they were good. I think the 2010 Rays were better than the 2008 Rays.