Monday, January 24, 2011

The Rays, Jays and what it means for the Orioles

The Rays and Jays have made some interesting moves this past week. The Jays sent Vernon Wells and his albatross contract to the Angels for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera meanwhile the Tampa Bay Rays signed both Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to one-year deals. Both of these deals impact the Orioles in the positive and negative but they also speak to the coming question marks within the AL East.

First, the Wells deal. Vernon Wells was given a gigantic deal after the 2007 season and he has largely not lived up to the dollars associated with it. The contract was so bad that most people felt Wells was untradeable. Then last year Wells arguably had his best year since signing the deal hitting 31 homers and SLG at a .515 rate he was fairly instrumental in the Jays' powerful, if one-dimensional, offense. Then the Jays shocked everyone by trading Wells to the LA Angels for two mediocre role-players. The most important factor however was the Angels are paying the ENTIRE salary. Simply amazing.

Impact on Baltimore: Medium

The Jays are going to be a weaker team in 2011, there is little doubt in my mind about that. Wells, Marcum and Gregg are gone as is Overbey at first. The Jays will have some highly-touted rookies like Kyle, I still want to call him Doug, Drabek but the learning curve in the AL East can be brutal. I get the feeling that the 2011 Jays will look more like the 2010 team everyone thought was going to show up. You really have to credit Jays GM Alex Antholpoulos, it would have been very easy to look at last year as something other than a fluke and try to repeat it, but obviously Anthopoulos saw it for what it was and has not let it sway him from a more long-term plan. By trading Wells Anthopoulos has freed up gobs of money for the team going forward and with big FA names like Prince Fielder and (dare I even say it?) Albert Pujols likely hitting the market next year the Jays could make some serious noise in the market in the near future. 2011 may be a down year for the Jays, but they will have a lot of money to play with combined with some young talent that should be coming into its own; They could be a force going forward.

The Tampa Bay Rays surprised the MLB-world when they announced the signing of both Damon and Ramirez last week. The aging former Red Sox have seen a lot of their past glory fade though at least Damon still showed the ability to be productive in the right role with the Tigers last year. Manny on the other hand saw his star come crashing down in Los Angeles and Chicago amid poor performance and a positive PED test.

Impact on Baltimore: High

This move has me scratching my head in a big way, because it just seems so poor. It doesn't seem like the Rays of the last couple of years it feels like vintage DEVIL Rays trolling the scrap heap for Jose Canseco, Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff. The Rays became a force by trusting their youth and their coaching staff to build the best from within and this feels like a rather sharp deviation from those principles.

It just smells of panic. The Rays have had one of the best young teams in baseball each of the last few years. They proved that a small market team can win in the AL East, but the reality of their situation came crashing down upon them this offseason as the mass exodus of high-priced players left their squad decimated and searching to fill holes. Now, everyone assumed that the Rays would rely on their highly regarded farm system and call up the next crop of young players but this move signals that the management of the Rays must not be too awful confident in some of these players.

Another puzzling thing is the move itself. I can understand one of Damon or Ramirez, but both? Neither are that great in the field anymore and neither really provide the same power in the DH role that the Rays will be looking for. Add on the clubhouse problems that seem to follow Manny wherever he goes; can you honestly see Joe Maddon putting up with Manny's antics for long?

Combined Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford hit 47 homeruns, last year Damon and Ramirez combined for 17. So again I ask why? And the only answer I can come up with is attendance. DO the Rays think that there are enough people in the greater St. Petersburg area who will come out and see former Red Sox and Yankee greats? Are Ramirez and Damon little more than ploys to hold interest during a rebuilding year? The Rays' attendance struggles have been talked about widely and I get the feeling that the powers-that-be in Tampa saw the chance of a mediocre 2011 and panicked plain and simple.

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