The 2010 MLB Second Half Team to Watch Debate… A Ray of Sunshine in the AL East

July 15, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

Four months ago I started my own personal Carl Crawford watch.

The Tampa Bay Rays were entering the 2010 campaign with a great deal of pressure. Because this is a contract year for Crawford, and if the Rays were unable to find any magic during the first half of the season (something I did not expect to happen), then the left fielder would have become the main attraction in a Ray fire sale.

What a difference four months can make.

Instead of being in a position to sell at the upcoming trade deadline the Rays have played some outstanding ball through the first half of the season. The team sits only two games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East, and currently holds a three game lead for the AL Wild Card over the other division rival, the Boston Red Sox.

Now, with the trade deadline fast approaching, the Rays could become one of the aggressive teams looking to buy in the hopes of getting a missing piece that will help them maintain momentum into the postseason.

The core of the roster is as solid as any in the Majors today. For his part, Crawford is making sure his value remains high, whether he stays in Tampa after this season or moves on to greener (pun intended) pastures. Through the first half of the season he is batting .321 and is among the league’s leaders in stolen bases (31) and triples (6). His performance was enough to earn him a starting nod on the American League All-Star roster, and he did not make that trek alone.

In addition to Crawford, the Rays boast two other All-Stars in third baseman Evan Longoria and pitcher David Price.

Longoria made his third career All-Star appearance on Tuesday, thanks to a .300 batting average combined with an on-base percentage of .381 and a slugging percentage of .513. As for Price, he boasts the third most wins in the American League, as he is the proud owner of a 12-4 record through the first half of 2010. Price is also one of only nine starting pitchers in the league with an ERA below 2.50.

As the tread deadline looms ever closer, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has made the commitment to his teams and his fans that he will do everything in his power to ensure that his team will be playing October baseball, even promising that “money won’t be an object.”

And as ESPN.com writer Jerry Crasnick points out, even if the Rays fail to land a blockbuster trade deal, the team still has some amazing young prospects waiting in the wings… the type that could be called up and make an immediate contribution.

Conditions are perfect for a very exciting second half from the Tampa Bay Rays. The combination of first half success and All-Star talent, along with the indication that the team will be among the most aggressive teams at the trade deadline, makes for some very entertaining baseball during its closing months.

The Tampa Bay Rays reached the World Series in 2008, but lost to the Philadelphia Phillies. Will 2010 be the year to finish the job? Rest assured that no other team will try harder than the Rays to make it back to the Fall Classic. In a division that has been dominated by the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, it is the Rays who are contributing the most exciting baseball of the season.

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The Best Under 25 MLB Player Debate… Longoria Perfect Mix for Franchise Success

June 4, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

I originally believed it would be hard to write this argument from an honest place knowing I was not quick enough on the draw to call Jason Heyward as the subject of my article. Heyward is having an amazing season thus far, and I believed it would be difficult to argue that another player would be more ideal to build a franchise around than the talented and charismatic Heyward.

But, if Heyward does have a demonstrated weakness at this stage of his career, however, it is that fans simply have a very limited sample size. Heyward is super young, only 20 years of age, and skipped an entire level of baseball (Triple A). Skeptics are right in questioning his ability to maintain the high standard he has set as a young professional because he has never had to be great for a long time.

While 25 years of age is still quite young for a baseball player, there are players who have had success at the major league level, and been more consistent. That is, they have sustained success over a period of time great than Heyward’s two months. One such player is Evan Longoria (24) – the player under 25 who I believe is the best candidate to begin building a franchise around.

Before you teenagers reading this get all excited, no, he is not related to, married to, and probably does not even know, Eva Longoria.

Now that we have that bit of business out of the way, let’s dig into the facts.

Longoria was drafted just four short years ago. He handled a delayed call up to the major leagues – due to an opportunity for the Rays to protect him for an additional year under contract – very professionally. He did his duty down in the minor leagues, earned the requisite seasoning, then stormed onto the scene with a monster rookie season.

Longoria began as a rookie with 27 home runs and 85 RBI. Not bad for a 22-year old kid fresh out of college. He even notched seven stolen bases to go along with his .272 batting average. All of that was enough to earn him a spot on the All-Star team as a rookie, an eleventh place finish in the MVP voting, and a runaway victory in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2008.

Of course, the mark of truly great baseball is not just an ability to perform at a high level one season, but to showcase the ability to perform well in multiple seasons. Longoria did not struggle with a sophomore slump, and actually improved his overall game a great deal despite his outstanding rookie season.

In 2009 Longoria slipped to 19th in the MVP vote (how embarrassing), but did manage to raise many other aspects of his game. For example, he slammed 33 home runs and knocked in 113 runs with a .281 batting average. He snagged nine bases, and hit 44 doubles, too. While he was an All-Star again, he also rounded out his game even more by winning a Silver Slugger award (over that A-Rod fella up in the Bronx) and his first ever Gold Glove. He was 23 at the time.

Already in 2010 he is off to a better than expected start given his already impressive stats from his first two seasons in the league. In two months he has ten home runs and 39 RBI. He is batting a robust .315 and has already stolen eight bases (though he was also caught stealing… for the first two times ever in his career). His OPS, OBP, and Slugging Percentage are also trending higher than previous seasons after the first 60+ days of the season. Not bad for a guy who still has not even earned $2M in salary yet over the course of his entire career.

Okay, stats are impressive, but do they tell the entire story of a player? No. That’s why, in fact, I chose Longoria. As a rookie, he was an integral part of the Rays’ surprising run to the post-season where the team defeated the Red Sox in the ALCS, and then fell to the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. His outstanding season helped earn the Rays their first ever post-season opportunity, then his calm demeanor and ability to perform in the post-season propelled the team through to the World Series… where his sudden lack of production ultimately doomed the team (he batted 0.050 in the World Series – yikes).

Great stats? Check. Hardware? Check. Leader? Check. Important to team’s success – even as a rookie? Check.

Longoria is also a rare matching of consistently outstanding performances and camera-friendly charisma. You may view the latter in New Era’ 2010 season advertising campaign. Oh, and he is available for speaking engagements.

Longoria is as complete of a baseball player as there ever has been at the tender age of 24. And he seems like a great person to boot. Sounds like the right mixture to build a baseball team around, doesn’t it?

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