Sometimes Subtraction Can be a Good Thing
Every Spring rosters usually take a hit and people either go their seperate ways, or are traded, or sometimes they just seem to fade into the background for awhile. With the Rays securing the American League Championship in 2008, you would think that roster change might come at a minimum to keep the same players who got the team to the World Series. But as I scan the roster coming into Spring Training, I notice that a few of the big names that showed a vetran persence on the team are gone.
For better or worse, these players either decided to take their gloves and play elsewhere, or the Tampa Bay Rays decided they did not need these players anymore and let them go play in someone else’s sand box. Some of the players seemed to be on the Rays radar late into this year’s off season, but for one reason or another, they needed up with other teams this spring. Out of the 30 players who were present with me the day we took the 2008 Team Photo in May, only 19 are still on the team’s roster.
That means that almost 40 percent of the roster that sweated blood and churned towards the World Series are currently playing somewhere else in 2009. Is this a usual turnover for a Championship team? Or is this just a sign of the way that baseball will be from now on? Is it worth our times to even try and get to know these guys if they are simply “rentals” that the teams can flush out of their system at will, without regard to their fan base value to the franchise.
I understand the trading of starting pitcher Edwin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers. The Rays had taken the rightie as far as they could without maybe costing another player a shot at the big leagues. Jackson has gotten better every year since he was converted to a pitcher, and I think on the verge of turning the corner and becoming a valuable piece of the Rays rotation. But he did not have any minor league options left, and was also blocking the way for pitchers such as Wade Davis, Mitch Talbot and David Price from coming up and also proving their worth to the Rays.
The Rays got a great player in exchange for Jackson in young outfielder Matt Joyce. The kid saw his first real action in the majors last year, and also put on a nice show against the Rays at home as a possible interview for the futre right fielder job with the team. It was a positive trade made because of need and provided a chance for both players to make a roster and stick somewhere for a long time.
But then you have players like Gary Glover, Al Reyes and Scott Dohmann who started the year out on the Rays roster and finally worked their ways out of Tamp Bay by not being effective as relief pitchers. All three had the goods in 2007, but in 2008 the expectations and the results did not mesh well and they had to be jettisoned out of the organization because it was time to expect more from our pitching staff. When they left, players like Chad Bradford came in and were effective, which made their removal from the roster more in tune with building a better relieving corp.
Building by subtraction has been a major way that the Rays have improved over the past few seasons. But some of those changes did come at a cost, maybe in fan support, or even in eating a salary of a player to be able to go uot and get a veteran to provide increased productivity for the squad. Cliff Floyd came in to Tampa Bay wanting to be both a positive role model for players like B J Upton and Carl Crawford. He wanted his persona to rise above the clubhouse and lead by example, and to be able to promote the team concept Rays Manager Joe Maddon needed to the young troops.
He was a great part of the resurgence of the team after the All-Star break. The team had been stuck in the muck of a 7-game losing streak at the break, and Floyd decided to push his brand of enthusiasm and confidence on the young team, and they responded perfectly. Floyds option was not picked up by the Rays at the end of 2008, and he took his bat and went on to sign with the San Diego Padres for this year. But he was not the only Rays trying to preach to the young team. Fan Favorites Jonny Gomes and Rocco Baldelli also found themselves on the outside after doing everything in their powers to show their desires to be with this team. But both players had negatives that ultimately cost them their shots with the team.
Gomes, who had been a bigger than life character on the Rays bench now for a few seasons did not produce at the plate in the beginning of the year and was primarily a bench player in 2008. His productivity got so bad that the team sent him to the minors to get his confidence back, but Gomes came back and was not as effective as the team needed him to be in 2008. By the end of the year, he was reduced to being basically a dugout energetic cheerleader. Gomes did not like the role totally, but he did put everything he had to keep the bench alive and try and be a plus to the team. Gomes is gone onto the National League where he was signed by the Cincinnati Reds, who really need a big bat in their outfield this season. Gomes might again get a chance to pop a few out of the ball park, but it will have to now be in a uniform of red and white, not the Rays blue.
Rocco Baldelli has fought his illness for almost the entire season when in Seattle he was brought back off the disabled list by the team and he responded superbly down the stretch for the Rays. Being used primarily as a occasional right fielder and Designated Hitter, Baldelli again found his stroke and made a mark with the team. But his big option numbers for 2009 might have doomed him since the team did not want to carry such a large contract for a part-time player. Later in the off season, it was discovered that Baldelli’s initial diagnosis might have been wrong, and new medication was prescribed, but he was already out of the Rays fold and was securing a future with his childhood dream team.
As a kid, Baldelli dreamed of playing in Fenway Park as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Baldelli initially signed as a fourth outfielder for the team, but with J D Drew having back spasms so early in the spring, it might be the shot he needs to again man a position every day for awhile. Some of the off season subtractions by the Rays were expected, and some might have been a surprise to some people. When Trever Miller s
aved the game against the Minnesota Twins in late September to secure the Rays first postseason berth, you would think the leftie would be here until he ended his career.
But Miller was the first ex-Rays to find employment signing early in the off season with the St. Louis Cardinals for two years. Miller had come back to the Rays after stints in Atlanta and Houston and was happy to be back in the bay area where he has an off season home. But Miller saw a change in the philosophy of the Rays reliever corps during the season ans knew that his time back here with the team was about to be over. Youth was destined to be the future of the Rays Bullpen, but Miller was not in those plans. But some players that were missing when the Rays took the field for the first time in Port Charlotte, Florida did seem to be forgotten by the Rays for what they did in 2008.
Eric Hinske had played on the Boston Red Sox team in 2007 and was looking again for a chance to be a part of a winner with the young Rays. He knew the squad had all the making of a champion, but might be a year away when he signed in 2008. Hinske came at a reduced salary that was attractive to the Rays and he responded to put up some great numbers for the team and might have been expecting the Rays to come to him early in the off season for another year or two with the team. the team did not come hunting for him and Hinske also packed his bats and went over to the National League finally signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the 2009 season.
Everyone of these players had a part in the success of the Rays in 2008. Some might have fallen on dark times by losing their mechanics or even maybe dipping their confidence in themselves and their pitching beyond empty. But the 2008 roster has to be proud of what they accomplished. They were a part of the first winning team in franchise history. They were members of a team that is considered one of the best “worst to first” teams in Major League Baseball history.
Even if they pitched, hit, or even stole bases for the Rays, each of these players now gone from the Rays roster provided key ingredients in their 2008 success. When a team make such roster moves it is considered for the future or to be competitive now. The Rays have reached that mountain top, the story now is to see if the stumble or fall, or rise even higher into the blue Florida sky. With either pathway, the Rays will have these players to thank for their efforts and sweat in 2008. How often is it that the past is swept away fast and the future pasted up there for all to see instantly.
I do not know about you, but I am just sitting here watching the guys toss the ball in the new stadium wondering what extent the addition and subtraction of this roster from May 2008 will have on this 2009 squad. Hopefully some new blood will rise from the minors and take the reins this year. But you never know, maybe an old dog still has a few tricks up his pitching arm and will again prove to be one of the best in the land at the end of the game. Only a few more days and we will find out first hand as the game begin for real again.
Photo credits for today’s blog are Associated Press Photo Corps and RRCollections.