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What Is Going On???

I felt that I had to weigh in on yesterday’s action that included the Rays trying to win the 2004 World Series and the Angels trying to…well I’m not really sure what the Angels are trying to do. Let’s start off with the less puzzling moves and focus on the Rays. They needed a DH and they needed a left fielder, so they signed Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. As recently as two years ago, those would have been franchise changing type moves, even for a franchise as strong as the Rays. Now, they’re a little puzzling, but at least you can come up with a defense for them.

While neither provides much defensively, Damon still has some speed and when put in an outfield with BJ Upton and Desmond Jennings will probably not have to do a ton of work. The Rays are taking a giant step back defensively from Crawford, but overall the outfield defense is still a strength. Offensively, I get the feeling that Damon could implode at any time, but until he does, you have to assume he’s good or a .350-.365 OBP, a slugging percentage north of .400 and a few stolen bases. If you had told me 15 years ago that Johnny Damon would be playing for his sixth team, I’d have thought you were crazy, but he has apparently decided that he’s fine bouncing around from team to team in this portion of his career. Presumably he wants to get to 3,000 hits because other than individual awards that he probably has no business winning now, he’s accomplished everything else in his career. Players who completely alienate two franchises are a rare breed, so enjoy Damon while you can.

On the Manny front, I actually quite like this signing. It’s just for $2 million, so if he pulls his Manny act at any point, the Rays can show him the door and be out very little. Honestly, that’s probably the most likely scenario, but in spite of his issues last year, he still hit .298/.409/.460. For $2 million, that is fantastic production.  The red flags come when looking at his White Sox numbers. The first two parts of his slash stats, .261/.420, look absolutely fine, but he slugged an abysmal .319 with just two extra base hits in 88 at bats. Sometimes great hitters lose it quite suddenly, and at 38 years old, that’s not out of the question for Manny. Still, I actually love this risk because of how relatively inexpensive it is.

One quick side note before we go on. This has been brought up on Twitter a lot recently, and really began when the Rays signed Kyle Farnsworth. Why is it that every single move the Rays make is intelligent while if the Royals were to do the same thing, it’d be just the dumbest thing ever? I’ll grant the fact that the Rays have earned the right to get the benefit of the doubt to some extent, but dumb is dumb, no matter who is doing it. If the Rays were to go out and, oh, I don’t know, trade for Vernon Wells and not get much money in return, I guarantee you there would be some writers who would try to spin it by saying that Andrew Friedman must know something we don’t. If the Royals did that, the internet may crash with bloggers, newspaper writers, car salesman and high priests rushing to write how dumb they are. I’m not saying that Dayton Moore is a genius because he’s clearly got some growing up to do as a GM, and is still probably one of the ten worst GMs in baseball (and even that may be kind). My point is that just because a move is made by a team who typically makes smart moves does not mean that the move isn’t stupid. My guess with the Rays two moves is that one ends up working and one ends up failing miserably. I’m not sure which one is which, but I think we’ll be seeing a 50% success rate come August or so.

So I was clearly joking about trading for Vernon Wells with very little salary relief. I can’t imagine a team would be stupid enough to do that. Oh right, the Angels were. Picture the steepest mountain you can. That is what a line graph would look like of Angels fans hopes as the off-season began. Arte Moreno promised he’d spend money and make the Angels competitors in the American League West again. There was some talk that the Angels might sign three of the biggest free agents with Carl Crawford as the top target, Adrian Beltre a close second and Rafael Soriano a close third. Well, Crawford and Soriano went to the ridiculously competitive American League East while Beltre went to the team the Angels least wanted him to go, the Rangers. So the Angels whiffed on all three. It happens. They were able to bolster the bullpen with signings of Hisanori Takahashi and Scott Downs (are there two more different names out there?).

But unfortunately for Angels fans, they felt the pressure of not having done what they set out to do, and with money burning a hole in their pockets…well they spent it. They traded productive players Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli to the Blue Jays for Vernon Wells who has $86 million remaining on his contract for the next four years. Early reports indicated that the Blue Jays did not send any money in the deal, making it the heist of the young year, but those were quickly amended to state the Blue Jays sent $5 million. To you and me, $5 million is a boat load of money. To them, it’s the equivalent of me robbing a mom and pop shop and then giving them a $20 to clean up the damages. It’s almost as if the Blue Jays felt bad and said, ‘ahh, sorry kid, here ya go’ and tossed in some cash.

Let’s look at this from the Angels perspective first. Ignoring money, this move improves their outfield defense if they’re willing to play Wells in left and Bourjos in center with Hunter in right. If they insist on Wells or Hunter playing center, then their defense takes a large step back. Realistically, Wells replaces Juan Rivera on the roster, and strictly comparing those two, they did get better. Adding in Napoli was just world class stupid. Over the last three years, Napoli has hit .258/.341/.502 with 66 homers on an Angels team that occasionally struggles for offense. Scioscia clearly doesn’t like him behind the plate because of his defense, but there is definitely a place in the lineup for that bat. While Kendry Morales should be completely healthy in 2011,  Napoli would have been a fantastic backup option. Overall, the Angels got worse here.

Dave Cameron, I believe, said about six months ago that the only way the Blue Jays could trade Wells is if they picked up $65 million of his remaining contract. And most people agreed. Tony Reagins, the Angels general manager, on the other hand, scoffed at that notion and is now the leader in the clubhouse for stupid trade of the year. The odds are pretty well against Vernon Wells earning his contract and replacing the production of the two guys sent to Toronto for him, but we all know it could happen. If that does happen, I will be utterly shocked. The nice thing about this trade is that it sort of makes me feel better about Dayton Moore and the Royals.

Maybe good GMs just have moments where they completely turn off their brain and go after players who would have been fantastic targets a few years before. Maybe, every so often, the fan inside the general manager gets out and just wants to trade for a big name. Dayton has still done it a few more times than most of the others, but it’s sort of comforting to know that other GMs do amazingly stupid things some team and that Dayton Moore doesn’t have the monopoly on that. Misery does love company. Dayton Moore may sign him some former Braves from time to time, but at least we don’t have Vernon Wells patrolling the outfield at $20+ million per year for the next four.

And yeah, the Dayton Moore – former Braves post is coming on Monday morning. Be prepared.

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