...but one more arm in the Rays' rotation next season could be beneficial. And it wouldn't hurt to look outside the organization for this one.
New life has been breathed into the Rays' rotation recently with the additions of Andy Sonnanstine and J.P. Howell. The two are a combined 2-0 in four starts, and Sonnanstine has yet to walk a batter while whiffing seven-straight in his last start. Add the performance of James Shields this season and you have a nice 60% of the rotation looking sharp. If Scott Kazmir can ever pitch more than five or six innings efficiently, and if Edwin Jackson can ever settle into the stud he was supposed to be when coming up the Dodgers' farm system, then who knows what this rotation will be like.
Of course we may be giving Sonnanstine and Howell a little too much credit since they've each only made two starts this season, but Rays fans are accustomed to thinking about the future and if these trends continue to grow than the future is bright. Add in the usual list of minor league arms (Townsend, Niemann, etc.) and the Rays may finally develop a few pitching stars.
Although the new blood is certainly refreshing, and it does appear the plan put in place in October 2005 by the NDRO is starting to steady itself, I think the Rays need to bring in that one veteran arm to lead the way with this young pitching staff. I'm not saying the Rays should do it right now, I'm saying they should seriously consider it this offseason.
There's a million reasons to believe the Rays are putting together a very dangerous rotation of young arms, and that's good for the long-term success of this team. But before you get to the long-term success, you first have to find success. All last season we kept hearing about how this team would be a contender in "two to three years". That may very well play out, but given the talent that is on this team and in the farm system now the Rays will still need to look elsewhere to get that one veteran arm who can lead the team towards success sooner than five kids can. Although the future looks bright for the Rays' rotation, it's not likely to improve from 65-70 wins to 95-100 wins with an entirely youthful team. The one guy who has some playoff experience, who can share a thing or two with the youngsters, and yes... who will cost some money or prospects, can move the team from a 70-win level to the 80-win level instantly (if he stays healthy). That one guy, and the young kids coming up and working around him can then HOPEFULLY turn this club into a 90-win contender in 2009. But where do the Rays turn for such a player?
Of course the natural answer is free agency, but the free agent market for pitchers is rather tight this winter. The big names (Carlos Zambrano, Bart Colon, and Mark Buehrle) will be signed by the highest bidder, a position the Rays still aren't in. You also have the older wily veterans (John Smoltz, Curt Schilling, Kenny Rogers), but even though their knowledge and experience would be helpful they probably wouldn't want to be part of a building effort. After that, you have the "B" free agents... the guys who are worth the gamble but often get overpaid (Jason Jennings, Jake Westbrook, Matt Clement). The Rays may want to seriously dabble in this market, but must be cautious not to make the "Chan Ho Park" deal of a lifetime. Speaking of Park, the next group is "everyone else" (Park, Eric "Long Ball" Milton, Shawn Chacon, etc.)
With not exactly the most exciting list of potential free agents to choose from, the Rays may have to go the trade route. With quite a few prospects to choose from, in Tampa Bay and the minor league levels, the Rays could attract some interest from the "rebuilding" teams who (like the Rays were a couple of years ago) are starting from square one. Teams may have a veteran pitcher who isn't setting the world on fire where he is now, but could become very important in the process of turning the Rays from "building" to "winning" in the next couple of years. If the deal is right, it would be nice to see the Rays moving a prospect or two for a veteran (and pricier) player as opposed to the other way around which has become the norm here.
By acquiring a veteran arm, via trade or free agency, the Rays will actually keep their current plan of building from within moving along. By having a veteran in one of the top 3 spots of the rotation, a young pitcher who in previous years would be in that slot could then hone is craft where he should-- in Durham. With quite a few impressive prospects in Vero Beach and Montgomery right now, you move them up the chain when they have earned it. Hopefully the meritocracy in the minors works out to where in two to three years you do have a successful team (led by a mostly youthful with one old guy rotation) with another round of hungry young pitching aces in AAA and another forming in AA. THEN you get to the interesting point in time where you have to move one or two of those arms for the veteran ace who pushes this team in the winner's circle within the next couple of years.
Youthful exuberance is good, and especially with some of the positives we've seen out of Shields, Sonnanstine, Howell, and Kazmir last season. But take a look at the most recent World Series winners (that is what we're building this team for... right?) and you'll see for every Buehrle, there was a Jose Contreras. For every Dontrelle Willis there was a Mark Redman. For every Jarrod Washburn there was a Kevin Appier. Eventually this team will have to get that one guy who leads the younger guys into becoming a cohesive and effective winner. Until that happens, we're all just crossing our fingers and hoping a bunch of kids can lead a team to a World Series within the next several years.
Other notes from Raysland:
- It was nice to see the Rays finally throw up their hands regarding the bullpen and remove Tim Corcoran (injury) and Chad Orvella from the picture. But one thing about the whole event struck me odd. If Andrew Friedman was really serious about, "We will not accept mediocrity", why didn't he aggressively fix the bullpen during the offseason? There was no doubt the bullpen was the most urgent need for the team, yet very little happened.
- Speaking of the bullpen, it is now becoming very chic to boo every member of the bullpen when he is warming up or coming into a game. But if the fans would put down their beers and look at a couple of relievers' recent performances, perhaps they might want to cheer. Shawn Camp and Gary Glover, two of the Rays relievers integral in last night's win over San Diego, have done extremely well during the last few weeks. Fifteen of Camp's last 20 outings were scoreless efforts, and Glover has had his ERA hover around 1.00 over his last 19 innings pitched. Just something to think about before you follow the rest of the sheep in booing a guy who really is trying to get that well-paid batter out.
- Speaking of relievers and the Padres, Heath Bell had some pretty interesting things to say in today's San Diego Union-Tribune. We all know the cat-and-mouse game the Rays, Padres, and Mets played last season when the Rays wanted Bell. Allegedly, Padres GM Kevin Towers told the Rays when they inquired about acquiring Bell after the Padres got him, "You've got more prospects than we do. If you wanted him, you could have gotten him." What's interesting is Bell is one of a few players who really wouldn't mind coming here. After realizing the Rays would have made him a closer, Bell said, "The Devil Rays didn't have a closer. I would have been pretty fine with that. I was a closer in the minors. It was just so much fun doing it." Bell resides in Port. St. Lucie, and the Rays may want to seriously rethink making a deal for him if Towers isn't asking too much in return.
- Speaking of deals, you may want to scratch that Elijah Dukes to the Nationals rumor upon hearing GM Jim Bowden proclaim, "I think any transaction we make, we want to have good people here with high character in Washington representing our organization. That's extremely important to us."
- The more I hear of Dukes' alleged activities, legal or not, the more I think moving him away from here is for the better. Right now he has a huge target painted on him, and anything he says or does is magnified 1,000%. He needs a fresh start somewhere else. He also needs to become very good at what he does so he can get the big paychecks to take care of all the child support he's racking up.
- Speaking of, let's do the math kids. Child support = thousands of dollars per year. A box of 12 condoms cost $5.13 (plus tax) at Wal-Mart. Hmmm... tough choice. I see his dilemma here.
- As a rare show of support from the Bay area for Dukes, I encourage everyone who DIDN'T have sex with him or is not impregnated by him to call the St. Pete Times and Tampa Tribune to let them know this fascinating information. For some reason this is front page news nowadays, so I think the opposing side should be represented as well.
- One last thing about the added Dukes discussion: to the naive out there, Dukes is not the only athlete to have fathered a child out of wedlock or who has been involved in domestic disputes. Understand: I IN NO WAY SUPPORT WHAT DUKES IS ALLEGED OF DOING. Also understand there are many athletes who grew up in good households, good neighborhoods, have "happy" marriages, and (I hate to go here but I have to) who aren't African-American who have done this. If we're devoting the front page to what Dukes allegedly has done, we'll have to devote an entire Sunday newspaper to who athletes are sleeping with when the wife isn't with them.
- A writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution yesterday wrote about how if (not when?!?) Andruw Jones leaves for free agency this winter, the Braves could easily replace him with free-agent-to-be Torii Hunter. Sounds nice, but since the Braves are now owned by a company whose main motive to running a business is purchase it, cut costs, re-sell it for profit, I don't see Hunter wearing a tomahawk on his chest any time soon.
- I learned something fascinating at yesterday's Rays game: Geoff Blum and Mike Sweeney were tee-ball teammates back in the day. Too bad Blum was still playing tee-ball when he was here. Some things don't change though, as he took the collar with four strikeouts last night.
- Finally, speaking of learning something fascinating, rest in peace Don Herbert, better known to kids everywhere as "Mr. Wizard". Herbert passed away from cancer yesterday at the age of 89. One thing I always wondered about the Mr. Wizard Show, at least the Nickelodeon version from the 80s, did you notice the only thing he had in his freezer was a bowl of ice cubes? No ice cream, frozen dinners, or chilled mugs, just a bowl of ice. I'm wondering if he always did stuff from the freezer to keep the kids away from his piles of Schlitz and Black Label in the fridge (I'm just making that up by the way).