The initial crush of free agent signings and trades has come and passed, and with a brief pause for the holidays I thought I'd take a moment to comment on some of the moves the Rays have made (as well as a couple other observations).
First, I love the deal for Akinori Iwamura. For one thing the total cost of the deal is a bargain when compared to other Japanese imports on other teams. Also, I think it does show the Rays are working on fixing a part of the team (while not as important as pitching) that has been a mess since Wade Boggs was at the hot corner. While there are questions as to if Iwamura will play well in America, remember that any free agent from this year's shallow pool of third basemen is just as questionable in return on investment. I've heard nothing but good things about this guy and hopefully it all turns out to be true.
There are two things that do bother me about the signing though, and one has to do directly with the Rays. Why is this team enamored with moving players around to multiple positions? Utility players are utility players because they typically aren't strong at one particular position. They also typically ride the bench and are used as pinch-hitters or replacements for starters who are injured or who need a day off. I think it's great the Rays have guys like Ty Wigginton and Greg Norton to use practically anywhere IN A PINCH. So why the constant monkeying around with positions on the field and in the lineup? Joe Maddon has already wowed us (and often puzzled us) with his constant shifting of players from spot to spot. It's time to put down the algebraic equations and start making decisions based simply on what's the best way to win a game.
Iwamura succeeded in Japan AT THIRD BASE, so why not keep him there? I know the Japanese gold glove wasn't set at a Brooks Robinson level, but if the guy has won the award numerous times at third, something tells me you should keep him there. I know Evan Longoria is the third baseman of the future, but at 27 Iwamura is hardly an aging veteran. Most ballplayers at his age are hitting their peak. Start Iwamura at third for the next two seasons while Longoria becomes a better player in the minors. If Longoria is just so freakin' awesome he's better than Iwamura, then you move the latter to another position or another team.
The other issue I have is the whole human interest story with Iwamura being cocky. So? That doesn't make him a better player. Shinji Mori was "eccentric", and done before the season even started. Johnny Gomes is cocky, but he strikes out once every 3.5 at-bats. Let's look at Iwamura's skills and how he hopefully improves the Rays before we fall in love with how American or Latino his attitude is.
Other thoughts from Raysland:
* I'm still not thrilled with the team's decision to play a series in Orlando. I'm all for expanding the interest in the team to cover all of central Florida, but there are better ways to do it. Chartering buses from Orlando, Lakeland, and Fort Myers, for example. Getting together with local hotels to offer special Rays discounts. Already purchased your Rays tickets? Stay at this hotel for 20% off. Maybe even discounts for fans living outside the immediate Tampa Bay area?
Or here's a wacky idea-- put a better product on the field and people won't care about the drive or how dumpy the dome can be.
For a complete breakdown of my thoughts on this, read my earlier column "If you MOVE it... they will come?"
* No surprise the Rays made a serious run at Marcus Giles, only apparently to be rebuffed as Giles is looking at the Padres. First, there is the warm and fuzzy story of Giles and his brother Brian playing for the same team. AWWWWWWW... that should sell a few more copies of the San Diego Union-Tribune. On a more practical note, if Giles wants to go to a winner the Padres have a much better chance in the short-term to win than the Rays so that is a no-brainer.
If the Rays really did offer a three-year deal to Giles, I commend them highly on the attempt to bring him in. Giles is a defensive step up from Jorge Cantu, while delivering roughly the same numbers Cantu did at the plate. If you object to the Rays improving the middle infield over pitching, I guarantee you had Giles been signed Cantu would be traded for pitching in a heartbeat.
* Speaking of pitching, I'm still waiting for some move by the team to upgrade both the rotation and the bullpen. With most of the free agent market drying up when it comes to quality pitchers, the team will likely have to move an established player to make something happen. Still, in the free agent world, serviceable pitchers like Joel Piniero, Mark Redman, Jeff Suppan, and (yikes!) Steve Trachsel are available for starters. None of these guys will win the Cy Young Award, but they will provide experience to a young rotation while allowing the younger pitchers time to grow in the minors. David Riske, Chris Reitsma, even the once-dominating Danny Kolb are available for the pen.
* The Boston Globe and MSNBC reported this weekend the Red Sox were thinking twice about the proposed offer to J.D. Drew, one the team hasn't signed yet, after questions of Drew's health popped up. What? When did this happen? Are you telling me J.D. Drew has a bum shoulder? Well color me surprised! How the Sox didn't know (or didn't think to consider) Drew has played 135 games or more in only four of his eight professional seasons (excluding his 1998 rookie campaign) before backing up the Brinks truck is beyond me.
* Ryan Klesko at one year for $5 million in San Francisco is a bargain compared to other signings. Yet something tells me the Giants will use two or three guys at first again this year as Klesko can't avoid the injury bug.
* Finally, I'm 29 and I received a note from Blunt & Curry funeral home regarding how easy it is to set up my burial plot with them. Is there something I'm not aware of right now?