Rays Tales: Newcomers make positive impact

It's obviously way too early to predict how this season is going to end, but it seems fair to say that the Rays' offseason worked out pretty well. Six players acquired during the winter are currently on the roster and playing somewhat significant roles. Here's a look, ranked in order of their current value to the team (all stats through Friday):

1. Yunel Escobar, SS

Stats: .250, 6 HRs, 36 RBIs in 82 games, 4 errors, 1.9 WAR

How acquired: Trade from Marlins for INF Derek Dietrich

Contract: $5 million; $5 million team options for 2014 and 2015

Impact: After a slow start, has been among AL's best, hitting .293 with a .361 on-base percentage since May 11 and going 43 games without an error. Manager Joe Maddon raves regularly and openly touts him as All-Star and Gold Glove worthy. Though a bit flashy, there have been no signs of the bad rep, on- and off-field, that preceded him. "He honestly is one of my favorite teammates of all time," LHP David Price said. "And I think he is the most complete shortstop in baseball right now." Having an offensive shortstop with a slick glove is rare enough. Having one for a reasonable salary, and two option years, makes him even more valuable.

2. James Loney, 1B

Stats: .320, 9 HRs, 43 RBIs in 87 games, 6 errors, 2 WAR

How acquired: Signed as free agent, last with Red Sox

Contract: $2 million, 1-year deal, plus $1 million in incentives

Impact: A close second, Loney not only has played his usual gold-standard defense but has been an offensive force. He leads the Rays, and ranks in the AL top 10, with a .320 average, and has a career-high 16-game hitting streak, and is third on the team with 43 RBIs, while showing power. Plus, he is second in the majors with a .388 average from the seventh inning on, and with a .372 lefty-on-lefty average, and is first in the majors with a .367 road average. "I didn't realize he was this smart of a hitter. He really knows what he's doing at the plate," manager Joe Maddon said.

3. Wil Myers, OF

Stats: .267, 3 HRs, 13 RBIs in 18 games, 0 errors, 0 WAR

How acquired: Trade from Royals, with RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Mike Montgomery, INF Patrick Leonard for RHP James Shields, RHP Wade Davis and INF Elliot Johnson

Contract: $490,000, under Rays control through 2019

Impact: Prized prospect has shown flashes since his June 18 debut of the five-tool package that made him centerpiece of the blockbuster trade, hitting in 15 of his first 18 games. Has impressed with his speed on bases and defense in addition to power bat. Besides what he has done, his presence as another threat in lineup has value, too.

4. Kelly Johnson, INF/OF

Stats: .235, 12 HRs, 40 RBIs in 72 games, 2 errors, 1.4 WAR

How acquired: Signed as free agent, last with Blue Jays

Contract: $2.45 million, 1-year deal, plus $100,000 in incentives

Impact: Bat has cooled considerably since a torrid May (.130 in 27 games), but his versatility not to just start but play well at four positions (1B, 2B, 3B, LF, plus DH) has been a huge plus, especially recently with Evan Longoria limited.

5. Roberto Hernandez, RHP

Stats: 4-0, 4.95 in 16 starts, 96⅓ IP, .272 opponents avg., minus-0.3 WAR

How acquired: Signed as a free agent, last with Indians

Contract: $3.25 million, 1-year deal, plus $1.25 million in incentives

Impact: He has actually given the Rays what they wanted, averaging 6-plus innings per start. It's just that they haven't done much for him, scoring only 13 runs while he's pitching in his 10 losses. With the injuries to and inconsistency by other starters, Hernandez has played a larger role than anticipated and handled it fairly well.

6. Jamey Wright, RHP

Stats: 2-1, 2.88 in 39 games, 40⅔ IP, .205 opponents avg., 0.6 WAR

How acquired: Signed as a free agent, last with Dodgers

Contract: $1 million one-year deal

Impact: Veteran influence who leads the bullpen in innings and has made 15 consecutive scoreless appearances. But he rarely pitches when game is on line: 25 of 39 times with the Rays trailing, nine times with a lead of four or more.

Also

RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo, who had 92 saves for the Marlins (2009-11 )when known as Leo Nunez, is working his way back from elbow surgery, on target to pitch in September (and the Rays hold a 2014 option). … RHP Jake Odorizzi (above right ) has made three starts. … DH/1B Shelley Duncan played in 20 games.

Rays rumblings

The early 2014 schedule has the Rays hosting the Pirates and Brewers, visiting the Cubs and Reds, and playing home-and-home series with the Cardinals and Marlins. Also, three home weekend series with the Red Sox and two with the Yankees, which should help attendance. The Rays open March 31 against Toronto and finish in Cleveland. … There wasn't the usual postgame show for several days last week because the Fort Lauderdale studio used by Orestes Destrade and Barry LeBrock is shared (when both teams are on the road) with the Marlins broadcasters, and they had precedent since their game started earlier. … MLB Network's Peter Gammons tweeted "there may be no greater testament to Joe Maddon" than SS Yunel Escobar's stellar play. … Maddon has had some conversational input into the specifics of his inspired Italian Ava restaurant venture with 717 South owner Michael Stewart and is confident the South Tampa business will turn out "very, very cool." … On July 4, Triple-A Durham drew a stadium-record 11,754, larger than five Rays crowds this season. … Double-A Montgomery took batting practice to all Katy Perry songs Monday, on purpose.

Got a minute? Alex Torres

Best meal you can make?

I can't make anything. I'm bad at that. But I'm good at eating.

Must-see TV?

I like watching anything with Er Conde del Guácharo (a Venezuelan comedian).

Dream vacation spot?

Dubai.

Favorite movie?

I don't have a favorite, but I like action movies and scary movies.

Celebrity crush?

Shakira or J-Lo (Jennifer Lopez). That would be awesome.

Rays Tales: Newcomers make positive impact 07/06/13 [Last modified: Saturday, July 6, 2013 11:23pm]

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