With the signing of Pat Burrell on Monday, the Tampa Bay Rays have cemented themselves as the best team in baseball in 2009. As I have discussed in the past, the Rays’ arrival in 2008, marked with a trip to the World Series, was a bit premature, as much of the team’s top talent has yet to contribute at their highest level.
However, with the early arrival of Evan Longoria as a star-caliber hitter, as well as indication that David Price will open the ’09 season in the big-league rotation, the Rays are poised for an early start to what could become a dynasty of epic proportions.
With Burrell slated to take over the oft-overlooked DH spot, the Rays have filled the last remaining spot in their 2009 lineup that was previously still up in the air. The Rays used 11 different designated hitters last season, with four of the top five at-bat getters (Cliff Floyd, Johnny Gomes, Eric Hinske and Rocco Baldelli) no longer with the team.
In addition to providing stability in the DH role, Burrell also brings to the table those important things that make up offense: walks and home runs. Last season, Longoria was the only Rays regular to post a .500 slugging percentage, a figure that Burrell has reached in each of the past five seasons.
Aside from a miserable 2003 and a middling 2004, Burrell has been a model of consistency over the course of his career, averaging 31 home runs and a .367 OBP per 162 games. Additionally, Burrell also stays on the field, averaging 145 games per season, a figure not once reached by the Cubs’ new $30-million man, Milton Bradley.
As if Burrell’s skill set didn’t coincide with the Rays’ needs enough already, his right-handed bat could allow manager Joe Maddon to post a lineup, one through nine, in which no consecutive hitters will bat from the same side of the plate, a tactic that will come in handy against lame-o late-inning relief specialists.
With the three to five additional wins for which Burrell can be counted on, coupled with improvements from 23-year-old Longoria and a healthy B.J. Upton, the Rays will more than likely make up the difference their 2008 record showed from their run differential.
Affix that to the difference that Price will make over wildman Edwin Jackson and the right field upgrade that Matt Joyce will provide over the tag team of Hinske and Co., and the Yankees will have plenty of time in early October to sit at home and regret committing $82 million to A.J. Burnett, who will, at that point be coming off a 109-inning disappointment of a season.