Daily Process: Rays Lose, Sonnanstine Demoted

Big post-game news, as Andy Sonnanstine goes to Durham in order to make room for Brandon Guyer. Nothing personal against Sonnanstine, but his talent level and usage rate left him as an outsider. One who rarely entered games, and rarely impacted them in a satisfactory manner once he did. What Sonnanstine did in 2007, and especially 2008 should never be forgotten, but his days as a legitimate big league starter are over, and sadly, he might not be too long for big league relief work either.

Derek Jeter will be the story of this game, not just for today, but for as long as this game is talked or read about. One day, people will probably recite Jeter’s day to their children or grandchildren, or those grandchildren will recite it to their children, whom for the purpose of this sentence are enthusiastic about the history of the Yankees. I took little joy in hit number 3,000—mostly because it hurt the Rays—but if Tim Beckham or Hak-Ju Lee can turn into half of good as a player as Jeter during his better years, then that would be a remarkable career. Good for Jeter and those whom he has meant so much to. Next time, though, please get your milestone hit against another team.

Some of Jeter’s damage came against David Price, who had one of his least efficient starts in recent memory. Price labored just to get through five innings, and was over 90 pitches exiting the fourth. There’s not much else to say, other than bad days happen, and for Price, this registers as a bad day.

Brandon Gomes made his first appearance since returning, and handled two right-handed batters effortlessly before running into some issues with Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter. Gomes still looks like a major league reliever, which is about as kind of a compliment you can give to a relief prospect.

Offensively, the Rays were led by Matt Joyce, who hit a solo home run in the second, and B.J. Upton, who blasted a two-run shot not too long thereafter. Otherwise, the offense was quiet throughout, until Johnny Damon tripled in the eighth, and had Ben Zobrist bring him in with a single.

Joe Girardi issued an intentional walk of Casey Kotchman. You may have won the game, Yankees fans, but that’s a stain no victory can remove.

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A Thought Experiment About Trading Johnny Damon

Earlier this week, a report surfaced that the Rays would be willing to move Johnny Damon if the right offer came along. Trading Damon is an interesting idea, one that perhaps smacks of a mindset towards selling, but it could provide some interesting scenarios heading into the deadline.

On the field, Damon has produced in an unexpected way. In the three seasons prior to joining Tampa Bay, Damon hit .285/.365/.451, yet he has hit .279/.327/.426 to date. Even in comparison Damon’s 2010 season with Detroit, .271/.355/.401, he has traded in on-base value for added pop. That can be a worthwhile trade, but one point of on-base percentage is as valuable as nearly two points of slugging percentage, which leaves Damon as a loser in the swap, as he has lost 28 points of OBP, while gaining only 25 points of SLG. Nevertheless, Damon’s 753 OPS is right at the average American League designated hitter’s (755), and should get a boost when considering park factors.

A few AL contenders could find a use for Damon, as the Angels and Mariners have less productive designated hitters and playoff aspirations alike. Damon’s modest remaining salary, roughly $2.5 million, and playoff experience could make of him of interest to those teams as well. Maybe a National League team might consider throwing Damon into a corner outfield spot too, who knows. Since Damon is not projected to quality for Type B compensation (and for now, I am working under the assumption there will be free agent compensation this offseason), then the Rays have no reason outside of performance to hold onto him.

The problem with trading Damon exists in the qualitative value he holds. The perceived value is likely overstated, as Damon knows how to plant narratives and massage the media like few others. Give Damon credit, as either his media skills are either intrinsic or a product of taking notes during Scott Boras’ seminars. One of my favorite Damon tricks from this season is flipping out the idea that he was above thinking about stats, only to think about stats aloud (to paraphrase: “I don’t think, ‘Well, what would my batting average be if I bunted more runners over,’”). Another is telling the assembled media that he doesn’t look at his own stats, only to then inform them where he ranks on the all-time runs scored list a sentence or two later.

Handling the media well can improve a fringe Hall of Fame résumé in ways that compiling statistics cannot, and Damon has done just that. The groundswell for his candidacy has already began, and figures to intensify before it’s all said and done.

As for why the Rays would move Damon, the return probably would not be great. A half-season of an average-ish designated hitter in the twilight of his career isn’t too appealing. The real interesting part about moving Damon might be who fills the void, which could come in the form of buying another bat. The Athletics could—perhaps, should—be nearing a state of selling off some parts, and that includes Josh Willingham and David DeJesus, two players the Rays have had reported interest in before. Both are in the midst of rough seasons, but project to be Type-B free agents.

It’s possible neither will outhit Damon heading forward, but at worst, it diversifies the lineup a bit—as Willingham is a righty, and DeJesus is a switchleft-handed-hitter—while potentially adding a sandwich round draft pick to the fold. The Athletics are not ignorant, they know about the draft pick too, but the Rays would be taking about $3 million off their books (they have identical salaries) and allowing them to find out if one of their younger players, possibly Michael Taylor, can help the 2012 team. That the A’s traded Mark Ellis, who has a Type B projection, for nothing more than a middle relief prospect and a player to be named later is an encouraging sign.

Money will always play a part in any transaction, however Damon’s remaining salary (roughly $2.63 million) and incentives (at least $0.15 million) make a swap off between Damon and Willingham or DeJesus only a slight increase, and when the value of a draft pick is factored in, then it’s a worthwhile difference to pay. It would take some wheeling, dealing—likely too much to become a reality—but the Rays could improve by trading Damon and simply replacing him with an offensive equal, no matter how silly that sounds.

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The Andrew Friedman Rumor

This tweet from Richard Justice is going to rile some feathers:

Andrew Friedman has left some of his friends with the clear impression that he would love to be the next GM of the Astros.

I have no idea how legitimate Friedman’s interest in Houston is, and right now it doesn’t matter. All I would say is that, as long as Friedman does not take the entire front office with him, then I think the Rays can survive without because of the talented folks around him. And that’s the beauty, as good as Friedman is—and he is very, very good, possibly the best in the game right now—he has helped assemble a front office that can do a good job of replacing anyone, on and off the field.

If Friedman does end up in Houston, it would be difficult to harvest any bad feelings his way. The guy has given as much as anyone to the organization, and by now he should be able to follow his own interests without being vilified. Plus, you have to admit, it would be a little funny if the only way the Astros can finally replace Gerry Hunsicker is by bringing in the fellow he helped mentor.

The takeaway here, at least at this point, is not to worry too much about it. General managers don’t tend to jump front office to front office without being fired first. Even Billy Beane decided to stay with Oakland at the end of the day. Plus, it wouldn’t be the first time a Texas-based report on a Rays exec turned out to be smoke.

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Sosbey on Robinson Chirinos’ Defense

I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but you should have Adam Sosbey on your Google Reader or bookmarks list by now. His latest goes into some detail about Alex Cobb, as well as Cobb’s preference when it comes to catchers:

Also, Cobb talked about Chirinos’s and Lobaton’s shared ability to “stick” low and/or sinking pitches, of which Cobb throws plenty; that is, they get the thumb of their gloves underneath the ball and keep the arm moving up as they catch it, framing the pitch within the strike zone. This has something to do with pure arm strength—imagine catching a 91-mph two-seam fastball without the downward force of the pitch knocking your arm down—but also with technique: They actually practice this. Over and over, I’m reminded of the small but essential skills players must master in order to do their jobs at the major-league (or even minor-league) level.

Jose Lobaton, by the way, won a few Baseball America awards for being the best defensive catcher in the Padres system, so it’s high praise for Chirinos, a newb to the position, to be on his level at any phase of the receiving game.

I’d also recommend Sosbey’s second-most recent post, where he spends considerable time discussing Dane De La Rosa and Jake McGee.

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Daily Process: Rays, Niemann Defeat Yankees

Jeff Niemann had a fine start, lasting into the eighth and allowing only one run. Say what you will about Niemann’s previous struggles, but one thing he has consistently done well is place his curveball. Tonight was no exception, as Niemann used his curve throughout. I can’t explain how the guy can get thrashed about by the Astros, then turns around and runs roughshod through the Yankees for seven-plus innings, but that’s just baseball for you.

Niemann walked two, struck out four, and handed the ball to Juan Cruz in the eighth, who then passed the baton to Kyle Farnsworth. Farnsworth did what he does best, by killing the Yankees chances of victory.

Entering the game, the starting nine produced by the Rays had a combined 3,009 major league hits. Derek Jeter had 2,997.

The fellow with the most hits in the Rays lineup, B.J. Upton (just over 700), added a homer to his total tonight, as did Ben Zobrist. The latter, who found out that he would not be heading to the All-Star game earlier in the day, also showed off his fielding and baserunning ability throughout the evening.

Regarding Zobrist’s All-Star snub, I wish he were getting recognition, but at the same time, I don’t think Paul Konerko going instead is too big of a deal. FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement metric has the pair nearly two wins apart, however the other metrics—provided by Baseball-Reference and Baseball Prospectus—have Zobrist ahead by 0.5 and 0.3 wins respectively. Is Zobrist having the better season? Probably, but the gap falls within the error bars you’d place on defensive metrics.

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