tampabay.com

An expert's take on Rays

Peter Gammons' details his personal thoughts about the future of the Rays.

By TOM JONES
Published March 9, 2007


ESPN's Peter Gammons might know more about baseball than anyone on the planet. In the 1970s and '80s, his full-page Sunday columns in the Boston Globe became a must read not only for sports fans but baseball executives. He went on to work for Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine, becoming one of the game's legendary writers. A three-time national sports writer of the year, Gammons was honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005. Today, baseball fans - as well as players, coaches, managers and executives whose private numbers are sitting in Gammons' cell phone - tune in to him on ESPN's SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight for his unrivaled insight and analysis. Last year, Gammons, 62, suffered a brain aneurysm, but he is fully recovered ("Feeling great and ready to go," he said.) and has returned to become the pre-eminent baseball pundit. Last week, Gammons took a few minutes to talk about the Devil Rays.

What are your thoughts on the Devil Rays? Are they headed in the right direction?

I think they are. The biggest thing is going to be developing pitching because they are going to have the players. I think they're going to have to trade one of those outfielders (Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli or Delmon Young) for another pitcher or two pitchers, and they're going to have to decide which outfielder it's going to be. You don't want to wait too long and then all of a sudden have them all have four years in the big leagues and still not contend.

What do you think of those outfielders?

Crawford is a great player. A great player. Baldelli is a very good player. And Delmon Young can be one of the best players in the game.

What do you think of manager Joe Maddon?

I'm a huge Joe Maddon fan. A really good manager. A great manager.

What do you like about him?

I think he's very creative. I think he's very smart. I think his positive teaching energy is really important, especially with young players. And I like his game-managing. You know, it's hard to be really smart when you don't have a bullpen.

Or much of a starting rotation, either.

I think the team will get a little bit better, but it's hard when you have that many good young players - it's hard to trade because you don't want to make a mistake. But they're going to have to do it eventually. They'll just have to.

Another one of the young guys is B.J. Upton. What would you do with him?

I think what they're doing with him this year is probably the right way to go. Turn him into a Chone Figgins and let him play a lot of places and see if he can get his offense going and not worry about his defense. And then, eventually, find a position. My guess is he is going to end up an outfielder, which compounds the Rays' problems because they already have outfielders. But Upton has a lot of talent.

What about some of the Rays' young pitching such as Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend?

Niemann and Townsend, to me, have to show that they are healthy. That's something they've never really done so far. They may. Just have to wait and see. We just don't know yet.

What do you think of Scott Kazmir?

He can be a 20-game winner if they score enough runs for him and catch the ball. I haven't see enough of the other young pitchers to know, but I think Joe is really good with pitchers, and that will help. Look, they're not going to win the division right away, so I understand why they would be hesitant to trade away a Crawford or a Baldelli now for more pitching and still finish fourth. They want to get a little closer to being a winning team. Like I said, though, eventually it's going to have to happen because they need pitching.

Can this franchise make it playing in Tropicana Field?

I've got my doubts. I remember when I was at the Boston Globe in the mid 1980s writing what a great market Tampa Bay would be if they just built a ballpark just the other side of I-75 in Tampa. You could draw from St. Pete and Tampa, and if they had a stadium there, it would be a great market. You could get Orlando involved in it. It's kind of hard to get people to go if they have to go across the bridge.

So, long term, you think staying in St. Petersburg will be an issue?

I think it will be an issue. I don't know where there is left on the Tampa side, but I think they have to end somewhere over there.

Thoughts on Stuart Sternberg and the new ownership group?

I like them a lot. I'm really impressed. They're smart businessmen, but more importantly, I think they really understand what's out there and what they have to do. I was impressed by the fact that when they came in, they didn't threaten to move the team, which is really important. When people start threatening to move, it's really hard for fans and the media to stay with them. And they haven't done that. Hey, I can remember being down here a few springs ago and everyone in the business community talking about Vince Naimoli. He alienated everybody. This new group, I think, has the organization now headed in the right direction.