Do you think Kevin Kiermaier can avoid getting injured this season? And can his offense ever catch up to his defense?
-- Dominic R., Orlando, Fla.
Kiermaier truly is an amazing center fielder. I often tell people that one of the cool things about watching baseball every day is being able to appreciate the range different players have. For the Rays, I've seen Melvin Upton Jr. and Carl Crawford cover enough ground that I once asked former Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon in jest if he ever considered going with a Cover 2 fielding alignment, using just Upton and Crawford in the outfield and adding an extra infielder. Now, to be able to see the ground covered by Kiermaier is extraordinary. He is a game-changer.
The most impactful event of the 2016 season for the Rays came when Kiermaier broke his left hand in a game at Detroit. Prior to the injury, the Rays were 20-19. They went 14-35 when he was out, including a 3-22 stretch prior to the All-Star break.
I believe Kiermaier is cognizant of the fact that he can't have an impact on the team if he's injured, but he's also a believer in playing all out. I can't say whether he'll be able to avoid injury, but I can say that Tampa Bay has a much better chance if he's in the lineup. As for Kiermaier's offense catching up with his defense, I believe he's a good enough athlete that we're going to continue to see steady progress where his offense is concerned.
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The Rays have better options than Colby Rasmus in their current lineup. The best left-field options they have right now are Brad Miller and Timothy Beckham. Miller could be the Benjamin Zobrist-type player available for shortstop, outfield and first. Beckham could hit much better for average and power if given a spot in the order every day. What Tampa Bay really needs this Hot Stove season are two or three bullpen pitchers who can shut down the opponent for three or six outs.
-- Philip P., Lakeland, Fla.
You bring up some interesting points, though I don't agree with most of them.
• Rasmus heading to Rays on free-agent deal
Time will tell with Rasmus. He's had good seasons in the past, including a 25-homer showing in 2015. Beckham has not played the outfield professionally, and though I agree with you that Miller has versatility, who plays first if Miller plays left?
Finally, the bullpen. If the Rays keep Brad Boxberger and Alex Colome, they have quality at the back end. It's always easier to fill in the bridge guys to get from the starter to the back end.
• Hot Stove Tracker
With the Rays' biggest issue being run support, wouldn't it make more sense, rather than trading Evan Longoria, to deal someone like Alex Cobb or Jake Odorizzi to find some players that can help put more runs on the board?
-- Case O., Orlando, Fla.
I don't expect Tampa Bay to make a trade to add anybody else to this season's lineup, though I still wouldn't be surprised if it decides to deal one of its pitchers if the right prospect or prospects become available.
The Rays' mantra always has been to keep one eye on the present and another on the future. The time is ripe to trade a starter to a team looking for that one piece to its rotation that will push it over the top. If that team is willing to part with an impact-type prospect, Tampa Bay could land a player to positively affect future teams.
Have the Rays ever considered making Chris Archer No. 2 in the rotation? The best two seasons David Price had with Tampa Bay were 2010 and '12, both seasons he started in the No. 2 spot behind James Shields.
-- Justin E., Winter Haven, Fla.
In talking with starting pitchers over the years, I've learned that most consider being designated as the No. 1 starter more of an honor than a burden. The thinking is that Archer might start and face a team's No. 1 starter, but the next time out, due to scheduling, he might be starting against a club's No. 4. So I don't really believe it matters other than giving the No. 1 an "atta boy." Now, if you want to get me going on a rant about No. 1 starters in general, that's a whole other discussion, as I feel a lot of pitchers are slotted in the top spot of the rotation but truly aren't No. 1 starters.