All the News Fit to Print on a Slow News Day; Links For Finks

Throwback Tuesday, to when I took this photo last season. (Photo courtesy of Schmitty/X-Rays Spex)

Throwback Tuesday, to when I took this photo last season. (Photo courtesy of Schmitty/X-Rays Spex)

As the saying goes, all is quiet on the western front, yet I’m not content to sit back and watch the world pass by. That said, here’s another installment of links for finks.

  • According to Marc Topkin, the Rays are still likely to add a middle infielder and outfielder David DeJesus is still likely to be traded. DeJesus is owed $5M in 2015 with a $1M buyout on a 2016 option, which makes him a reasonably priced target but also does not leave him with a ton of trade value. Per Steamer, DeJesus is projected to be a 0.7 WAR player, boasting $4.9M surplus value.
  • The most telling line from Topkin’s article (linked above) gave a little perspective on why the Rays were eager to deal Yunel Escobar, even if they took a loss of $3.7M — $4.2M in surplus value. Topkin wrote, “…The Rays did him (Kevin Cash) the favors of removing the headache of managing Escobar and the hassles of an overcrowded outfield.”
  • Loic Oumier (DRaysBay) coincidentally wondered if the Rays might be looking for some improvement at second base, in a market filled with possibilities. He went on to namedrop a few players, like Rickie Weeks, Starlin Castro and Danny Espinosa, who would be in the Rays wheelhouse if a deal in some capacity was to be made.
  • Jeff Todd (MLB Trade Rumors) listed both SS Evereth Cabrera and 2B Rickie Weeks as intriguing options left on the market. Knowing the Rays are looking for another middle infielder, yet MLB ready trade pieces on the 40-man roster are few and far in between, perhaps either would fit the bill. Of Cabrera and Weeks, Todd writes,

Cabrera shortstop, 28 – Were it not for his off-field issues, it seems likely the Padres would have tendered the former starting shortstop and given him a chance to regain his 2013 form. The year before last, Cabrera registered a 114 wRC+ while swiping 37 bags (down from 44 in the season prior) and playing the best-rated defense of his career. That was a 3.1 fWAR player, even in a season cut short due to suspension. The 2014 version of Cabrera was not, even when on the field instead of nursing an injury. There are issues aplenty here, but his abilities stand out in a market that hurt for middle infield talent from the start. And it does not hurt that he comes with a year of arb control remaining.

Weeks second base, 32 – Once one of the game’s better keystone options, Weeks has stumbled backward in all areas of the game since 2012. But last year was a bit different; while his defensive metrics continued to lag behind his earlier work, Weeks did put up a .274/.357/.452 slash in 286 plate appearances that brought to mind better days. True, Weeks inflicted much of his damage against lefties, with his solid line against right-handers propped up by a .420 BABIP. But given his track record, a revived spurt of production at least raises the possibility of a late-career renaissance.

  • New baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has been in office a little more than a whole day, and he’s already made some interesting waves. In an interview with ESPN, Manfred mentioned that examining the pace of the game is first on his list of priorities. Second on his list of priorities, finding ways to “inject additional offense into the game.” You might be asking, how? Manfred is open to pursuing the elimination of defensive shifts, which he says give the defensive team a competitive advantage. It’s not often that I wholly agree with anyone from ESPN, however Buster Olney allowed my thoughts to be more eloquently expressed, “Pushing for rules to restrict defensive positioning would be as absurd and antithetical to the game as informing pitchers…” The writers at Bless You Boys wonder why stop there? After all, Manfred can do much more to increase offense, like limiting the size of gloves, or making each run worth two.
  • Former (Devil) Ray Wade Boggs’ beer consumption has become a thing of legend worthy of Bill Brasky. The legend goes, Boggs once drank 64 beers on a cross-country team flight. Hell, even actor Charlie Day got in on the action, claiming during the filming of a new episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Boggs pulled him aside and said he actually drank 107 beers in one day— including before the flight and after. David Laurila (FanGraphs) shed more light on things Sunday, writing,

In 2001, (Former Ray Brian) Rose was “all fired up” when he was claimed off waivers by the Devil Rays. “Not because I was going to Tampa,” explained Rose, “but because Wade Boggs was a coach there. He was my idol growing up.”

Rose soon learned that Boggs could put away cold ones like nobody else.

“I was sitting next to him on a plane and a flight attendant came by and gave him a case of beer,” said Rose. “He slid it under the seat and I was like, ‘What’s up with that? We only have an hour flight.’ He said, ‘That’s mine.’

“The whole flight, we were just shooting the shit, and he went one beer after the other. I said to him, ‘I’m impressed with the way you hit, but I’m more impressed right now.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, beer doesn’t affect me. I don’t get drunk unless I’ve had at least a case and a half.’ I don’t think he even went to the bathroom.”

  • Rejoice everyone, baseball season is nigh!

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Projecting the Rays Offense in 2015 By Way of Steamer

evan+longoria

This guy is going to have to step it up in 2015.

A lot has been made of the Tampa Bay Rays off-season. And with just over a month to go until pitchers and catchers report to camp, a lingering question begs to be answered: After a lackluster 2014 in the box, what does the 2015 season hold for the Rays? With the help of Steamer (by way of FanGraphs), we’ll attempt to answer that question by looking at the Rays’ projected offensive numbers.

First, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Despite the cellar rankings across the board, Tampa Bay moved a good number of players who had been previously depended upon. In fact, the Rays currently boast only six position players who appeared on the 2014 Opening Day roster — David DeJesus, Desmond Jennings, Brandon Guyer, Evan Longoria, James Loney, and Logan Forsythe. Rumors are also swirling, the Rays might be trying to part ways DeJesus. Let’s quickly review the roster moves which dominated the last few months.

In November Jeremy Hellickson was dealt to Arizona, while Cesar Ramos was traded to Anaheim, and Joel Peralta found a new home with the Dodgers. Then in December both Wil Myers and Ryan Hanigan were part of a three team trade with the Padres and Nationals, Sean Rodriguez was DFA’d and subsequently traded to Pittsburgh, Matt Joyce joined Ramos on the West Coast, and Cole Figueroa, Jerry Sands and Jose Molina were designated for assignment and ultimately released. Finally, Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar were traded to Oakland, in what could be described as a contentious deal.

Tampa Bay received 16 players (both big league ready and prospects) in return: Justin Williams, Andrew Velazquez, Jose Dominguez, Greg Harris, Mark Sappington, Jake Bauers, Burch Smith, Rene Rivera, Steven Souza, Travis Ott, Buddy Borden, Kevin Jepsen, John Jaso, Daniel Robertson, Boog Powell, and Ernesto Frieri. Lest we forget that Tampa Bay also hired a new manager, and shifted the coaching staff.

It goes without saying, Matt Silverman has been very busy. All told, the team cut payroll by about $10M and escaped $12.5M of future commitments. One still wonders, though, is the team is any better?

Rays 2014 Offensive Numbers.

Rays 2014 offensive numbers, courtesy of ESPN.

Rays Offensive Rank Compared to MLB.

Rays 2014 offensive rank compared to MLB, courtesy of ESPN.

If perception is everything, the 2014 Rays were perceived as a team with a fizzling offense. While they could get runners on, they couldn’t convert them into runs. The overall statistics — and rankings — speak to that. Tampa Bay ranked below the American League average in runs scored (R), runs batted in (RBI), home runs (HR), batting average (BA), slugging (SLG), and on base percentage plus SLG (OPS). In fact, the only category the Rays outperformed league average was OBP. What’s more, the team was in the bottom third in baseball in RBI, homers,  SLG, and OPS. That, as our design guru Adam would put it, is “no bueno.”

Things have got to get better, right? In an ideal world, taking into consideration all of the off-season roster changes, the Rays are projected to be a better team in 2015. Let’s delve into those projections.

Rays offensive projections, courtesy of Steamer.

Rays offensive projections, courtesy of Steamer. (Note: The projections in red are courtesy of MILB.com)

Rays offensive projections, courtesy of Steamer. (Note: The projections in red are courtesy of MILB.com)

Rays offensive projections, courtesy of Steamer. (Note: The projections in red are courtesy of MILB.com)

Utilizing a couple of readily available projection sites, namely Steamer (by way of FanGraphs), and MILB.com for the rookies who may appear on the Opening Day roster (Steven Souza, Nick Franklin, Tim Beckham, Curt Casali, and Hak-Ju Lee), I found something intriguing. While the Rays aren’t projected to be an offensive juggernaut in 2015, if the projections bear true — both offensive and pitching — the Rays could be a 90+ win team in 2015.

Here’s how I did the math. First, I took into consideration the players who should make the Opening Day roster:

  1. Evan Longoria
  2. Souza
  3. John Jaso
  4. James Loney
  5. Desmond Jennings
  6. Brandon Guyer
  7. Asdrubal Cabrera
  8. David DeJesus (assuming he is not traded)
  9. Franklin, Kevin Kiermaier
  10. Logan Forsythe
  11. Rene Rivera
  12. Casali
  13. Beckham
  14. Lee

Next I tallied the totals, and compared them to the offensive totals of the previous season (see the table below). While Steamer didn’t offer complete projections for Souza, Franklin, Casali, Beckham and Lee, I pilfered MILB.com‘s projections and attempted to fill in some gaps. It shouldn’t be assumed that Souza, Franklin, Beckham or Lee will have 600 major league at-bats. However, it would reasonable to assume they would have more at-bats than Steamer projected.

As it relates to BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, wOBA, wRC+ and WAR, the numbers didn’t differentiate too much from each projection site. The big difference came in at-bats and plate appearances, hits, and runs batted in. From there I low-balled things, in that each additional HR hit by an asterisked player would count as a solo shot only. Why? It’s next to impossible to predict the situation in which he may hit a projected homer. Each homer would count for one run and one RBI. Because of it, the Rays projected total number of runs jumps from 666 to 675, and runs batted in from 608 to 617 — 63 more runs, and 31 more runs batted in than in 2014.

Furthermore, excepting the decreases in the total number of projected hits and at-bats, 2015 should find a more productive Rays in the categories that count.

Rays 2014 offensive production and 2015 offensive projections.

Rays 2014 offensive production and 2015 offensive projections.

It should be noted, Kansas City scored 651 runs last season and went to the World Series. Two other playoff contenders — St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants — fell within the Goldie Locks zone of 619 runs scored, and the number of runs the Rays are projected to score in forthcoming season. One thing held in common, all have an above average to excellent pitching staff. If Tampa Bay’s pitching staff is solid once again, and if the Rays can drive in more than 619 runs (the total St. Louis scored last season) it would not be a stretch to imagine them postseason bound.

Then again, projecting an upcoming season is not an exact science. Neil Paine (538 blog) put things in perspective,

…But they can never be perfect. There’s a statistical limit to how accurate any projection about a team can be in the long run. Years ago, sabermetrician Tom Tango researched the amount of talent and luck that go into team winning percentages and found that chance explains one-third of the difference between two teams’ records. That makes it hard to predict how many times a team will win over a season. The smallest possible root-mean-square error (a mathematical way of testing a prediction’s accuracy) for any projection system over an extended period of time is 6.4 wins. In a single season, forecasters can — and do — beat an RMSE of 6.4. But whenever that happens, it’s due to luck. The amount of random variance that goes into team records makes the 6.4 barrier literally impossible to beat over a large number of seasons. Over time, no forecaster’s system can ever do better.

The same could be said for individualized player projections. The random variance Paine spoke of could bolster the numbers, or — in the case of the 2014 Rays — end the season on a sour note. What is glaringly obvious, the players who are projected to be the big run producers — Longo, Souza, Jennings and Cabrera — need to be. Gone is any buffer Joyce, Rodriguez, Myers and Zobrist may have provided. Adding to the challenge, a new manager whose style the team has to feel out before it can be expected to play relevant baseball in September and October. A friend of mine put it best the other night, calling the Rays an 81 game winner in 2015. Yet he also opined, if the team can put together some magic…capture some lightning in a bottle, those 81 wins could be 90-plus.

We’ll be publishing a piece on the pitching projections shortly. I will also either update this piece, or put together an accompanying piece when ZiPS and OLIVER release their projections

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Hot-Stove: Rays Avoid Arbitration with Eight Players, Sign Five to Minor League Deals

(Photo courtesy of Carrie Boarman/TireBall)

(Photo courtesy of Carrie Boarman/TireBall)

Heading the January 16th arbitration deadline, Tampa Bay had eight arbitration eligible players they hadn’t reached an agreement with, and until 1:00 PM to sign a deal, or settle in court. As I reported earlier on Tumblr, the Rays were able to avoid arbitration this afternoon with those players — John Jaso, Kevin Jepsen, Jake McGee, Logan Forsythe, Desmond Jennings, Rene Rivera, Alex Cobb, and Drew Smyly.

Here are how things panned out.

Desmond Jennings: projected $3.2 M, actual $3.1M

Kevin Jepsen: projected $2.6 M, actual $3.025 M

John Jaso: projected $3.3 M, actual $3.175 M

Jake McGee: projected $3.8 M, actual $3.55 M (plus a performance bonus)

Alex Cobb: projected $4.5 M, actual $4.0 M

Rene Rivera: projected $1.3 M, actual $1.2 M (he can make up to $200,000 more in incentives based on games started at C)

Logan Forsythe: projected $1.2 M, actual $1.1 M (plus a $25k performance bonus for reaching 400 PA)

Drew Smyly: projected $3 M, actual $2.65 M (with an additional $50k available based on games started)

Projections courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors.

This marks the third consecutive year the team hasn’t had to go to court to reach an agreement. It should be noted, the front office has had considerable success during those cases, going undefeated under the ownership of Stu Sternberg.

In other news, the Rays also announced/confirmed minor-league deals with five players — C Mayo Acosta, OF Joey Butler, INF Juan Francisco, RHP Jhan Mariñez, and LHP Everett Teaford. All five received invitations to Spring Training.

What follows is the official press release from the Rays,

The Rays have signed five players to minor league contracts, each with an invitation to major league spring training: catcher Mayo Acosta, outfielder Joey Butler, infielder Juan Francisco, right-handed pitcher Jhan Mariñez and left-handed pitcher Everett Teaford.

Acosta, 27, has thrown out 39.9 percent (183-of-459) of attempted base stealers in his eight-year minor league career. He spent the 2014 season with Triple-A Durham, appearing in 30 games. He played in 28 games for Toros del Este of the Dominican Winter League, throwing out 10 of 20 attempted base stealers.

Butler, 28, has spent parts of the last two seasons in the major leagues, appearing in a combined 14 games with the St. Louis Cardinals (2014) and Texas Rangers (2013). In 2014, he hit .360 (31-for-86) with four home runs and 20 RBI in 31 games for Triple-A Memphis, appeared in six games with the Cardinals and had his contract sold to the Orix Buffaloes of the Japanese Nippon Professional Baseball League. In seven career minor league seasons, he owns a .293 batting average, .379 on-base percentage, 76 home runs and 375 RBI.

Francisco, 27, hit .220 (63-for-287) with 16 home runs, 43 RBI and a career-high .456 slugging percentage in 106 games with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014. He hit a home run every 17.9 at-bats, which ranked 12th in the AL among players with at least 250 at-bats. The left-handed batter made 75 of his 82 starts against right-handed pitching, hitting .238 (58-for-244) with a .306 on-base percentage and 15 homers against righties. Francisco is a career .248/.310/.476 hitter with 47 home runs against right-handers, compared to .159/.213/.210 with one homer against left-handers. Over parts of six major league seasons, he has hit .236 with 48 home runs and 152 RBI.

Mariñez, 26, has made six appearances at the major league level with the Chicago White Sox (2012) and Florida Marlins (2010). He split the 2014 season between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Detroit Tigers organization, going a combined 8-3 with a 6.69 ERA (40.1-IP, 30-ER) and 46 strikeouts between the Double-A and Triple-A levels. Over parts of nine minor league seasons, he is 24-24 with a 4.36 ERA and has averaged 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Teaford, 30, has spent parts of three seasons (2011-13) in the major leagues with theKansas City Royals, going 3-5 with a 4.25 ERA (106-IP, 50-ER) in 45 appearances (eight starts). He played for Korea’s LG Twins in 2014, going 5-6 with a 5.24 ERA (99.2-IP, 58-ER) in 20 games (19 starts). In nine minor league seasons in the Royals organization, he went 59-41 with a 3.96 ERA in 199 appearances (138 starts).

 

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Hot-Stove: Cash Announces Candidates For Middle Infield Positions

Kevin Cash speaks to the media at the Rays Winter Development Program. (Photo courtesy of Kevin O'Donnell/FOX 13 Sports)

Kevin Cash speaks to the media at the Rays Winter Development Program. (Photo courtesy of Kevin O’Donnell/FOX 13 Sports)

A few interesting nuggets came out of the Rays Winter Development Program the last couple of days. First, we reported earlier that Matt Moore is eyeing a June return to the rotation. Rays skipper Kevin Cash also, maybe inadvertently, announced the candidates for the middle infield.

Cash indicated that Asdrubal Cabrera is expected to be an everyday player. While he didn’t mention where Cabrera would spend the bulk of his time, either at short or second, Cash was complimentary of Asdrubal, saying it would be “like pulling teeth” to remove him from the lineup. Cash continued, calling Cabrera (“Cabby”) a positive veteran presence on the team and in the clubhouse.

He also narrowed down the competition for the other middle infield spot to Nick Franklin, Logan Forsythe and Tim Beckham. Franklin is expected to make the roster regardless of the position, leaving Forsythe and Beckham to battle it out for the middle-infield-platoon and bench spots. Boding in Forsythe’s favor, his defensive range which pairs well with that of Franklin.

Beckham, 25 (at the end of January), is a name we’ve bandied about as bench depth for a while. With the exception of six games at the end of the 2014 season, the Rays former number one overall pick hasn’t any big league experience. Beckham has also been a source of frustration for many since, he’s never really posted impressive numbers…Not to mention the 50-game drug suspension he served last season for the use of marijuana. Cash was quick to note that Beckham — along with Franklin and Forsythe — is viewed as an interchangeable part who offers the Rays “flexibility.”

Interestingly enough, Hak-Ju Lee was left off the list, though it fails to be seen whether that was an oversight on the part of Cash, or not. Lee was a top prospect who suffered a devastating knee injury in 2013. And while he recovered enough to play the following season, Lee wasn’t the same player. He seemed to lag behind at his position, something that could be construed as an affect of a slow recovery, or a general lack of confidence in his capabilities.

It should be noted, both Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee are projected similarly in 2015.

You can hear sound clips of the Kevin Cash interview below, courtesy of Steve Kinsella.

 

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Matt Moore Eyeing June Return

(Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Charles Cherney)

(Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Charles Cherney)

After spending most of the 2014 season recuperating from Tommy John’s Surgery, Rays’ southpaw Matt Moore told the media he’s hoping for a June return. Moore mentioned he “feels good,”  and has thrown on and off for the past three months.

After throwing on flat ground — maxing out at a distance of 110 feet — Moore is expected to progress toward throwing off the mound in the next few weeks. He will also toss another session Friday, four times next week, and one to two times the following week in order to re-acclimate to the five day rotation schedule — ultimately eyeing a return in June if all goes as planned.

 

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