The Tampa Bay Rays’ signing of Pat Burrell earlier today is yet another example of the sound baseball decisions now being made at Tropicana Field. The inking of Burrell to a 2-year, $16 million deal was a master-stroke by GM Andrew Friedman and his staff for the following reasons:
The Rays played the waiting game perfectly. As early as November, Friedman & Co saw the downward pricing pressure the recession and glut of available corner outfielders would exert on the free agent market, and decided let the market flush itself out. The end result was a downright bargain for a bona-fide middle-of-the-order bat who’s four-year OPS is a robust .890. By comparison, Raul Ibanez, the player who’s replacing Burrell in Philadelphia, received one extra year at an aggregate incremental cost of $14.5 million. Yet, Ibanez is four-and-a-half years older than Burrell, and has a four-year OPS of just .830.
Speaking of deal length, the fact that Burrell’s contract has a tenure of two years is another coup for Tampa Bay. Because Burrell’s a player with classic “old man” skills (i.e. he hits for power and shows patience at the plate but is unathletic with slow-twitch actions), he probably will not age as gracefully as the typical 32-year-old major leaguer. Thus, by signing Burrell to a short-term deal, the Rays have, in effect, taken out an insurance policy against a washed-up Burrell tying up a significant portion of their payroll for years to come.
Burrell is a well-below-replacement-level fielder, who, according to Jayson Stark of ESPN, was removed for a late-inning defensive replacement in 100 of the Phillies 154 games and was assigned a minus-20 defensive rating by the Fielding Bible. This, however, will be of no concern to the Rays, who plan on using Burrell exclusively at DH. In addition, the Rays hope that keeping Burrell off the field in 2009 will prevent a repeat of last season, when he faded down the stretch. Burrell’s second half line of .215/.313/.413 paled in comparison to his first half, when he hit .275/.404/.575.
By adding Burrell, the Rays have obtained a right-handed foil to slugger Carlos Pena. With Burrell protecting him in the lineup (as opposed to Cliff Floyd or Johnny Gomes), Pena should see a steadier diet of fastballs, and is likely enjoy a season which closely resembles his monstrous .282/.411/.627 effort in 2007.
Aside from possibly finding one more reliever to round out their bullpen, the Rays’ offseason shopping spree is complete. And to think, it cost them less than $20 million dollars—a mere $425 million less than the Yankees. Yet—call us crazy —the two teams will likely be separated by mere inches in 2009.