Ask Gary: Does anyone value defense more than Rays?

by Gary Shelton on November 10, 2018 · 4 comments

in general

The Rays gave up a lot of energy with Smith./CARMEN MANDATO

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With the trade of Mallex Smith and the expected trade of CJ Cron, the Rays will have traded away their two best offensive players for 2018. In return so far, they get 2 guys who have good gloves but can't hit a lick. Is there any organization in any professional sport, that values defense more than the Tampa Bay Rays? And as a bonus question who do you expect will have a better year next year, Mallex Smith or Kevin Kiermaier?

Larry Beller
I don't think any team in the league appreciates -- or needs to appreciate -- run prevention as much as the Rays. The most expensive things to buy in baseball are established starting pitchers (especially left-handers) and complete hitters. A guy who hits .300 but allows other batters to hit .300 because of their lousy defense hurts.
Personally, I didn't like the Smith trade. I thought they gave up a little more  in offense than they got back in defense. But I'll say this, Larry: I was wrong on a lot of their moves last year, too. It was silly of me (and others, to be honest), and the team showed me. So I'm more apt to give them this one.
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I know this: If he had stayed with the Rays, Mallex Smith was a threat to have a disappointing season. With Austin Meadows taking away his at-bats, Smith simply wasn't going to get a chance to have another .296 season. You can argue that he should have, because he obviously brought offense. But if Kiermaier stays healthy, there simply wouldn't be enough work for Smith. There are only so many at-bats to go around your outfield.
As far as. your other question, I do think Smith will have a higher batting average than Kiermaier. If the injury history remains the same, he'll play in more games, too. Of course, you know why the Rays' traded Smith instead of Kiermaier; Kiermaier's heavy contract was too much for another team to have a lot of interest. Kiermaier will be the better play defensively, but I don't think he'll match Smith's offense.
I will say this: It was good to see a Rays trade that wasn't about money. The Rays might be wrong in this deal, but at least they weren't trying to save money.
During this past Sunday's (11/4/2018) Bucs/Panthers game, it seemed to me that the Bucs, on offense, were playing with no sense of urgency in the 2nd half, even as they mounted their comeback.  It seems that for many plays, with the clock running, the ball was not snapped until almost all of the allotted time had expired.  Why did they not go to some form of 'hurry up' offense or at least snap the ball quicker?
Scott Myers
That's a good obvservation, Scott. Great NFL coaches will tell you that playing against the clock is often more difficult than playing against the other team. And the lack of urgency says something disturbing about the Bucs.
I went back over the game book, starting late in the first half when the Bucs fell behind 35-7.  They ran four of their next five plays out of the no-huddle (the exception coming after the two-minute warning, when there is no advantage to the no-huddle. That was fine.
But in the third period, the Bucs scored their second touchdown with their regular offense. Granted, they ran several plays in Carolina's red zone, which means you want to be sure to score. But in next three series, the team ran four regular-huddle plays, 10 regular huddle plays and four-regular huddle plays. They then scored to make it 35-28.
They  got somewhat back into the no-huddle only after Carolina scored to make it 42-28.
I don't know if the Bucs were running out of plays they can run in the no-huddle, but it seems to me that time would have been of the essence. It wasn't.
What is it about the Rays that they’re able to produce managers and front office executives for other teams? We focus on players that are now with other teams, but this is something different.
Peter Kerasotis
Peter, I think this is the primary reason, and I could be wrong. But the Rays are heavy into analytics, which is of course increasing in importance. They hire younger, and cheaper, front office workers, which makes them more attractive to outsiders. Then there is this: The Rays look smart, because they compete with a lower-priced roster.
If there is anything that pleases an owner who is hiring, it is knowing that his manager doesn't have to spend like the Red Sox, of if he's a manager, he isn't going to put pressure on the front office to do so. Few teams expect them to be as cheap as the Rays, but they still want teams to spend their free agent money wisely.
There is an impression that the Rays think outside the box. I think that leaned heavily in favor of Rocco Baldelli and Charlie Montoya. Everyone wants to hire bright, young managers. Joe Maddon is established, and Dave Martinez brings promise.
Remember when it was Tony Dungy's team that was being raided. Jerry Angelo was hired as the g.m. in Chicago, and Tim Ruskell in Seattle, and they  both went to the Super Bowl. Herm Edwards, Rod Marinelli, Lovie Smith and Mike Tomlin all got coaching jobs, although only Tomlin had much success.
So it gets to be trendy, too. But good guys deserve good jobs, don't they?
It's never happened that all of the second week top 4 teams in the CFP rankings actually make it to the playoffs. Someone always drops out. Will Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Michigan defy that trend or if not, who do you expect is most likely to stumble?
Larry Beller
That's a good question, Larry. I posted the remaining schedule for each of the top teams today, and none of them have it particularly easy. I guess Notre Dame has it the easiest. I think that Alabama has it the toughest from here on out (although they've played a pretty easy schedule so far).
I'm going to say that Michigan is the closest of the top four to not making it, because it already has a loss. You can envision a scenario where the other three schools can all sneak in with a loss (That complicates the question, doesn't it?) If Alabama were to lose to Auburn, but beat a highly ranked Georgia team in the SEC title game, I can see them slipping in again.
Notre Dame always seems to get bonus points, doesn't it? But it's hard to see the Irish losing to FSU, Syracuse or USC.
Michigan's road is tough with Ohio State looming ahead. Again, the Wolverines have one loss, so there is no way they get in if they stumble again.
Clemson should win its remaining games by a million points.
So I'd rank them this way, with the most likely to make the playoffs. 1. Clemson; 2. Notre Dame; 4. Alabama; 4. Michigan. Georgia would be fourth if it can get past Auburn and Alabama.
How many teams have to lose for USF to get in? Kidding.
I see that the Dodgers lost their general manager to the Giants.  Do you think Andrew Friedman might go after Chaim Bloom or someone else in the Rays organization?  Is there tension between the Rays and Friedman...or with Maddon?
Jim Willson
I haven't heard about any tension with Friedman and the Rays. He's merely working like a demon to get his team over the hump. Both sides work pretty darned hard most days, and they simply aren't in each other's worlds very much.
There is some friction with Maddon, of course. If you'll remember, the Rays thought the Cubs had tampered to get him. And you have to admit, it was a coincidence that Maddon options out and the Cubs job suddenly comes open. The weird thing is that Maddon now is on the hot seat despite getting deep into the playoffs every year.
I would imagine than Friedman could reach out to Bloom or someone else. You tend to hire people you've worked with, and the chance to go to a premiere franchise would be something that Bloom would have to consider.
The thing that would work against Bloom (or anyone else) is this: If the Dodgers win it, who gets the credit? Friedman, of course. If the Rays win it, I think people would recognize Bloom as his own guy.
But front office workers are like free agents. This team simply doesn't pay enough or give the opportunities to do your job as well as other teams might.
Who do you think is on the hotter seat, Dirk Koetter or Jason Licht?
Carlos Ubinas
I imagine two witches burning at similar stakes at the same time. It's going to be hot for both of them.
I would say that Koetter's seat is hotter. If he has a bad finish, it's easier to replace a coach than a general manager. The Bucs simply haven't developed on the field. Except for receivers, where is the team good? Where are they improving? There are several teams (Chicago, Jacksonville, the Rams) that were no better than the Bucs, but now they are clearly on their way.
Licht isn't flame-free, either. He's gotten zero from his first two picks in last. year's draft. He's got Roberto Aguayo and Noah Spence on his resume. But an owner's conduit to the rest of the league is their general manager. The Bucs often have trusted the general manager to guide them.
Do both of them go this year? It's possible. On the runway that is the NFL, how bad is this landing going to be?
Remember when the Bucs pulled the plug on Greg Schiano? They also pulled it on Mark Dominik, who didn't win with his second head coach (Raheem Morris was the first). Licht has now had Lovie Smith and Dirk Koetter. The same fate could await him. I'm not sure the Bucs are good enough to save either guy.
We are coming up on the Rays stadium deadline.  Everyone seems very calm and no one is talking about an extension. Do you think since the election is over, there might be a big announcement soon?
Jim Willson
There has to be a big announcement, Jim. The Rays three-year window of being able to talk to politicians in Tampa is up on Dec. 31, and supposedly, there have been no talks about an extension.
I'm still skeptical, Jim. It's a lot of money for a community that says it doesn't have any. I do know this: I'm tired of hearing crickets chirp. Made a deal or don't. It's time we all found out.
Here's a guess. I think the new members of the Hillsborough Commission will want to look strong and decisive. They'll draw a firm line in the sand. I don't think it will ever get to a vote.
I've said this before. It's hard to get a stadium built. The feel of this isn't good. I'm not sure he Rays are within six weeks. Do you?
With hindsight at 20/20, the Bucs season was over in Cincinnati. They needed to stick at or above .500. I just don’t think they’re solid enough to go on long winning streaks. If I’m the Glazers, I ask the NFL to be traded to the AFC South. In the NFC South picture, the Bucs are the guy with the mustard stain on his shirt.
Carlos Ubinas
And gravy dribbles, right? And unsightly spots. And it's wrinkled and faded and doesn't fit very well.
I wish I could offer an argument in favor of the Bucs. But their flaws are so great, I can't. This team could lose in any week remaining, even to the Giants and 49ers. Their secondary is awful.
Here's my question, though: Why would the AFC South want them? They aren't a particularly great draw. They're just the guy in the aforementioned ugly shirt. To tell you the truth, their socks don't match, either, and their shoes have a hole in them.
At least in the NFC South, there is a geographical reasoning to the division. It's just that in the SEC of NFL teams, the Bucs happen to be Arkansas.
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller November 11, 2018 at 6:50 am

I just don’t get this company line the Rays are putting out there of selling high on Mallex Smith. Do they think it was just pure luck that he had the break out year? Is he not working hard every day to get better? Is he the baseball version of Cinderella and the glass slipper won’t fit next year?

You wrote in a previous post that Smith ignited the offense and the Rays turnaround after being inserted in the leadoff spot. I think that’s exactly right. And the Rays applied a fire extinguisher to that spark. The chemistry of last year’s team is being pulled apart. If it’s not broke don’t fix it guys! Swapping out a key piece of the offense for a light hitting, injury prone catcher is not going to propel the team towards the playoffs next year in my opinion.

This seems like a move only the guys who are smarter than anyone else in the room would make. That plus their M.O. of run prevention trumps offense. Watching a team built around run prevention is boring. But management could turn out to be right. I just don’t think so this time.

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Gary Shelton November 11, 2018 at 8:18 am

It’s a difficult move for most of us to grasp. I think it’s as simple as this for the Rays: They had to move someone from their outfield or have them lose at-bats to Meadows. They wanted a catcher. The catcher is high on the run-prevention charts, the outfielder is low.

I don’t think the Rays had the same regard for Smith that you or I did, or the deal wouldn’t be made. After last year, I have to see how it works out. but I anticipate looking at Smith’s average a lot. Right?

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Larry Beller November 10, 2018 at 6:19 am

I agree that the Rays took a lot of heat with their remake of the team last off season but it turned out they did the right thing. This trade however, just feels wrong. As you said offense is hard to come by for teams like the Rays who can’t afford to buy it so why trade it away when you have an affordable young player like Mallex Smith who is like a lottery ticket for you? He’s cheap and even if he does fall off some in 2019 and only hits .285, he’s still going to give you speed and hustle and is a good team guy. He’s an exciting player to watch and the Rays just got a lot more boring with this deal.

The Rays are always tinkering and although they have done a lot of good things lately sometimes it’s better to leave things alone. They over reached to have a better righty / lefty balance which is far less important than having a top flight lead off hitter who can steal a lot of bases and hit for average.

The Rays paid KK a lot of money to have the type of year that Mallex Smith had in 2018. With his injury history and stubborn refusal to change is style and avoid being pull happy, it’s looking less likely that he will ever be that complete player we all hoped he would grow into. At this point you would have to say that his big contract was a mistake that a team like the Rays can’t afford to make.

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Gary Shelton November 10, 2018 at 12:30 pm

It’s hard to defend that contract now, isn’t it? I’m not sure you didn’t have to stretch things to defend it them. KK was never going to be a great offensive player.

You could be right about Smith. I think he would have fallen more than to .285 given his limited at batss, though. The team certainly didn’t consider him to be a rising all-star. I guess we’ll see if a light-hitting catcher can make it worth the team’s love of him.

I don’t like this trade, but I don’t hate it as much as you. But if Smith is around .300 for Seattle (or close enough to count) and plays decent defense, we’ll all be watching. Right?

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