Speaking of Normandin, remember that interview we were going to do with him? Well that's today, after the jump.
DRB: With the Rays improving so much, what franchise is now the most hopeless in baseball?
Normandin: Thankfully for all involved, many of the more pitiful franchises in the league have started to turn things around. The Royals are no longer the joke of the American League, and the Rays have much too much talent to not do something productive in the near future, even if some of the players go a little Dewon Brazelton on them.
That being said, there are still some problem teams. The Nats major league roster looks kind of pathetic at times, but even that is changing, and Jim Bowden has done a solid job restocking that farm system so far, so they are out of this discussion. The Pirates have a new General Manager in place, and if he can stave off ownership more successfully than Dave Littlefield did--assuming ownership will still be a problem of course--then they may not be in the same sad state as before.
The Orioles are a candidate simply because they lead the league in Treading Water lately. If Angelos nixes this trade when they are clearly not going to keep Bedard, you can throw my vote there, though their offseason trade partners the Astros have done their share of moving backwards as well.
DRB: We all saw with our own eyes just how awful our team defense was in 2007. In yesterday's BP Newsletter (already a subscriber) the stat for the day listed our team defensive efficiency as the worst in the entire league last season at a 0.66. Given the additions in the off-season as well as the positional shift for Iwamura, how much better can we expect our def_eff to be this season?
Normandin: With the changes the team has made, I'd say that Rays fans can expect them to field a much more capable defense. It won't be the best out there, but it's not going to lose games for you outright like the 2007 version. A few extra wins due to defense is tough to notice if the pitching and offense aren't clicking, but when it all comes together those defensive wins shine through.
DRB: What did you think of the Delmon Young trade and will Cliff Floyd and Jonny Gomes outperform Delmon at least this season?
Normandin: Delmon could turn out to be a special talent with the bat, or he could "just" end up as a dependable hitter who you can stick high or in the middle of the order. He needs to improve his pitch recognition and plate discipline if he wants to become a star in this league, but he's still young so there is time. There's no better experience than that of the major leagues if you're too good for the minors, and Young is going to get that chance in Minnesota.
If Floyd and Gomes can stay healthy, they can probably outperform the 2008 Delmon Young. I can't project any further than that, because we don't know what kind of progress Young will make at the plate in his approach that could affect his future.
DRB: Willy Aybar and Joel Guzman appear to be another platoon for the Rays' lineup - if it were up to you, would Evan Longoria start the year in Durham or Tampa, and do you think the former Dodgers' duo can combine to form above average production?
Normandin: If it were up to me, I'd play Longoria in Durham the same way Billy Beane used to hold back players to gain that extra year of control on their service time. As much as the Rays are quickly improving due to the influx of talent all around the diamond, they are more than likely not going to contend in 2008, at least not in the beginning of the season. Why waste some of Longoria's service time when he is going to be the centerpiece of the offense when the team is running on all cylinders in the (near) future?
Of course, the front office knows their guys better than I do, and if they are committed to signing Longoria to a long-term extension when the time comes (as long as he deserves it, of course) then why not play him? Bringing more fans to the park is another goal, and if Longoria is the special kind of player we expect him to be, he could do just that. I have a pretty optimistic outlook for his major league debut line, and I'm sold on him as a future star.
DRB: On platoons - I think some have negative outlooks on the concept, after all if a player can't play every day he's no good, but what do you think about the lineup mechanism?
Normandin: I'm a big fan of platoons honestly. Some teams don't take the time to construct their bench in a way that's beneficial to them over the course of the season. If you have Player X who hits right-handers at a .280/.345/.490 clip but southpaws at just .240/.320/.400 or so, and then Player Y who hits lefties well and right-handers poorly, you're going to be able to combine them together at one position in order to maintain that more productive line on the season, rather than throwing a helpless player out there for 700 PA by themselves. It gives you some late-game bench flexibility as well. There's something to be said for knowing what a player's weaknesses and limitations are, especially if you can properly utilize that player in order to use their strengths to your benefit.
DRB: Another concept we commonly discuss at DRB is whether you really need a left-hander who gets left-handed batters out, the Rays went without to start last year and don't have the best options this year. Does a right-handed who gets lefties out have the same affect as a lefty who gets lefties out?
Normandin: I will take a right-hander who can get lefties out any day. I do like the idea of having a lefty who can get lefties out, if that player is in the Alan Embree mold; someone who is also effective getting right-handed hitters out. I'm not a fan of having a LOOGY just for the sake of filling that spot like it's a legitimate position on the roster, if that's what you mean.
Teams need to look to the minor leagues more often for relievers, even if the guy is only going to work for a year or two. Buying a bullpen--especially "specialists"--doesn't seem to work too well for many teams.
DRB: More likely to be a Ray for more than 10 years of their career: Scott Kazmir or Carl Crawford?
Normandin: Scott Kazmir. You should hope. Crawford is very good, but Kazmir rocks.
DRB: We'll debate this until the votes come in, but let's just say Fred McGriff gets into the Hall of Fame, shouldn't he go in as a Devil Ray? Remember, there's only one real answer here, and it starts with a "y".
Normandin: Why make Fred McGriff your first entry into the Hall of Fame? If things go well, you might end up with someone on the present or near present day squad.
DRB: You're a Red Sox fan, so let me ask - how ridiculous is it that Wade Boggs' number is retire not as a Yankee or Red Sox, but rather as a Ray where he played a total of 213 games?
Normandin: That's the nature of many team's Hall of Fame rules. I don't know if all clubs do this, but I know the Red Sox have a requirement that your last baseball related job be with the Red Sox. That's why Carlton Fisk came back for some random "position" with the team so they could honor him.
DRB: Percentage of likeliness that the following players repeat or come close to last year - either in being good or bad:
James Shields: Shameless Plug
B.J. Upton: Upton's a good one, but we might see his batting average fall off, as his .399 BABIP is just a tad unrealistic. A smidge. I wouldn't be surprised to see him struggle for a time in 2008, but he'll rebound overall.
Carlos Pena: I'm not sure he's going to slug upwards of .600 again, but he's long been a favorite of mine to root for. I'm confident he can earn the extension he signed no problem.
Dioner Navarro: I'm still not sure about Navarro. With young players it sometimes takes a time for them to adjust--think Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Kouzmanoff just this past season--and then you see improvement. Was Navarro's second half improvement or just a good run? The first half of 2008 will tell us.
DRB: You've worked on BP2k8, so go ahead and sell your work, when can we get it, where, and if you can share - what articles did you contribute to?
Normandin: Amazon says that you can get the book by February 18 (at a discount even!), which means it's time to start those preorders. You can preorder it online, as I said, or you can go to your local Borders, Barnes & Noble or wherever it is you normally purchase your baseball books.
As for my contributions, I have a piece on fantasy baseball tucked into the annual. Just know that there the names of a few Rays players that you will be excited to see, once you finally get to open up this year's edition.
DRB: Thanks for your time Marc, it's always a pleasure.
Normandin: Thanks for inviting me to talk some baseball. It's always a good time.
Remember to buy Baseball Prospectus' 2008 guide, just click here, doing so helps keep guys like Normandin off the streets - he's dangerous you know.