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January 21, 2013
Thanks for the question, Jacob. Let's break this down into the pre-Myers era of 2013 and the post-Myers era and then decide if the Rays really need to acquire another bat ...
There is a very strong likelihood that power-hitting prospect Wil Myers will start the season in Triple-A. Without getting too much into specifics on service time and how it relates to arbitration and free agency, let's just say that the Rays will get an extra year of team control if Myers stays in the minors until around late April, and he'll only get three years of arbitration, starting in 2016, instead of four, starting in 2015, if he's in the minors until at least late May. Big savings for a small market team. The safe assumption would be that the 22 year-old Myers joins the Rays in June. This is my current projection for the April and May lineup ...
Not that impressive, right? They could also have Zobrist play right field, move Joyce to left field, and go with some combination of Ryan Roberts, Reid Brignac, and Sean Rodriguez at second base. Still not impressed? You shouldn't be. Roberts (.656 OPS), Brignac (2-for-21 in MLB), and Rodriguez (.607 OPS) didn't exactly set the world on fire last season. Any way you slice it, there are two spots in the lineup that could use an upgrade. Well, they could actually use an upgrade at first base and catcher, too, but expect James Loney and Jose Molina to be in the lineup on Opening Day.
So the easy answer to your question would be 'yes, they should sign a DH' and it wouldn't even necessarily be until Myers is ready. There appears to be an open spot for the entire season. If I had to guess, I'd say that they either re-sign Luke Scott, or possibly pursue other free agent options like Travis Hafner or Delmon Young while a combination of everyone else would serve as a stopgap for Myers. The versatility of Zobrist gives manager Joe Maddon the option to try and find the hot hand between several different players, including Roberts, Brignac, Rodriguez, Fuld, Guyer, or whoever else might be on the roster. Here's what that lineup could look like ..
1 CF Desmond Jennings
Now on to that post-Myers lineup with a regular designated hitter ...
1 CF Desmond Jennings
Now here's the question for you. Is two months of the pre-Myers lineup and four months of the post-Myers lineup good enough for the Rays to earn a playoff spot? Sure, if that rotation is dominant again. What, they traded James Shields? I'm not liking the chances.
I'll be honest with you, John. I have no idea. Ideally, a team hoping to contend for a playoff spot has at least three starters that can be penciled in for at least 28-33 starts and 180-200 innings. The Brewers? Well, they have Yovani Gallardo and that's about it. The 26 year-old has averaged 32 starts and 196 innings over the past four seasons. Chris Narveson averaged 165 innings per season from 2010-11 but missed most of last season with a torn rotator cuff. In addition to Narveson, there are nothing but question marks throughout the list of rotation candidates. Veteran lefty Tom Gorzelanny is also an option, although he's expected to fill a hole in an equally thin bullpen.
Although they have to be encouraged by what Marco Estrada did in his first season as a big league starter (3.64 ERA, 138.1 IP, 129 H, 29 BB, 143 K), he'll have some doubters as he's penciled into a rotation spot for the first time in his career. The 29 year-old, who has a career 3.0 BB/9 and 7.7 K/9 in 524 minor league innings, managed a 1.9 BB/9 and 9.3 K/9 in the majors. How does that happen? Once again, I have no idea. Ask one of those really smart Baseball Prospectus writers. There are plenty of them. I'll keep it simple and just point out that there's a chance he could revert to the guy he was before when he profiled as a swingman/middle reliever.
Ditto for Michael Fiers, who made his first big league start of 2012 on May 29th and finished with a 3.74 ERA in 127.2 innings pitched with 36 walks and 135 strikeouts. The good news is that his 2.7 BB/9 and 9.5 K/9 is in line with what he did over 346.2 minor league innings. The bad news is that the 27 year-old averages 88 MPH with his fastball, leaving him little margin for error. And he struggled at the end of the season, meaning he either wore down -- he pitched a career high 182.2 innings between Triple-A and the majors after never having thrown more than 126 as a professional -- or hitters finally started to figure him out. Regardless, a rotation spot should be his to lose.
Former top prospect Mark Rogers, who had solid numbers (3.92 ERA, 39 IP, 36 H, 14 BB, 41 K) in seven big league starts in 2012 but unimpressive numbers in Triple-A (4.72 ERA, 95.1 IP, 92 H, 49 BB, 74 K), will also be in the mix for a rotation spot. His 134.1 overall innings was a career high. The 26 year-old still has a great arm but it's anybody's guess what kind of pitcher he'll be in 2013.
The team's top two prospects, Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg, also have a chance to break camp with the big league club and could be ex-factors in the team's success. The 23 year-old Peralta had 175.2 innings pitched between Triple-A and the majors while Thornburg, 24, finished with 134.2 between Double-A, Triple-A, and the majors. If either, or both, has an Estrada or Fiers-type season as a rookie -- not too much of a reach given their stuff and the league's lack of familiarity with them -- the Brewers could exceed expectations. The problem is that expectations aren't very high given the question marks on the current roster, which is now without starting first baseman Corey Hart for at least the first month or two of the season after knee surgery.
With all that said, I don't think they have nearly enough right now. Unless they can sign Kyle Lohse, Joe Saunders, or Shaun Marcum, I can see them scuffling by mid-season and looking for someone to give them some quality starts.