Johnny Damon, Many Ramirez

Springtime Storylines: Did the Rays lose too many guys?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season. Next up: A team that always has to try 2% harder, the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Big Question: Did the Rays lose too many guys?

It’s hard to say otherwise, isn’t it?  Gone are Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, Rafael Soriano, Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit and Jason Bartlett. It was a pretty mass exodus.

That said, not all of those departures are critical. A couple of those guys — Pena and Bartlett — didn’t contribute a whole heck of a lot in 2010, and their replacements — Dan Johnson and Reid Brignac — don’t represent a ton of falloff.  Likewise, I’m of the mind that Jeremy Hellickson will be an improvement over a somewhat overrated Matt Garza.

But losing Carl Crawford will be a toughie. To say Johnny Damon is a step down from Crawford defensively is criminal understatement. There is no escaping the fact that losing a player the caliber of Crawford — to a division rival no less — could be a mortal wound.

And actually, the defections from the bullpen seem to be the most critical loss for the reigning AL East champs. Kyle Farnsworth, Jake McGee, and Adam Russell all have their charms, but to suggest that the bullpen will be anything other than a profound weakness seems like unwarranted optimism to me. I know Rafael Soriano. I watched Rafael Soriano pitch. You, Mr. Farnsworth, are no Rafael Soriano.

So what else is going on?

  • While the bullpen seems like a nightmare, you have to like the rotation. Neither David Price, James Shields nor Jeff Niemann are dominant pitchers, necessarily, but all are workhorses, with Price an ace.  I think Shields will bounce back from a rough 2010 and while Wade Davis was a bit sketchy at times last season, he was a better pitcher in the second half, and that bodes well.  Hellickson may be the key to the group, though. One expects rookie pitchers to struggle, but I just have a feeling that he’ll bring more to the table than your typical rookie pitcher.
  • Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon are the big imports this year. I’m somewhat optimistic regarding both of those guys. Ramirez was hampered by injuries in 2010, but when he played he was still effective, even if his power was down.  He has seemed energized this spring and has something to prove back in the AL East so I expect good things from him, even if it’s not as good as vintage Manny.  Likewise Damon’s falloff in Detroit was not as sharp as it may have seemed. He went from a lefty hitter’s haven in Yankees Stadium in 2009 to a tough park for him in 2010 which killed his power numbers, but he should provide some decent production. At least on offense.
  • I predict a B.J. Upton breakout every year. I’ve yet to have my predictions vindicated.  I shall nonetheless, once again, predict a B.J. Uption breakout year.  Please feel free to remind me of my folly come October. Thanks.
  • While the Rays are going through a ton of changes this year, the fact that Joe Maddon is in charge may mitigate some of the disruption.  He’s a smart guy who is not married to any one strategy and, because of that, will be far more willing to make changes on the fly if and when the best laid plans of the winter go astray.

So how are they going to do?

Not well enough. Ultimately there are just too many holes to fill. For the Rays to make noise, every uncertainty — of which there are a lot — will have to break in their favor.  Manny and Johnny need to flash something akin to their production of old. Three of their starters will have to show improvement from last year, one — Price — will have to more or less maintain his production, and a rookie starter will have to excel in the AL East.  Finally, a bullpen of misfits will have to coalesce into something grand.  That’s a tall, tall order.

I think they’ll be respectable and, if the Yankees suffer some sort of disaster, they can compete for the wild card.  But I think the long haul of the season will be too much for them and I predict a third place finish.

Report: Yankees close to trading Aroldis Chapman

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 09:  Aroldis Chapman #54 of the New York Yankees pitches in the ninth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium on May 9, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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The Yankees are believed to be close to trading closer Aroldis Chapman, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported on Saturday. Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball reported on Sunday that owner Hal Steinbrenner hasn’t given authorization to sell “top guys,” which would include Chapman. The Yankees told other clubs they’re holding onto reliever Andrew Miller.

The Nationals and Indians have been the most aggressive in pursuit of Chapman. Bruce Levine of 670 The Score reported on Sunday that the Indians “have the best names on the table” for Chapman. ESPN’s Keith Law reported that the Nationals were offering prospects Erick Fedde and Koda Glover along with another unnamed prospect.

The Giants and Cubs have also been reported to have interest in acquiring Chapman. CSN Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic didn’t sense that the Giants are in the “final mix” for Chapman, and the Cubs are more interested in Miller than Chapman, Heyman reported.

Since returning to the Yankees, Chapman has recorded 20 saves in 21 chances with a 2.01 ERA and a 44/8 K/BB ratio in 31 1/3 innings. Chapman will become eligible for free agency after the season. In the event Chapman is traded, Miller will likely move into the closer’s role with Dellin Betances setting up the eighth inning.

[Content note: The following will contain descriptions of an incident during which Chapman allegedly assaulted his girlfriend.]

Chapman, 28, served a 30-game suspension beginning at the start of the regular season due to an offseason incident during which he allegedly choked his girlfriend and fired off eight gunshots in his garage. The police didn’t file official charges.

Mike Piazza, Ken Griffey, Jr. inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 24:  Mike Piazza (L) and Ken Griffey Jr. pose with thier plaques at Clark Sports Center after the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 24, 2016 in Cooperstown, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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As Craig previewed on Friday, catcher Mike Piazza and outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr. were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. The Hall’s official Twitter account tweeted photos of each player’s plaque.

Junior, of course, should’ve been depicted with a backwards baseball cap in his plaque. He did put his cap on backwards during his speech.

Craig covered the analysis angle on Friday, so I’ll share my personal perspective.

As someone who grew up watching Piazza and Griffey, it’s cool to see them inducted into the Hall of Fame. As I’m not yet in my 30’s, I only recently got used to seeing my childhood favorites getting inducted into Cooperstown. Looking at the list, Barry Larkin was probably the first player inducted whose career I completely remember following. Since then, this time every July has made me feel pretty old, even if that’s not actually the case. It’s like, “It’s been six years since he retired already?”

If you were a kid growing up in the 1990’s and you played baseball, you mimicked Griffey’s swing. I was terrible at hitting, so it didn’t help me any, but it was a cool feeling when you did Junior’s signature waggle at the plate and connected with a pitch. And if you grew up with video games in the ’90’s, you probably also played his self-titled Super Nintendo Game:

Piazza is a special case, as I’m from southeast Pennsylvania. He was from nearby Norristown and Phoenixville, and as such was the pride of the state even if he spent most of his time across the country and, later, with the rival Mets. It wasn’t uncommon to see people hate the Mets’ guts but still cheer when Piazza homered, as long as it wasn’t against the Phillies. There was one particular home run which had everyone cheering, no matter their affiliation:

Congratulations to Griffey and Piazza for being immortalized into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, a well-deserved honor.

The 2017 Hall of Fame ballot will bring back Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Trevor Hoffman, Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Lee Smith, Fred McGriff, Jeff Kent, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, and Sammy Sosa. First-timers will include Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero, Javier Vazquez, Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, Jorge Posada, Magglio Ordonez, Derrek Lee, Tim Wakefield, Edgar Renteria, Melvin Mora, Carlos Guillen, Jason Varitek, Orlando Cabrera, Aaron Rowand, Pat Burrell, Freddy Sanchez, Arthur Rhodes, Julio Lugo, and Danys Baez.