The Right Move and the Wrong Move

So far, so good

Last night, the baseball box scores reminded me of two moves the Rays have made in the past 24 months that directly affect where the club sits today. Both moves brought strong arguments from both sides when they were made and yet the moves have had the most drastic differential in outcome imaginable. As is stands today, I am not sure any sane-minded Rays fan can argue the Rays should have kept Scott Kazmir while most Rays fans are still wondering if 2008 top overall pick  Tim Beckham will amount to anything close to what the fifth overall pick that season,  Buster Posey, has become so far or if he will become the next Matt Bush.

On August 29th of last season, the Rays “unexpectedly” traded Scott Kazmir to the Angels, something that many people thought would happen a month earlier so the Rays could free up some cash to get some needed help to stay in the race. Near the end of July, the Rays were just 3.5 games out of the wildcard month and did not make any trade moves, but on August 29th, the Rays were still 3.5 games behind in the wildcard race and the front office made the call to pull the trigger when the Angels wanted to make the move. At the time, many called the move a white flag move comparable to the 1997 White Sox who gave up Wilson Alvarez, Danny Darwin, and Roberto Hernandez to the Giants when the White Sox were also just 3.5 games back in the playoff race. The big difference there was that deal happened at the July deadline and the deal worked out well for the White Sox as they got key bullpen arms Keith Foulke and Bobby Howry and just two seasons after, won the American League Central with a league-best 95 wins.

The trade saved the Rays approximately $24m when they made it and it was a clear admission the Rays regretted giving Kazmir his contract extension in May of 2008. Kazmir had a solid 2007 winning 13 games and striking out a career best 239 batters but had an early scare that following Spring Training with a strained forearm that delayed the start of his season. I have heard off the record that Kazmir signed that contract as a panic move and that he had no real interest in staying in the Tampa Bay area long-term and preferred to get back closer to his home in Texas. That injury scare also changed how he pitched that season as he threw his slider in his back pocket and went nearly 90% fastball and change-up in 2008. It would get quite frustrating to watch Kazmir pile up high pitch counts, particularly in the first inning, or when he could not get through six innings without throwing 110 pitches.  Before his actual trade, Kazmir put together a few good starts as if he knew he was on the trade block and gave fans hope that the old Kazmir was coming back into the fold but if Kazmir was coming back to form, Rays fans were not going to be able to enjoy it after August 29th. When the trade was reported locally, opinions were quite vociferous on both sides of the argument. On the sane side, I present some of the comments from my friends over at DRaysBay.com:

Is it the prettiest of deals for the Rays? The easiest slam dunk? No. The prospect rankings don’t like the guys we know we got in return, and there’s the chance this backfires, but I can see why the Rays made this move. Also I must say, this kills the idea that the Rays care about public perception. Good on them for doing what they feel is best for the organization instead of what is best for the organization in the public spectrum.  I don’t know if it’ll look like the right move in two years, four years, or ever, still they have some guts and have shown the brains in the past.

So the Rays have probably been scouting the Angels for almost a month and these are the two they liked, I’d assume. Kaz has been good lately and they probably felt the time was now since he was starting to climb up a little bit. That’s just me thinking out loud. I trust this team’s scouts if they like this pitcher. We do that well.

Good time to trade Kaz when he gets a little bit hot. The thing that the real Rays fans know is that with everything he’s been through the last couple years he never got his slider back to how it used to be. He used to bounce in the slider and have hitters looking outraged after they struck out on it.

Also his fastball used to hit 94 all the time. Not that I trust the radar on tv, but it seems that it never hits 94 anymore. So if he gets hot with a combination of his fastball, change, and being angry – trade him right away. Because for whatever reason, once he lost his slider – he doesn’t seem to be able to get it back.

Admittedly, the comments from a site like Draysbay would be a little more sensible because readers drawn to that site are done so by their excellent statistical analysis and have seen the numbers to make the case. When I want to see what the layman has to say about it, I go to online newspapers and check out the comments sections there. On that day, they were entertaining, to say the least.

Should have traded B.J. Upton and Pat Burrell. Oh that’s right…nobody wants those two LOSERS! B.J., do you cash you paychecks with as much apathy as you play ball for us?

Really low class the way this went down plus what kind of a team trades a quality pitcher during a playoff run to another contending team?

What a dumb move by the Rays. They gave up an All-Star for a “prospect pitcher” and a third baseman. We’ve already got Longoria, and a plethora of infielders. DUMB DUMB DUMB….Nevermind that they’re in the middle of a playoff chase!

This a salary dump plane and simple ..there is no up -side today no reason to celebrate. We dumped our signature player from the last two years our all time strike out leader and and at 25 our best chance for future greatness as a pitcher.

That last comment was one that was echoed on many of the sports talk radio stations in the area as well. The easiest way to explain the emotions is that those rooted in statistical analysis and financial realities related to the Rays understood the trade while the average fan saw the move as one done by a quitter.  Nowadays, you would be hard-pressed to find a Rays fan that would complain about the move, especially when you see how well Sean Rodriguez has played for the Rays this season and the fact the cash saved in moving Kazmir allowed the club the financial flexibility to acquire Rafael Soriano in a trade this off-season and those two players have quickly become some of the most popular players on the team for their 2010 contributions. Additionally, the numbers back up the Rays’ decision to make the move. The table below shows Kazmir’s splits between his two teams as well as how he pitched leading up to his current contract and how he has pitched since signing his contract in 2008.

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Ironically, Kazmir and Wade Davis have identical K/9 and K/BB rates this season and Davis has a lower ERA despite all of the home runs he has given up this season.  If a fan wanted to know what Kazmir would be like if he were still here, they do not have to look too far as Wade Davis is a right-handed version of Kazmir so far this season albeit a version with much less major league experience. Simply put, the Rays made the right move back in late August and it looks even better today. Their decision that was made in June of 2008, however, is very much up for debate.

In the 2008 Amateur Draft, the Rays had the fortune of holding the top overall pick for the second consecutive season. In 2007, they took David Price top overall over Matt Wieters because the organization felt the club needed that staff ace over the franchise catcher that Wieters was projected to be.  In 2008, nearly the exact same situation was in front of the Rays as Tim Beckham was the highest rated shortstop by scouts yet Florida State catcher Buster Posey was available to. Unlike 2007, the debate was very strong in 2008 because the catching position for the Rays had long been a black hole that included the lackluster names of John Flaherty, Toby Hall, and one decent season from Dioner Navarro. Posey had local appeal since he played at FSU and in June of 2008, fans were quickly falling in love with Jason Bartlett’s play at shortstop because he could actually get to ground balls in the hole either way unlike Brendan Harris or Julio Lugo. The scouting reports on Beckham at the time rated him the top high school prospect in the nation as a “potential five tool player at the major league level.” He ran the 60 yard dash in 6.35 seconds and could bench nearly 300 pounds. In the end, it came down to ability over signability according to Rays Scouting Director R.J. Harrison. Harrison was quoted at saying the team felt Beckham had the chance to be the best major leaguer of the players projected at the top of the first round. He also made another rather powerful statement:

“Last summer when I saw this kid, I saw him at a pretty good stretch in Lakeland, Fla., (at the East Coast Professional Showcase) and then at the Aflac game in San Diego,” Harrison said. “You look at this ballplayer and all of a sudden, there’s about five players that came to mind. It was kind of a combination of the Uptons, Gary Sheffield, Orlando Hudson and Brandon Phillips.”

The names Harrison mentioned are good to great baseball names but to combine skills from each makes it easy to see why the Rays went with Beckham over Buster Posey. However, scouting is not an exact science and to date, Beckham has played more like a combination of Julio Lugo, Brendan Harris, Josh Wilson, Jared Sandberg, and Brent Abernathy. Beckham owns a career slash line of .258/.323/.376 in 917 minor league at bats and this season in the Florida State League, he is hitting just .217/.317/.352 while hitting 55% of his balls into the ground and striking out 78 times in just 278 at bats.  Beckham is only 20 years old so it is way too early to write him off as a failure but he is looking a lot like current Rays farmhand and former top overall pick bust Matt Bush than he is the combination of players Harrison spoke of over two years ago.

Meanwhile, all Buster Posey has done has come up to the Giants after they finally moved Bengie Molina out of the way and has hit .351/.386/.560 since his recall from the minor leagues in 134 at bats.  He has already earned the honor of hitting clean-up behind 2010 comeback story Aubrey Huff and Posey has been on a tear this week hitting five of his seven homers and driving in half of his season’s RBI total in 28 at bats.  There is no guarantee the Rays would have been able to sign Posey, but his right-handed bat behind the plate and his defensive prowess would have been quite the addition to this current Rays roster as it would have given them the right-handed run producing bat they sorely need right now and help improve the defense behind the plate. Yes, it may have cut into the great story that John Jaso has been this year but the move also would have likely made the Mitch Talbot for Kelly Shoppach trade and new deal rather unnecessary. Yes, Talbot has gone 8-8 for the Indians but he clearly had less talent than Wade Davis so the move is not regrettable in that regard. What has been regrettable, albeit in a small sample size, has been Kelly Shoppach’s offensive production. He has hit just .200/.348/.309 on the season while striking out in 42% of his at bats. His R/L splits have been so severe that he is a detriment to the offense in the lineup against righties as he is just 3 for 32 on the season with 18 strikeouts against them and has produced just two runs against lefties which is what he was brought in for.

Every move a club makes will be scrutinized to no end by the media and the armchair general managers that follow this sport. Any move a club makes should never be fully evaluated in a vacuum nor should it receive a final grade immediately after it is done. I feel any deal should be given at least one full year, at worst, before getting a final grade because that allows us to see other transactions that precipitate from the original one and gives enough of a sample size to see how the transaction worked out. Nearly one year later, I feel even better about the Kazmir deal because Kazmir is not the same pitcher that gave Rays fans mostly good memories in his time here and without his departure, the club would not be leading the wildcard race in2010 after spending 57 days in first place. Conversely, two years after drafting Tim Beckham over Buster Posey, the move is looking worse by the week as Posey continues to impress and produce at the major league level while Beckham spins his wheels in the Florida State League showing little signs of statistical improvement. The Kazmir trade improved the club for the better in 2010, but just imagine where the club would be had they also taken Buster Posey in 2008?

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About Jason Collette

Writer/Analyst
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2 Responses to The Right Move and the Wrong Move

  1. Pingback: Rays 4, Indians 0 – Perspective « fan ray

  2. Pingback: Picks of the Pen (7/12) | Call to the Pen

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