In anticipation of this weekend's four-game series at the Stadium against the AL East rival formerly known as the Devil Rays, I exchanged some questions with RJ Anderson from our sister site DRaysBay to discuss the much improved Rays and their expectations this season.
RJ had some questions of his own for me about our beloved Bronx Bombers. Please check it out and feel free to add your feedback and tell me why you think I'm dead-on or an idiot.
The Rays have a ton
of young talented players throughout the organization - both on the major
league roster and down on the farm. What is the general excitement level
for the Rays this season considering that they play in the same division as the
Red Sox, Yanks, and Jays?
Cautiously optimistic, a lot of how we perform this year is obviously placed upon Scott Kazmir’s ulnar collateral ligament’s condition. Right now he’ll likely return by May, if he can do so while performing well with a few other breaks maybe we can luck into a third place finish, otherwise I think a fourth place finish within a few games of third is most likely.
Are predictions of a .500 season premature?
Unfortunately I think so, although it wouldn’t surprise me if we do finish above .500, at this particular point we have Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel taking the mound every fourth and fifth day and that’s far from comforting.
Considering the Evan Longoria situation and not wanting to “start his clock” early, do you believe the current ownership will ever spend the money necessary to keep their young talent long term or bring in other pieces to give this team a legitimate chance to compete for a playoff spot?
Well, they have. James Shields, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, and Carlos Pena have been locked up, and Scott Kazmir probably would be as well, although there’s not a person around who believes he’s not going to test the market for his fair cut, which might be around 20 mil annually.
Who is the one player that Rays’ fans generally feel to be the most underappreciated or undervalued by the so-called experts?
Akinori Iwamura. He plays solid defense and gets on base, not to mention his obsession with the number one and an alligator skinned glove.
How much confidence do you have that
Scott Kazmir will be wearing a Rays’ uniform on Opening Day 2009?
Percentage wise: 50%. Ideally the Rays cash him in at his peak value, and depending on how he comes back that might be this off-season. The one thing they need to guarantee themselves is that when his UCL blows, and it probably will, he’s wearing a different uniform, otherwise the idea that he can help add those last few pieces or restore the farm system is going to take quite the hit.
How has Carlos Pena seemed this spring? What are expectations like for him?
He looked like he did last spring, which is to say that it really doesn’t matter. His first at-bat this year he hit a ball that missed being a homer by five feet to dead center. Some of the more optimistic fans think he might actually INCREASE his numbers, but I think 35 homeruns is a fair number, assuming he keeps his on-base skills up.
The Rays' weakness in the past has always been over-aggression at the dish; any signs of that being curbed this year?
Thankfully yes. Cliff Floyd, Willy Aybar, and Eric Hinske help fill in spots that Rocco Baldelli, Delmon Young, and whatever stopgag would be playing second hacked away in. Looking at the lineup you could have seven players with OBPs over .350: Iwamura, Crawford, Pena, Upton, Floyd, Longoria/Aybar, Bartlett, and anything added from Navarro and the Hinske/Gomes platoon is gravy.
Do you think the brouhaha between the Yanks/Rays during Spring Training (the collision at home plate and brawl that ensued the following week) will carry over to the regular season?
I really hope not, just for the sake of the players not getting hurt. Look Elliot Johnson is the last guy who intentionally is going to hurt someone, the Yankees felt they were being bullied and got their “payback”, fine. Whatever. It’s foolish to assume the Rays don’t respect the Yankees because if you’re a fan of baseball or in baseball you have to respect what the Yankees have done, otherwise you just don’t know the history of the game very well. That being said I do hope the results of those games carry over to the regular season.