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Mailbag: In-house bullpen solutions

Mailbag: In-house bullpen solutions

Coming off a recent divorce with the Yankees (after a 30-year relationship) -- due to the way A-Rod opted out of his contract and then returned -- I am happy to say that for once in a long time I am excited about being a fan. That said, in light of your recent article about the young Rays arms in the Minors and the congestion at the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation, wouldn't it make sense for manager Joe Maddon to test some of those who have struggled as starters (such as Edwin Jackson or J.P. Howell) in the bullpen (see Casey Janssen's numbers from last year)?
-- Fred A., Utica, N.Y.

I think it would make sense for Maddon to test some of those pitchers in the bullpen, in particular Howell, since the Rays need a left-handed reliever. In the past, when discussions about moving Howell to the bullpen have been broached, the Rays have taken the stance that he has been a starter throughout his career and that it would be unfair simply to throw him into the fire. However, Howell had several good opportunities at the Major League level last season and did not take advantage of them. He is a great teammate, in addition to being extremely competitive. I think he would give the Rays a nice extra wrinkle out of the bullpen.

As an orange-bleeding Giants fan, it kills me to say this, but I wish my beloved Giants had the Rays' lineup. I am serious when I say that in 2010 we might see a rematch of a Bay Area vs. Tampa Bay championship. (Raiders vs. Bucs).
-- Chris C., San Francisco

If all goes as planned, the Rays should have their best lineup in franchise history at the beginning of the season. There is a lot of talent, and I think it's easy to get excited about the possibilities. I think this team can go as far as the pitching takes it this season, and who knows where by 2010. Tampa Bay fans would like to see a rematch of that Super Bowl -- particularly if the outcome would be the same.

Yes, I agree this team looks as if it's finally turning the corner, but this squad has so many "ifs" it scares me. And unlike a lot of people, I liked Brendan Harris' play last year. The new shortstop, Jason Bartlett, is no spring chicken at 27, and to me has not done anything that special. He had a career year last season, hitting a massive five home runs and 43 RBIs, and I can't really say that he will be a big help defensively -- he had a lot of errors last year. Akinori Iwamura was excellent last year on defense, but only hit seven home runs. That is a whopping 12 home runs from second base and shortstop -- that is not enough. I want to be optimistic about this team, because I can see it's close, but I'm so tired of waiting for this franchise to do something besides showing heart and hustle and promise on the field. What is the cure?
-- Roger P., Seminole, Fla.

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OK, let's take this one step by step. First, the "ifs." There is nothing you can do about the "ifs," particularly with a young team. Finding consistency on a young team is the wild card that veteran teams don't have -- and I'm talking strictly when it comes to the everyday lineup. Pitching is altogether another beast. A lot could go right for this team, and given the team's youth, there is always the chance for a regression. But I like the chances of the "ifs" working out in the Rays' favor this season.

Next, Harris. A lot of people liked Harris, including the Twins, which is one reason they agreed to trade with the Rays. You have to trade something of value to get something of value in return. I haven't seen Bartlett play much -- and I suspect few Rays fans have -- so I'll hold my opinion on him. But remember, errors aren't always an indication of how a player has played -- particularly at shortstop, where range is such a big factor. According to the Rays, this guy has the range. I think all of us will have to wait and see. And a side note, Harris will be 28 in August, and Bartlett turned 28 this past October.

As for Iwamura and Bartlett providing little power at second and shortstop, who cares as long as they play solid defense while Evan Longoria and Pena are pumping them into the grandstands? I do understand any Rays fan being frustrated about the past, but I think this year's team is going to be a lot of fun to watch.

Do you know why the Rays are moving Iwamura to second base? I don't see the logic behind it, because he was probably the best third baseman in the league last year, and I think he was robbed of a Gold Glove.
-- Paul R., St. Louis

The Rays have explained the move as such: Top prospect Longoria will be arriving soon to play third base. It could happen at the start of the season or it might be early on, but he's coming. While Iwamura has a flashy glove at third, the position traditionally has been a hitting position, a spot where power hitters play. Longoria fits that mold. Meanwhile, Iwamura can take his glove to second, where he'll likely show the same magic he flashed at third. Moving him there before the season gives him a chance to get familiar with the position so he has a chance to succeed once the 2008 campaign begins.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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