Two major roster moves have shaken up the Tampa Bay Rays and my other favorite team, the Atlanta Braves.
First, Gregg Zaun signed a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers earlier this week. This is unfortunate for the Rays, who hoped to keep him to back up Kelly Shoppach. There is still Shawn Riggans if he returns in good health, or even Dioner Navarro if necessary. The Brewers had virtually no catching game, so Zaun is a good pickup for them. Good luck to Gregg in this endeavor.
Today came the big announcement that the Rays and the Braves had made a big deal. The Braves, who gave the Rays Willy Aybar before the 2008 season, sent closer Rafael Soriano to Tampa Bay for middle reliever Jesse Chavez.
Soriano had just surprisingly accepted arbitration with Atlanta, signing for one year and $6.5$7 million. The Braves recently signed former Red Sox (boo) pitchers Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito for the back end of the bullpen, so Soriano was available on the trading block.
Soriano shared closing duties with Mike Gonzalez in 2009 and posted a 2.97 ERA with 27 saves out of 31 opportunities. He walked 27 hitters along with 102 strikeouts. His closing experience gives the Rays a huge bullpen boost. They could no longer trust J.P. Howell’s onagain, offagain finishing of games. Soriano turns 30 years old on December 19 and thus is in his prime, and while he has been injury prone, he made a careerhigh 77 appearances last year.
Chavez gives the Braves a reliable middle reliever. He was previously acquired by the Rays in the Akinori Iwamura trade with the Pirates. The 26yearold made a teamhigh 73 appearances in 2009, totaling a 4.01 ERA, ballooned by a 5.10 ERA in his final 30 appearances. He can help bolster the front end of an overhauled Atlanta bullpen, the way he would have in Tampa Bay.
Essentially, the Rays dumped Iwamura’s salary and got Soriano through that move, while the Braves kept their bullpen strong and freed up Soriano’s salary to acquire a powerful first baseman or outfielder. Great job by Andrew Friedman and Frank Wren, and best of luck to both Soriano and Chavez.
Until next time, go Rays and Braves.
The Rays have made their first major roster move since the Akinori Iwamura trade. They will send a player to be named later to the Cleveland Indians for powerhitting catcher Kelly Shoppach.
This, of course, may signal the end for incumbent Rays catcher Dioner Navarro. He went back to being abysmal after his AllStar 2008 season, hitting just .218 with eight home runs and a paltry .261 onbase percentage.
Navarro could be traded, or even nontendered into free agency as Jonny Gomes was last year. The Rays have expressed interest in keeping Gregg Zaun along with Shoppach.
This would be one of the quickest falls from grace ever for an AllStar. Navarro’s 2008 season is looking like a onetime fluke.
Shoppach also had a terrible 2009, hitting .214 with 12 home runs in 89 games. This was down significantly from .261 and 21 home runs in 2008. He is also strikeoutprone, which was the last thing the Rays needed offensively.
However, Shoppach has shown more consistency prior to last year, and of course more power than Navarro could put together in three years. Zaun is the right player to balance out Shoppach’s weaknesses, whereas he was just a superior version of Navarro. Not to mention Shoppach had a few injuries last year that slowed him down, whereas Navarro has no known excuse. So at this time, this looks like the right move for the Rays.
Shoppach turns 30 in April, so he probably has a few good years left. Zaun is nearly 40 and he still plays, so Shoppach could be here longterm.
Until next time, go Rays… and Blue Jays, if you give Roy Halladay to the Yankees or Red Sox, you can bite me and the entire Rays Republic.
Lately the Rays have paralleled what I have done to this blog: on again, off again. I don’t know why I’ve been gone for so long. A big part of that had to do with me traveling out of and back to Tampa for a few weeks, though I have had Internet access and have been following the Rays. Some big moves have been made and big games won and lost in recent weeks, so let’s just cut to the good news.
Gregg Zaun, recently acquired from Baltimore, has become one of my favorite Rays players. He blocks pitches, something I saw Dioner Navarro put very little effort into, even with nobody on base. He also refrains from throwing the ball into center field. He’s even better than Navarro offensively now, which was never true last season. If he were a bit younger, I would go ahead and trade Navarro and keep Zaun for a few years. He has been big with this pitching staff and the bottom of the lineup.
I also like the pickup of Russ Springer. The veteran relief pitcher has been good everywhere he’s been in his long career. He can bring yet another dimension to the Rays bullpen and teach the younger guys some new things. His experience is valuable as much as Zaun’s.
Pat Burrell… hitting home runs? It looks like he stopped being Adam Everett and finally went back to being Pat Burrell. He has nine home runs since the AllStar break, even hitting two in consecutive games. If he finishes at this pace, he may eclipse 20 home runs for the season a distant thought after those first three atrocious months.
B.J. Upton has also homered in two straight games and brought his season total up to nine, matching last season. He needs to finish this year like the 2008 playoffs all over again or he may be out. This is a good start.
If Upton fails to deliver, I have the perfect guy to replace him: Desmond Jennings. Not a big name… yet. But he is a 22yearold center fielder with the Durham Bulls who is rising like a comet through the Rays’ system. Between AA and AAA this year, he’s hitting .315 with nine home runs, 43 stolen bases, 56 walks and just 62 strikeouts. After missing most of 2008 with injuries, he is back on the map in a big way. I would consider calling him up in September, if at all possible. There is at least an outside chance he can start somewhere next year. I am a big fan of his, so I’ll be cheering for him.
How about the work of Jeff Niemann? I knew in Spring Training that he was the man for the fifth starter spot, and he has proven to be at least number three, if not better. After his latest win, he is now 115 with a rotationbest 3.71 ERA. His fastball and curveball are starting to work very well together and that top Draft potential is shining through. Jason Hammel is having a decent season with the Rockies, but Niemann blows him out of the water.
J.P. Howell is turning out to be a very serviceable closer. Even though he gave up an inexcusable walkoff to home run to Ryan Freaking Langerhans in Seattle, he has generally been shutting hitters down lately. As long as they give him good pitching in front of him, and preferably a multiplerun lead, he can finish out every game if they let him.
I need to attend more games. I’ve only been to one this year, watching the Rays beat the Red Sox. Money shortages and my time out of town have prevented me from attending more often, but I think I’ll be going to Friday’s game against the Texas Rangers, who stand in the Rays’ path to a Wild Card berth. I’ll be looking for intriguing September games as well.
I could also rant about the Rays’ numerous problems, which include: Leaving the bases loaded, striking out too often, giving up big hits and home runs to every team’s lightest hitter, allowing line drives into center field with runners in scoring position, leaving the bases loaded and striking out too often. But I can save it for the next losing streak. We need a sweep of the Orioles and then the Rangers to cap off Joe Maddon’s Johnny Cash phase. Until next time, go Rays.