Rays retain Kapler, but outfield still in doubt

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The Rays assured themselves of entering 2010 with a fourth outfielder by re-signing free agent Gabe Kapler to a one-year, $1.05 million contract on Tuesday, but it’s still a mystery just who he’ll be playing behind next year.
Kapler’s role in 2009 was to start over Gabe Gross in right field against lefties. The platoon worked out exquisitely early on. Kapler had an 839 OPS in 113 at-bats prior to the All-Star break, while Gross came in at an OBP-heavy 802 as the starter against righties. Maybe that’s not spectacular, but they also played quality defense and they combined to cost the thrifty Rays a total of $2.225 million for the year.
Unfortunately, Gross, in particular, collapsed after that. He hit just .160 with a 512 OPS after the break and lost most of his playing time to Ben Zobrist after Akinori Iwamura returned. Kapler also fell off to a 681 OPS. For the season, he hit an exceptional .276/.379/.552 in 145 at-bats against lefties and a dreadful .150/.190/.167 in 60 at-bats versus righties.
Gross is unlikely to return next year, so it’s unclear what Kapler’s role will be. The Rays could opt for only a minor change and stick with Carl Crawford in left and B.J. Upton in center, with Matt Joyce, the return from the Tigers for Edwin Jackson, taking over as the right fielder against right-handers. However, the Rays were clearly disappointed by Joyce’s play this season and didn’t even give him a September callup.
The Rays have other options. Crawford is a year away from free agency and would fetch a high price in trade. Upton’s stock is well down, but he’s also getting talked about as a trade possibility. He’s more likely than Crawford to go. Zobrist appears to be penciled in at second base, but the Rays could throw a changeup and opt to keep Iwamura, forcing Zobrist to the outfield. Sean Rodriguez, a longtime Angels prospect acquired in the Scott Kazmir deal, could also compete for outfield time, and top prospect Desmond Jennings may be a factor by the middle of the season.
If the Rays don’t have a left-handed-hitting outfielder for Kapler to platoon with, he’d likely be useless to the team. He’s a liability when starting against righties, so he’s not someone who would fare well if forced into the lineup on a regular basis by injuries. The 34-year-old is worth the $1.05 million committed to him, but he needs to be used correctly. The Rays should have waited to see if he was still going to be the right fit for the team.

Chris Archer on joining Bruce Maxwell’s protest: “I don’t think it would be the best thing to do for me at this time.”

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Rays pitcher Chris Archer doesn’t see himself joining Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell‘s protest any time soon, Gabe Lacques of USA TODAY Sports reports. Archer said, “From the feedback that I’ve gotten from my teammates, I don’t think it would be the best thing to do for me, at this time. I agree with the message. I believe in equality.”

Archer continued, “I don’t want to offend anybody. No matter how you explain it or justify it, some people just can’t get past the military element of it and it’s not something I want to do, is ruffle my teammates’ feathers on my personal views that have nothing to do with baseball.”

Archer did express admiration for the way Maxwell handled his situation. The right-hander said, “The way he went about it was totally, I think, as respectful as possible, just letting everybody know that this doesn’t have anything to do with the military, first and foremost, noting that he has family members that are in the military. It’s a little bit tougher for baseball players to make that leap, but I think he was the right person to do it.”

Maxwell recently became the first baseball player to kneel as the national anthem was sung, a method of protest popularized by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. As Craig explained yesterday, baseball’s hierarchical culture has proven to be a strong deterrent for players to express their unpopular opinions. We can certainly see that in Archer’s justification. Archer was one of 62 African Americans on the Opening Day roster across 30 major league clubs (750 total players, 8.3%).

Major League Baseball issues a statement on Trump’s latest travel ban order

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Last night the Trump Administration announced a new batch of restrictions on people traveling from foreign countries, following up on its previous travel ban on persons from six predominately Muslim countries. The latest restriction could potentially touch on Major League Baseball, however, as it includes Venezuela.

The restriction for Venezuela is far narrower than the others, only blocking visas for government officials on business or tourist travel from Venezuela. There has been considerable uncertainty about the scope and enforcement mechanisms for the previous travel ban, however, and the entire matter is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. With that uncertainty, many around Major League Baseball have asked how and if the league or the union might respond to an order that, while seemingly not facially impacting baseball personnel or their families, could impact them in practice.

To that end, Major League Baseball issued a statement this afternoon, saying “MLB is aware of the travel ban that involves Venezuela and we have contacted the appropriate government officials to confirm that it will not have an effect on our players traveling to the U.S.” It is not clear whether it has, in fact, received such confirmation or if its an ongoing dialog or what.

Again: the ban shouldn’t impact baseball players or their families based on its terms. But based on what we saw with the enforcement of the previous one — and based the unexpected consequences many major leaguers faced when international travel restrictions were tightened following the 9/11 attacks — it’s only prudent for Major League Baseball to make such inquiries and get whatever assurances it can well in advance of next February when players from Venezuela will be coming back to the United States for spring training.