No Regard

May 31, 2008

Andrew Friedman should write a book

Filed under: Uncategorized — hoyler @ 3:20 pm

And that book should be called “How to Play the Major League Market.”

Exhibit A: Cliff Floyd

Cliff WO HR(Courtesy AP)

That’s Cliff just a few feet away from jumping into a mob of teammates after blasting a walk-off home run on the second pitch of the bottom of the 9th last night. The right-center field blast cleared the glove of a leaping Dwayne Wise to cap a brillant game and a 2-1 win for the Tampa Bay Rays over the Chicago White Sox in a battle of division leaders. The win assured the Rays would wake up on June 1 with at least a share of the lead in the American League and majors.

Yes, Cliff Floyd is injury prone and pretty much embarrassing in the field. And while I hate to spout the lame “veteran presence” line about Floyd, it’s clear his outgoing personality is infectious and he’s immediately emerged as a leader for the younger guys in the lineup, specifically B.J. Upton. He’s also got the ability to hit the ball very, very far, as he did twice last night…he hit a foul ball in the 5th inning that would have measured at 430+ feet had it stayed far.

Exhibit B: The Bullpen

Wheeler Percy(Courtesy Getty Images)

Dan Wheeler, left, was acquired from the Houston Astros at the trade deadline last year for Ty Wigginton. At the time, the trade was considered just average for the Rays, since Wheeler was approaching free agency and Wigginton had apparently drawn serious interest from several teams as a good bat with defensive versatility.

Granted, Wheeler had improved since his first stint as a Ray, and he was good in spots after coming over last summer, but nobody expected him to be as effective as he has been this season, allowing just six earned runs in 25.2 innings and taking over for the man on the right, Troy Percival, as closer when Percy went down with a hamstring injury Wednesday against Texas.

The injury is considered very minor, and Percival should be able to return immediately after finishing his stint on the 15-day disabled list. That’s important, because he’s been one of the three or four most important pieces to the Rays great start.

Another guy who has apparently brought that “winning veteran presence” to the locker room, Percival has gotten it done on the mound too, picking up 14 saves in the first two months of the season over 21.1 innings and to the tune of a 2.95 ERA. There’s been a couple of bumps in the road, but for a free agent pickup that turns 39 in early August, the Rays could have done much, much worse on the market this past winter.

Exhibit C: The contracts

Evan Longoria, six games into his major league career, was awarded with a 6-year deal worth $17.5 million and the possibility of three more years and a total of $44 million.

James Shields, with one successful major league season under his belt, signed a 4-year deal worth $11.25 million with team options and performance bonuses that could make him another $44 million earner over a seven-year period.

Scott Kazmir was given a 3-year contract worth $28.5 million with a fourth year option two weeks ago, despite the fact that he was dealing with the first arm injury of his career at the time, which some people said could be the potential undoing of the small left-handed fireballer.

Risky? Yup. But it’s nothing new for a team that has rewarded supposed “fluke” seasons (Carlos Pena), paid youngsters with very little major league success (Carl Crawford) and took the leap on several players that either flew under the radar (Akinori Iwamura) or were left for dead (Floyd, Eric Hinske).

It’s a formula that HAD to be concocted for the Rays to ever have a chance to compete long term with the financial beasts of the American League (Yankees, Red Sox, Angels). Friedman, and the rest of the Rays management and scouting team, should be wholly commended for their work to this point, because, as I’ll say until I’m blue in the face, this team is NOT a fluke.

So…off the Rays soapbox and on to the rest of the league.

Angels continue to roll…but for how long?

You’re Mike Scioscia, manager of the AL West leading LA Angels of Anaheim. At 32-24, you are feeling pretty good, especially with 2B Howie Kendrick and ace SP John Lackey back in the lineup.

But is the Big A of house of cards?

Think about it.

Your closer, Francisco Rodriguez, while dominating and leading the AL in saves, has just six more strikeouts than walks.

Your best setup man is Darren Oliver, who, while exhibiting great control with just four walks in 24.1 innings, has just 11 strikeouts and is walking the luck tight wire with one home run allowed.

Your starting pitching is up and down, dependent on Joe Saunders (who has just 34 Ks to 20 BBs in 75+ IP), Jon Garland (71.2 IP, 25 BBs and 19 Ks!…an unreal ratio for someone with a 3.89 ERA and another statistical line that screams for a hard and swift regression)¬† and Jered Weaver, all of whom either are very lucky¬† (the first two) or just not making the right pitches and getting crushed every other start because of it (Weaver).

Your offense has just THREE regulars OPS’ing over 750, and while its fair to expect Vladimir Guerrero to start hitting better sooner or later, how much can you really depend on the free swinging Erick Aybar and Garret Anderson to providing anything at the bottom of the order?

Yes, the Angels will likely win the AL West because the division is simply mediocre and the Rangers and A’s are lacking the pitching to stay in the race long term, but I don’t think they are a better team than Tampa, Boston or Toronto, and as such they’ll have a difficult time making their first World Series since 2002.

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