Daily Dose: Wagner dealt, Santana done

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Tuesday’s headlines were dominated by the Mets, who dealt Billy Wagner to the Red Sox, put Johan Santana on the disabled list in preparation for season-ending elbow surgery, and revealed that J.J. Putz has also been shut down for the year following a setback in his recovery from elbow problems. None of that qualifies as good news, exactly, but some of it is “not horrible” and at this point Mets fans will take even that.
Wagner changed his mind minutes before the Tuesday afternoon deadline to accept a trade to Boston, so New York dumped his remaining salary and $8 million option or $1 million buyout for next season while picking up two players to be named later. To get Wagner’s approval the Red Sox agreed to decline his 2010 option, but will retain the right to offer him arbitration and receive draft-pick compensation if he leaves.
Few teams can afford to drop $3 million on a 38-year-old reliever who returned from Tommy John surgery a week ago and at most the Red Sox could get a dozen or so innings out of Wagner, but he’s certainly a nice luxury item to take a flier on and has looked very capable of making a big impact through two post-surgery appearances. Plus, the draft picks may prove more valuable than the two PTBNLs surrendered.
Meanwhile, fears about Santana needing to go under the knife proved accurate, but rather than anything career-threatening he merely needed bone spurs removed from his elbow. Santana clearly hasn’t been himself of late, managing just 60 strikeouts in his last 101 innings, but underwent the same procedure years ago in Minnesota and bounced back just fine. He should be at full strength in time for spring training.
While the Mets place their 20th player of the season on the DL, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Dexter Fowler has been put on the disabled list after fouling a ball off his right knee during Monday night’s marathon win over the Giants, and with Carlos Gonzalez also sidelined by a hand injury the Rockies called up 24-year-old prospect Eric Young Jr. from Triple-A. Young’s father swiped 465 bases over 15 seasons in the majors and Junior is the same type of player, racking up 58 steals in 119 games at Triple-A.
* Chris Davis returned from the minors Tuesday and the Rangers reportedly plan to give him regular starts at Hank Blalock’s expense. Blalock has hit .199 with a putrid 39/3 K/BB ratio in the second half, so there’s nothing to lose by giving Davis another shot. He’ll always strike out a ton with poor batting averages, but Davis hit .327 in 44 games at Triple-A and is much better than he showed prior to the demotion.
AL Quick Hits: Zack Greinke racked up a Royals record 15 strikeouts in eight innings of two-run ball Tuesday, dropping his ERA to an AL-best 2.43 … Joba Chamberlain allowed seven runs on eight singles, one double, and three walks Tuesday … Ichiro Suzki (calf) sat out his second straight game Tuesday and figures to sit Wednesday too … Jake Peavy (ankle) said Tuesday that he might not be ready to join the White Sox’s rotation this weekend because of elbow soreness … Jacoby Ellsbury swiped his 55th base Tuesday to set a Red Sox record … Carl Crawford (back) is expected to remain sidelined until at least Friday … Jeremy Bonderman (shoulder) tossed two scoreless innings and was reportedly clocked in the mid-90s in a rehab appearance Monday at Triple-A … Jon Lester turned in a Quality Start for the 11th time in 12 tries Tuesday … Delmon Young was 4-for-5 with a walk-off single Tuesday, giving him 15 RBIs in 19 games this month after totaling just 27 through the end of July.
NL Quick Hits: Stephen Strasburg is expected to make his pro debut in the Arizona Fall League … After missing six straight games Freddy Sanchez (shoulder) was put on the disabled list Tuesday, leaving Eugenio Velez to fill in … Carlos Zambrano was rocked for eight runs in Tuesday’s return from the DL … Jordan Schafer will miss the remainder of the season following wrist surgery … Albert Pujols drove in the lone run Tuesday as Adam Wainwright out-dueled Wandy Rodriguez in a 1-0 game … Hiroki Kuroda (concussion) is slated to throw a bullpen session Wednesday, but remains weeks from returning … Andrew McCutchen delivered a walk-off homer Tuesday to hand Brad Lidge his ninth blown save … Jimmy Rollins went deep twice Tuesday, giving him seven homers this month … Gary Sheffield left Tuesday’s game with back tightness … Jake Fox got another start Tuesday as Alfonso Soriano (knee) remained sidelined … Joe Blanton turned in his 11th straight Quality Start on Tuesday.

Some equal time for the Rays defenders

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Yesterday I came out pretty sharply against the Rays recent moves. I stand by all of those comments, but I think it’s worth giving equal time to dissenting views.

Each of those posts contain analytically-based looks at each move and, for the most part, defends them on their baseball merits. I’ll let them stand on their own on their specific merits and not go in with point-by-point rebuttals (a) because that’s tedious; and (b) because I’m not the best-suited person to rebut analytical points.

There’s a (c) here, though, which is more important in my mind: no matter how many good points those articles make — and they do make many — it’s sort of beside the point. Because it seems to me that those of us slamming the Rays and those of us defending the Rays are talking past one another.

Sullivan, Drays Bay and others are arguing that the Rays front office was able to make some good moves. And they make those arguments pretty well in a vacuum. What they don’t address — and what I’m mostly concerned with — is the assumption that they HAD to make those moves. From where I’m sitting — and the credulousness some have for front office spin notwithstanding — Rays transactions in recent years, and certainly lately, seem to be pretty clearly mandated by ownership in order to either cut payroll or to keep it from growing and to shed arbitration-eligible dudes. That the GM and his team have made decent lemonade out of those lemons does not vindicate ownership’s mandate to cut payroll and shed arbitration-eligible dudes.

What’s more, such arguments — “hey, here’s the x, y, z of why trading away the face of the franchise is good!” — do not address the largest issue facing Tampa Bay Rays baseball, now and for the club’s entire history: fan apathy. Yes, they do relatively well in the TV ratings and their stadium and its location are a big hurdle to overcome, but the fact of the matter is that the Rays, as an organization, have rarely if ever done things which can be best explained in terms of giving the fans an entertaining product on the field. They have had some excellent teams, but they have, more than most clubs, let their baseball decision making be determined by the bottom line rather than making baseball decisions aimed at creating a consistently-winning and entertaining product.

A much simpler way to look at this is from the perspective of casual fans, families and the sorts of people who are not hardcore statistically-inclined diehards. What have the Rays done to attract these people? How does a 12-year-old kid get excited about the fact that they traded away Evan Longoria for payroll purposes and cut Corey Dickerson, an All-Star last year, because his 115 wRC+ far outpaced his projected 103 wRC+? That’s a consideration that a diehard fan who has, through big-time immersion, come to appreciate as a second-level thing, but it’s not how anywhere close to a majority of fans enjoy and experience the game. They like stars and familiar names and they want to believe that, if they go to a game, the team has a good chance to win it and that it’s fun in the process.

I’m not seeing any appreciation from the Rays’ defenders for that dynamic. I’m not seeing any acknowledgement that the Rays moves are making the team less familiar and less enjoyable for a casual fan and how that, when you take away some of your team’s better players and replace them with guys who might be better at some point down the road, there’s a good chance that the team will take a step back in the short term and how that that may turn off a lot of fans.

There’s an argument in the DRays Bay piece that those of us criticizing the Rays are doing so from some sort of pre-Moneyball, luddite perspective. This is ridiculous. Most of the folks who are leveling this criticism — and Drays Bay links our articles on this in their piece if you want to read them — are well-versed in team building theory. Many of us were deeply immersed in sabermetric reading and writing before the Rays even existed as a franchise. We’re well-aware of what motivations and incentives exist for general managers and the manner in which one builds a team for sustained competitiveness.

The point is that most people do not root for general managers. They do not care about long-term, sabermetrically-sound theories of team building. They want an entertaining team in which they can, over time, invest some loyalty and forge an emotional connection. If a club cannot serve those fans — which are, again, most fans — while also building their team for sustained competition, they need to explain why they can’t, given how many teams are able to do this. They are not entitled to the deference they and their defenders expect as a matter of course.