As part of our continuing series of interviews this winter I'd like to welcome Dave Cameron to the site. You all know probably best know Dave as a driving force behind FanGraphs, but you can also catch his work at USS Mariner, the Wall Street Journal, and recently the Huffington Post. Dave has been kind enough to share his insight with us today:
EH: The standard leadoff question: What should the Rays do with Carl Crawford?
DC: Keep him. He's a +4 win player with a skill set that both ages well and is undervalued in the market. He's the face of the franchise. If you're not going to try to re-sign Crawford, you might as well just re-name the franchise Marlins North. Come July, if the team is out of it and extension talks haven't gone well, then you put him on the
market. But there's enough talent in Tampa to win in 2010, and Crawford is a big part of that. Given your proximity to the Red Sox and Yankees in expected wins, the marginal value of the wins Crawford adds are very high - trading them to save some money may actually be a financial negative, given the reduced playoff odds.
EH: The Rays have another key player who’s a free agent after the 2010 season in Carlos Pena. He isn’t being talked about nearly as much as Crawford, nor should he, but what do you foresee happening with that situation?
DC: I don't think he's back in 2011. How long he sticks around depends on how well the team does this year. If they're not strong contenders in July, you trade him for whatever you can get. I think he's the kind of player that you'll have a hard time offering arbitration to, so draft pick compensation shouldn't be assumed.
EH: How much playing time does Sean Rodriguez receive this season? Guess at a final slash line?
DC: Depends on how the roster shakes out. If Willy Aybar's around, then Rodriguez is primarily a backup for Zobrist and Bartlett, and probably not good enough defensively to play SS regularly, so he'd be a 150-200 PA guy. If they ship out Aybar and let Rodriguez be the infield super sub, he could get 350-400 PA. In terms of a slash line, I'll go with .240/.300/.400.
EH: Unless Jason Bartlett is moved at some point this season it looks as though Reid Brignac will spend another year in lovely Durham, North Carolina. Brignac has long been one of the Rays top prospects but has seen very few Major League at bats the past few seasons. I know it’s a long way off, but where do you see him being on Opening Day, 2011?
DC: The Rays have had plenty of opportunities to deal him and declined, and my feeling is that he's being kept around as Bartlett's inevitable replacement. He'll be the Rays starting SS whenever Bartlett leaves, either via trade or free agency.
EH: Speaking of Jason Bartlett, he had one of the more surprising seasons in recent memory. How much regression should we expect to see in 2010?
DC: Maybe not as much as people think. He got the slap hitter tag for his major league performance in Minnesota, but his minor league numbers suggested that he could hit, so this wasn't totally out of the blue. I think you could project him as a roughly league average hitter without being crazy.
EH: The Rays signed Evan Longoria and James Shields to very cheap, very team friendly extensions early in the 2008 season. Those extensions were nearly unprecedented at the time, and still very few teams have followed in their footsteps. Just how good were those signings, and do you think we’ll see more signings like those around baseball in the future?
DC: It's not that teams didn't want to follow in their footsteps, but rather that agents learned from those mistakes and won't make those deals again. Those two contracts were crazy from the player's perspective, with an imbalance in the risk/reward calculation that made the deals way too team friendly. If I was a player choosing an
agent, I would rule out Longoria's representatives solely on the basis of that contract.
EH: It was a fantastic sight to see this year, but there’s a minute chance that Ben Zobrist leads the league in WAR again next season. Where do you think his true talent level lies?
DC: Special hitting coach or not, I don't see the physical strength required to maintain a .250 ISO over a long period of time, so I expect some regression in his power. The plate discipline is for real, though, so even if slugs .450 instead of .550, he's a good hitter. Defensively, he strikes me as a good second baseman rather than a great one, so I'd project his UZR for next year to be between +0 and +10. That probably makes him a +3 to +4 win player.
EH: Lately there has been a lot of talk about a salary floor and in baseball, with Red Sox Owner John Henry speaking out in favor of it and ESPN’s Keith Law in opposition. Those in favor feel as if it would greatly increase the competitive balance, while those opposed think it would hurt lower market teams far more than help them. I feel as if a team like the Rays would be hurt by the implementation of a floor; what are your thoughts on the issue?
DC: A salary floor is a terrible idea. It would reduce the incentives for filling a roster with low-salaried, home-grown talent, forcing low revenue teams to pay market rates for free agents or expensive veterans in trade. The whole point of a good economic system is to create incentives for individuals (or teams, in this example) to do what you want them to do. MLB should want teams investing in their player development, and a floor would lower the return on that investment. There are better ways to stop owners from taking the revenue sharing money and sticking it in the bank.
Be sure to check out Dave's work at FanGraphs, USS Mariner, the Wall Street Journal, and the Huffington Post. Also, follow him on twitter @d_a_cameron.