Fixing the Rays Need for Power

January 11, 2011 at 11:58 am 5 comments

Andruw JonesRussell Branyan

The Tampa Bay Rays are going to look like a completely different team than the one that won the AL East in 2010.  Long gone are Carl Crawford, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, and a slew of relievers.  The Rays have already begun to rebuild the bullpen, they had Reid Brignac ready to take over at shortstop, and Jeremy Hellickson more than ready to take a rotation spot.

Replacing Crawford is the toughest task.  Crawford was tied for 3rd in the AL with 6.9 fWAR.  That will not be matched by a leftfield mix of Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings, and Sam Fuld.

The Rays will more than likely be without Rafael Soriano and Grant Balfour at the back of the bullpen.  Soriano’s price tag is too high and I suspect Balfour’s is as well, but more on that in a moment.

The Rays have major holes at 1B, DH (although I think full-time DHs shrink a roster), and the back of the bullpen, and that is without calling leftfield a major hole at the moment.  So what do the Rays need to do?  I have a plan.

My first order of business would be to sign Russell Branyan. I have already supplied enough evidence to prove that Branyan is highly undervalued. It’s time someone took advantage of that and why not the Rays?  The misconception that Branyan is a DH is far off.  

In 2009, his first full season as a firstbaseman, he has posted a UZR/150 of  +2.1 and in 2010 he posted a UZR/150 of +6.0.  Merely a DH?  I don’t think so.  Carlos Pena, known for his fancy glove work, has been -6.1 and -3.7 the past two years.  Branyan has also been worth 4.9 fWAR in that span while Pena has been worth 3.8 fWAR.  Oh, and I just can’t write about Branyan without mentioning his 14.7 AB/HR ration, good for 14th all-time.  Branyan will supply power in a lineup that is lacking power in a major way.  Branyan does come with a few red flags.  His back seems to find an injury and while he can put one over the fence against lefties you really don’t want to give him more than 75 plate appearances in a season against them.  Branyan sounds great on a 0ne-year deal at about $2-$3M with a 2012 option.

Second order of business would be to sign Andruw Jones as my DH/1B/RF/LF bat.  Jones can fill a multitude of positions and helps keep me from signing a full-time DH that WILL hurt you if he has to play the field.  Most people will look at Jones’ average and say it would be a bad signing.  Well, I would beg to differ.

Over the past two seasons Jones has had his best BB rates (13.6% in 2009 and 13.7% in 2010) of his career and posted his 5th best wOBA of .364 in 2010.  Jones mashed against LHP to the tune of .256/.373/.558 with 8 homers in 86 at-bats.  That’s the exact kind of production the Rays need from a right-handed hitter.  Oh, and he can absolutely play some RF.  In almost 400 innings he posted a UZR/150 of 11.6 in 2010.  Jones was worth +1.8 fWAR in 2010 compared to one of my least favorite players Willy Aybar at -0.5 fWAR in almost as many PAs (328 to 309).  Still not sure why so many people loved Aybar.  Jones should be available on a similar deal to Branyan.  Marcus Thames is not a great fit here due to his inability to play any position at close to league average.

Last on my list of things to do would be add a power arm to the back of the bullpen.  Soriano would look good at the back of the pen but the price is way too high.  Here is where I re-visit Balfour.  I think Balfour would be a great fit at the end of the pen.  The Rays are one of the best at playing the wait-it-out game with relievers and Balfour’s Type-A status is scaring a lot of teams away right now.  If he is still available come February then I would love to see the Rays make an attempt at re-signing him to a deal that would supplant some cost in exchange for the Rays not offering him arbitration next fall.

One more deal I would make on the low-end is Blaine Boyer.  Boyer is not going to blow many people away.  He has a career 6.37 K/9 but has not eclipsed the 5.0 K/9 the last two years.  This is not due to a loss of velocity, though.  His fastball velocity in 57 innings last year was a career high 94.6 mph and his slider was also a career high 86.4 mph.  Boyer has a career 55.6% GB rate and an incredible 60.5% in 2009 and an insane 65.8% in 2010.  Only Johnny Venters and Peter Moylan had higher GB rates among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched.  Over the past two seasons he has only allowed 4 homeruns in 111.2 innings.  While his career ERA of 4.63 doesn’t look great his career FIP is a very respectable 3.89.  The main knock on Boyer is his control.  He walks way too many batters but Boyer is a great low risk/high reward option.

My Rays would look a lot like this:

Vs. RHP

1. Jaso – C
2. Zobrist – RF
3. Longoria – 3B
4. Joyce – DH
5. Branyan – 1B
6. Upton – CF
7. Brignac – SS
8. Rodriguez – 2B
9. Jennings – LF

Vs. LHP

1. Upton – CF
2. Zobrist – 2B
3. Longoria – 3B
4. Jones – RF
5. Shoppach – DH
6. Rodriguez – SS
7. Johnson – 1B
8. Jennings – LF
9. Jaso – C

Bullpen

RH – Balfour
RH – Peralta
RH – Russell
RH – Boyer
LH – McGee
LH – Howell
LH – Ramos/RH – Sonnanstine

The Rays need power, both in the lineup and at the back of the bullpen.  This plan fixes those problems and provides upgrades with Branyan and Jones on the offensive side of the ball.

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