Time to recap the Devil Rays' first significant move of the offseason, and the rest of the team's (non) actions during the winter meetings.
get: 3B Sean Burroughs
get: RHP Dewon Brazelton
Dewon Brazelton-What Rays fan is not already acquainted with this player, termed by one Rays fan who shall not be named, AWOL. Brazelton was simply not going anywhere, and I am finally ready to admit that. I was a supporter of Braz for a lot longer than most people were, but it was just never going to work, and though I knew that, I still held out hope. Drafted with the third pick of the 2001 draft, he made his debut in 2002 with Orlando of the Southern League, pitching to a 3.33 ERA to go along with a 1.34 WHIP. Perhaps leading to his struggles down the road, his track was quicklly accelerated as he was promoted to Durham, and then to the majors after only one start for the Bulls. At the tail end of the season, Braz made two starts for the Rays, putting up a 4.85 ERA.
The bottom fell out next season, as Brazelton made 10 starts for the Rays, flaming out spectacularly after the Rays decided to screw with his throwing motion. His K:BB of 24:23 and WHIP of 1.66 back that up. He was sent down all the way to Single A Bakersfield to rebuild his pitching, and made it up through Orlando to Durham by the end of the year. Beginning next season in Durham, he was promoted to the Rays in June of that year, and stuck with the team for the remainder of the season, being one of the key players in the Rays' midseason winning streak. He was also great pitching at home, in fact, his ERA was less than 3 at Tropicana Field. His problem was on the road, where he pitched to a substantially higher ERA, and did not win a game. To this day, he has still not won a road game.
Nonetheless, his season looked quite good-in terms of ERA. He finished with a 4.77 ERA in 21 starts, though his 64:53 K:BB and 1.44 WHIP lead many to believe, correctly, that a collapse was coming. But after Brazelton pitched to a 3.18 ERA in spring training, he was named the opening day starter, and that opening day start would be has last decent start in the major leagues. He made only eight starts before his horrible performance had to be outrighted to Durham. Brazelton, as you all know, went AWOL and never showed up to Durham. After three weeks, Braz finally showed up to the Naimoli complex, where, after working out for a little while, was outrighted to AA Montgomery. Now, the Rays showed a zero tolerance position here, getting tough with Braz. After all, it took him all of one three inning stint with the Biscuits before he rejoined the major league roster.
The season continued to tank after that, as Brazelton bombed out of the bullpen, and mysteriously, large amounts of television sets went off after he came into the game. After at least a month of terrible pitching, he was demoted to Durham and remained with the Bulls for the rest of the AAA season, finishing with a 3.72 ERA vs. International League hitters, though he had his normal bad WHIP. To his credit, however, his K:BB was close to 2. Eventually, Braz made the majors again on a September callup, faring no better than any of his previous months, and ended his season with an awful 7.61 ERA. The peripherals back that up, as he had a 2.07 WHIp and K:BB of 43:60. No, that isn't reversed, he actually walked many more people then he struck out. Brazelton attributed his problems in 2005 to a nasty divorce he was going through, but that begs the obvious question-What was going on in those previous years?
Sean Burroughs-Like Brazelton, Burroughs has been a major disappointment, though has had more success. Drafted with the ninth pick in the 1998 MLB draft out of high school, Burroughs took a little while to advance through the Padres' system, not because of performance issues, just simply because the Padres took a more paitent approach with him (imagine that, paitence with a prospect, shocking). But the Pads never really needed to rush him, as Burroughs was still young coming out of high school, and was not even 22 when he made his MLB debut.
Burroughs was very impressive coming up through the Padres system. After a short six game stint with Rancho Cucamonga at the tail end of the 1998 season, Burroughs was sent to Fort Wayne of the MWL to start off 1999. All he did there was have his finest professional season to date, hitting to a line of .359/.460/.479, a .939 OPS. He was skipped right over the Single A Advanced level and began the 2000 season with Mobile of the Southern League, taking a few steps back as can be expected with a two level jump, but still hit for a line of .291/.380/.401, while playing on the United States' 2000 Gold Medal Winning Olympic baseball team. Burroughs spent the next 1 and 1/3 years in Portland, home of the Padres' PCL affiliate. He continued to hit well in the PCL, and you can read whatever you want into his production being inflated by that hitter-friendly league, but still produced an OPS of .847 in 2001, and one of .827 in his short 2002 stint before getting the call to the majors.
The Pads inserted Burroughs directly into the hot corner, and he did not fare well. He put up a line of .271/.317/.323 in San Diego, hitting for a .640 OPS in that span. He had his best major league season the following year, putting up a line of .286/.352/.402 for a .754 OPS, and many thought at that point that his power would develop. Alas, whatever power one might have hoped for shriveled up the next year, as he returned to his light-hitting ways. Even though he posted a career best average (.298), and a very good OBP (.348), his SLG again brought that OPS down, this time to .713. The Pads were getting impaciente with Burroughs' lack of power, and his terrible average and mediocre OBP the next year earned him a trip back up to Oregon, where he hit very well, to the tune of .290/.362/.407 for a .789 OPS, though the power was somewhat inflated by playing in a hitter's league. The pattern throughout Burroughs' playing career is evident-lack of power, and one can only hope that said power develops in his stint in St. Petersburg.
The original draft of this trade, apparently, would have had the Rays' third overall pick in the Rule V draft going to San Diego. If this were to have happened, my enthusiasm would have been tempered, but not enough as I think this is a brilliant move for the Rays.
For all of Burroughs' troubles with power supply, this is still a major steal for the Rays, IMO. Brazelton carried one hell of a lot of baggage, on top of the fact that he just wasn't that good. Unloading all of his problems and bad chemistry is, in itself, like signing a decent free agent because it removes a cancer from the clubhouse. Personally, I do not believe Brazelton is a bad guy. He did a lot of work for charity, and was very good with youths who had an upbringing like himself. For him even to get this far shows a lot of character on Dewon's part. Rising above his rough upbringing, his brother's death, and this supposed 'nasty divorce'. And though these things should not be held against him, they are still a whole cargo hold's worth of emotional baggage that could erupt at any moment, had it not already. Add that to the fact that manby teammates have openly been critical of him even being on the roster, and the coldness he brings to the clubhouse, and unloading him just became the right thing to do. If Brazelton were a good player, maybe you take your chances. But he has never shown an ability to pitch effectively, and I'm not placing my money on his talent ever materializing.
And the Rays, while not getting a major difference-maker, got a pretty good return for someone like Brazelton. The Rasy get a plug for the hot corner that can, at least temporarily, provide half-decent defense unlike one Aubrey Lewis Huff and a decent singles hitter who can actually take four balls (gasp!). Ypu've got to remember, Burroughs is only 25, and is really only missing power from his game. I don't think you can ever "give up" on a player who is 25 and is missing only one component of his game. As he is, you cannot have Burroughs starting every year for your team. You just can't. He is a corner infielder, and a corner infielder without power is like a catcher without a glove. Corner infielders are expected to hit home runs, and having one who doesn't is a major disadvantage to the team.
And the power that Burroughs needs is not going to be in the form of doubles and triples power. I mean, he could not hit for those in San Diego, where PETCO Park has more nooks and crannies than most any other major league stadium. While we are on the subject of the stadium, it should be mentioned that PETCO Park is not very friendly to fly balls, and balls that would have landed in Row D, Seat 5 in most parks end up in gloves on the warning track in PETCO. Is moving to the Trop going to magically add 20 home runs to his total? No, of course not, but I would be willing to bet that more than one out by a Burroughs fly ball would have been a home run at the Trop. And while we are on the subject of things working against Burroughs, let's mention the move from the more pitching-oriented NL to the launching pad AL. Do not underestimate the effect of the League.
Even if Burroughs becomes another Robert Fick for the Rays, it is a good move simnply because we are jettisoning an underachieving loose cannon. I am actually expecting a good season from Burroughs. In fact, dare I say that if he gets a decent number of ABs, he might equal his career home run total coming into the year, 11. I just cannot believe that a third baseman like him could have no power and I think it will come out eventually, and this may be the year. Even if Burroughs does not have power, if he can get on base enough, he can get his OPS above .750 and fill the third base hole decently enough, possibly in a platoon. But simply because of the possibilities, and even some prior perfromance, I think this is a steal for the Rays.
Other Rays (non)moves
The Rays were going into the Winter Meetings in Dallas as one of the league's most sought after teams. As an unusually active offseason thus far beget one of the most active winter meetings in years, the Rays were at the forefront of it all, with Danys Baez, Julio Lugo, Aubrey Huff, and Joey Gathright on the forefront of many possible deals. Ultimately, nothing happened, much to the disappointment of some Rays fans. The most vocal deal, of course, was the one that would have sent Julio Lugo to Boston and Edgar Renteria to Atlanta in a trade that would have netted the Rays prized Atlanta hot corner prospect Andy Marte. This deal, as it turned out, never came through, and, depending on who you ask, was never offered.
While a trade is, of course, still possible this offseason, it is much less likely. So it seems the Rays will be stuck writing out large, undeserved checks to Huff, and sitting on Lugo and Baez while their value is at its peak. To be sure, something needs to happen by next year's trade deadline. With Huff, Lugo, and Baez's contracts set to expire following the end of next season, and the likelihood of us not retaining them following that season is great. But nothing needed to be done now, as I doubt each's value will drop greatly between now and late July. Eventually Boston cut us out of the deal, trading Renteria to Atlant for a package of prospects, and while Atlanta no longer needs a shortstop, Boston needs a replacement for Renteria. Could we possibly package Huff, whom Boston had interest in last July, and Lugo in one deal with the Sox, possibly making a three team deal with Baez going to New York along with Manny Ramirez? Anything is possible, but don't panic Rays fans, we've still got time.