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A Game of Large, Grotesque Shadows

Ah, so this is what it feels like when major league teams have their off-seasons. Free agent signings, trades, and trade rumors, these are on the menu of a "real off-season". Today Joe Blanton rumors joined the off-season, and for once, I'm not really feeling the idea.

To begin with the obvious: Billy Beane is the Oakland general manager, he is a personal favorite of mine and one of the few I'd take on this team at any point over Andrew Friedman. However, that should not and cannot stop us from pursuing any means of making our team better. I've read and enjoyed Moneyball twice over, I know he's pulled off some truly amazing deals, but guess what? I'm not overly concerned about it. Beane doesn't have a siren sitting in his office that seduces opposing general managers into giving up all their prospects - otherwise the Cincinnati Reds will have given up Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce for Blanton by the time you finish reading this.

I'm not going to divulge into the price for him, because like everyone outside of the Oakland and Tampa offices I simply have no clue what it is or will be. I'll assume it would take a package smaller than the Dan Haren deal, and involve some nice young talent. Again I have no idea who or what spots, and I'm not going to add debate about rumored prices until it's legitimate. In other words; no internet rumors today, sorry.

Blanton's owed 3.7 million this season, and will qualify for arbitration, year two, after 2008, which means he's under team control until after the 2010 season, same as Scott Kazmir. He's a prime target for a long term extension mimicking James Shields, but his 4.66 career road ERA concerns me as do his overall numbers, particularly that despite pitching in a run suppressing park the best he could manage was 230 innings of 3.95 ERA ball, 40 walks, and 140 strikeouts. That's not bad, and I'm not saying he isn't a useful pitcher, but for the large part most of his value derives from eating innings, very valuable on most teams, but not the most valuable to the Rays.

As you know, the Rays have two "proven" tag pitchers, a potential "proven" in Matt Garza, and a poor and apparently hungry man's Blanton in Andrew Sonnanstine, then a bunch of pitchers who have various flaws of different degrees. Clearly Blanton would be an upgrade to the unit as a whole - whatever positioning in a rotation they may take.

Here's the problem: the evaluation of him is dead wrong.

As I stated earlier, Blanton has a 4.66 ERA away from a very pitcher friendly park in Oakland. The general consensus on Blanton is that he's a workhorse good for 200 innings of below 4 ERA ball, but the dangerous part here is putting value into the innings he pitches. You want your best pitchers taking up the majority of innings thrown, which is why if the pitcher isn't top of the line being an "innings eater" really doesn't help; see Jeff Weaver and Mike Maroth.

I'm not comparing his talent level to either of them are saying he'd bomb out elsewhere, but that damned ballpark has played illusions with a few pitchers, Blanton included. His groundball percentage is consistently below 50%, he's struck out 5.24 per 9 in his career and has a K:BB ratio of 2.21, in other words the guy relies a ton on his defense and park to be good.

I won't address the depth of the Rays' starting pitching or anything of that sorts, you readers aren't stupid  or naïve, you know we have a plethora of upcoming options, instead I'd suggest that if the Rays are looking for an average innings eater simply to stop doing so. Instead allow those fifth options to work their way through a season and see if a clear winner doesn't prevail. This team has made great progress during the off-season, but we're not at the point where acquiring a Joe Blanton makes us into contenders or a 90 win team, and he won't be the piece in one or two years that leads us over the top.

In the end I'd suggest staying away from a Blanton deal, but not because of  the general consensus  on Billy Beane, but rather the hidden side of Blanton's performances.