Among Andrew Friedman’s many talents in building the Rays, perhaps none is more important than his instinct to cut bait. I like to compare the Rays to the Indians. In 2007, Cleveland was a strike away from the World Series. Then, they promptly locked up the entire team, casting aside the possibility that luck had any role, and have been stuck in neutral.
Friedman, on the other hand, has dispensed key cogs along the Rays run. The moves were rarely popular but, have generally seemed to make the club better. All of this came rushing back to me last night when Edwin Jackson faced Josh Hamilton. (How that particular feat ever occurred in a World Series is tough for 2006 Mark to imagine).
Friedman is not perfect and, perhaps his biggest gaffe as GM was exposing Hamilton to the Rule V draft before figuring out whether he could play. Friedman ultimately dumped Jackson as well but not before he gave Jackson every opportunity to make himself a franchise cornerstone ahead of what we now know is a really really talented group of young starting pitchers.
Edwin and Josh are good reminders as the Rays face their biggest offseason decision: BJ. How do you solve a problem like Upton?
During September, I told Larry Behrendt at IIATMS that BJ Upton was the most frustrating player I have ever followed because, his flashes of brilliance make his long stretches of mediocrity seem almost spiteful. BJ can be both Josh Hamilton and Edwin Jackson in the same game. Has he arrived or is he still full of potential?
BJ is replaceable defensively and can be improved offensively from within the system. Combine that with an arbitration-fueled raise and this seems like the perfect winter for BJ to order some packing boxes.
But, the risk in moving BJ is that he turns into Josh Hamilton. What if September BJ Upton is the real thing? What if that was the tipping point we have waited for so patiently? That player, who hit .333/.432./606 with 9 steals and 5 bombs, is a potential MVP. After all BJ has put us through, I cannot stomach watching him star for someone else. Watching Hamilton do it is hard enough.
But BJ is just a career .257 hitter, who has struck out (851) more than twice as often as he has walked (385). And, despite brief flashes of power, he is just a career .416 slugger. Those are pretty mediocre numbers for a franchise building block. So, extending BJ means many more summers of sizzle without steak.
That is the Edwin Jackson route. There is a reason 78 franchises have employed Jackson in the last 6 months. He has tons of potential. He is just unable to access it. Do we really want to be BJ Upton’s only employer? Shouldn’t someone else share in this risk?
That leaves Andrew Friedman at a crossroads. He is simultaneously staring at Edwin Jackson and Josh Hamilton. Here’s hoping his advanced analysis can distinguish between the two. I am certainly glad I am not in his chair this winter.