Jeff Keppinger is batting cleanup for the Rays

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There’s a whole lot of people picking the Rays over the Red Sox in the AL East. I wonder how many of them have taken a gander at Tampa Bay’s Opening Day lineup against the Yankees’ CC Sabathia:

CF Desmond Jennings
RF Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
DH Jeff Keppinger
SS Sean Rodriguez
2B Elliot Johnson
1B Carlos Pena
C Jose Molina
LF Matt Joyce

Obviously, there are a couple of caveats here, the first one being that B.J. Upton is sidelined. With Upton healthy, Zobrist would be playing second base and Johnson would be on the bench. The other is that manager Joe Maddon has really jumbled the lineup with the lefty on the mound for the Yankees. Keppinger actually makes some sense in the cleanup spot versus a southpaw, while Pena and Joyce will obviously move up in the lineup against right-handers. Luke Scott will also be starting against righties.

All that said… this is one hideous lineup after the top three. The cleanup hitter’s career high for homers in seven. The No. 6 hitter is a 27-year-old with a .190/.247/.318 line in 179 major league at-bats. And Pena and Joyce were flat-out terrible against lefties last season. Pena came in at .133/.260/.333 in 120 at-bats for the Cubs, while Joyce hit .217/.287/.370 despite usually sitting against the tougher ones for the Rays (he was benched in all four of Sabathia’s starts against Tampa Bay last season).

The Rays have some of the league’s best pitching, so they’ll almost certainly hang in the race this year. Still, their lineup against left-handers leaves much to be desired. As I wrote a couple of months ago, they hurt their chances by not bringing in additional right-handed help beyond Keppinger over the winter.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.