Just when you think you have the Rays’ figured out, they go and have an off-season that defies all logic and seeming desire to win.

How else can you explain replacing Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford with Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez? It’s obvious that these two were thrown into the off-season recycle bin by their 2010 teams (Detroit and Chicago White Sox, respectively).

Many other teams had a look but only the Rays were foolish enough to exhume them from the pile of washed up players. Are the Rays that desperate to resort to a once skilled player definitely on the downside (and being paid over $5 million) and one who has been an All-Star malcontent for every team he has played for?

The Rays remain a conflict of interest, an enigma that seems to win in spite of constantly shooting itself in the foot (sorry to all of the overly sensitive people for my “careless “reference to a violent action).  They once were and still are to some degree a case study of winning through use of a strong farm system.  Their 2011 starting rotation will be fully home grown now that Matt Garza has been sent to the Cubs.

Their willingness to let productive players leave is dumbfounding. This past off-season alone saw regular contributors Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Oswaldo Navarro, Rafael Soriano and the aforementioned Garza leave with little or no resistance.

It appears that Johnny Damon, Desmond Jennings, Dan Johnson, Reid Brignac, John Jaso, the re-habbed J.P Howell and Jeremy Hellickson will replace them. Ramirez will earn his $2 million as a DH.

The 24 year-old Jennings was the club’s #1 prospect last year and all indications are that he is ready. According to Baseball America: “Jennings has a lethal combination of  speed and power that, combined with an aggressive approach and impressive overall knowledge, makes him a true game-changer”. Brignac became a regular last year when Bartlett was injured then benched for poor hitting. Johnson is a 31 year-old retread getting another chance to prove he’s an everyday player. Howell saved 17 games in 2009 before being shelved all last year due to shoulder surgery and it is doubtful he’ll be ready opening day.  Jaso played in 109 games last year and hit .261/.368/.741 which seems to be good enough.

Sean Rodriguez is slated to open at 2b and Jennings will be shifted to rf with the arrival of Damon. That leaves the versatile Ben Zobrist looking again for a permanent place on the field.

Over the past decade the Rays were arguably the best at scouting and drafting players. Since then they have drafted then either traded or lost through free agency these players:

Ike Davis —-drafted but DNS

Aubrey Huff — trade to Houston for Ben Zobrist and Mitch Talbot
Carl Crawford — signed with Boston as a free Agent

Josh Hamilton — claimed by Cubs in Rule 5 draft

Jorge Cantu — traded to Cincinnati for pitchers Calvin Medlock and Brian Shackelford.

Mike Fontenot — drafted but DNS

Matt Diaz — drafted then waived

Jonny Gomes — Signed as a free agent with Cincinnati

Delmon Young – drafted then traded with Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie for Eduardo Morian, Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza

Heath Bell —drafted but DNS

Mike Pelfrey—drafted but DNS

Dan Wheeler — drafted and eventually released then reacquired and left via free agency

The Rays have proven that they can draft and they can win. They still haven’t proven that they are dedicated enough to sustain a winning tradition by keeping good players. My season predictions will begin shortly but with the moves the Orioles and Jays made in the off season, don’t be surprised to see the Rays descend to the once too familiar and long-suffering bottom of the AL East. Maybe not this year; but soon enough.

This Week We Examine the Career of:

Vida Blue

Hall of Fame Worthy?

In 1971 at the age of 21 Vida Blue had a breakout rookie season. He led the AL with a 1.86 ERA, 8 shutouts and a .952 WHIP while going 24-7 and striking out 301, second to the Tigers’ Mickey Lolich (25 and 308).  He won the Cy Young Award, the AL MVP and the Sporting News AL Pitcher of the Year. This spectacular start looked like the beginning of a surefire Hall of Fame Career.  He would go on to win 20 or more games two more times.

But in a solid 16 year career, Blue failed to crack the Top 50 in any significant career standings. He never led the league in strikeouts but did so once in hits and twice in earned runs, not the kind of stats one needs for the HOF.  His WAR was higher than Hall of Fame member Catfish Hunter yet much lower than Hal Newhouser, Don Drysdale and Steve Carlton, three Hall of Fame pitchers with close similarity scores.

So while Vida Blue took the baseball world by storm 40 years ago, his overall career never lived up to that phenomenal start. He was a very good pitcher, a six-time All-Star, but in the final analysis not really Hall-Worthy.

Vida Blue - Solid Career but Not Hall-Worthy image: SI/CNN

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  1. Christopher

    January 26, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    They are still very young, with a guy like Longoria on the team I think they will always contend.. plus Price is one of the best young pitchers and Hellickson looks to be a good one also.. then you have BJ Upton and Desmond Jennings.. They will still be very good.

  2. Chris Smith

    February 7, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    As far as the outfield is concerned the Rays will be much more likely to start Matt Joyce in RF and have Desmond Jennings start the season off in AAA at least for the first couple of months. Unfortunately for Andrew Freidman and company the ability to pay 100+ Million for any 1 player is not realistic and if you look at his decline in stats Dan Johnson will not be a huge decline if any from Carlos Pena

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