Inbox: Will Rays maintain high level of defense?
Beat reporter Bill Chastain answers Tampa Bay fans' questions
I'm concerned about the Rays' defense, as so many of the new acquisitions seem to be average at best. If a prime defender like Kevin Kiermaier or Evan Longoria were to miss any time, could this team still get it done on defense?
-- John S., Palm Harbor, Fla.
Defense is a huge part of what the Rays do. Over the years, I've noticed how different a team can look when one of its main players is on the shelf with an injury. Normally that difference is subtle, and you don't really notice it until some time passes. Then it occurs to you that the double play is a half a click away from happening or the ball is just out of range for the fill-in player. Again, it's a subtle difference noticed over time, but all of those subtle differences add up to winning and losing games.
Kiermaier and Longoria both play above-average defense. But so do Desmond Jennings and James Loney. The new acquisitions, catcher Rene Rivera and outfielder Steven Souza, both play above-average defense. So yes, losing Longoria or Kiermaier on defense would hurt, but this year's team should be solid in the field.
I do like what the Rays have done this offseason. They will be fun to watch. They have a lot of money coming off the books next year, too. With the TV contract coming up, do you think they are positioning themselves to make a playoff run or secure a stadium?
-- Tom C., North Port, Fla.
First, do I think they are positioning themselves to make a playoff run? Yes, I think they will be competitive enough to have a shot at the postseason. Next, are they positioning themselves to secure a stadium? Currently the Rays are hoping that they will be granted permission to look for other stadium sites in the Tampa Bay area. Surely having a successful product on the field can further that cause.
The Rays faced 118 right-handed starters and only 44 lefties in 2014. Shouldn't they try to load up with left-handed batters to maximize their OBP and OPS in order to increase run production, our weakest point last year?
-- Mac M., Floral City, Fla.
My opinion doesn't necessarily jibe with what the Rays do. Personally, I like to see a player get chances against right-handers and left-handers to allow him to get comfortable and therefore have the opportunity to have more success. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has found success through the numbers, often determining lineups on matchups and other factors (which they like to keep to themselves). I do believe with this year's team, you will see more platoon situations.
Power, or seemingly the complete lack of, continues to be an offensive issue. With the trade of Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez, and their minimal double-digit home runs, there is no protection for Longoria in the lineup. He is almost forced to go out of his zone and try to get to the pitcher's pitch. Who will hit behind him and force the issue?
-- Mike M., Bradenton, Fla.
I agree with you about the Rays' lack power. And I also wonder how that affects Longoria in regard to protection in the order. That question remains to be answered. Having said that, I've observed a general lack of offense in baseball. Thus, Tampa Bay fans must remember, the most telling statistic for the team is run differential. It doesn't matter if they score 600 runs if the other team scores 400, etc. In my opinion, that differential got tainted in the first several months last season when the Rays had health issues with their starting pitchers. If the starting pitching is on track this season, Tampa Bay should be much better on the preventative side, which should make the offense look much more effective.
Though I like most of the Rays' moves, the trade of Zobrist for John Jaso puzzles me. They needed another catcher, not another DH. And they say Jaso won't/can't catch much. What gives? Also, Souza had an outstanding Triple-A season last year. And the Rays seemed to acquire him to replace Wil Myers. But there is little talk of this. Surprises me. Your take?
-- Paul L., Tampa, Fla.
First, Zobrist wasn't traded for Jaso straight up. Remember, the Rays were able to unload Yunel Escobar, who regressed in 2014. In addition, they came away with the A's No. 1 prospect, shortstop Daniel Robertson, who appears close to Major League ready. As for Souza, that deal had several layers as well. Tampa Bay likes Souza, who will be afforded a great shot to become the team's right fielder. And while the Rays traded Myers, they also came away with a catcher, Rivera, they obviously liked more than Ryan Hanigan, who has had trouble staying healthy the past three seasons.
Do you think Grant Balfour was a wasted investment? He doesn't seem to be much of a team player and only concerned with himself.
-- L.B.K., Tampa, Fla.
Balfour did not have a good season last year, and he would be the first to tell you that. Can he rebound? Good question. Balfour showed signs of doing just that in September, when he went 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA and a save, walking one while striking out nine in 9 1/3 innings. As far as only being concerned with only himself, he's never struck me as being that way, and I've never heard his teammates talk badly about him.