With something like 150 free agents remaining unsigned, and two months until pitchers and catchers report, the Rays should just cancel the upcoming 2010 season. Forget spending the spring in Port Charlotte or having an opening day at home for the first time in years, the season is over right now; at least it is according to Ken Rosenthal. The senior baseball writer for Foxsports.com wrote the following last night...
Rest of AL East should just give up now
How would you like to be the Tampa Bay Rays? The Baltimore Orioles? The Toronto Blue Jays?
Now pitching for the Yankees in 2010: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez.
Now pitching for the Red Sox: Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.
And rest assured, the two AL East super-powers are not done.
Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte will welcome Vazquez, make him feel comfortable, help him relax. Vazquez will be in the final year of his contract, pitching for one last big free-agent score. Yes, there are questions about him, just as there are questions about Lackey, who has been on the disabled list with arm injuries in each of the past two seasons.
Tell it to Tampa Bay. Tell it to Baltimore. Tell it to Toronto.
Rosenthal also mentions that the Yankees will replace Melky Cabrera with a free agent and the Red Sox could still add Adrian Gonzalez, but none of that matters. Just look at those front four starters for each team and cancel your season tickets. Sure, in Toronto and Baltimore, 2010 is looked upon as a rebuilding year, but how about the 2008 AL Champion Rays? Ah, forget it too.
A team with a front FIVE of Shields, Garza, Price, Niemann and Davis is apparently not good enough to compete in this division. First, the Rays don't have a real ace. James Shields is nice and all, but no ace. I'm not even going to listen to people when they say now that besides the newly National League'd Roy Halladay, James Shields is the only other starter in the AL to post a 4 WAR season in each of the past three years. Or that he's racked up nearly 800 innings of sub 4 FIP ball in his career. He also just turned 28, is about to hit what many consider his prime years and under contract for seasons to come at a bargain...pass!
Forget the 2008 ALCS MVP, Matt Garza and his crazy 93=96 mph fastball. Who can win with this hot-head? All he did in 2009 was top 200 innings for the first time in his career while maintaining a steady 4.17 FIP and 4.21 xFIP. Surely headed into the 2010 season at age 26 there is no room to improve already improving K/BB, LOB%, or contact rate. Seriously folks, a slider that had the fourth best pitch value among AL starters and generated a swing and a miss 20.1% of the time isn't that impressive.
Behind those two guys what do you have? David Price, a former #1 overall selection and one-time consensus top two prospect in baseball? All Price did last year was develop from a two pitch pony into a potential five pitch stallion. Honestly, there is nothing to get excited about from a 24-year-old left hander who throws in the mid 90s and showed tremendous improvement in control during the season. I'm sure you're not believing that just because his BB% went from 16.8% to 6.3%.that he's actually maturing as a pitcher. Let's also disqualify the fact that over the final ~70 innings, Price managed to get over 44% groundballs.
Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis? Let's face facts here my friends. Jeff Niemann and his straight fastball don't scare anyone (ok, maybe that one is really true). In his first full season in the big leagues, the Big Nyquil posted a 3.2 WAR season while throwing 180 innings of 4.07 FIP ball. The fact that his 3.94 ERA was within .15 runs of his FIP shouldn't get your hopes up. Nor the fact that his BABIP looks pretty sustainable. What I want to see out of my big 6'9 RHP is strikeouts and Niemann doesn't do much of that so just toss him aside.
This Davis kid looked completely overmatched in his first taste of big league ball. Sure, in his third start he tossed a four-hit, 10 strikeout shutout masterpiece, but he got hammered in Fenway just five days before. I know he's likely a consensus top 35 prospect, but so what? You don't really believe that his mid 90s fastball along with his hammer curveball and slider that missed 15% of bats (sss) will really last an entire season, do you?
Taking my tongue out of cheek now, I'm not saying the Rays rotation is the best in the AL East. That would be silly. However, discounting them completely is also silly. The Rays very well may finish in third place, but I seriously doubt they won't contend for most of if not the entire season. While some may honestly believe the AL East race is over in late December, I think Shields, Garza, Price, Niemann, Davis, B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett, J.P. Howell, Grant Balfour, the newly added Kelly Shoppach and Rafael Soriano might have something to say about that.