Today, Paul Bruno of JaysFan.com joins us to give us his view of the Rays. A big thanks to Paul for taking the time to do this; my answers to his questions will be on his site in the next day or two.
How has the addition of Rafael Soriano to the bullpen affected your opinion of the Rays’ bullpen?
Soriano is coming off his first year with a profile as a bona fide closer. He earned 27 saves in 31 opportunities with Atlanta. That status makes him the go-to guy in Tampa. The Rays have been perceived, by me, as more a bullpen by committee-type of team. My feeling is you have to have a clear-cut choice and then other relievers can be assigned other roles. Relief pitching have become increasingly more specialized and matchup-oriented, with the most successful staffs usually going to the playoffs.
Joe Maddon has done many things as manager of the Rays from intentionally walking someone with the bases loaded to stealing bases down 9-0. What is your opinion of his managerial style?
I enjoy Madden’s style of thinking outside the box. If you face a team’s hottest hitter with the sacks drunk, why not limit the damage by walking them sometimes. As far as stealing bases with a big lead in hand, I am alright with that. Look at it from another perspective. Do sluggers try not to him homers in that situation? Base-stealers should be allowed to play their game, too.
The Rays come into 2010 with 3 starting pitchers who have a year or less major league experience. Which of Price, Niemann, and Davis do you expect will be the best of the bunch and why?
I think I lean slightly in favor of David Price over Wade Davis, though both figure to be key parts of this rotation for a while. They will form a nice Lefty/Righty complement at the front of the Rays’ rotation before too long. Price gets the nod, just because he’s one year ahead of Davis on the learning (and experience) curve.
B.J. Upton is often painted by game announcers and other media types as lackadaisical and disinterested at times. What is your perception of how Upton plays the game?
Upton is a player who has always been advertised as a five-tool guy. However, he has only produced to impressive level in 2007, when he first landed a full-time role. Since then, his production has declined rapidly and I have perceived that lackadaisical approach in his play from time to time. The most damning scouting report applies to him, “million dollar body, but a ten cent head.”, more often than not He reminds me of a former Blue Jay who was similarly ticketed for stardom — Alex Rios. You know how that has turned out.
Whose wave of near-ready major league talent impresses you most: The Rays or the Orioles?
I think the Orioles edge the Rays in this area, mainly because the Rays have already seen an influx of quality talent make it through their system and establish themselves at the Major League level. That is why the Rays have distanced themselves from their cellar-dwelling years. The Orioles have stockpiled prospects in a similar growth pattern (they hope) and we are only on the verge of seeing some of their top prospects get their feet wet in the Majors.
The Rays are now serious contenders for the division after being more of an innocent bystander for most of the franchise history. How do you feel the addition of a third to a division that has been mainly a two horse race has helped or hurt the division?
I am not happy at all about the Yankee-Red Sox death grip on the top rungs of this Divisional race and think baseball is long overdue for the implementation of a salary cap structure to restore a competitive balance in this sport. It pleased me to no end, when the Rays earned their lone Division title. We saw how the Yanks reacted last year. They simply spent more and more. That kind of response will continue to come from these two baseball superpowers in the face of a systematic development of the Rays’ minor league system. Money can still buy championships and replace mistakes. Systematic growth has less room for error. It’s still an uphill battle for the Rays, Jays and Orioles.
If your team could take any player from the Rays roster for 2010, which one would you want?
I would take Carl Crawford. To me he can take over a game and dominate with his bat, his glove and his feet, as well as in the field. More often than any other Rays’ player, he’s the guy who has stood out against, whenever I have watched this club. He reminds me of Rickey Henderson a similarly gifted Hall of Famer, who had similar traits.
What are your opinions to how GM Andrew Friedman has handled the franchise since taking over the GM role from Chuck LaMar?
Friedman is another of a new-wave of young execs who have made a big impression in the Majors. He has struck a very nice balance by overseeing the selection and development of top prospects and sprinkled the roster with quality parts. Chuck LaMar was the GM during the infancy of the team and started with nothing. It’s not fair to compare the current version of this franchise with their formative years. One has a well-stocked minor league system and could see the top of the mountain, while the other started from scratch and some free agents’ perception was that Tampa was baseball’s version of Siberia. In the early years, free agents went to Tampa as a last stop in their waning careers (see Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff).
Who is the one player on the Rays team that you admire most – maybe not for his statistical production as much as how he plays the game.
Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford in a tie. I’ve already said my piece on Crawford. The early perception of Longoria is that he’s a professional, a gamer. He has put together two excellent seasons to begin his career and just looks like one of those low-maintenance star players that you can look at and pencil in for a big offensive year. In a time when many of baseball’s role models and heroes have suffered inglorious demises due to gambling issues (Rose) or PEDs (too many to list) Longoria stands out as a guy with a pretty clean-cut image, who could become a new face for the game—something this sport sorely needs.