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Praise for Jeff Sullivan: the one national writer who gets it

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, site writer and my podcast co-host Darby Robinson penned a brilliant op-ed raising the alarm around National Baseball Writers and their terrible Hot Takes about the Rays rebuild. His ire was universal, but perhaps not deservedly so.

Jeff Sullivan is a rare unicorn that doesn’t write about or for the Rays that actually seems to understand how the team operates.

A staff writer for Fangraphs, Sullivan pens top notch analysis about major league teams on a daily basis and, as all their resident writers do, holds Q&A sessions for the readers.

Here’s what Sullivan had to say yesterday AM:

9:17 - Jack: The Rays say it’s extremely unlikely that they subtract further and that they’re probably gonna look to add now. They currently have three outfielders, all of whom hit left-handed. Who do you see them signing? Gomez? Bautista? Ideally neither Span or Smith would have to play against lefties

9:17 - Jeff Sullivan: I think Gomez would work well as a cheap add, as he’s fairly similar to Souza. The only issue there is that Gomez is a Boras client, so who knows how cheap he might actually be

9:18 - Jeff Sullivan: Bautista has been connected for a while but that would strictly be to DH; can’t imagine the Rays of all teams would want to watch Jose Bautista in the outfield every day

9:18 - Jeff Sullivan: I do take the Rays at their word that they aren’t tanking. They certainly haven’t made themselves *better*, but my personal belief is that the public has overreacted to what’s happening. It’s tough from a fan perspective, absolutely, but the club isn’t bad

Please note this is what Sullivan had to say about the Rays yesterday morning, before the Tampa Bay Rays signed OF Carlos Gomez to one-year deal. Right on the money.

But there’s more!

9:40 - Baseball Guy: Any ideas where the last few 1B/DH types will land? Morrison seems like a bargain-to-be, and Duda has always hit and should help someone. Lind and Reynolds can be major league impact guys too.

9:40 - Jeff Sullivan: This is exactly why no one wanted to pay too much for Corey Dickerson, incidentally

Without a trade four days removed from his DFA, the likelihood of the Rays finding a deal for Dickerson is proving to be unlikely. Designating Corey for assignment looked like lost leverage, but the truth may be that there was never any leverage to be protected in the first place.

9:53 - Jake: How angry were you that the Rays traded Souza immediately after you published that article about them not getting worse?

9:53 - Jeff Sullivan: It wasn’t great

9:54 - Jeff Sullivan: Souza is an actual blow to the roster. But I do believe they’ll offset it by adding now. This is not a tank job

9:54 - Jeff Sullivan: There’s too much high-level talent in the organization to justify a tank

Jake is referencing Sullivan’s analysis of the weekend dalliance surrounding Odorizzi, Cron, and Dickerson titled, “The Rays Just Trimmed Payroll Without Getting Worse.”

In that article, Sullivan surmised that the Rays were essentially the same team without Odorizzi and Dickerson due to the youth movement already stockpiled in the Tampa Bay system. The trade of Souza, 2017’s Team MVP, changed that stance.

The good news is that the Rays would indeed have an answer for the loss of Souza in Gomez, as Sullivan predicted.

How confident is Jeff Sullivan that the Rays are not tanking? He won’t even call what the front office is doing a “rebuild”:

9:55 - A Baseball Person: So, um, did the Rays just wait ‘til late February to decide, “no, actually, we’re rebuilding”?

9:56 - Jeff Sullivan: Not rebuilding! Just being very Rays. The Rays don’t really rebuild. They constantly aim for about 81 wins

That last statement might seem aggravating, but to quote site writer Bradley Nevea, “Aim for 81 wins every year and almost half the time you make the playoffs.” That’s just how much variance is contained in a 162 game season, particularly for a team built around slim margins of victory.

So are the Rays better or worse after all these moves? Projection systems like PECOTA aren’t reality, so we’ll have to wait and see.

More analysis to come from us, but if you’d like to read more from Sullivan, I’d recommend his analysis of the Gomez signing, “Rays Replace Steven Souza With Older Steven Souza”:

[...] the Rays have five of baseball’s top 50 prospects. Some of them are poised to graduate very soon. The Rays, in one way, are in a transition phase, but the team right now is far from hopeless. It only feels hopeless, because so many familiar faces have left. But that’s just how the Rays operate.

The man gets it.