How To Shop For Free

November 17, 2009 by USA Post 

I know the Rays are all about bringing up talent through their system, but do you see them making any significant free-agent signings this offseason?
– Ron R., Naples, Fla.

I don’t really see the Rays making a splash by signing any big-name free agents this offseason. If anything big happens, I believe it will involve a trade. Obviously there will be a lot of speculation about Carl Crawford being traded before he begins his final year under contract with the Rays. A lot of what happens there will depend on what’s going on in the team’s negotiation for a long-term deal with their star left fielder. Team policy dictates that they not reveal what’s going on behind closed doors during negotiations. If the Rays trade Crawford, obviously the negotiations would not be going well. In addition, the Rays could trade some young pitching for catching help.

With all the extra young outfielders, why not trade for a good young catcher? This is a big weakness as I see it.
– Jerry M., Pinellas Park, Fla.

Dioner Navarro did seem to take a step backward in 2009. And you are correct, I expect the Rays to be in the market for a young catcher. The problem comes in that an available wealth of young catchers simply doesn’t exist. That’s one reason catchers are such a valued commodity.

What is the right-field situation? I’m dumbfounded on why they are so committed to Gabe Gross. The past three seasons he has hit in the .230s. Give the job to Matt Joyce; he can’t be worse if given the opportunity. If he falls on his face (which he won’t), the waiver wire is littered with .240 hitters, so they won’t lose anything.
– Norm M., Bradenton, Fla.

Last season I believe the Rays wanted to make sure that Joyce played every day because they think he can be a special player. Having Gross, Gabe Kapler and Ben Zobrist in right allowed them to keep Joyce playing every day at Triple-A Durham. Certainly Gross’ numbers from the past two seasons are far from great, though he did have some clutch performances in 2008 that helped the team on its magical run. I’m not sure he’ll be in the mix in 2010.

B.J. Upton swings from the heels every at-bat, regardless of the situation. Most of the time he missed in 2009, stranding baserunners when a ground ball would have scored a run. Any chance he’ll be getting any bat-control lessons?
– Phil P., Lake Wales, Fla.

Upton had a disappointing season at the plate, as did several Rays. At times the plate discipline for the team as a whole seemed to be a problem. Joe Maddon has harped on the value of having a better approach with runners in scoring position or a runner on third with less than two outs, and I think the Rays’ lack of success in that department prompted the change of hitting coaches.

What do you think about changing Andy Sonnanstine into an everyday player? We have plenty of pitching prospects already, and I think he has a great ability to have success at the plate.
– Yu-Hung Su, Chiayi, Taiwan

I smile at your suggestion because Sonnanstine does enjoy hitting, and he’s a good hitter. But I think he’ll be back in the pitching mix in 2010, whether he’s a starter or in the bullpen.

Do you think Maddon wore down the Rays’ bullpen in 2009 by warming up his bullpen pitchers too frequently? Even if they didn’t get in the game, it seemed like the same guys would warm up every night.
– Bob, Longboat Key, Fla.

There’s always a delicate balance between how much a manager warms up a pitcher and how much he uses him. Sometimes the bullpen gets too much work and gets tired. Other times it doesn’t get used enough and seems to get stale. In my opinion, one of the biggest factors with the Rays ‘pen in 2009 was the lingering effects of how long the 2008 season lasted. I particularly saw that with J.P. Howell, who tired down the stretch and eventually got shut down early. Howell also began pitching in competitive games during the World Baseball Classic, which I don’t think helped.

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