Craig Williams of TheBlogThatRuthBuilt.com drops by to tell us his views of the Rays as a Yankees fan and I appreciate him taking time away from admiring the Yankees’ 28th World Series trophy to do answer my questions.
How has the addition of Rafael Soriano to the bullpen affected your opinion of the Rays’ bullpen?
I like the acquisition of Soriano a lot. J.P. Howell did a nice job last year as the Rays primary late inning reliever/closer and by moving him to a set-up role, the Rays will be able to do a better job of shortening games in 2010. Soriano does have injury issues but, he also has great stuff and should be a very solid closer this season. If those two can be healthy and affective this – not a terribly big ‘if’ in my mind – the Rays can play seven inning games.
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 don’t really have any strong feelings for or against Joe Maddon’s managerial style. Generally, I am not a very big fan of small ball and I know that Maddon comes from the Mike Scioscia tree but, when I have watched the Rays, I have not had the same negative feelings as I do when I watch the Angels. Despite my like or dislike for a particular style in general, I can say that I like when a coach or manager is able to – through his own confidence or the management’s allowance – run things his way on the field. Sometimes it results in some odd strategical decisions but, it makes the game interesting. I would also have to imagine that the players enjoy playing for a guy who is willing to push the envelope against the grain from time to time.
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 that Jeff Niemann will be the best of the bunch – just for 2010 – because of his experience relative to the other two. I think most people agree that over the long haul, David Price will be the best but, lefties often take a longer time to develop than righties. Because of this, I think Wade Davis has a chance to be good before Price but, I still think his ceiling is lower in the big picture.
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?
This is a good question for me to answer because I hear the same thing about Robinson Cano several times throughout a season. Carlos Beltran is another supremely talented player who has been saddled with that label. I believe that some guys are just so good that they make the game look easy. The game is just so slow for them that they don’t have to be in 6th gear all the time. Upton may be able to achieve at 90% the same thing that another player achieves at 100%. Does this mean he’s lazy or disinterested? I don’t think so. Joe Maddon knows when Upton is not putting forth an acceptable level of effort and he has shown that he is not afraid to pull him if/when those lapses occur. I am comfortable using that as a gauge of when a player is getting lackadaisical instead of using that term to describe a person’s game in general.
Whose wave of near-ready major league talent impresses you most: The Rays or the Orioles?
The O’s have a nice batch of talent on the way but, I have to say that I’m leaning towards the Rays. I’d be lying if I said that the Rays’ recent success doesn’t have a pull on my decision but it is hard to ignore the fact that they have contended the past two years with a really young roster. Their lineup has a high level of turnover due to payroll limitations and their youngsters constantly get plugged in and are expected to produce. Either way though, I expect to see a good number of young players from both of those teams making an impact in the near future.
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 team to a division that has been mainly a two horse race has helped or hurt the division?
I think it is a good thing to have a third contender in the division. It’s unfortunate that one very good team is going to be left out of the playoffs each year but, it gives fans a sense of pride to know that their team is playing in the best division in baseball. It definitely sucks to finish in third and out of the playoffs when your team’s record would be good enough to win most of the other divisions – if not each of them. On the flip side, when your team does make it to the postseason out of the AL (b)East, you know that you’re better prepared and more battle tested than any other team in the tournament.
If your team could take any player from the Rays roster for 2010, which one would you want?
Easy, Evan Longoria. He’s got everything you could ask for – offense, defense and youth. I know we have A-Rod but, someone would have to change positions. I’d let Brian Cashman and Co. figure that stuff out.
What are your opinions to how GM Andrew Friedman has handled the franchise since taking over the GM role from Chuck LaMar?
I certainly was never in tune enough to what the Devil Rays were doing back in the Chuck LaMar days – aside from losing of course and getting into brawls with Pedro Martinez. However, the Rays, under Andrew Friedman have seemed to do a nice job finding a good balance. They rely heavily on young talent but, they also complement it with a few productive veterans as well. I can’t say that I know this for a fact but, it also seems like the Rays do a solid job of integrating both schools of scouting – statistical and traditional. Perhaps that is just my perception but, nonetheless, that perception has developed because Friedman has transformed the Rays from a laughing stock to a legitimate contender.
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 is the guy that I admire the most and, yes, it is mostly about his statistical achievements but, that certainly does not mean there is anything at all wrong with how he plays the game. The fact that he’s only 24 and has already established himself as one of the premier young studs in the game is impressive enough. Add in the fact that he’s glove is top notch as well and it is hard not to be a big fan of this guy. I’m looking forward to seeing what this guy can do once he hits his prime.