Austin Jackson stole 27 bases while finishing runner-up in the Rookie of the Year balloting last season and the 24-year-old center field said recently that his goal for 2011 is to swipe 40 bags.
I think it’s just setting a goal to try to reach it, because I think I’m capable of stealing more bags. I think I need to try harder at it. I have speed and that’s a part of my game, and I definitely think that I could use it more on the base paths. It’s really just stealing a bag, maybe getting in scoring position a little more, try to score some more runs. I think it’s a thing you just have to kind of learn. I think it’s a thing I need.
Jason Beck of MLB.com notes that no Tigers player has stolen 30 bases in a season since Jim Leyland took over as manager in 2006, so getting to 40 on a team that generally doesn’t run a ton could be tough. In fact, in 19 seasons as manager Leyland’s teams have had a 40-steal player just three times: Edgar Renteria in 1998 and Barry Bonds in 1990 and 1991.
Looking beyond the Tigers and Leyland’s teams, a total of six players have swiped 40 or more bases in their age-24 season during the past decade: B.J. Upton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Reyes, Carl Crawford, Juan Pierre, Luis Castillo. And prior to going 27-for-33 on the bases as a rookie, Jackson averaged 33 steals per 150 games in the minors.
On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”
Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”
Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.
The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.
When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.