With teams throwing out out multi-million dollar deals to the likes of Gil Meche, Julio Lugo, J.D. Drew(wait, not yet), Gary Matthews Jr., Juan Pierre, Jason Marquis, Ted Lilly, Kei Igawa, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells and Barry Zito, Rays fans wonder if we're ever going to be able to compete in such a tumultuous market that Free Agency is.
We wonder if we'll completely ignore 2007's Free Agent class, seeing as how 2006's pack of mediocre players are getting paid. Many of us are already calling 2007 a "lame duck" season, seeing as we'd need almost a miracle of monumental proportions and players living up to their full unbridled potential to compete for a playoff berth in 2007. Some of us aren't even expecting a 70+ win season in 2007.
We could possibly strike it rich in the "Non-tender" sweepstakes again this year, with a few signings, but even that seems unlikely at this point with the complete lack of any talk with those players. There's always hope, but you can only hope for so long before it turns into pipe-dreaming.
With 2007 being a lame-duck year, we've got to do everything in our power to attract next year's batch of Free Agents into possibly considering a move to St. Pete. However, we're going to prove ourselves "on the field" with our play than "off the field" by going on insane spending binges. However, that's going to be almost as hard as a trek up Mount Everest. We'd almost have to finish 3rd in our division with a .500+ record for us to get possible Free Agents to forget about the money that the rest of the teams in our division can pay them.
While pointing out on alot of the negatives that our organization has/faces, we've improved in many facets over the offseason. We managed to sign a Top 20 Free Agent when we managed to outbid 4-5 teams to negotiate for Japanese Gold-glove Infielder Akinori Iwamura. Who knows how his offensive production translates, with the obvious differences between NPB and MLB, but he's probably the solidest defensive infielder that we have now. The Rays, also, managed to get Iwamura to sign for below Iguchi money (which is pretty much what we expected him to sign for).
Also, we've managed to expel alot of "garbage" this year. Gone are mediocre relievers in Brian Meadows, Tyler Walker and Travis Harper, who may have been the cause of many of our bullpen troubles. However, we're not exactly doing ourselves justice by replacing them with possibly Jeff Ridgway, Juan Salas and Al Reyes. So we're replacing 3 horrible MLB vets with 2 prospects and a guy who was a marginal-to-decent major leaguer coming off Tommy John surgery. I've got reason to be optimistic, seeing as we'll never see Travis Harper again (I hope). Let me be the first to be glad that I never have to read the words or hear "D-Holllllllllllll" again.
Looking at the "Added" part of the sidebar's offseason tracker, Durham is more than likely to have a championship-calibur AAA team. Durham is going to have alot of our top prospects passing through, while we'll have some decent MLB vets as roster-fillers there for some or most of the AAA season. Dustan Mohr and HSC are vast upgrades than last years' Darnell McDonald and Kevin Witt, in my mind. Both of them will be competing for spots on the Rays 25-Man roster, but I see both spending a significant amount of time in Durham. I could be wrong, though. We managed to strike it rich with Ty Wiggington last year.
"To trade Rocco or not to trade Rocco, that is the question."
Trading Rocco, to me at least, seems like a double-edged sword to me. If we manage to find a taker for his services, we'll significantly improve the pitching staff which many think is the culprit behind our history of losing seasons. However, trading Rocco would be a horrible PR move. Horrible isn't a strong enough word, it'd be catastropic PR move. Trading Rocco this early in his long-term deal would be a waste of time and further facilitate Toby Hall's point that the organization isn't looking to keep it's best players and are more apt to trading them. Nothing in my mind is worse than proving Toby Hall to be a competant human being and trading Rocco would do just that. Add into the fact that trading Rocco would be outright dumb without us having a suitable replacement for him, seeing as I'm not willing to consider Elijah Dukes or B.J. Upton adequate replacements for him.
I'd rather us trading our more insignificant expendable parts, like Cantu, Dukes or even Upton, than trading Rocco right now. Upton and Dukes have proven themselves to be more problematic than productive, so why do we want to just give them more and more chances to screw around or cause more headaches? When does potential become overshadowed by personality and "on the field" flaws?
I trust the NDRO with the way that they're running the Minor League part of the organization, but I have to question some of the "experiments" going on at the major league level. Upton at 3B should be scrapped, at least at the major league level. Upton in the Majors, in my mind, should be scrapped. Underwhelming play in AAA at SS should not deserve an extended call-up in the Majors just because he agreed to move to a new position. Look at his performance at the MLB level, he's done nothing as of yet to show that he deserves to be in the majors over Ben Zobrist. Same thing does for Elijah Dukes playing 1B, which again is a "agree to move, you'll get rewarded" type of move. Elijah Dukes doesn't deserve it, I'll put it bluntly. His potential's luster is no more with me, he's nothing more than a pain in the ass and shouldn't even be talking about playing in the majors. Fans love Dukes, but he's been suspended and arrested more than the late major leaguer Steve Howe. Why are we rewarding a guy that's pretty much banned from ever setting foot in Durham Bulls Athletic Park again? Gomes' move to 1B makes sense, seeing as we all see him as a 1B/OF/DH type anyways. However, we've got enough 1B candidates going into Spring Training, why not just give Gomes the DH spot outright and give him a few starts/games mixed in at 1B through the season so that he's not just a poor man's Hafner/Ortiz?
2007's slogan should be "The Proving Ground", seeing as the NDRO needs to prove to both it's fans, future Free Agents and all of MLB that we're not a joke of a franchise and should be taken seriously. However, it's easier to talk the talk than walk the walk.