Three-Headed Monster

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I spent most of Thursday driving down to Manatee County and back to meet with some customers in a rental car that was without satellite radio that I have become so accustomed to since first becoming a subscriber in 2005.  Not having my standard XM channel favorites was particularly painful yesterday because it did not matter what station I tuned to on the AM or FM frequency, the only thing anyone wanted to talk about was Tiger Woods. The only person I care to hear less about right now than Tiger Woods is his cheating brother from another mother, Tiki Barber.  I tuned into four different sports talk radio stations – and it was Tiger Woods. I tuned into a country station out of Lakeland – and they were playing Tiger Woods parody songs. It was so awful I had to burn a CD from my laptop over lunch so I had something to listen to for most of the ride back to Orlando.

I got out of my meeting shortly before 3pm and recalled the Big Dog, Steve Duemig, has that time slot and was hoping he of all people would break the Woods monopoly and actually talk Rays baseball after the team was coming off of back to back one run wins  and he did not disappoint. He opened by congratulating the 15,220 fans that saw the Wednesday night game in a tone that dripped of the sarcasm that it deserved. He then commented on Pat Burrell’s rather awful at bats in the game, in particular his third at bat in which he worked a 2-0 count only to take the next two pitches right over the plate for strikes and then go down swinging on the 5th pitch (a trend that continued last night, by the way). After that, he moved onto a caller that implored fans to show up en masse to the Yankee series this weekend and make the place as uncomfortable as possible for the Yankees and their fanbase – something else I am very much behind. Nothing is more embarrassing than watching/listening to a Rays game at home against the Yankees and not being able to tell whether that game is in New York or Tampa Bay and with the new World Series ring, I only expect the amount of Yankee fans to be even larger and more boisterous than in years past as it has been awhile since their last title. But then, he moved on to another topic that I am very much in disagreement with – his disdain for Maddon and his multiple lineup changes, particularly at the second base position as Maddon has started three different second baseman in as many games so far this season.

The Rays are fortunate to have an embarrassing amount of riches for the middle infield spot as they have four players in Jason Bartlett, Reid Brignac, Sean Rodriguez, and Ben Zobrist that could start at either shortstop or second base on any given night. Bartlett is deservedly the every day shortstop and Maddon has rarely played around with that roster spot, especially given Bartlett’s career year in 2009.  Second base has been a different story since Akinori Iwamura went down injured early in 2009. Since then, Zobrist, Brignac, Rodriguez, and even Willy Aybar have seen time at second base. Hopefully, we have seen the last of Willy Aybar at second base for quite some time but the three-headed monster that we’ve seen so far this year offers promise.

Against left-handed pitching, Zobrist is a necessity at second base because right-field should be manned by Gabe Kapler whose sole role on this team is to crush left-handed pitching as he did last year when he had a .931 OPS against LHP in 145 at bats. Against righties, Zobrist is going to be the right-fielder until Matt Joyce returns which opens up second base for either Rodriguez or Brignac. Both players had very good springs so they both can stake a claim to the job. Sure, Rodriguez had the big power spring with all of those early homers, but it was Brignac who led the club in RBI in March and who is the better defensive player.  If Maddon were to play the two in a strict platoon basis, it works very well offensively. That said, this situation will not be around too much longer as Joyce is on his way back and unless the club decides paying Burrell $9m not to be on the roster is better than paying him $9m to be an empty at bat, then one of Rodriguez or Brignac is going to Durham before the end of the month. My guess is Brignac because at this stage of his career, he needs everyday playing time.

This model can work – and it has worked well for two of the four teams that made the American League playoffs last year and are widely acknowledged as two of the franchises that “do it the right way” in baseball – the Angels and Twins. Last season, Alexi Casilla played 64 games at second while Nick Punto played 58 games; the Twins won the AL Central.  Howie Kendrick (mancrush) played 90 games for the Angels at second base while Maicer Izturis played 64 games; the Angels won the American League West.

I would be more upset with Maddon, and any manager, that failed to best utilize the talent on the roster. Some teams are stuck starting guys like Chris Getz and Kaz Matsui while the Rays have three guys that could be every day second baseman; it is a nice problem to have.

My only comments on the final game of the Orioles series is the team nearly won despite losing the starting pitcher in the 2nd inning and having yet more atrocious umpiring from the team and I’m glad Danley and Bucknor are leaving with the Orioles considering they called games as if they were on their payroll. Now, it is time to kick some Yankees ass!

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About Jason Collette

Writer/Analyst
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