Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Trade Winds are a Blowin'

Let’s see:

1. 2nd Annual Carl Crawford to the White Sox trade rumor – check
2. Random Scott Kazmir to New York rumor – check
3. Tons of chatter on message boards on other teams fleecing the Rays for their players – check

That means one thing – the Hot Stove League is in full swing. Baseball’s annual swap meet is humming right along at a fever pitch even though there haven’t been any big deals yet. The biggest news has been players resigning such as Alex Rodriguez with the Yankees and Mike Lowell with the Red Sox. The names rumored to be on the block are huge. Johan Santana, dubbed by some as the best pitcher in the game, is on the move to New York (Mets and Yankees), Red Sox, Angels or whoever else meets whatever outrageous price Minnesota is looking for. Miguel Cabreara has been mentioned in as many stories as Santana often for the same players that are in the Santana rumors.

While nothing solid looks to be eminent it does keep fans busy coming up with their own unsubstantiated and all out crazy trade rumors. As usual Joe Commenter thinks they are smarter than the 30 GM’s in Major League Baseball. Apparently if GM’s read more blogs and message boards they’d be a lot better at their job.

That makes today’s rumor so interesting. A proposed “mega deal” between the Rays and the Twins has spread through the internet community like a California wildfire. La Velle E. Neal III (great name by the way) reports on that the two clubs are “close to finalizing a multi-player deal” that would send Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie to Minnesota for stud pitching prospect Matt Garza, reliever Juan Rincon and shortstop Jason Bartlett.

Reaction from the masses has been mixed. Opinions have ranged from it being a horrible deal for the Rays to being a horrible deal for the Twins to it being a great trade for both clubs. This is an extension of fans having a tendency to over value their own prospects. Delmon Young could be the next great right-handed hitter a la Albert Pujols. Or he could be a one year wonder (paging Kevin Maas). Matt Garza could be a dominating starter or he could blow his arm out skipping rocks on a river somewhere.

The point is, well one of the points is, that you have to surrender talent to receive talent. With all of the scouting and information on players available the chances of one team robbing another in a trade are greatly reduced. There won’t be too many Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano deals anytime soon, especially in the off-season.

Many fans would like to see Young in a Rays uniform for many years to come. These same fans acknowledge that the Rays can use another starter in the rotation. Well they can’t have it both ways. Teams aren’t going to deal a number 3 or above starter to the Rays for an oft-injured Rocco Baldelli or malcontent such as Elijah Dukes.

So it comes to dealing key players. The two biggest chips in the Rays arsenal are Delmon Young and Carl Crawford. Right now Young may have more upside to his career, but Crawford is more important to the organization. CC is still young enough to just be entering his prime, but also has enough experience that you know what you’re getting out of him year in and year out – 50 steals, over .300, 15-20 home runs and slightly above average defense in left.

Young has one year and despite the fact that it was arguably a Rookie of the Year caliber season there are still a lot of question marks for his career. Will he hit for power (only 13 homeruns in 645 at bats)? Will he curb his strikeouts (127 last season)? Those are realistic concerns.

If this deal goes down it will be the first major deal for the new ownership; deadline deals not withstanding. It will give the Rays a strong rotation (Kazmir, James Shields, Garza, Andy “The Chosen One” Sonnanstine, Ed Jackson) for next year. With Jeff Niemann and David Price around the bend Tampa Bay could have a dominating staff for years to come.

The outfield of the future from a few seasons ago (Carl Crawford, Josh Hamilton and Delmon Young) never materialized and has morphed into Crawford, BJ Upton and as yet to be named right fielder if Young is moved. Next season will probably see a platoon of Jon Gomes, Justin Ruggiano or a yet to be signed journeyman in right. While losing Delmon would be a blow to the lineup the Rays could hope that the addition of Evan Longoria would offset any loss of offense.

As usual all of this could be for naught if the deal doesn’t happen. The important point (see there is more than one) is that fans shouldn’t reject a deal out of the gate just because it involves a player that has been billed as a can’t miss prospect. He is still just a prospect. There’s a 50/50 chance he could turn into a bust. Then you only can say – “Gee if only we had dealt him back when he was good”.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I'm back

So what did I miss while I was enjoying beer and anti-Nazi riots ? Let’s see:

The Lightning were on a hot streak!
The USF Bulls are making a push for a bowl game not located in Birmingham.
Aubrey Huff said something dumb in Tampa about Baltimore. It’s like he never left!
New uniforms and a possible new stadium for the Rays.

The first three are nice stories and we’ll look at them in due time. For now lets focus on the Rays. It’s official they are now the Tampa Bay Rays and as expected they unveiled the worst kept secret in the TBA.

The uniforms will be comprised of a blue, white and yellow color scheme. The focus is moving away from the animal and more into Rays as in sunlight. The fate of the cow nose rays in the centerfield “Rays Tank” has yet to be determined.

The news was met with a muted response. Any hope of suspense or excitement was removed when the details were leaked online during the summer. Luckily the Rays had another bullet in the chamber.

Reports surfaced and were confirmed that the Rays are in negotiation with the city of St. Petersburg to build a new stadium at the waterfront property currently occupied by Al Lang Field.

The public’s reaction has been less than positive. According to a special report by the St. Petersburg Times 57% of registered voters surveyed approval of the plans to build the stadium (yea more than half!), but 69% of those same voters don’t want taxpayer money to pay for it. The sample size was 616 voters and has a 4% margin of error.

Wow how about those numbers? This town loves its Rays don’t they? Instead of embracing the fact that the team is making a commitment to stay in town and improve the atmosphere for its fans the public is worried about paying for it.

It’s a tough time in Florida for sure. The housing market is down, taxes are creeping up and the threat of a hurricane wiping out everything is always right around the corner. That’s understandable, but if you want to call yourself a true sports town there are sacrifices that have to made. You concede that you’re going to pay more for tickets every year, you understand that the price of a beer inside the stadium is going to be more than a six pack outside of the stadium and once in your lifetime you and everyone else are asked to pony up for a stadium.

It’s not the Rays fault that the City of St Pete convinced voters and taxpayers to build a stadium as a way to entice Major League Baseball into giving the area a team. Tropicana Field was outdated before Wilson Alvarez threw a pitch inside it. Aren’t you embarrassed as a fan to have explain the catwalk rules to fans from out of town?

The days of owners paying for stadiums out of their own pockets have come and gone. I was surprised that the ball club has already said that they’re willing to kick in any money at all. Think back 10 years and ask yourself how much money the Glazers kicked in for Raymond James. Were the Bucs any better than the Rays are now? Fans can’t have it both ways. They can’t complain about the park the team currently plays in and then shoot down the idea of a new park before there’s even a concept in place.

This is a good thing. This needs to be done. Whining about the “secret” negotiations or the lack of parking or the burden it’s going to place on downtown isn’t going to endear the owners to the town. If this goes to a public referendum and gets shot down don’t be surprised to hear serious talk about the team moving. A cynical person may say that Stu Sternberg is floating this out there knowing it’s going to fail just so he has an excuse to move the franchise.

Don’t take this as a blanket endorsement for the current ownership. There are hundreds of details that need to be ironed out. The parking concerns are valid as is the minor problem of finding $450 Million + to pay for the stadium. The point is that it is not time to focus on the negative. What the team is looking for is excitement. Let’s talk about the virtues of an open stadium or a retractable roof. Should there be a version of McCovey Cove and what should it be called (Canseco’s Cove? Huff’s Harbor? Boggs Bay?)

2012 is the estimated completion date for the stadium. By then the organization should know what the product on the field is going to be like. Will Scott Kazmir and James Shields fulfill their potential? They’ll know if BJ Upton is an All-Star centerfielder and if Delmon Young is the player they hope him to be.

Imagine a team that has been able to compete in the toughest division in the MLB. Imagine a truly competitive team stepping out under a sunny April sky instead of the dull florescent lights of the Trop. Imagine ESPN and Fox gushing about seeing sailboats in the distance. Imagine an All-Star game in St Pete.

Those are things that team should be hearing about right now. There is plenty of time left for the details. For now imagine the possibilities.