The big difference is that the 2007 Rays had the worst Defensive Efficiency of any team in BP’s database, while the 2008 Rays had the best Defensive Efficiency in baseball.
That’s incredible, and what’s equally incredible is how little tinkering it took to get it done. Five of the eight principal Rays fielders this year were also among the eight main fielders in 2007.
The Rays dealt shortstop Brendan Harris and right fielder Delmon Young to the Twins for Garza and a far better defensive shortstop, Jason Bartlett. They moved Aki Iwamura from third to second, where he replaced B.J. Upton, Harris and Ty Wigginton, and replaced Iwamura at third with rookie Evan Longoria. Upton moved to center field full time, and Gabe Gross replaced Young in right. That’s all–one major trade, one minor trade (with the Brewers for Gross), one promotion, and some position shuffling.
What could the Pirates do to quickly refurbish what appears to be a poor defensive unit? I contemplated the 2011 team for a moment, and it did not take long to imagine a good group of gloves. In addition, it could approach elite territory in the 2012/2013 time frame.
|C||Ryan Doumit||Ryan Doumit||Tony Sanchez|
|1B||Jeff Clement||Pedro Alvarez||Pedro Alvarez|
|2B||Akinori Iwamura||Akinori Iwamura/???||Akinori Iwamura/???|
|SS||Ronny Cedeno||Ronny Cedeno/???||Chase D’Arnaud|
|3B||Andy LaRoche||Andy LaRoche||Andy LaRoche|
|LF||Lastings Milledge||Lastings Milledge||Starling Marte|
|CF||Andrew McCutchen||Andrew McCutchen||Andrew McCutchen|
|RF||Garrett Jones||Jose Tabata||Jose Tabata|
Of course, there are plenty of variables in play here. I am expecting Andy LaRoche to outplay Garrett Jones and Jeff Clement, forcing them to the bench and allowing Pedro Alvarez to play first base. Alvarez’s ability at third is a question mark, but I am sure he could play an above average first base. I doubt Akinori Iwamura stays more than a year or two, so second base would probably need to be filled externally. Another shortstop prospect, such as Jarek Cunningham, could team up with Chase D’Arnaud to man the middle as well. And I wouldn’t completely count out Argenis Diaz (although he is a longshot), as he has an excellent defensive reputation and could become a factor if his offense improves.
This is all highly speculative, but it is becoming easier to envision the Pirates making a sudden turnaround defensively, just as Charlie wrote 18 months ago.