Pat Burrell had a first-hand view of just how good the Tampa Bay Rays were this past season, being a member of the only team to fare better. Now Burrell leaves the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies to see how the best of the AL lives.
In truth, the fact Burrell didn't find work until January says quite a bit about the market and where he was fitting into it, plus it sums up how fantasy owners have viewed him for years. Burrell, now 32, remains at the back end of his offensive prime, and there are some things he's good at, with other skills he's just not going to acquire suddenly. A two-year deal for $16 million seems a good fit for him and the Rays. Fantasy owners shouldn't adjust their thinking much, but be aware the best has probably happened.
Burrell has been a maddeningly streaky real-life player, but when the fall comes, he always seems to have earned his statistics. He has averaged 32 home runs the past four seasons, never topping 33 or falling below 29. His batting average has settled in the .250s three consecutive seasons, and his slugging percentage has been between .502 and .507 for four straight years. His RBI total has fluctuated a bit, but protecting Ryan Howard in the batting order isn't the best spot if you want to accrue runs batted in. Burrell's end numbers are consistent, you have to give him that. Phillies fans called him a consistent disappointment, but don't be surprised if they miss his power and 216 walks the past two years.
Fantasy owners tend to dismiss Burrell annually because he lacks upside, but a 30-90 season, even with a low batting average and no chance of steals, is still worth something. In 2008 ESPN average live drafts, Burrell was a 14th-round pick, consistent with past seasons and proof that what he's good at often gets overlooked. The same likely will happen in 2009 drafts, but Burrell is likely to deliver similar stats.
The Rays needed power, especially from the right side, as Evan Longoria was basically their lone source in 2008. Only Longoria, Carlos Pena and free agent Eric Hinske reached 20 home runs. Rays designated hitters batted .246 with 24 home runs and 78 RBIs in 2008; Burrell should be able to top those figures on his own with ease, replacing what Cliff Floyd, Jonny Gomes and others did. With Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton entrenched in left and center field, and right field likely to be a platoon of Matt Joyce with a right-handed hitter, Burrell doesn't need to bring his glove. He was never a good outfielder and will fit in nicely as the team's everyday DH, likely batting fifth and protecting Longoria and Pena in an upgraded order.
This seems to be a smart signing by the Rays. Like Philadelphia, the team's lineup needed balance from the right side. Unlike the Phillies, who couldn't wait to be rid of the first overall pick of the 1998 draft and opted for an older, left-handed batter (Raul Ibanez), the Rays got their balance. Burrell is a smart, patient hitter who draws walks and hits for power. He hits left-handed pitching better than right, and until 2008 had hit better in home games than on the road, but none of that matters to the fantasy owner. His lack of fielding prowess made him a better fit for an American League team, but again, fantasy owners need not worry about that. It's possible Burrell loses outfield eligibility in 2010, but we'll worry about that in a year.
Burrell is a relatively safe third or fourth outfielder who should deliver similar numbers to his recent history. To some that might never be enough and will get him ignored in fantasy drafts, but at least you know what you're getting. The Rays do.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.