Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas
Well, no more talk about the Tampa Bay Rays and how they would fold in August or September, or how they were too inexperienced to win a round in the playoffs, or even how, once the Red Sox looked them in the eye in Games 5 and 6, they would fold their tents and go home in Game 7. Even the disbelieving “experts” have to admit the obvious – that the Rays are for real.
But here’s what’s really scary about the Tampa Bay Rays and their future – four of their top players of the last few years had (relatively, for them) mediocre years in 2008 compared to their prior major league baseball experience. Despite this, the Rays now remind people of the 1969 Mets (but that’s for another time).
UPTON, CRAWFORD, PENA AND BALDELLI
B.J. Upton is only 24 years old. Because of a bad shoulder during the regular season, his production was limited to nine home runs, 67 runs batted in and an average of .273. Just last year, Upton hit 24 home runs, drove in 82 and batted .300. His 2008 postseason performance stamps him as a legitimate star. Don’t you think he’ll be much better next year during the regular season?
Carl Crawford is only 27 years old. He’s had one of those rare stats as a major leaguer – a guy who has consistently raised his batting average each year. He went from .259 in 2002, to .281 in 2003, to .296 in 2004, to .301 in 2005, to .305 in 2006, to .315 in 2007. That’s a staggering accomplishment for another star in the making.
But what happened to Carl Crawford in 2008? Well, limited to only 109 games due to injury, Crawford only hit .273. After averaging 53 stolen bases per year for the previous five seasons, Crawford could only steal 25 this year. He, too, is performing well in the postseason. Don’t you think he’ll be better next year during the regular season?
Carlos Pena is the “old man” of this group at the age of 30. Cast off by numerous teams, including the Red Sox in 2006, Pena signed on with the Rays last year and proceeded to hit a stunning 46 home runs and 121 runs batted in while hitting .282. While he still had good power numbers this year (31 homers and 102 runs batted in), his average went down to .247. Also performing well in the postseason this year, Pena figures to improve at least his average next year (anything over 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in is great in the post-steroid era).
Rocco Baldelli is only 25 years old. He’s a stunning all-around athlete and a five-tool player when healthy. Most people didn’t see Baldelli in 2003, 2004 and 2006 (for better or worse, I’ve watched a lot of the Rays since my son, a die-hard Rays fan since 2004, started rooting for them because his favorite player, Tino Martinez, played for Tampa Bay in 2004). But Baldelli had 184 hits and hit .289 with 27 stolen bases as a rookie in 2003. After hitting .280 in 2004 and missing 2005 due to a shoulder injury, Baldelli came back and hit .302 in 2006. In 2007 and 2008, Baldelli was diagnosed with a rare neuro-muscular disease that weakens a guy who can run like the wind and has a gun for an arm and was limited to 35 games last year and 28 regular season games this year.
Despite all of this, Joe Maddon has used Baldelli judiciously, concluding with Baldelli’s single to left that drove in what proved to be the Game 7 winning run to win the American League pennant over the Boston Red Sox. While he has also contributed mightily in these playoffs, there is a question whether, health-wise, he can get back to what he once was as a regular five-tool player. But if anyone can do it, it’s Rocco Baldelli.
With these four having sub-par seasons (for them), next year’s Rays figure to be better than this year’s edition. And that’s a scary thought, especially if you root for the Red Sox or the Yankees.
BUT IT GETS EVEN SCARIER
It now appears, however, that an even bigger difference in the 2009 Rays will be the full season appearance of pitcher David Price. The overall number one pick of the draft, he was pitching for Vanderbilt University just last year. If anybody ever needs to know how much more difficult it is play baseball than any other sport, all one has to do is compare the number of players who walk out of college and walk into the NBA or NFL as professional players. Virtually nobody walks out of college baseball and into the major leagues.
Enter David Price. After a couple of months (not years) in the minors, he was called up and performed admirably in limited regular season appearances. This guy is now lights out and, if you didn’t think he has ice water in his veins after watching him get the win in Game 2 of the Red Sox series, you now KNOW he has ice water in his veins after watching his stunning performance in Game 7. A television “expert” was probably the only guy in the building in Game 7 who actually thought that the manager would take David Price out in the ninth inning. Maddon, of course, didn’t and the rest is history.
In this writer’s opinion, Price has already jumped Joba Chamberlain in terms of ability. Plus, in a rotation with relatively young pitchers and no perceived ace (although Matt Garza might now be that after his performance), Price might rise immediately to the top of the rotation.
But it doesn’t really matter if, at the start, he’s viewed to be the number one, two, three or four starter (not to ruffle any feathers). He didn’t come up to the majors with any “Rules” like Joba and it says here that neither bugs nor anything else will bother him in the clutch in the future. While Joba still might be great, he doesn’t appear, in this writer’s opinion, to have the upside of Price (although I think Chamberlain can still be an excellent starter or reliever). That bodes well for the Rays and poorly for the Red Sox and the Yankees.
RED SOX, YANKEES TO VIE FOR THE 2009 WILD CARD?
I’ve written, in the last few years, that one of the main problems for the Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles is that they are all in the wrong division. Well, the Rays turned that division on its head this year, jumping from worst to first. Since, unlike the NFL, three teams can’t make the playoffs in baseball from the same division, that means that at least one team (assuming they all stay healthy) among the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees will be the odd team out. In 2008, it was the Yankees. In 2009, who will it be? I don’t know, but it says here that Tampa Bay will not be the odd team out and, like in 2008, the team that doesn’t make the playoffs will be decided between the Yankees and the Red Sox (or both if someone wakes up in another, weaker division). A scary thought if you’re a Yankee or Red Sox fan. We’ll see.
© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.