The days of Upton and Molina in Tampa Bay may be ending
After the wild conclusion to the 2011 MLB season, one should be careful to avoid proclaiming a team “done” or “finished.” That said, the Tampa Bay Rays currently hold an 11 percent chance of advancing to the postseason, and with neither the Yankees nor Orioles (not to mention Detroit or Oakland) showing any signs of pulling a Bo-Sox, the fans and management alike will most likely shift their attention to the offseason in the coming weeks.
Tampa’s conclusion to the current season may have been different were it not for their placement in the AL East. Evan Longoria’s health issues certainly did not make playing in a suddenly four-deep division any easier.
The Rays will have some work to do in the offseason, but even without drastic changes, they should be in the position to contend for a playoff spot once again in 2013.
Here are four changes we may see in the winter months.
Evan Longoria was missed in 2012
The absence of Evan Longoria was an obstacle Tampa Bay struggled to overcome. His presence in the middle of the lineup was sorely missed.
Tampa’s No. 3 and No. 4 hitters are ranked 26th and 29th respectively among MLB teams in OPS. Within the team, only the No. 8 and No. 9 spots have a lower OPS to date than the area that is supposed to be the mitochondria of the offense.
The end result? Tampa Bay ranks 14th in home runs. There’s nothing wrong with a “small ball,” but their 157 bombs are the lowest total in the division. An added power bat would help them combat the style of their most common opponents.
The problem—and this will continue to be mentioned in the coming slides—is that this year’s group of free agent hitters is unimpressive. After Josh Hamilton, the rest of the class consists of unknowns (Melky Cabrera, Lance Berkman) and players who figure to stay with their current teams (David Ortiz, Nick Swisher).
Whether or not Tampa recruits a new slugger, 2013 will see an inflow of some of the organization’s minor league prospects. While most of the best options are pitchers, there are some potentially powerful bats.
Leslie Anderson, an outfielder with the Durham Bulls, hit 14 homeruns and slugged .450 this past season. He was named an International League midseason and postseason all-star in 2012. Brandon Guyer, who actually crushed one over the fence in his first major league at bat, could see more playing time in 2013.
SO LONG MOLINA
Jose Molina is old and ineffective. He has eight homeruns, 32 RBIs and a measly .286 on base percentage in 2012.
Defensively, Molina is as an equally significant liability, although major props for even making it to the age of 37. Runners have been caught stealing only 24 percent of the time against Tampa.
The problem, however, is that there really is nobody to replace Molina.
Jose Lobaton has 159 at bats this season. Chris Gimenez has 86. Both have a negative career WAR.
Tampa may turn to AAA player, Stephen Vogt, to make at least the occasional start. They could go after free agent, Mike Napoli.
Another option would be an acquisition via trade, which they could do if they…
Tampa could get good value for Shields
This will most likely not happen. The cornerstone of Tampa’s success over the last half decade has been pitching, and James Shields is very much a part of that success. They will have an option on James Shields’ contract.
However, at least consider the following:
- 1. Teams may be willing to overpay for someone like Shields in a relatively average group of free agent pitchers. We still have yet to see the one-game wild-card round, but any serious playoff contender would drop a few extra million in an instant to increase their chances of having a big-name player start for them in such a game.
- 2. Tampa Bay’s well of pitching prospects make replacing Shields a manageable task (no pun intended).
- 3. Shields is a significant bargaining chip Tampa can use to address their needs.
In addition to the catcher situation, point three is especially true given the…
The Rays would probably love to keep Upton, but someone will make doing so financially unwise
B.J. Upton will test the open market this offseason, which means there will be a distinct possibility that some big-money sap is going to pay far more for the center fielder than (A) Tampa can afford to pay and (B) Tampa knows to pay.
Upton has had a respectable 2012 season (.248, 26 HR, 74 RBI), but, once again, failed to match the expectations of a No. 2 pick.
After stating that Tampa Bay should pursue a power hitter, one could argue that allowing a 20-plus bomber to leave is hypocritical. I say it makes recruiting some new bats even more important.
If Upton fails to receive excessively lucrative deals elsewhere, the Rays should and will bring him back, but I just don’t see this happening.