Ask Gary: Do the Rays know about closing time?

by Gary Shelton on March 9, 2019 · 6 comments

in general

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

Do you think the Rays could be a top echelon closer away from being a legitimate playoff contender? This is a team that relies on the bullpen more than anyone and plays more close games than just about anyone. Yet they don't have an experienced closer which every other top team has and considers that position to be critical to their success. The payroll is low enough and the additional revenue from the new TV contract would suggest the money is there. Why wouldn't they shore up the one position they lack that could push them over the top?

Larry Beller

Larry, a closer certainly would help. As you know, the best closers make baseball an eight-inning game, because once they come in, they shut the lights off. It just seems as if the Rays don't value the position enough. Even when they happen across a closer, it doesn't seem as if they'll fight to keep him.

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The Rays will play close games again this year. They lack the power to consistently blow teams away. So I agree with the logic of finding one. Still, when Lou Piniella was here, he resisted the idea of a closer. He thought getting three outs in the ninth wasn't any harder than getting three outs in the seventh. The Rays seem to prefer matchups over a trusted closer such as Soriano or Rodney or Alex Colome. Goodness, if Sergio Romo could get out ninth innings with his stuff, it can't be that hard, can it?

Larry, I'd never argue that the Rays have the money to sign this guy or that guy, but I agree that the low payroll would suggest they could spend it somewhere. Still, these guys pinch pennies until Lincoln weeps.

I don't know that a closer would make them a contender. But it wouldn't hurt. The team still lacks power, and who knows if the opener strategy will work as well this year. But I miss that feeling that comes when you trust your ninth-inning guy to shut out the lights.

I do believe this: The guys running the Rays aren't stupid. They know the team isn't that far away from the second wild-card spot, and they know there aren't a lot of pitchers on the roster who have saved a lot of games. So are you going to sign one, or are you going to trust a young pitcher (Ryne Stanek?) to develop into one?

Either way, someone has to close out games sometimes, don't they?

The Lightning lead the NHL in power play goals scored with 65, and they lead Toronto, who has just 39, by a substantial margin.  In the postseason, less penalties are called, which means a lower percent of power play goals are scored.  If the Lightning and Toronto meet in the post-season, will this be a significant factor in improving Toronto’s chances over that of the Lightning?

Scott Myers

Absolutely, Scott, and I think it's one of the main reasons why so many President's Cup winners stumble in the post-season. The refs pretty much swallow their whistles, which leads to a completely different game than in the regular season. Bigger teams that lean on players can do so without punishment, which leads to more traffic, which leads to lower scores.

Think of it like a fast soccer team suddenly playing in the mud. It affects them more than it does a team of normal speed. Any time you play with the  basic rules of the game, it aids the underdog.

Basically, you've changed the game. It's like bringing in the baseball fences in extra innings or going to the 25 in college football. It's not the same.

Time after time, this has caught up to a smaller, quicker Lightning team. Last year, Washington just pushed them around. Chicago did the same. Boston. Yanni Gourde and Tyler Johnson are fine players when they have space to roam, but not so much when they're being grabbled and jostled.

It's the age-old argument: Should refs stay out of the way or should they impose the rules as they are written? I've always thought that a slash was a slash no matter what time of year it happened. Make the call. No one is questioning your integrity. No one is questioning your judgment.

It's silly, however, to have rules on the books and ignore them in the post-season.

I see after the NFL Combine, some scouts were still questioning Kyler Murray's height and the guy with the 1.6% body fat was doubted.  I thought the whole idea behind the combine was to get accurate facts and stats on these players. Why do we still have questions?

Jim Willson

Jim, we don't. What we have are 14,812 members of the media who are throwing darts at a dartboard. They don't get to measure, and it isn't as if teams are running toward Bleacher Report to show what they measure.

From what I can see, Murray was measured at 5-10 and one-eighth inch, which is actually a little bigger than people thought. The bigger question with Murray was a damning report by former league general manager Charlie Casserly that questioned his leadership and work ethic. There have been denials all around, but when a bad report is out there, a lot of people trust it more than their own research.

Some teams get a bad feeling about a player sometimes. I've heard that the Bucs didn't care for Teddy Bridgewater, for instance. That may mean they're right or they're wrong, but you pay people for their concerns. Heck, ask the Browns if they should have listened to concerns about Johnny Manziel. Of course they should have.

Through the years, there have been a lot of short quarterbacks. Doug Flutie comes to mind. Pat Sullivan. Drew Brees is shorter than you would like. Theisman. Vick. Jurgenson. Tarkenton.

Reminds me of an old quote, however. You don't have to be big. You have to be good.

After all the back and forth regarding a new stadium, do you sense less interest in the Rays this season?  Do you think the area is getting resigned to the team moving?

Jim Willson

Jim, I thought most people tuned themselves out of the Rays' stadium talk. I never was sold that the Tampa politicians would spend, and in the end, they didn't come close. If the Rays had said they'd build a park for $8, the Tampa politicians would have countered with $7.50. They were never close.

I don't think there is less interest in the Rays. Heck, they won 90 games and had the game's best pitcher last year. They have Willy Adames. I just think the spring training park is so far away that people are waiting to get involved. It isn't like you have to rush to buy tickets.

I do think more and more fans are resigned to the team leaving, however. And the big reason is this: If you or I or the guy next sitting next to you owned the team, we'd probably move it. If we owned a McDonald's that didn't make any money, but we believed if we moved it to a better neighborhood, we'd sell a lot more nuggets, well, we'd move it.

I think people love the Rays far more than the gate shows. I think the hats and t-shirts you see are indicative of that. But if I had to bet if the team would still be in this area in 10 years or elsewhere, I'd make elsewhere a 2-1 favorite.

If you ran the Bucs, you'd be looking for help. So do any of these guys make sense to add though a trade or free agency: Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, Colin Kaepernick, Johnny Manziel or Tyrann Mathieu?

Paul Walker

Paul, in free agency, you move slowly. Players cost a lot more, and they're a lot older. That's why, of the five names you mentioned, I'd be interested only in one.

Brown is too much of a headache. Even if you could add him (and Bruce Arians coached him, remember?) and subtract DeSean Jackson, you'd have to trade something to the Steelers to get him and you'd have to pay Jackson a fortune. He's been unhappy with Ben Roethlisberger, so he's likely to have the same frustrations with Jameis Winston. He's a talented guy, but if I were the Bucs, I'd spend elsewhere.

Same with Bell. He's going to want to back the truck up to the bank and have a team fill it up. The need is there for the Bucs, but who knows what kind of physical and mental shape a year off has left Bell in? Besides, if you can't be happy with a stable organization like Pittsburgh, I'm not sure the Bucs are a good fit.

Look, there is a lot noise about Kaepernick's politics. I get that. But let's put those things aside for a moment. Can Kaepernick still play? He's sat out for two years, and in his last season with the 49ers, he won only one of 10 starts. Remember that Arians said he didn't want someone looking over his quarterback's shoulder? Well, if the Bucs signed Kaepernick, the entire nation would be looking over Winston's shoulder. Holding a clipboard would be breaking news.

Manziel is a waste of shoulder pads. Forget about him. And I liked the guy in college.

That leaves us with Mathieu, who makes great sense. The Bucs need a playmaker at safety, and the Honey Badger can make some plays. I'm calling. We'll see if he answers.

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