With the Jays starting their 4 game home opening series against the Tampa Bay Rays, I sent off some questions to Danny Russell, Manager of D Rays Bay, SB's Tampa Bay Rays site (is it D Rays Bay or DRaysBay or DRAYSBAY?) When I was in Montreal, the Rays were a major topic of conversation.
I guess the obvious question is what do you think of new manager Kevin Cash? What do you see as his strengths and weaknesses? Do you think there will be a drop in attendance/interest with the loss of Maddon?
Cash is a completely new beast for us on the media and consumer side. His first broadcast interview with the Sun Sports crew was indicative of that, our DH John Jaso had just injured his wrist, and he answered their opening questions in a polite but curt manner. The broadcasters immediately thanked him for his time.
That was the first game he'd ever managed at a professional level. He was a bullpen coach before coming to the Rays, but what we knew we'd have in him was a man of the people - and by people, I mean the people in the clubhouse. He's the youngest manager in the game, wears a dri-fit thermal in the dugout, and requires a collar or jacket and non-athletic shoes for road trips.
So as for strengths and weaknesses, in both regards he seems like a guy who's incredibly intelligent and will align with the clubhouse, charismatic with who it matters, and will probably do whatever he wants. And not a "bring penguins in the clubhouse" way.
I don't foresee a change in manager impacting attendance, I'd think the fanbase is more mad at the departed Maddon than the team for losing him.
What do you think of owner Stuart Sternberg's comment that a $70 million payroll is "beyond what they are comfortable with" and that it puts them in the red? Do statements like this hurt fan interest? Is this just posturing to try to get a new stadium?
Fan interest is almost entirely TV interest. But that's the game we live in, and though the stadium situation is untenable the television contract will get re-worked in two seasons. Hopefully that salves some monetary wounds for the ownership.
It's aggravating, but he's playing a necessary game of chess with the local municipalities. I just write off such comments as politics and posturing, as you say.
I was going to ask for injury updates for your players on the DL.... but I'd like to keep this post under 5000 words... instead maybe could you tell us the status of the injured starting pitchers, and give us a rough idea of the order in which they will return to the team? Do you think the team can keep in the race with their replacements?
There's some very big names on this list of injured pitchers, as far as the Rays are concerned, include three probably front line pitchers for any rotation. Matt Moore is finishing rehab from Tommy John, so he'll be out until the All-Star break, while Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly are out with tendinitis. Cobb's forearm pushes him out until May, and Smyly's shoulder will need an end-of-April return, but both will be back soon.
And not soon enough. The Rays are .500 through the first week of play, but if this rotation succumbs in April, I'm not anticipating a strong finish to the season.
Can you give us a quick scouting report on the starting pitchers the Jays are likely to face? I imagine if there are are couple more injuries, you are going to get the call to start.
Jake Odorizzi is an animal - he's got three unique pitches through an elevated fastball (something the Rays love), a split-change that can cause a ruckus for any hitter, and now a new-and-improved cutter (which picked up some slider tendencies). Through one start, I loved the way he looked. Kid added some weight and works from athleticism to get the job done. He's not blowing you away, he's just surprisingly good. He can falter like the rest of them, but Jake's got an interesting mix of pitches to watch. They don't behave in a standard way; he starts the four-game stand.
Chris Archer will take up the final of the four games, as the Opening Day starter taking his third turn on the season. Archer is another athletic guy who added muscle to do more this year and has been interesting thus far. The fastball is still coming in hot, say 96, and the change seems more effective this year. Or maybe properly effective. The slider is still his out pitch, and he can drop a sinker in, but a better change can make Archer a deadly pitcher.
In between them will be two unknowns, likely rookie Matt Andriese and then long-man Erasmo Ramirez.
Andriese has the reputation of a groundball pitcher with a sinker/slider arsenal and a power curve, but in his brief relief appearance, he relied more on his 4-seam instead. It'll be interesting to watch how he approaches a longer outing, and I look forward to seeing more of the kid. This would be his first career start.
Erasmo has lots of experience and a change up the Rays think they can deploy in a more effective manner. Acquired in late spring from the Mariners, he looked sharp in his only spring start, then rough in his only regular season appearance. It didn't inspire confidence, so the Rays could call someone else up. He also throws a four- and two-seam fastball, but the change is where he lives and dies.
Steve Souza is off to a slow start, how has he looked? What do you expect from him this year?
You know, he's looked like a seasoned major league player who just hasn't gotten hot yet. If that were Matt Joyce in a Steven Souza mask (a la Mission Impossible), I wouldn't be shocked.
Souza has the speed and power potential you want in a prospect, and entering his age-26 season his time is now. The perception problem here is that he's been more focused on establishing the zone and taking a walk through the first six games.
Last season he got 26 plate appearances and hit two home runs. This year, through 20 plate appearances, he's taken a lot of pitches and drawn four walks. That's nice, but he also only has two hits. I'm sure it will click eventually, we might just need to wait until May.
It seems like the future of the team is up in the air, they need a new ballpark but the city doesn't seem to be in the mood to negotiate. What do you see happening? Where will the club be in five years, still in Tropicana Field? In a new stadium in Tampa? Somewhere else?
Baseball is driven by owners. The Rays owner has said without a new ballpark, he sells the team. A purchasing owner would likely move the team. The current stadium is near only about 10% of the fanbase and the city that holds the lease (St. Petersburg) wants the Rays to pay a lot of money in order to leave.
Currently the Rays have offered what looks like a $40M payout to leave early, as opposed to 2028 (the current deal). The City Council is playing hardball in expectation of more money, but the clock is ticking economically, withing baseball and in the region. If the Rays want to move to downtown Tampa, they need to go get that land now and public money before it's too late, but St. Pete won't budge and neither will the team. The Rays think they've made a fair offer.
I feel like the next two years is when this will all be decided. Without another owner trying to enter the game, the Rays probably stay.
Editor's Note: Remember that SB Nation is partnering with Fan Duel this season for your daily fantasy baseball games where you can win cash. Today's game costs just $2 to play, and there are $100,000 in prizes. Hit the link and pick your players. It is a fun game, give it a try. I played, so there is at least one person that you'll beat.