May 1st is supposed to be a happy day. Historically, it is an ancient spring festival celebrated in parts of the world and is also a traditional spring holiday in many cultures. The Rays started the day a little weary-eyed after an extra innings win against the Mariners to cap a 15-8 month against a grueling schedule. The only planned event on the agenda was a press conference to officially announce the minor league signing of Hideki Matsui but Murphy's Law went into effect and by the end of the day, three pieces of unfortunate news came out that changed the course of this successful start of the season.
The worst news hit first as we all woke up to some rumors on Twitter about Evan Longoria being out 6-8 weeks. Those rumors were finally confirmed later in the afternoon. To quote Longoria, "It sucks." The timing could not be any worse as he was hitting the ball extremely well this season and has a wRC+ of 169 to date. There is no way to replace that kind of production on any team, no less one that balls on a budget, and is having depth issues in the upper levels of the minor leagues this season. Longoria was projected to be worth 6.7 wins above replacement the rest of the way, so assuming he misses one third of the remaining part of the season, that is just over two wins that are lost.
Will Rhymes has already been added to the 25 man roster as Joe Maddon plays mix and match with different spots of the lineup to find runs. Jeff Keppinger could see more playing time, but that is not necessarily a good thing for two reasons. Keppinger's defense is the most limited of the remaining options on the roster at any of the positions, but he's also been limited against right-handed pitching throughout his career. While Keppinger has a career wRC+ of 128 against lefties, that rate is just 76 against same-handed pitching. A side note that Ben Lindbergh pointed out today; Keppinger has put 54 balls in play in 56 plate appearances in 2012. That ability could help Keppinger be productive against righties in hit and run situations, something Maddon may be more apt to do in order to manufacture runs with the absence of Longoria's power.
Rhymes and Elliot Johnson are also in the fold for looks at third base. Johnson's offensive struggles are well known, but his career spans just 200 plate appearances. His regressed wOBA against righties is just .277 while Rhymes and Keppinger are only one and three points better, respectively. While there is a clear option against lefties, there is no clear choice against righties and matchups and pitcher types will likely dictate Maddon's decision. That quartet of players just needs to be replacement level to hold the fort as they have impossible shoes to fill. The team, with less offense last year, went 19-12 without Longoria the last time he was hurt but they will need to do even more this season with the increased length of the absence.
To make room for Rhymes on the 40-man roster the Rays moved Kyle Farnsworth to the 60-day disabled list. It's retroactive, which pushes his target return date to June 5th. As good as Farnsworth was last year, the Rays haven't really missed him this season. The bullpen has been coming along nicely since a rough start to the season. Wade Davis, J.P. Howell, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney are pitching well and left-hander Jake McGee is coming around. As Tommy Rancel pointed out to me, the addition of Farnsworth will basically seem like a trade deadline acquisition. If he pitches well his 20-30 innings will be like found money. Who knows where the 'pen would be without Fernando Rodney. That's not something I'd ever see myself writing back in January.
To top off this awful day let's move on to the news involving Tim Beckham. If you haven't yet heard, the former number one overall draft pick was suspended 50 games for violating the minor league drug policy for a second time. The drug in question is reported to be marijuana. I'm not defending his actions. If there are rules in place then he should absolutely follow them and pay the consequence when he doesn't. It's the rule that I take issue with. My two main points of contention are:
1. The lack of representation for minor league players
2. The sheer idiocy of Major League Baseball.
Let's start at the top. Minor league players have no rights. It borders on the criminal, as Lily Rothman illustrates in an April 3rd piece for Slate:
In one of America’s most fabled industries, there’s a hidden underclass of workers that has a starting salary of $1,100 a month and gets paid for only half the year. They are subject to territorial monopolies, restrictions on labor movement, and caps on salaries that are illegal in other businesses. Though not members of a union, their lives are influenced by one of the most powerful labor associations in the country, a group whose members—people who work in the same industry for the same organizations and were once in the same position—have a vested interest in keeping them down.
Beckham is in a different class financially, getting a $6.15 million signing bonus in 2008 but the moral still applies. Major League players are not held to the same standards as Minor League players, something that has been worked into bargaining agreements by their union. A Major League player can seemingly commit any crime shy of murder and not face suspension, which leads me to my second point. As is pointed out in a tweet by Keith Law, there have been 24 players and coaches arrested for DUI since 2004 and not one has faced suspension. Someone can get behind the wheel of a car and endanger lives but Tim Beckham, and others like him, can't sit in the privacy of their own home and smoke a joint. Which is the bigger problem?
It's now May 2nd. Today has to be better.
*Jason Collette contributed to this piece