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Fans, have faith: These aren't the same old Rays
By JOHN ROMANO
Published June 27, 2006
There comes a time in every relationship when trust is put to the test. For you, the Devil Rays fan, that moment has arrived.
The new ownership regime has just copied an old pattern. It has dealt older players for younger ones. It has traded higher-priced players for less expensive ones. Recognizable faces and names for virtual strangers.
So do you scream? Do you curse? Do you wonder why, year after year, you give your heart to a franchise that has never been faithful?
Or do you choose to trust?
Because if you are willing to trust, if your faith has not gone completely dry, you can see this is a good trade for the Rays. Maybe, even, an excellent one.
On the most basic level, you can measure this transaction by comparing batting averages and ERAs. You might examine factors such as arbitration, free agency and, of course, the impact on payroll.
But, in a much grander sense, it comes down to whether you believe in new owner Stuart Sternberg and the whiz kids in the front office.
If you have faith that Sternberg is committed to building a winner, you can see how the trade makes sense. If you trust that Andrew Friedman has done his homework, you can picture the pieces beginning to fall in place.
Look, I know this trade is not going to be popular. Toby Hall was too well-liked to be sent packing without a rumble. And Mark Hendrickson had performed too well this season to not question the wisdom of giving away a pitcher.
Both arguments have merit.
But neither outweighs the logic of the deal.
The bottom line is the Rays gave away two players who were not going to help the Rays become contenders, and they acquired a catcher who might.
That should be the only criteria for any move made today, tomorrow or next month. Not whether it means the Rays will win only 68 games instead of 72. And not whether the names leaving are more popular than the ones arriving.
The only thing that really matters is whether the Rays are a step closer to being a playoff contender in 2008. And this trade should help get them there.
Does it hurt to lose Hendrickson? Sure, in the short term. He was, after all, the No. 2 starter. But, don’t forget, this rotation has pitched the Rays into last place.
On a decent team, Hendrickson is a No. 4 starter. Maybe a No. 5. He is valuable, but he’s not close to being irreplaceable. In fact, Jae Seo could end up being a wash as a replacement.
They are both, at best, innings-eaters. Pitchers who might be .500, or a little better, if things go well for them.
Do not be fooled by Hendrickson’s performance this season. Though he has been sharp for the most part, it is not indicative of his history. Since 2003, he is 34-40 with a 5.16 ERA. Seo is 24-28 with a 4.14.
You say tomato, I say tomato can.
The advantage for the Dodgers is they are in a pennant race this season, and Hendrickson is the hotter pitcher.
The advantage for the Rays is Seo is three years younger and more likely to help down the road.
Again, you can argue it either way. But chances are, three years from now, they’ll both be 7-9 and one step from the bullpen.
The real key to the trade, as far as the Rays are concerned, is at catcher. In a single afternoon, the Rays have not only upgraded the position but gotten significantly younger and cheaper.
Hall, while being a nice guy and an activist in local charities, was merely serviceable as a big-league catcher. He was not particularly good at handling a pitching staff and he was limited as a hitter.
His salary was beginning to grow out of proportion to his productivity, and the Rays were going to have to find a new catcher next season.
Dioner Navarro solves that problem. Two years ago, he was the No. 1 prospect in the Yankees’ farm system. He may not be a future All-Star, but he could be a solid fixture behind the plate for the next decade.
Even better, Navarro is more than five years away from free agency. That means the Rays essentially have a fixed cost at catcher, which will free up money for other upgrades to the pitching staff.
That, obviously, is where the trust factor comes in. Yes, the Rays saved about $800,000 this season with the trade. And they potentially will save millions in the next couple of seasons. So if you believe Sternberg is committed to reinvesting in the team, the trade is a shrewd move. If you believe Friedman acquired the right pieces, the trade is a slam dunk.
By 2008, the Rays could have a starting lineup that includes Rocco Baldelli, Jorge Cantu, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, Navarro, B.J. Upton and Delmon Young. All will be 26 or younger and locked up contractually. That core was put in place by former general manager Chuck LaMar, but it’s up to Friedman and Sternberg to build upon it.
Sternberg took the first steps in the off-season. He offered free parking at Tropicana Field and spent $10-million sprucing up the place. These were business decisions, but they were also gestures of good will. Sternberg was giving you reason to trust him.