The Tampa Bay Rays lost today. It's early, but they've lost a lot. They're 4-8, they're already four games out of first place, and they've scored the fewest runs in the American League.
Meanwhile, they've got one of baseball's top hitting prospects down in Triple-A, because if he stays down there for another week or so, this season won't count as a full season of service, which means he'll remain under the Rays' contractual control through 2019; otherwise he might be eligible for free agency after 2018.
In his newsletter (subscription info here) Monday, Joe Sheehan made a direct connection between the Rays' failure to score runs and Wil Myers rotting in the International League. Joe's big finish:
I see no reason for the Rays to behave as if the 2020 season is going to be a reality for them. Their current situation is simply untenable. No matter how well they play, they can't get people to come to the ballpark -- which is labeled horrible, but mostly it's just in an impossible location. Their situation in 2020 is unlikely to be affected by whether they employ Wil Myers or what they are paying him, and the chance that I'm wrong about that is outweighed by the absolute certainty that they're shooting themselves in the foot in a contending season by not having him in their lineup.
In most cases, holding down a player such as Wil Myers makes sense. This is the exception. Wins in April count exactly as much as wins in September, and the Rays are giving away too many of them with an embarrassing lineup. Myers should have been starting for the Rays on Opening Day, he should have been starting for the Rays on Patriots Day and he should be starting for the Rays tomorrow. Every day spent messing around with Sam Fuld and Shelley Duncan rather than Myers is simply wasted.
There are a couple of interesting notions here.
One is that the Rays simply shouldn't be worried at all about the (relatively) distant future; essentially, they shouldn't give a hoot about service time because the franchise's future will be determined by much larger forces: a new ballpark, say, or even franchise relocation. But don't the Rays, organizationally speaking, have to assume they'll still be trying to win baseball games with a limited budget in 2020?
Actually, it's sooner than that. If Myers opened this season with the club and didn't get sent down, he would be eligible for free agency after the 2018 season. So we're actually talking about 2019 being the first season without Myers being under the club's control. In the absence of any solid evidence to the contrary, I will assume the Rays will still be doing essentially what they're doing now. Now, if you're the owner and you don't expect to still own the club then, all bets are off. But I don't see any reason to think that Stuart Sternberg & Co. are selling anytime soon.
Again, it's an interesting notion. I'm just not sure the Rays are really so different from all the other clubs.
Second, Sheehan suggests that in this particular case, holding Myers back is costing the Rays in the standings.
Well, he knows the numbers better than I. But if we assume that Myers is worth three wins above replacement -- fairly generous actually, for such a young hitter with some holes in his game -- and that his fill-ins are actually slightly worse than that, then keeping Myers in the minors for three weeks would cost the Rays one-half of one win.
On paper, of course. On the actual field, it might be three wins or zero wins or he might actually be worse than the other guys. In the event, James Loney and Sam Fuld and Shelley Duncan have all been terrible, and in fact there was some reason to think they would all be terrible. Just not this terrible.
Joe's larger point, I think, is that the Rays have done a poor job of collecting hitters who play the hitter positions, and about this I think he's right. Maybe James Loney will eventually hit, though. Did I mention that it's still early?