Bargain-hunting Rays still have some holes

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The Rays have spent some money this winter, adding Yunel Escobar for shortstop, James Loney for first base and Roberto Hernandez to the pitching staff. Their rotation is fine even with James Shields gone and the infield might be set, if Ben Zobrist plays second base, but the team still has some needs as is.

Outfield: Desmond Jennings is the only sure starter in the Tampa Bay outfield, and it’s still unclear if he’ll be playing left or center. Matt Joyce will start somewhere against righties, probably in right field but perhaps at designated hitter. A career .201/.288/.325 hitter in 234 at-bats against lefties,  he’s more useful being platooned.

Beyond those two, the Rays have the option of playing Zobrist in right, but they seem more likely to use him at second initially. Brandon Guyer was looking like a nice sleeper entering last season, but he opened up in Triple-A and then suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in May. Sam Fuld is also back healthy after missing much of the season, but he should be viewed as a reserve. Top prospect Wil Myers will almost certainly spend the first month in Triple-A to push back his free agency clock, and he might be held back until mid-June, depending on how he’s performing and the Rays’ needs in right field.

ESPN’s Jayson Stark today mentioned Michael Bourn as a possibility for the Rays, as unlikely as that would seem to be. Not only would he blow up their budget, but he’d also cost them their first-round pick. Scott Hairston would seem to be a nice fit as a starter early who can be eased into a reserve role when Myers comes up, but the Rays haven’t been mentioned in connection with him. Perhaps they think Guyer is his equal. Still, even if the the Rays do opt to go with a Guyer-Jennings-Joyce outfield, they’re going to need a…

Designated hitter: In recently posting a Rays depth chart, I put Ryan Roberts at DH for lack of any better alternatives. It shouldn’t be difficult to do better there, though. Tampa Bay could re-sign Luke Scott to DH against right-handers after he hit .229/.285/.439 for them last season. Travis Hafner and Jim Thome are alternatives there, but they’re pure DHs incapable of playing elsewhere. Scott can at least play a passable first base and perhaps still left field when healthy.

One alternative here would be to sign Kelly Johnson, put Zobrist in right field and use Joyce primarily at DH.

Bullpen: The Rays have only three sure things for the pen right now: Fernando Rodney, Jake McGee and Joel Peralta. They’ll probably stick Hernandez there initially, and they do have some adequate holdovers in Cesar Ramos and Brandon Gomes, plus guys with upside like Josh Lueke, Dane De La Rosa and Frank De Los Santos. Still, one imagines they have their eyes on a couple of cheap veterans who might be candidates for turnarounds. No teams are beating down the doors of Francisco Rodriguez,  Matt Capps and Ramon Ramirez at the moment. And then there’s Hideki Okajima, who wants to return to the U.S. after a terrific season in Japan. The Rays could also consider trading Jeff Niemann for bullpen help.

The Nats are sniffing around for relief pitching help

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The Nationals began the year with Blake Treinen as their closer. That didn’t last long, and now Koda Glover seems to be Dusty Baker’s man in the ninth inning. He earned a save for the second consecutive game yesterday. Glover has been pretty darn good in the early going, posting a 2.35 ERA and striking out six batters and walking only one in seven and two-thirds. That obviously a small sample size, and anything can happen. If it does, Baker has Shawn Kelley as an option.

Not many household names there, which is probably why the Nationals are reported to be interested in the White Sox’ David Robertson and Alex Colome of the Rays. That report comes from Jim Bowden of ESPN, who also notes that the A’s have a number of guys with closing experience on staff and are likely to be sellers too. The David Robertson thing may have more legs, though, given that Mike Rizzo and Rick Hahn pulled off a pretty major trade in the offseason. If you know a guy well, you call that guy first, right?

As far as problems go this isn’t a huge one. The Nats sit at 13-5 and, as expected by most prognosticators, are in first place in the National League East. The Cubs had some questions in the pen this time last year too. They had the luxury of trying to figure it out before making a massive trade for a closer. The Nats do too, and likely will. But expect them to be a part of any trade rumor conversation for the next couple of months.

 

The big flaw in modern ballparks

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Travis Sawchik writes about the post-Camden Yards generation of ballparks over at FanGraphs. The ones everyone loves because they’re nice and clean and friendly and are full of amenities. And that’s true! They are nice! But they all have a huge flaw: unless you’re in expensive seats, you’re too far away from the action.

Sawchik uses cross sections of ballparks — available at Andrew Clem’s website — to show that fans sitting in the upper decks of ballparks are way higher and way farther back than they used to be at many old ballparks such as Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, Old Comiskey, Tiger Stadium and Ebbets Field.

A lot of this has to do with an admirable impulse: to eliminate the beams which obstructed the view of many seats in those old parks. If you want to move that upper deck closer to the field, you have to have the beams because one can only achieve so much via cantilever effect. But that’s not the only impulse and probably not the primary one. More expansive lower bowls — which feature more expensive tickets — push the upper deck back and up. As do the luxury suites and club level amenities in between the lower and upper decks. Exacerbating this is the fact that most newer parks are built on vast tracts of land with few architectural constraints. If you can sprawl, you will, which leaves the most affordable seats in the land of binoculars.

I don’t agree with everything Sawchik writes here. He spends a lot of time talking about how much better neighborhood parks like Wrigley Field are and how it’d be better if newer parks were built in neighborhoods. I agree, neighborhood parks are ideal, but the fact is, most places don’t have mass transit like Chicago does. In most cities you have to have a place for 40,000 people to park.

That’s a quibble, though. Mostly, it’s a good look at an important thing most folks overlook when they praise the new parks. Important because, if you don’t have an enjoyable experience at the ballpark, you’re not likely to come back. And if you’re not fortunate enough to be able to buy expensive tickets, you may not have a great experience at the ballpark.