Sunday, April 10, 2005

A Waste of At Bats

The Devil Rays are starting Alex Gonzalez at third base. Chew on that fact for a moment. Which Alex Gonzalez? I'm not sure because I really don't make the effort to differentiate between the two anymore. They're both bad shortstops with a little pop, but very little else going for them. It isn't worth the effort to figure out whether the one you're watching is the one who started his career with Toronto or with the Fish. They're also using Nick Green at the hot corner. That's not a whole lot better. Green is an alright guy to have around as a utility infielder, but it's better to have him in AAA.

This is a small example of why the Rays are a bad team and have been a bad team for as long as they've been a team. This is great news for Gonzalez and Green. They get a paycheck and more playing time than they'd get anywhere else in the league, but the Rays stick themselves with the worst arrangement at the position anybody could come up with while not really giving themselves any side benefits. They don't get to test out a new rookie, or even a reclamation project. They're just marking time with bad players.

The saddest part of this whole thing is that Durham has a better third baseman than Tampa. They have a reclamation project who is likely to give better results. That player is Eric Munson. Munson has some issues. His batting average and OBP stunk last year and due to his strikeout rate, it's unlikely that he'll ever be a real force in those areas. He also isn't an aesthetically pleasing third baseman defensively. However, he's shown some growth and wouldn't hurt his team in the role. The upside is that he's a lefty power hitter of the first order. If he can manage a .260 batting average, he very well could put up a .260/.330/.500 season. What's the downside here? With that performance, the Rays could either shop him at the deadline as a nice bat off the bench, or they could sign him to a cheap 2 or 3 year deal as he's very unlikely to get much over a million in arbitration.

The other idea would be to move Aubrey Huff back to third temporarily and use Jonny Gomes in right field. Huff is not a good defensive third baseman, and Gomes has some questions of his own in making contact with the ball, but it's a waste of everybody's time to have him smashing International League baseballs over the fences. You could easily make the case for Matt Diaz or Mike Restovich getting a chance instead of Gomes, but let's take on one bad Chuck LaMar decision at a time.

The heart of this matter is the notion of organizational assets. Playing time is an organizational asset, just like payroll dollars or roster spots or Dr James Andrews or video equipment. It often isn't seen as an asset, but it is. Being such, it should be handed out with goals in mind. The goals for every at bat for the Cardinals or Yankees or Red Sox are pretty clear, maximize on-field performance. They better the player, the more playing time gets thrown in that direction. They have a limited ability to tolerate the growing pains that a rookie or a reclamation project will suffer through. The Rays are obviously not in that category, and even if they were, the performance difference between Gonzalez and one of the other two scenarios I mentioned is marginal at best. The #1 goal for the Devil Rays should be to evaluate talent on hand in preparation for better times ahead. #2 should be to showcase potential trade bait. Both Gomes and Munson meet one or the other of these goals. We know they're going to manhandle minor league pitching. They have thousands of minor league at bats under their belts to prove it. The question is whether they can adjust and excel against major league competition. Nothing is accomplished by putting them in Durham cold storage, just like nothing is accomplished by playing Green and Gonzalez when we all know that they both stink.

There are certain reasons for Rays fans to be hopeful for the future. They have two dynamic young players in B.J. Upton and Delmon Young. They also have the rapidly improving Carl Crawford, the reasonably promising Jorge Cantu, and the overrated, but nonetheless above average Rocco Baldelli. At that's not to mention Scott Kazmir and the very relevant Huff, Julio Lugo, Chad Orvella, and Josh Phelps. However, I can't buy into the idea that they are really going anywhere when management continues to squander resources and screw around with bad players in a futile effort to finish in 4th place. There's no coherent plan here and no idea of what a plan should even LOOK like. This aimlessness is the same thing that caused them to squander tens of millions of dollars on the days of Canseco, McGriff, Greg Vaughn, Ice Williams, Roberto Hernandez, and Wilson Alvarez. It is the same reason they screwed around with Robbie Alomar, Alex Sanchez, and Danny Bautista in spring training. There is a reason the Rays stink, and that reason is the management core or Vince Namoli and Chuck LaMar. As long as they're the ones pulling the levers running this machine, success will be an aberration and failure will be the norm.

Rant Over

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