Grading The Rays Off-Season Moves
The Rays have played nearly 60% of their schedule and have a record of 55-41 and trail the Boston Red Sox by 2.5 games in the AL East and hold the wild card lead by 1/2 a game.
Over the winter the Rays signed free agents James Loney, Kelly Johnson, and Roberto Hernandez, signed Jamey Wright to a minor league contract, picked up the option frorJose Molina, and re-signed Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, and Luke Scott.
How did Andrew Friedman and the Rays front office do with their off-season moves? Taking into consideration the dollar value of the contract signed (whether or not player has outperformed contract) and the players performance to date I've given the Rays front office a high mark of a B.
There is still room for growth by the end of the season but here are my mid-season grades for the winter moves made by the Rays.
JAMES LONEY - GRADE A
The Rays moved quickly (December 6, 2012) in signing first baseman James Loney to a 1-year contract worth $2 million dollars which included an additional $1 million in performance bonuses.
He was coming off the worst season of his career posting an overall slash line (batting average/on-base%/slugging %) of .249/.293/.336 with just 6 home runs between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox.
The Rays were looking to replace first baseman Carlos Pena, inject more contact into the lineup, and improve the defense at first base. At the time of the signing Andrew Friedman said of Loney:
"He's a hitter first, power second, and we're fine with that. We think if he stays with that approach that it will be a very additive offensive piece with the profile and the contact and different things that he does.And you layer on the defense on top of it and we feel like he's going to help us win games." - tampabaytimes
Thus far in 2013 James Loney has outperformed his contract by a large margin. He enters Friday action hitting .315/.366/.466 with 9 home runs. His career nemesis has been left handed pitchers who had held him to a career batting average of .248 entering the season but this year he's exacting his revenge hitting a robust .353 (30 for 85).
KELLY JOHNSON - GRADE B-
To many, the Rays signing of Kelly Johnson (January 28, 2013) was a head scratcher since the Rays already had Sean Rodriguez, Ryan Roberts, and Ben Zobrist capable of playing 2b and both Rodriguez and Zobrist have the ability to play the outfield. At the time of the signing Johnson spoke of the opportunity to play for Joe Maddon and a willingness to play anywhere he was asked including back in the outfield where he played with Atlanta in 2005.
After a long winter on the open market Johnson's price had fallen into the Rays range and despite coming off a very bad season with the Toronto Blue Jays hitting only.225/.313/.365 with 16 home runs he was only two years removed from hitting .284/.370/.496 with 26 homers (Arizona, 2010) ; therefore, the Rays gambled that he could out produce the 1-year $2.45 million dollars they signed him to.
In 2013 he got off to a scorching start at the plate but has cooled off a bit over the past several weeks. Overall he is still posting a slash line of .244/.320/.442 and is third on the team with 13 homers. His versatility has given Joe Maddon increased flexibility as he has started 41 games in left field, 8 at 2nd base, 9 at 3rd base, and 1 at first base.
LUKE SCOTT - GRADE B+
He struggled with his health in 2012 which resulted in two different trips to the disabled list causing him to miss 45 games. Overall his numbers suffered as he posted a slash line of .229/.285/.439 with 14 home runs and 55 RBI in just 344 plate appearances. After the season the Rays chose to pay him $1M dollars and let him test the free agent market.
In late January the Rays re-signed him to a 1-year deal that included up to $750K in plate appearance incentives ($50,000 for 400 PA. $0.1M for 450 PA. $0.25M for 500 PA. $0.3M for 550 PA).
Near the end of spring training he suffered a strained calf which landed him on the disabled list causing him to miss the first 25 games of the season. He returned to the lineup on April 30th and through his first 19 games posted an excellent slash line of .296/.420/.481 and had 3 home runs in 69 PAs but the hot streak would not continue. He slumped badly from May 22 through June 22 hitting just .122 (7 for 57) with only 2 extra base hits in that span.
On June 22nd his season totals had dropped to .207/.311/.324 but prior to the game on June 24th he vowed to continue to work hard saying "Keep digging, eventually you find gold." He mentioned that the game is about feel, "You don't know why things like this happen, It would be one thing if I wasn't working. It would be one thing if I didn't have the ability. That's not the case."
From that day forward Scott has been on fire hitting .351 (20 for 57) with 10 extra base hits (5 doubles, 1 triple, and 4 home runs) and has walked 6 times while striking out only 7 times.
Overall he is hitting .274/.359/.479 with 8 home runs and his .838 OPS ranks 2nd on the team behind only Evan Longoria (.863).
ROBERTO HERNANDEZ - GRADE C
In Hernandez the Rays saw someone who had delivered a pair of 200+ innings and the rare free agent that they felt had not not reached his full potential. On December 18, 2012 the Rays signed him to a a 1-year $3.25M contract that included another $1.85M in performance bonuses for innings pitched ($1.25M) and relief appearances ($0.6M).
Andrew Friedman said about the signing of Hernandez "Obviously last year was a lost year for him in a lot of respects. But we feel like this is one of those risk-reward stories that make a lot of sense for us, and the upside is really compelling and gives us a chance to add to our pitching depth, which is something that is a focus for us in a way that it hasn't been in previous years."
Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey felt that the best role for Hernandez was in the rotation saying that He's an inning-eating guy, a 200-inning type of guy that probably ought to be a starter, He's a big-time sinkerball guy, and with Longoria and Escobar over there, it's pretty attractive to have that guy in the rotation."
The return on investment for Hernandez has been mixed. He is second on the team in innings pitched, due in large part to injuries to David Price and Alex Cobb, which is a skill set the Rays targeted but he has been unable to reach the ceiling the front office had envisioned.
He has posted a 5-10 record with a 4.90 ERA. He has shown an uncharacteristic ability to strike people out and not walk batters but this improvement has been offset by allowing 18 home runs. With Alex Cobb due back in the coming weeks Hernandez may find himself relegated to the bullpen but the Rays certainly got their monies worth considering the injuries and poor performance by Jeremy Hellickson early this year.
KYLE FARNSWORTH - GRADE C
On February 5, 2013 the Rays re-signed Farnsworth to a 1-year deal worth $1.25M. His contract included incentives based on games played (30-60) and games finished (35, 40, and 45) that could net him an additional $1.65M. He spent the early part of the 2013 season in hiding only working 11.1 innings in his first 17 games through the end of May. He wasn't very good allowing 10R/ER on 21 hits striking out only 5 while walking 4.
Since June his workload has increased slightly and so have the results. In his last 15 appearances leading up to the All-Star break he worked 14.2 innings allowing 3R/ER on 8 hits striking out 11 and walking just 2.
Overall he has a record of 2-0 with an ERA of 4.44. He has worked just 26.1 innings and has a career low strike out per nine inning (K/9) rate of 5.5 (career average K/9 is 8.9).For just the $1.25M investment the Rays are getting their monies worth.
JAMEY WRIGHT - GRADE C+
On January 22, 2013 the Rays announced the signing of Jamey Wright to a minor league contract. If he were to make club he would be paid $900K. For Wright signing minor league contracts has been an annual thing going back to 2006 with the San Fancisco Giants. He also signed minor league deals with the Texas Rangers (2007-2008), Kansas City Royals (2009), Cleveland Indians (2010), and Los Angeles Dodgers (2011).
Wright was signed to fill the role as a ground ball specialist. In 2011 with the Dodgers he has a GB rate of 67.3%. He also has the ability to work multiple inning if needed. The Rays were basically looking for a replacement for Burke Badenhop who they traded to the Milwaukee Brewers over the winter.
Overall he has delivered what the Rays have asked. He has worked in 41 games and has a team leading 43 innings of work out of the bullpen. He has an ERA of 2.93 and a GB rate of 51.7%.
JOEL PERALTA - GRADE B+
The Rays and Joel Peralta are the perfect match. Joe Maddon has known him since his days with the Angles organization where he pitched in 2005 and where Maddon was a bench coach. His manager has given him the nickname "el campeon" which is Spanish for champion. A little known fact about Peralta and the Rays -- in November of 2005, the day after Stu Sternberg took over the club, Andrew Friedman put a waiver claim in on Peralta but the Rays were second to Kansas City who also put in a claim.
Over the previous two seasons with the Rays he has been the team work horse making 71 appearance sin 2011 and 76 in 2012 despite being suspended for 7 games after being caught with pine tar in his glove. An incident which really demonstrated the amount of support he receives from Joe Maddon and the Rays organization.
In November 4, 2012 the Rays signed Peralta to a two-year deal worth $3M for 2013 and 2014 and gave the Rays a club option at $2.5M for each season from 2015, 2016 and 2017. After the signing Andrew Friedman said in a team release:
"We love Joel's competitiveness and the impact he has on the younger pitchers in our bullpen, He has been an integral part of our late-inning success and has proven that he can get big outs in the American League East."
In 2013 he has been credited with being a veteran force for the young pitchers like Alex Torres and Alex Colome in addition to once again being one of the most durable and effective 8th inning men in baseball. He currently leads the league in appearances with 49 and has put in full innings in most of his appearances resulting in working the second most innings in the bullpen with 42.0. Overall he has a 1-4 record with a 3.21 ERA but 37 of his 49 appearances have been scoreless and he leads all AL relievers in hold with 24.
JOSE MOLINA - GRADE C
On October 31, 2012 the Rays picked up their $1.8M option on catcher Jose Molina. The reason behind it was that the organization felt his defensive skills including controlling the running game and calling a good game were suitable for a backup catcher.
Andrew Friedman explained the decision to pick up his option:
"We felt like he added a lot to our pitching staff with his knowledge of the game and the pitch-calling and the controlling of the running game; we were extremely successful on the run-prevention side, and we felt Jose Molina was a big part of that success, We feel confident he's going to be one of two that helps us win games. Who the other one is, I don't know yet." - tampabaytimes.com
Early on in the 2013 season he had a difficult time keeping the ball in front of him and runners were taking liberties on the base paths. Although holding runners is a dual partnership between pitcher and catcher it is the catcher that receives much of the blame.
Recently, he has done a much better job of keeping balls in front of him as well as throwing runners out. Is this because of an increased level of work by Molina? Are pitchers being more observant? Or a combination of both?
Offensively, he has been a pleasant surprise hitting .252 (41 for 63) after hitting only .223 (56 for 274) in 2013. Most of the grade given to Molina dates back to his early struggles behind the plate but if he continues to perform behind while continuing to hit better than last year his grade will certainly rise by years end.