I sent off some questions to DRaysBay blogger Jason Hanselman and he was kind enough to send me some answers.
Where in the world did Sam Fuld come from? How come you guys always seem to have someone that came out of no where to surprise everyone? Will Fuld continue to hit like this?
Samuel Babson Fuld came from Ken Fuld and Amanda Merrill, though I've heard rumors that his "parents" originally went by the name Ma and Pa Kent. Of course he came to the Rays as basically a swap of 4th outfielders (Fernando Perez went over and it was a sad day) in the Matt Garza trade.
I think the reason that the Rays have a player that comes out of nowhere is due to them taking lots of low risk gambles on guys like Fuld or J. P. Howell or Carlos Pena or Gabe Gross. The Rays front office looks for specific skillsets that can fill a niche need and occasionally that player will be able to catch lightning in a bottle for short or even long periods. We hear about the success stories, but know that their are plenty of failures along the way. (See Percival, Troy, Pat Burrell, Hee Seop Choi, et al)
It would be wishful thinking to see Fuld maintaining even above-average production at the plate over the course of 400-500 plate appearances. The nice thing is that anything he does at the plate is just a bonus as long as he continues to play outstanding defense in the outfield corners, steal some bags, and keep his walk rate at an acceptable level.
More after the jump.
Manny gone, Longoria hurt, Johnson hurt. Who is filling their spots and how could you start winning with those guys out?
Let's take one at a time. In Manny's case it seemed like a much bigger blow than it probably should have based on name cache. He had a good spring at the dish and was in the best shape of his life so hopes were high, but in the minuscule sample of 17 PA he didn't make much contact nor provide the expected right-handed thump that he was brought in to supply. The silver lining is that it opens up the DH spot for John Damon, whom looks like the Tinman sans oilcan as he "played" leftfield.
There is no way the Rays can replace Evan Longoria. Every team would struggle without their best player, but the Rays feel it even more so as he's far and away their best bat and most likely their best glove as well. I applaud the team that they aren't rushing him back so that he ends up making the injury worse, even as Felipe Lopez and Sean Rodriguez continue to show inconsistent glovework to go with bats that come and go. Getting Evan back will go a long way in getting the team back to a consistently solid team.
Getting virtually nothing from the 1B position is something Rays fans have gotten used to over the last year plus. Dan Johnson wasn't providing much, but Casey Kotchman is even more disappointing. Anytime a slow guy's skillset is based on scratching some seeing eye singles through the infield you know you're going to be in trouble. I wouldn't be surprised if the Rays continue to throw guys over at 1B as they hope to get some kind of spark. I just don't know if that guy is John Damon, Kelly Shoppach, or maybe even Matt Joyce.
All of this said, the reason the Rays are winning over this last stretch is that they're hitting at the right time while showing some aggressiveness on the bases, and most importantly is that the pitching has been outstanding minus Jeff Niemann's inability to do much of anything well of late.
Any chance of a new ballpark there? Or any chance people will start coming out to the present one?
Interesting that you'd go there. I won't disparage our fans nor the reasons they choose not to come out as I'm no judge of fandom, but I can tell you I was at the first two games of the year and saw a couple of packed loud houses. The fans are there and I think the front office has done a fantastic job of getting people to come out, but the current location of arguably the worst stadium (though they've made tremendous strides from the Naimoli years) is probably the biggest factor in why more people don't come out. A man much wiser than I stated that most people have an innate fear of natural boundaries such as crossing waterways. Of course if you put the stadium in Tampa the same problem exists, but I think St. Pete has been given their chance to support the team and has shown just how little they care.
The politics (and the dirty folks that use them) make it unlikely that the Rays will be getting a new stadium anytime soon. Their lease runs through 2027 and their TV contract still has a couple of years left as well before it can be re-negotiated so I think status quo will continue at least until 2016. It's truly unfortunate as the area around the stadium has really built itself up over the last ten years, and will continue to thrive for a few more, but once the team is moved into Tampa then those businesses will shrivel and die. In my opinion, the short-sided view of the St. Pete politicos is going to leave a very bitter taste in the mouth of St. Pete residents, such that, they probably won't follow the team when it moves. I suppose if that is the point of those in charge, they will succeed at the detriment to the team.
Lots of changes in the Rays bullpen. Who is doing the heavy lifting? Do you have confidence in the pen?
So far the pen has performed beyond expectations. Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth have been the late inning guys and have thus far performed extremely well. I've also been very impressed with Adam Russell thus far after have questions of his control over the spring and am just glad to see Juan Cruz staying healthy thus far. One guy that's going to catch the ire of fans is Cesar Ramos as he hasn't exactly been the lights out LOOGY the team has grown accustomed to. Jake McGee has all the tools to someday be an elite fireman, but he's been inconsistent with his command and control so far which has always been a bit of a knock. Andy Sonnanstine continues to be a low-leverage mop-up/spot starter that shouldn't be deciding the outcome of too many games.
I'm excited what I've seen so far, but I really look forward to seeing what J. P. Howell will bring to the table when he comes back in early June. Adding in that shut down lefty to pair with Peralta and Farnsworth would go a long way in giving the Rays multiple reliable options that can be used in high-leverage situations at anytime late in the game.
B.J. Upton is off to a slow start. Is the team losing faith in him? How about the fans?
B.J actually started off pretty well with some extra-base hits that led to pitchers walking him a bunch. As the rest of the team has warmed up he has started to go in the other direction. Keep in mind that the average AL Center Fielder has a .311 wOBA through 4/20. B.J. is currently at .308. Add in that he's going to give above-average defense and I look forward to seeing him get toasty again. The fans in the Tampa Bay region are never going to get behind B.J. because they see all of their own failed promise in him. Meanwhile, they neglect that B.J. is an above-average player that cares about winning just as much as any player on the team. Unfortunately, local media finds it very easy to prey on the bigoted mindset of many of the folks in the region, such that, even the progressive thinkers end up a bit jaded due to the slant of the media.
Who is the Rays MVP to this point of the season?
The Rays MVP is extremely easy for me. It's Jim Hickey (Rays pitching coach). The pitching has kept the Rays in virtually every game and that goes as much for the bullpen as the starters. We've seen James Shields continue to show maddening home/road splits, but when he's on he's looked extremely good. David Price continues to evolve as a Velociraptor Jesus on the bump and it's been really exciting to watch Jeremy Hellickson mix pitches and paint edges as if his name was Bob Ross. Wade Davis is probably due for a bit of a regression, but I still see him as above-average. Jeff Niemann has been the lame puppy of the mix, but he's a 5th starter that has shown success in the past. With Morrow showing iffy health it's pretty easy for me to say the Rays have the best pitching staff in the AL East and Jim Hickey plays a pivotal role in that.
Is there anything else Blue Jay fans should know about the Rays?
We're about to take your candy and push your kid sister into a puddle. Just kidding, I love when these teams match up because they get virtually no pub and both have exciting players and good, unheralded pitchers. The Rays have been a bit enigmatic thus far, but if they can hang around .500 until June then I could see them making a lot of noise over the back straightaway coming into the final turn. If this doesn't happen, I have the utmost faith in Andy Friedman and friends to spin off valuable parts to bring back value in other areas that we could use. This might mean either James Shields or B.J. Upton are most likely in their final season as integral parts of the Rays, but their trade strings will live on and continue to reap glorious rewards for our children's children.