Jonah Keri, co-author of Baseball Between The Numbers, was kind enough to answer several questions about the Tampa Bay Rays in an email exchange. Keri is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com (click here for archive) whose writing has appeared in Baseball Prospectus, Playboy, the New York Times, Salon, Slate and many other publications. He also writes a popular stock market column for Investor's Business Daily and offers analysis on everything from college basketball to politics on his website, JonahKeri.com.
Jonah, thanks for taking the time answer some questions.
Reid Brignac has regressed offensively since his breakout performance in the California League back in 2006. Brignac finished with a sub-.300 OBP in his Triple-A debut but has made strides defensively. How does he compare defensively to Jason Bartlett, and does he have a chance to win the job in camp? Or is there any possibility that the Rays would make him available in a trade him this winter, under the impression that Bartlett could man the position until Tim Beckham is ready down the road?
JK: I have no inside knowledge on this front per se, but I could see the Rays dealing Brignac, yes. Andrew Friedman is always looking for value. So whether or not they trade Brignac could depend on whether teams see the Cal League stats and improved defense or focus on the offensive regression of the past couple years. If they keep Brignac, I imagine they'll stick with Bartlett for his defense.
With David Price set to crack the rotation, who do you think will be the odd man out? According to this data, Andy Sonnanstine was considerably more valuable than many people gave him credit for in 2008. With that being said, he seems like the best bet to stay. However, would Edwin Jackson, because of his stuff, bring in more value in return if he is traded? If you had to bet, which pitcher is more likely to be dealt?
JK: Again, I think it will come down to value. If teams are willing to shell out more for Sonnanstine, he could be dealt. If Jackson can fetch more, he might go. I think Jackson would work well in a bullpen role too, so that could be another option. I'd like to see the Rays see if they could get a true impact bat for Scott Kazmir. But it's rare that we see that kind of blockbuster deal. Then again, the Delmon Young deal was a shocker when it happened.
Jeff Niemann is unlikely to ever emerge as a front-line stud at this point, but would be ranked a lot higher in another organization without so much pitching depth. Out of options, where do you see him at this point next offseason?
JK: Another good bullpen candidate. Someone who throws that hard coming downhill with his height...if they just slot Niemann in the pen and stop shuttling him back and forth, he could be a good, cheap option.
Will Mitch Talbot earn a spot in the Rays' bullpen in 2009?
JK: Another who'd be worth a shot. That's the beauty of having so much organizational pitching depth, of course. There's no need to hand out a three-year contract to some random veteran. Save a few million here and a few million there with equivalent talent, and suddenly you've got the cash to, say, buy out David Price's arbitration years in 2010.
The Rays excelled at run prevention in 2008, ranking first in defensive efficiency. What steps will they take, if any, to prevent a regression on this front?
JK: The infield is the strength of the defense, and the Rays are going to bring everyone back there. There's a good chance the team will add a new right fielder. Going after a player who can hit without hurting the defense would help on that front, obviously. That means stay far, far away from Raul Ibanez, for example.
The Boston Red Sox will be back, the New York Yankees seemingly have the chance to sign every big-name free-agent pitcher this offseason and the Toronto Blue Jays return some excellent pitching. Is it possible for the Rays to be even stronger next year, yet still miss out on the playoffs?
JK: Most definitely. The AL East won't stop being a tough division any time soon. The Baltimore Orioles are going to improve too, as prospects like Matt Wieters, Chris Tillman et al come up.
If you could choose between Price and Wieters, who would you take?
JK: Wieters. Much less risk of injury and much more predictable performance for position players than pitchers.
Bartlett received a fifth-place vote for A.L. M.V.P., and even was selected as the Rays' Team M.V.P. by the local chapter of the BBWAA. What is wrong with that picture?
JK: Well plenty, of course. I don't want to take anything away from Bartlett, who was a huge defensive upgrade. Let's just say there were plenty of better MVP candidates. Several on his own team, in fact.
Andrew Friedman has a great track record of exploiting inefficiencies, having found several sleepers like Eric Hinske and Carlos Pena on the cheap in the recent past. With a handful of players due for raises in arbitration and little money to work with, do you have any predictions for what Friedman will do this winter?
JK: I expect the payroll to go up somewhat, given the team likely surpassed its revenue projections for 2008 with its playoff run, and that they're well positioned to contend again in '09. Using internal options for the bullpen would be a good way to defray some of the raises that other players are getting. I do think a Kazmir deal could make some sense, especially if it's for a younger, less expensive, but still talented hitter.
Did Chuck LaMar receive too much credit for the Rays' success during the postseason coverage?
JK: I think he received the right amount of coverage. The focus was mostly on Andrew Friedman, Matt Silverman and Stu Sternberg. Vince Naimoli, Chuck LaMar made plenty of mistakes during their respective tenures. But the old regime did make some contributions to the team that became the '08 Rays. Seemed reasonable to save at least some credit for them.
Do you think B.J. Upton would ever consider signing a similar deal to Evan Longoria, or is he more likely to go year-to-year until free agency?
JK: Well the dollar amounts would be much higher for Upton of course, since he's a fair bit further along on the service time clock than Longoria was when he signed. I imagine Upton will take the best deal available to him. If the Rays make a big, multi-year deal, I'd imagine he's strongly consider it. If the Rays opt not to extend a lucrative long-term offer, Upton will do fine year-to-year.
Has Carl Crawford reached his peak as a player, barring an improvement in his approach on on-base skills? Do you foresee a bounceback when he is fully healthy in '09?
JK: I could see a power spike. He's 27, at a stage in his career where you should expect a small, but gradual erosion in speed. Players of that age, assuming health, do often see power spikes. The biggest level of upside would be an improved batting eye. If Crawford learns to take more pitches, both to work walks and to find pitches to hit in favorable counts, everyone benefits.
Do you think Tampa Bay fans will get to see Wade Davis at some point next year?
JK: I do. How much he's involved will depend on the health of the Rays' pitchers. If everyone's healthy and producing, we might be talking about just a September cup of coffee for Davis--or possibly a David Price-style call-up where they get him on the roster before Sept. 1 as a prelude to a possible spot on the playoff roster.
Since Rocco Baldelli cannot play back-to-back days in the outfield due to his mitochondrial disorder, would it be an unwise decision for Tampa Bay to make him a serious offer and give him a roster spot?
JK: Depends on price, of course. He's a free agent so he can go anywhere he likes. If other teams value him as anything close to the future star he was once thought to be, I imagine the Rays will pass. If teams balk because of Baldelli's health, a contract loaded with playing time and performance incentives would make sense.
Thanks for answering the questions, Jonah.
For those who have not read BBTN, I encourage you to do so. It will change the way you look at the game forever. Also, Keri recently finished the Page 2 guide to MLB Free Agency, which you don't want to miss.
To reach Tyler Hissey, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.