Rays First 3 Arbitration Eligible Players…Infield and Bench Positions.

 

      

 

The Tampa Bay Rays did not have a single Type “A” or “B” free agent to offer or turn down arbitration on December 1st, but that does not mean the road will be paved with gold for the Rays in 2009. They might have some of the toughest decisions yet as a franchise as they currently have 6 members of the 40-man roster  up for arbitration before the beginning of the 2009 season. 

 

But next year will be even worse,  with a total of  7 Rays going into arbitration for the first time. The current 2009 class includes a crowd favorite, an developing  outfielder turned pitcher, a foreign-born ironman and a couple of huge pieces of the upgraded Rays infield. I will try and explore the 2008 season for pluses and minuses only based on statistics and facts pertaining to the regular season.

 

 I try and put myself within Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman’s head and look at statistics and possible risks for these players based on results compiled during the 2008 regular season.  I will attempt to seperate the postseason from the regular season and not use them as a primary evaluation, but as bonus materials to decide and make a prediction on the outcome of the Rays choices, and paths during the 2009 arbitration process.

 

I am going to evaluate the first 3 guys that compose key parts of the infield and a current bench player and slightly used outfielder who plays better when he is in the flow of the game. So without further ado:

 

 

Jonny Gomes:

 

Here is  a tough one for me. I can see the positive  of this new team role model  and how he has become more of a fan favorite in the last few years. And the fans’  respond to his home-spun Rays energy like a bug to a lightbulb. But this is ultimately a baseball decision, and sometimes good players have to be dragged under the carpet when they are not pulling their collective weight on the team. Gomes has done as much as he can with what he has been presented in 2008, but will it be enough to satify the new Rays urges and wants for their offense?

 

The worst part of determining  if Gomes is the player the Rays need right now is that he is like the proverbial rolling stone, and he gather energy and motivation from activity, not from just sitting on the bench.  Some People may also call upon the fact that he has had a swinging door between Durham, North Carolina and St. Petersburg, Florida the last 2 years. This is not a positive and good thing for such a powerful young player to develop  into a hitting  rut so deep he has to go down to the minors to correct himself.

 

It is a little more than a swing adjustment, it is mostly pitch recognition. Gomes seems to have a difficuly time reading some cutters and sinkers coming into his body before they expolde and tip over the outside of the plate for a strike. Professional baseball is based on the fact that you usually get a hit at least 3 times in every 10 at bats. To even hit a solid .300 nowadays you have to study the leagues pitchers’ and their collective release points and angle variables even before stepping to the plate. To some players this is a formality and they tend to be able to hit anything thrown their direction. Others have to make in-game adjustments to fit the changes, and Gomes has been slow, but actively trying to play catchup and learn to adjust on the fly more in 2008.

 

Gomes has to develop a little more give and take in his set strike zone to be an  effective hitter for the team in 2009.  In 2008, Gomes only had a paltry  178 plate appearances for the Rays. Not a huge amount, but was he being sat down more for plate discipline, or for a lack of consistant ability to hit with men in scoring position and producing scoring situations  when he did get his chance at the plate.

 

His .183 batting average speaks volumes to me about the type of pitching he saw in 2008. Gomes has never been really strong at recognizing the breaking points late on a pitch. This has put him in alot of 2-strike situations during the season, which lead to costly and unnecessary outs. His On-Base Plus Scoring average was a dismal  .670, not the perfect prerequisite for a power hitter off the bench. 

 

For a guy who had been pretty hot with his bat to begin the season, Gomes became an offensive liability by the end of the season. He was swining at more pitches outside the strike zone trying to get something going, or maybe jump-starting himself out of a slump as deep as a ravine in the Grand Canyon.

 

  In comparision to 2007, Gomes had a total of  393 plate appearances  that season and still struck out 126 times for the Rays. That is a high number, but his .244 average and .620 OPS were indications he was seeing the ball more and hitting better pitches in 2007 than 2008.

 

 

So you have to ask yourself if Gomes got  more pitches to hit in 2008, what would he have done with them?  The statistics show that Gomes saw at least 676 pitches in 2008, and he swung at 48.1 percent of them.  He did have a good contact rate of  76.3 percent, including foul balls. This shows that the bat was getting to the ball, but not into the field of play for him. In 2008, he got pitches to hit, but only had 44 percent chance of the ball going between the foul lines.

 

Based on all information, do you take into account his community and local fan base as a reason to keep him or  even offer him arbitration in 2009? The decision ultimately has to come from an evaluation of Gomes by Rays Hitting Coach Steve Henderson. If Henderson sees a viable way to increase his productivity and think he is an under-used, but key piece to the Rays’  2009 machine, you have to offer him arbitration.

 

 

 

 Based on his 2008 numbers, Gomes might not get a huge jump in salary, but it will be a significant increase from his 2007 salalry. Gomes might come away from a hearing with a salary in the $ 1.2-1.3 million dollar range based on service time and hearing guidelines.  Such an amount would keep a valuable member of the Rays team here, and also give  him time to further study his craft, and then decide on his fate with his maple bat.

 

 

 

 

Dioner Navarro:

 

Here we have a guy who I truly feel had a banner year in 2008. Do I expect him to have the same year, or even build on it in 2009?  I hope so for his sake, every season Navarro has been here, the Rays have thrown a veteran catcher at him to see if he buckles or falters. He  never seems to falter far from his true self.  Navarro did an amazing job in 2008 by taking control of the Rays young staff and showing a veteran leadership role in every aspect of the game

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This did not go unnoticed by his peers or the Rays’ faithful as Navarro was rewarded with a selection to the American League All-Star staff by Boston skipper Terry Francona. Navarro rewarded Francona with 7 innings of solid catching, great throws to nab baserunners’ and timely hits for the All-Star squad in New York. At the time of the All-Star game, Navarro was hitting over .300 and was in an  impressive groove both behind and at the plate for the Rays.

 

He ended up hitting .295 for the year, but had only 470 plate appearances after an early season injury took away valuable plate appearances from him.  Navarro ended up hitting above the league average for hits, and set a personal hit total of 126 for the season. He came up with 7 home runs and lowered his strikeout rate during the season. A true test to him finally having confidience to follow his personal strike zone and sticking to it.

 

 

He was in control of his staff and commanded the respect from all of them. A well publicized blow-up with starter, Matt Garza showed that Navarro was no longer just playing catch back there, but was there to win and established him as a valuable commodity behind the plate for the Rays.

 

Based on his 2008 numbers, Navarro was only out-hit by Minnesota’s Joe Mauer in the AL for catchers, and his average lead the  entire Rays lineup for 2008.  His 54 RBI’s were  10 more than his previous best 44 RBI’s set in 2007 with the team.  He got hot at the right time for the Rays, hitting .317 for September during the Rays playoff push. 

 

He also  excelled in throwing behind the plate, and increased his caught stealing ratio to 34.8 percent this season. That total was ranked third in the MLB, and second in the AL.  When compared against all catchers in the AL with at least 100 games, he was second only to Cleveland’s Kelly Shoppach in the fewest bases allowed this season.  He also had a .944 fielding average for the season,  which put him 4th in the AL.

 

 

 

Based on the upswing of both his statistics and his thrust to become a on-field leader for the Rays, I think that the team will reward Navarro with an arbitration hearing and he can expect to increase his salary to around the $ 2.3 million dollars in salary for 2009. If the young catcher can regain and establish himself behind the plate again in 2009, he will cement himself in the Rays lineup for a long time.

 

 

 

Jason Bartlett:

 

Who would have thought that a year ago that Jason Bartlett would have such an effect on the 2008 season for the Rays. Last November, when he was traded to the Rays from the Twins, most people thought he was a throw in candidate and did not see the unlimited amount of potential in his game. How much different a year can make, as Bartlett became the middle gunner in a well-tuned and aligned Rays defensive infield.

 

Bartlett improved the Rays defense so much by just playing shortstop that the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers of America gave him the  Team MVP honors for 2008.  But he also did it with his bat when Bartlett hit  an impressive . 286 for the Rays, and made contact on 86 percent of the pitches he saw in 2008.

 

Like Navarro, Bartlett hit .371 in the final 39 games of 2008 and provided excellent hitting with runners in scoring position ,and  provided countless extra base hits.  He led the AL in hitting against left-handers, hitting a brisk .379 for the year. That mark was also 4th best in the MLB in 2008.  He was a combined 20-28 on the base paths, but  was an impressive 9 out of 11 with steals of third base in 2008. Any time he was on base, he was a threat to steal or take an extra base on a hit or a run.

 

 

Bartlett slugged out an .386 average in August, the highest average for that month in Rays history, and the second best ever for a Rays player. He hit .297 for the year with Runners In Scoring Position.  The one  bitter downside to his play  in 2008 was the time he missed due to injuries. This showed a big  gaping hole in the Rays’ defense and the team did win and play tough without Bartlett, but struggled at times. The team went a combined 78-47 with Bartlett in the lineup in 2008.

 

 Another  very visible downside was his .970 fielding average and 16 errors this season.  Bartlett made a few mis-guided efforts during the season, but his outstanding defensive plays at other times during the season can surely cancel out the errors and miscues. His defense stance was outstanding and truly made the trade for him an huge plus for the Rays. If he could get to the ball, he made a valiant effort to record the out for the team. 

 

 

Based on the  ability of Bartlett to secure for the Rays a defensive decrease in costly errors and a huge upgrade at his position, I think the team should award Bartlett with an arbitration hearing for 2009.  Based on the arbitration process, he might garnish a 2009 salary in the range of $ 2 million dollars a season, and  that will be a great value at that amount for the team. I also hear a rumor that the Twins might want him back. If the Rays sign him to a 2-year deal at a great price, he would be an extra value to the Twins…………you never know……… 

 

 

Please be advised that at anytime the Rays could swoop in and sign any of these 3 players to a contract before their arbitration hearing dates. I am only using the amounts as a feeder for the possible increase and financial rewards for the teams extrordinary  2008 season. It is not to be taken as a set  award amount or even a pre-determined hearing reward, but as a calculated guess based on past arbitration hearings and  my own personal opinion.

 

Both Bartlett and Navarro might even be entertaining an offer at this time from the Rays for multiple years, or even a longer extension. This is just a “guess-timate” on the 2009 salary if the team does not offer or entertain a multi year contract, and decides to go for a one-year contract for the players. At any time the team can either trade or even release any of these players and the arbitration would be a moot point.

 

 

Tomorrow I will take on the last 3 arbitration eligible players on the Rays 2008 roster and give the same evaluations of their 2008 seasons and the expected financial results of a possible arbitration award.

 

 

The final 3 candidates are: Right-fielder Gabe Gross, Number-5 Starter Edwin Jackson, and Relief Pitcher Grant Balfour.  All 3 have interesting numbers for the season and multiple reasons to consider or deny arbitration for 2009. Be it the World Baseball Classic, an ever increasing confidence in their game, or potential finally getting a chance to rear it’s head, Major League Baseball players know that their last season is always a tell-tale sign to their futures.

 

 

 

 

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