The big "news" tomorrow on mainstream sites will be about B.J. Upton being lazy or combative or a bad teammate or whatever other euphemism writers want to use. Don't listen to any of it. Upton has his flaws, including struggles vs. elite right-handed pitchers with good fastballs (see below). Everything else is noise.
The secondary headline will focus on the Rays' atrocious hitting. Of course this audience is sharp enough to know that the line drives we've seen hit right at fielders will eventually find holes, and that warning track flyballs will eventually clear the fence.
Even with positive regression on the way, the Rays should still be looking for ways to upgrade both their roster, and their usage of the players they already have.
After the jump, 10 moves I'd like to see the Rays make.
1. Approve $7 million in additional discretionary spending. If the Rays win a playoff series (let alone more than one), they'll make it back and then some.
2. Sit Jason Bartlett vs. all RHP (reverse split this year, but just .266/.332/.364 vs. RH for his career).
3. Sit B.J. Upton vs. elite RHP with killer fastballs (.211/.285/.331 vs. RP in 2010, .259/.336/.403 for his career; play the matchups taking into account both handedness and repertoire).
4. Sit Carlos Pena vs. LHP (.190/.275/.404 vs. LH in 2010; .220/.311/.445 for his career).
5. Acquire at least one above-average LH bat, preferably an outfielder who can catch the ball too. David DeJesus would be perfect.
DeJesus is hitting .326/.394/.479 this year. That's good.
Some of that production can be attributed to a .364 BABIP. That's bad.
DeJesus is a solid fielder - more like a +5 defender than the +15.5 he put up last year, but still a net positive. All told, he's conservatively a 3- to 4-win player. That's good.
UZR may contain potassium benzoate. That's bad.
DeJesus will make just $4.7 million salary in 2010 -- about $2.5 million for the rest of the year if the Rays acquired him tomorrow, with a $6 million 2011 option. That's hella-good.
Offer Jason Bartlett straight up for him. If that doesn't work, offer a B+ prospect, a B- prospect and a C+ prospect.
(The names of the prospects aren't vital for this exercise - few teams can match the Rays' minor league pitching depth, such that potential trading partners can drive the bus to some extent when it comes to parsing Matt Moore, Nick Barnese et al.)
6. Call up Dan Johnson.
7. DFA Hank Blalock.
8. DFA Lance Cormier, go with a six-man bullpen.
9. DFA Gabe Kapler, offer him a manager's job in the minors with a disproportionately high salary and the prospect of rapid advancement (man, I hate writing that).
...and the big one...
10. Offer Wade Davis, a B+ prospect and a B- prospect for Cliff Lee.
As we well know, lineup order isn't all that important, as long as the right players see the most playing time. With that said, something like this could work:
Lineup vs. RH
CF Joyce (Upton can play CF + bat 9th vs. weaker RH, rotate Johnson/Joyce/Pena for rest)
Lineup vs. LH
SS Bartlett (assuming the Royals prefer prospects)
SP Lee, Shields, Garza, Price, Niemann
RP Soriano, Benoit, Balfour, Choate, Wheeler, Sonnanstine
(Call up Jeremy Hellickson the second ANYONE goes down, be it a SP or RP. He's more than ready.)
A big, honking caveat here: The Rays employ a baseball operations staff, along with a research and development staff, that to a man know more about baseball than I ever could if I lived to be 10,000 years old. They see everything we see, scrutinize every series, every game, every at-bat, every pitch.
They also have to deal with real-life factors that writers don't face when shouting from rooftops. How would Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett and B.J. Upton handle having their playing time reduced? Are there subtle contract clauses or future arbitration considerations that could be impacted by these moves? Will shuffling the lineup dramatically cause the Rays to sell fewer tickets and foam fingers? These are tremendously tough dilemmas that a doofus Canadian like me can't begin to understand, having never stood in their shoes.
This is the best chance the Rays will have to win a World Series for...at least two years, and maybe five, 10 or more. Payroll's getting slashed by $20-$25 million next year regardless.
The Rafael Soriano move was already a (terrific) go-for-it-now play. Time to up the ante.
Go all-in, gents. Flags fly forever.
Cross-posted at JonahKeri.com
UPDATE: From our good friend Jason Collette:
In the first 44 games of the season, the Rays hit a robust .297 with runners in scoring position.
To win a prize, head to Jason's Tweet to guess the Rays' batting average with RISP over the past 31 games. Hint: It's...not so special. To the point where I'm sure the Rays' brass is waiting for that RISP performance to regulate before making any big decisions.
I still believe to be a true championship-caliber team, they'll need upgrades, but this does explain a hell of a lot.