FoxSports.com baseball writer Dayn Perry, formerly of Baseball Prospectus, recently answered several questions about the Winter Meetings and the Tampa Bay Rays in an email exchange. In the interview below, Perry discusses the CC Sabathia signing and the Rays’ chances of repeating as American League Champions.
The big story from this past week, of course, is the Yankees’ signing of CC Sabathia. Does the move make New York the clear-cut favorites to win the A.L. East in 2009?
Dayn: No, I don’t think so. This team has a middling offense that’s only getting older, and the defense also leaves much to be desired. Right now, they’re still a third-place team in my mind.
You recently wrote that Mark Teixeira is the safest bet among the free agent class, at least compared to Sabathia. Since the big lefty is getting close to 300 bills and there is not of a lot track record to go by with pitchers that heavy entering their thirties, how do you see the deal unfolding?
Dayn: I wish I knew. As you mentioned, Sabathia, in terms of physicality, is mostly without precedent. He’s been healthy in his career, he’s got clean mechanics, and he’s durable. That bodes very well for the first half of the deal. As for the latter years of the contract, it’s a guessing game. I think the Yankees will be very pleased with their investment through at least 2012.
Speaking of the Yankees, they still have not addressed their poor team defense yet. Losing Jason Giambi at first base helps—ditto for Bobby Abreu out in right field—but are you concerned about their poor defensive unit, especially up the middle?
Dayn: It’s a weakness for sure. Particularly now that A.J. Burnett, who’s a heavy groundballer, is headed their way. I’d call it the worst infield defense in baseball, and I don’t think it’s a particularly close call.
The other big move out of New York, the Francisco Rodriguez signing, seems to dramatically improve a glaring weakness for the Mets. His saves record was clearly the function of opportunity, though, and his peripheral numbers (and average fastball velocity) all mostly declined. With that said, the price seems fairly reasonable. What is your take on the deal?
Dayn: Closers are always overpaid these days, but I was still surprised the Mets got him as “cheaply” as they did. He’s not the sub-2.00-ERA dominator that he has been, but Rodriguez (and J.J. Putz and Sean Green) will seriously improve the Met bullpen. The decline in velocity and K rate is troubling, as is his max-effort delivery, but it’s a move they almost had to make.
Would the Mets have been better off going with Brian Fuentes or Kerry Wood in a more affordable deal?
Dayn: I like Fuentes a lot, and Wood excelled last season. Depending on what kind of contracts those guys wind up with, yeah, it’s quite possible the Mets would be better off with one of those two.
Now that we have those questions out of the way, let us go to the Rays. Milton Bradley and Giambi have each met with team officials in Vegas this week. Who is the more likely bet to sign out of the pair? Which player is a better fit in Tampa Bay?
Dayn: I’d go with Bradley simply because a player like Giambi (aging, old-player skills, already declining) can go over the performance cliff in a hurry. Obviously, Bradley carries with his own set of concerns (meaning, mostly, his health history), but he’s a safer bet offensively, I think. With that said, Matt Joyce is an excellent addition and will help the offense quite a bit.
Speaking of Joyce, what was your take on the trade that sent Edwin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers?
Dayn: I think the Rays did a great job of selling high on Jackson. His FIP this season was 4.88, and that's no surprise given his middling command numbers. I think he's a slightly below-league-average starting pitcher, and in return for him the Rays got a 24-year-old with good left-handed power and plus glove in right. It's not getting much attention, but it may have been the best move of the Winter Meetings.
The Rays are clearly going to let the market come to them. The economic climate, it seems, is working in their favor. Agree?
Dayn: Yes. It’s a buyers market, and that always benefits teams with limited resources.
Can the Rays realistically sustain their excellent level of run prevention going forward? Is the bullpen the most likely area on this front headed for a regression?
Dayn: Yes and yes. Any team that surges as the Rays did invites worries over the “plexiglass principle,” but the Rays are so ridiculously young that the usual models don’t apply. If the young core hitters improve (the offense wasn’t good last season), then they should be fine. I don’t think 97 wins is in the cards again, but they’ll be in the thick of it with Boston. The bullpen will probably come back to earth somewhat in 2009, but that’s something they can survive given the strength of the rotation and the defense.
B.J. Upton had a monster postseason, nearly topping his season home run total in three short series. Upton was bothered by a shoulder injury all year, which should be fine in ’09. What kind of offensive production do you expect out of him next season?
Dayn: I think it’s his breakout year. If healthy, he gets to 75 extra-base hits and has an OBP around .400. He’ll be an All-Star in 2009.
Upton, despite not hitting for power, still proved to be an on-base machine and played stellar defense in center field. Was all of the criticism directed towards him misguided?
Dayn: That’s not something I can know. By all accounts, Joe Maddon is a master psychologist in the dugout, and I’m not inclined to disagree. Certainly, Upton needs to learn the value of hustle, and perhaps he finally has. He’s a young player, and young players do puzzling things from time to time. I don’t waver in my belief that he’s going to be an MVP one day.
B.J.’s little brother, Justin, has more talent, but does not have the same advanced approach. Which brother, in your opinion, will end up with the better long-term career?
Dayn: B.J., but I’m not adamant about it.
Ken Griffey Jr. has expressed an interest in staying close to his Orlando home. Would he be a good fit for the Rays, to fill in that Cliff Floyd/Troy Percival clubhouse/leadership role?
Dayn: Perhaps. So long as he’s strictly platooned and used only as the DH. It’d be nice to see him back in another pennant race.
Where does Andrew Friedman rank among the game’s best general managers?
Dayn: It’s a bit early to say. Obviously, I love the work he’s done so far, and the organization is emerging as one of the best in the game. But he needs to sustain it before I put him in the class of Ken Williams, Epstein, Jocketty, Beane, et al. Let’s not forget he inherited a motherlode of young talent.
The Twins are reportedly shopping Delmon Young, whose low OPS and lack of power left a lot to be desired in his first year in Minnesota. Is it safe to say, depending on what the Twins bring in return and barring a power/OBP spike from Young, that Friedman pulled off a steal?
Dayn: Far too early to say. I like the early returns for Tampa, but Young still has a lot of gifts and is only 23.
Is Price the favorite for Rookie of the Year? Or would you go with Matt Wieters, who seems ready to take over full-time at catcher in Baltimore at some point next spring now that Ramon Hernandez is out of the picture?
Dayn: I’d go with Wieters simply because hitters are better known quantities. But Price will without question be the top rookie pitcher.
Is it unrealistic to expect Grant Balfour and J.P. Howell to maintain their excellent performance from ’08?
Dayn: To an extent, yes. They’ll be quality, but they won’t dominate as they did in ’08.
Friedman recently said that Percival will be back to anchor the Rays’ relief corps. Are you buying this?
Dayn: No. I’m not sure he has anything left. He was always a blast to watch, though.
Given the same number of chances as K-Rod, how many saves would Balfour have racked up?
Dayn: I’ll say 63.
Would you give a roster spot to Rocco Baldelli, given his mitochondrial disorder and inability to play the outfield on back-to-back days?
Dayn: Yes. They need a right-handed bat in the outfield, and the further he gets from his illness the more durable he’ll be.
What do you expect out of Reid Brignac? His recent stat lines at the higher levels are concerning, but he is solid defensively. Is he more likely to be shipped this winter or play a major role for Tampa Bay in ’09?
Dayn: He’s a useful utility guy, and every contending team needs one of those. He’s expendable, but he can also help flesh out the active roster.
With the Yankees upgrading, the Red Sox the favorites to land Teixeira, what are your thoughts on the Rays’ chances to repeat as division and American League champs?
Dayn: I think they’ll edge Boston by no more than a game or two, winning something close to 92 games.
The Rays, as you mentioned in your article about the team, still ranked pretty low in major league attendance. How significant of an increase in ticket sales do you expect, given that they are coming off their first year of real success?
Dayn: With the economy in such a state, it’s hard to say. But as long as the Rays price tickets properly, they’ll see a big jump.
Thanks for your time, Dayn.
To reach Tyler Hissey, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.