Despite never appearing in a Rays uniform in a game that actually counts, Hank Blalock (and his agent Scott Boras) has the attention of the Rays universe. From talk radio, to websites, to the television telecast, Blalock's name is a hot button issue. After signing with the Rays in spring, Blalock agreed to go to Durham with the option to opt out of his minor league deal and see employment elsewhere. Judging by comments from Scott Boras, that time is NOW!
If/when Blalock envokes the clause, the Rays will have 48 hours to add him to the roster, trade him or cut him loose. That said, there are a variety of scenarios being thrown out as possibilities. The Rays could simply option Sean Rodriguez to make room for Blalock. Sure, having Willy Aybar, Pat Burrell and Blalock would limit Joe Maddon's flexibility on the bench, but it would be a quick fix. Other than Rodriguez, the only other option scenario that would make sense would be Andy Sonnanstine.
With the way the Rays starters have been going, a seven-man bullpen seems a bit redundant at this point. At times, the Rays have been looking for ways just to get relievers work because they've gone so long in between appearances. Grant Balfour and Lance Cormier, especially, have the ability to go multiple innings and if the bullpen were to be really taxed, Sonny would be a call away. This scenario seems unlikely, but not completely out of the realm of possibility.
More on the Blalock situation after the jump...
There is also the notion of trading Blalock. According to various media outlets teams like the Seattle Mariners and the Chicago White Sox among others would be interested in Blalock's services. However, I don't know how much Blalock would fetch in return. The situation reminds me of the Adam Kennedy situation last season in which the Rays moved Kennedy to the A's as a favor and received Joe Dillion in return. I don't know if losing Blalock for a Joe Dillion-type or even a low level prospect really helps the 2010 team. And I'm not sure Friedman would get a good enough piece to where we can say he made this deal with the future in mind.
The most popular choice, and with good reason, is calling up Blalock and cutting Pat Burrell. Even before Blalock signed, or the first pitch of the season was thrown, Burrell was saddled with the dubious label of sunk cost. On the other hand, Burrell got off to a decent start and had one great weekend in Fenway Park - buying him a little goodwill with the fanbase. Last week, I wrote about the reverse platoon split that gave us a little hope of getting some, any, production from Burrell. Going into last night's game, Burrell had a .368 weighted on-base average (wOBA) against righties and Joe Maddon had expressed that PtB would get the bulk of at-bats against right handed pitching (RHP).
Last night, however, Burrell looked completely lost against RHP, albeit a really good one in Jered Weaver. He went 0-3 with three strikeouts against Weaver. With a runner on second base and right-hander Kevin Jepsen on the mound, Burrell was lifted for platoon partner Willy Aybar; obviously not a good sign for Burrell. Again, Weaver is a fantastic pitcher, and he made many Rays look silly last night, but, even with the good start against RHP, Burrell's .378 BABIP against them is likely to regress which would make an already bad situation even worse.
Cutting Burrell has to be on the table for the Rays, but as R.J. Anderson asks on fangraphs.com, what is the guarantee Blalock is better? Sure, he has gaudy Triple-A numbers, but they are Triple-A numbers after all. The good news, is Blalock has had a lot of success against RHP in his career (.362 wOBA). On the other hand, most of that damage came earlier on in his career. Over the past three seasons, his OPS against RHP is a modest .740.
In conclusion, like most, I am still intrigued by Blalock and would like to at least see him get a shot to prove himself at the highest level.. However, unlike some, I'm not willing to revamp the roster to accommodate a non-roster invitee on the best team in baseball. Personally, I think the Rays will try and keep Blalock and Burrell by going the option route. Although, if a team calls up with a deal Andrew Friedman feels is a value, expect Friedman to listen closely. Either way, Blalock's name will be a trending topic in these parts until a decision is made. I'm just glad Andrew Friedman is making that decision and not someone else.