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Shelton: Rays sit out deadline, and that's standup move
Not trading any of their coveted relievers was the right message to send to fans and players.
By GARY SHELTON, Times Sports Columnist
Published August 1, 2007
Yeah, Rays vice president Andrew Friedman could have made a deal — two or three, he says — but unless someone was willing to pay a high price, why should he?
[Dirk Shadd | Times]
ST. PETERSBURG - Of all of the do-nothing days in the history of the Devil Rays, this one was the best.
They didn't trade Al Reyes.
They didn't trade Dan Wheeler.
They didn't trade the largest contract in the room in exchange for not having to pay it.
In other words, on trade deadline, the Rays didn't do anything. And bully for them for resisting the urge.
I know, I know. Throughout the history of the Rays, the trading deadline has been set up as the International Day of Hope, a time to lessen the payroll and increase the spin-doctoring about how good the day after tomorrow is going to be. And perhaps the dreamers among you thought that, this time, the Rays could somehow end up with a better catcher or a can't-miss shortstop or another member of the starting rotation.
The reason none of that happened is simple. It wasn't offered. And if that feels disappointing to you, well, that's understandable.
On the other hand, the more you look at the bullpen that remains, the better you should like it.
Finally, there are possibilities. Finally, there is potential. Finally, there are outs.
Golly. What a concept.
Just like that, there is a lot to like about the Rays' bullpen. At last, it looks like a major-league pen is supposed to look. For the first time in years, you can imagine the proper slotting - Gary Glover or Grant Balfour in the sixth or seventh, Wheeler in the eighth, Reyes in the ninth - to keep a game within reach.
Potentially - and yes, that's a tricky word - it's the best bullpen the Rays have had since they blew up the Roberto Hernandez-Jim Mecir-Rick White trio back in 2000.
Given that, it is hard to blame Rays vice-president Andrew Friedman for thinking about that as he walked around on Tuesday with a cell phone attached to his skull. Yeah, Friedman could have made a deal - two or three, he says - but unless someone was willing to pay a high price, why should he?
You wonder: How much better would these Rays have been if they had this bullpen from opening day? Would they have a half-dozen more wins? Maybe 10? Maybe enough to get out of the cellar?
For most of us, watching a Rays game this year has been like a horror show; the longer you watch, the more you find yourself staring through your fingers at the carnage. Some teams have relief corps; this one has had relief corpses?.
How do you describe the mess that has been Rays' bullpen? You could say awful, but that's like describing the Grand Canyon as "a big hole." They have been magnificently, monumentally, glow-in-the-dark horrible. Consider:
- No bullpen in 50 years has had a higher ERA than the 6.69 with which the Rays entered Tuesday night's game.
- This year, the Rays' relievers have allowed 63 more runs than the next closest team (the Tigers).
- Even when you factor in how good Reyes has been as the closer this year, opponents are batting .308 against Rays' relief pitchers, 17 points higher than the next-to-last White Sox have allowed.
- Thirteen times, the Rays have lost despite leading or being tied after six innings.
Considering it all, the Rays were down to two choices: One, they could explain slowly one more time that, technically, this isn't slow pitch. Two, they could bring in new arms and hold onto them tightly.
For instance, it's hard not to like the way Wheeler has grown. It would be hard to blame him if he kicked a little and screamed a lot at the prospect of returning to the Rays. After all, this is the franchise that brought him up too fast and gave up on him too early back in 2001. And even Hercules only had to go into the stables once.
Wheeler, however, insists that he's happy to be back. If Wheeler pitches the way he did in Houston, if he can influence young pitchers the way his reputation suggests, then the Rays are going to be happy, too.
For that matter, the Rays like the early returns on Balfour, too. Yeah, yeah, make all the jokes you want about how much nerve it takes for a team to sign a pitcher named "Grant Balfour." On the other hand, they got him for Seth McClung, who might as well have been named "Homer DuLeft," so think of it as an upgrade.
Most of all, it was good to see the Rays keep both Reyes and Wheeler. As it turns out, agents can read ERAs, too. Can you imagine what the going price of a reliever was going to be for a team who needed them as badly as Tampa Bay? The fewer the Rays have to bid for, the better.
This time, the Rays' inactivity should have made you feel ... relief.