It certainly looked like one of the better signing of the offseason: after missing out on Milton Bradley, the Rays inked Pat Burrell to a two-year, $16 million contract to take over as their DH. He was coming off four straight seasons with OPSs around 890 and he had averaged 153 games during those seasons. Sure, there’d be a period of adjustment for him coming over to the AL, but he projected as a well above average DH and he’d come at a fair price.
Of course, things haven’t worked out that way. Burrell hit .250/.349/.315 with one homer in 30 games before going down with a neck injury that cost him a month. He entered the All-Star break at .232/.341/.347. He did do solid work for a month and a half after that, coming in at .257/.335/.493 with nine homers and 27 RBI in a 40-game span through Sept. 2. However, he’s hit .147/.238/.206 in 22 appearances since.
The truly remarkable thing is that Burrell has gone the whole year without a homer against a left-hander. He’s hitting .207/.338/.259 in 116 at-bats against them. All 14 of his bombs have come against righties. Between 2005-08, Burrell had 38 homers in 587 at-bats versus southpaws.
Burrell’s career is at a crossroads now. He’s obviously far more comfortable against National League pitching, yet his poor defense limits his value in the Senior Circuit. The Rays figure to try to exchange him for another lousy contract over the winter. Burrell for Bradley is one idea that will get tossed around. The Cubs wouldn’t want Burrell, but since he’s only signed for one more year, they’d save $12 million as part of such a swap. The Rays, though, would have big problems taking on that kind of salary for 2011 when so many of their young players will be big significant raises then.
Perhaps Burrell could be swapped for a reliever who has fallen out of favor. Kyle Farnsworth in Kansas City and Scott Linebrink in Chicago would be a couple of possibilities. The Rays would likely be better off keeping the 33-year-old and hoping for the best rather than taking on someone who would require a longer commitment. They can always release him and dig up a DH elsewhere if he struggles out of the gate again in 2010.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.