The Tampa Bay Rays had a busy week at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.
Rays officials met with Milton Bradley, Jason Giambi and several other DH-types, acquired Matt Joyce from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Edwin Jackson and took a flier on a relief pitcher, Derek Rodriguez, in the Rule 5 draft.
All in all, it was not a bad week for the reigning American League Champions.
To start, for the first time in, well, forever, the Rays were the first team to meet with one of the premier free agent bats available—Bradley. The world learned about the switch-hitting slugger’s love of French onion soup and pizza, but more importantly that he is a realistic option to fill a need at DH for the Rays.
Bradley, who is also being pursued heavily by the Chicago Cubs, would be a great fit in Tampa Bay. He impressed Friedman and manager Joe Maddon at the meetings, and, while the club has yet to make an official offer, the baseball operations team is discussing parameters of a potential proposal. The 30-year-old outfielder/DH had a fine offensive year with the Texas Rangers, hitting .321/.436/.563 with a 163 OPS+.
Bradley has had some off-field incidents in the past, but they have tended to get overblown. The Rays, as his critics point out, ridded themselves of clubhouse cancer Elijah Dukes last offseason with an emphasis on improving the clubhouse culture. Which worries some folks about Bradley. This is a completely different case, though, as he has always been considered an excellent, though misunderstood, teammate.
Bradley has struggled to stay on the field, which is the bigger concern. He played 126 games in ’08, his highest total since 2004. Between that span, he did not crack the 100-game mark once. When he has been on the field, though, he has been productive: career line of .280/.370/.457. He would be a primary DH if he came to Tampa Bay, which would give his knees the necessary rest to potentially save him from a trip or two to the disabled list.
Friedman is going to let the market come to him, though. There is a surplus of corner/DH bats, with more high-impact sluggers available than teams looking for their services. In addition, the economic climate—which has affected all 30 teams—plays into the Rays’ hands as well; this could ultimately drive the price tag down on Bradley or Giambi.
So, do not expect a major free agent signing story out of St. Pete anytime soon. But it is likely that the Rays will address the need eventually, as the club has the real chance to bring one of the aforementioned hitters in a one-year deal at an affordable price.
It may benefit both parties. Bradley or Giambi could take a flier on a short-term deal, and then increase their market value for next offseason by putting up lofty numbers for a playoff-caliber club. With high-OBP hitters B.J. Upton and others setting the table, each player would have the chance for many RBI opportunities, increasing their value for those who still hold the statistic in the highest possible regard.
The Rays addressed their other need in the
Jackson trade. Joyce is an above-average defensive outfielder—and will fit nicely alongside Carl Crawford and Upton—who projects to hit for some power. He offers a short-term upgrade over Gabe Gross and fills a void in right field, with the chance to turn into an impact player during his six years under team control. All at an affordable price.
The Rays dealt from an area of strength, cutting their ties with the once-promising Jackson. The hard-throwing right-hander has a mid-90s heater and is coming off a 14-win campaign, but his performance has left a lot to be desired to this point in his career. Considering what they brought in return, this deal seems like a real win for Friedman and the Rays.
The move also improves the pitching staff by default, opening up room for David Price.
Joyce needs to cut down on his strikeouts, but has a smooth left-handed stroke, decent on-base skills and the chance to produce an OPS close to .800. Like most left-handed hitters, he struggles against southpaws. On the surface, this makes him an ideal platoon candidate. As Tommy Rancel pointed out tonight, though, he has actually had more success against lefties throughout his minor league career than one would think.
And what left-handed hitter does actually hit well against their own kind?
Joyce fits in well with the Rays’ excellent run prevention abilities, provides an offensive upgrade with the chance for a breakout and is under team control for six years. Plus, the club cut its ties by selling high on Jackson, who was expendable given the surplus of quality starting pitchers and his projected payroll increase in arbitration. This frees up a few extra million, which could be used to land Bradley or to address the DH need another way.
Rule 5 Draft
As expected, the Rays lost relief pitching prospect Eduardo Morlan to the Rule 5 draft. Morlan, who came to Tampa Bay in the Delmon Young deal, was picked up by the Milwaukee Brewers.
It was surprising that the Rays left Morlan off the 40-man roster, which makes it seem like the organization knows something that others do not. The 2004 draft pick was once considered the Minnesota Twins’ closer of the future, has consistently missed bats throughout his minor league career and has exceptional stuff. According to reports, though, his work ethic is questionable and his velocity is down. Plus, a shoulder injury prevented him from building on his lower-level success at Double-A Montgomery in his first year in the Tampa Bay system.
Given the potential, the Brewers certainly made a good choice by investing only $50,000 in Morlan, who could hide in their bullpen if he does not emerge. Still, perhaps Friedman did not feel that he was going to make an impact for the Rays.
The Rays also added a player in the Rule 5 draft, plucking up Rodriguez from the Chicago White Sox organization. The 25-year-old starter-turned-reliever throws from three different angles, mixing up his speeds depending on the arm slot. He posted a 3.38 ERA with rates of 9.28 K/9, 3.80 BB/9 and 2.44 K/BB in 29 appearances in Double-A before being promoted. A ground ball pitcher who actually posted a lower opponents’ OPS against facing left-handers, he struck out 44 in 42.2 innings pitched. Upon promotion to the International League, he offered more of the same: 3.19 ERA, 10.80 K/9, 1.06 WHIP. Headed into spring training, he is a cheap bullpen candidate who could quietly add some value in the Rays’ relief corps.
The fact that Tampa Bay, which even added another spot on the 40-man roster by optioning Chad Orvella to Triple-A Durham, picked up a reliever in the Rule V after failing to protect Morlan was telling.
What a week.
To reach Tyler Hissey, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com. To hear more about the Rays' week in Vegas, use the media player below to listen to the Friday edition of the RaysDigest.com podcast. The show will air live at 1:00.