November 2008

Explanation of Type “A” and “B” Arbitration Senarios

 

With Arbitration days starting on Monday December 1st, MLB’s GM’s have other things beyond the Holiday Season to think about on this date. Not out of their minds is the fact that several MLB free agents will be looking for their own types of Christmas presents either from their current clubs, or a new suitor for 2009.

 

On Monday, teams will be making major decisions regarding their Type “A” and Type “B” arbitration eligible free agents and/ or roster babies. These decisions will not be made lightly, and sometimes a teams’ June Draft can be effected by the results, both positively or negatively with their decisions.

 

The Tampa Bay Rays are lucky enough to not have a single member of their 40- man roster sitting in either of these categories in 2009. With Rocco Baldelli and Trever Miller being offered contract buy-outs before this period, the team is not responsible or can reap any advantages to them signing for another team. Cliff Floyd and Eric Hinske also are free and clear free agents able to talk and sign with any team in the MLB they desire, with no compensation for the Rays.

 

Most MLB players tend to wait until December 1st to get a realistic view of if their  2008 team does in fact, have them in the team’s future by offering arbitration, or letting them go as free agents.  There are many players’ throughout the majors this off season who are waiting anxiously to get the positive or negative word on their current teams’ desire for them for the upcoming season.

 

 

            

 

Some players like Chicago Cub’s ex-closer, Kerry Wood could be offered arbitration, but the team will have to gamble that he will not accept it. Wood has already been replaced as the Cubs closer by former set-up guy, Carlos Marmol.

So the chess game will begin, and the Cubs would offer, but they will need a solid statement that Wood will want to go elsewhere in 2009. But some of these players come with baggage. Not injury or even a agent like Scott Boras, but a Type “A” or “B” designation that will give their old squad a type of  draft rebate if they are signed by another club.

 

For some teams this rebate system has helped them in the past get an extra prospect or two who could help in the long run for their franchise. The Type “A” guys are pretty easy to find this off season, they are the guy that are being tossed around for examination by almost every competing club in baseball. They are the top tier free agents that have been drawing the most attention, and will command the most in return for their services.

 

I am going to take an example from the list of Type “B” arbitration eligible players to try and illustrate the process. The list of potential Type “B” guys include such  field players as: Milton Bradley, Ivan Rodriguez, Gregg Zaun, Paul Lo Duca, Casey Blake, Ken Griffey Junior, Luis Gonzalez, Frank Thomas, Garrett Anderson, Mark Grudzielanek, Mark Loretta,Juan Uribe and Jeff Kent.

 

Not to outdone is the list of potential pitchers also eligible for arbitration: John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Jon Garlend, Randy Wolf, Paul Byrd, Alan Embree,Randy Johnson, Brian Shouse, Brendan Looper,  Dave Weathers, Jason Isringhausen,Brandon Lyon, Arthur Rhodes, Joe Beimel, Denny Reyes, Rudy Seanez, Luis Ayala and  Eric Gagne.

 

You might notice that I left 2 people off this list because it is generally thought that they will retire quietly before Spring Training in 2009. Former Mets outfielder Moises Alou and outstanding pitcher Greg Maddux are considered by many to take a bow out this off season and pursue other avenues in life.

 

 

                               

 

Okay, for the sake of arguing, let me take one  Type “A” Arbitration player to put him through a series of  possible arbitration events to see what might happen starting tomorrow morning. I will select currently LA Angels first baseman Mark Teixiera as my example of an Type “A” candidates. He is one of the diamond being shined bright by his agents and fellow MLB teams as a cornerstone to a lineup and a star for years. 

 

To start off, let’s consider that the Angels do want to retain his services in 2009, they would start by offering him arbitration after the December 1st date.  If Teixiera accepts the arbitration offer, he will get his 2009 salary determined by the  arbitration process.  He earned a salary of $ 12.5 million dollars for 2008, and had a typical year at the plate and in the field. This would result in a  higher salary for 2009. Now, he can still sign with the Angels before his hearing and would be the property of the Angels for 2009, thus ending his other suitors’ pursuit of him.

 

Typically, a team will sometime offer arbitration to a player thinking they might not even respond. This was not the case in 2002 when the Atlanta Braves tried to fake their interest in Gregg Maddux as a front for a trade. Maddux accepted their offer and went on to post a huge 2002 salary.

 

                                             

 

So with that in mind, if the Angels do not offer any arbitration to Teixiera, it he becomes a free agent with the Angels not getting any compensation for him. Players are considered for their status as “A” or “B” type arbitration candidates based on their statistics the prior 2 seasons.

 

Teixiera would fall into the “A” category based on his Plate Appearances, Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, Home Runs, Runs Batted In for all players in his position classification. Since he played mostly first base this year, his arbitration ranking will come from the final statistics of every player in the MLB who played first base in 2009.

 

If the Angels offer arbitration, but Teixiera would rather play somewhere else and decides to sign with another franchise, the Angels would receive 2 picks in the 2009 Amateur Draft in June for Teixiera’s signing elsewhere. And so the chess match will begin on Monday as to the desires of the MLB’s clubs and their players for 2009.

 

Okay, let’s spell this completely out so there is no misunderstanding here.  Let’s say his old team, the Atlanta Braves want to get Teixiera back into a Braves’ jersey for 2009.  The Angels will then receive 1 draft pick from the Braves’ 2009  Amateur Draft selection.  Let’s say they have the 22nd pick of the 2009 draft. The Angels would get that draft pick and also another additional pick as compensation for the Braves taking back Teixiera into their organization.

 

The Angels would also get another draft pick sandwiched between the first and second rounds if he was a Type “A” eligible candidate.  The Angels can only get the First Round pick of the team signing Teixiera if it falls between pick number 16-30. If the Braves had one of the first 15 picks, they are protected and  it can not be taken from them for arbitration supplemental picks.

 

If the Baltimore Orioles’ decide to take Teixiera, they would not have to give up their high First Round draft pick to compensate the Angels for the Teixiera signing. Instead, the Angels would be rewarded the Orioles’ second round pick and a “sandwich pick’ between the first 2 rounds of the draft.

 

 

 

Now onto the second case in point. Let’s say that the L A Dodgers offered current third baseman Casey Blake arbitration and he turned them down and signed somewhere else. The Dodgers would not get that team’s First Round pick as compensation, but the Dodgers would get a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds. Also to be taken into consideration is the fact that the “losing” team can receive draft pick compensation without arbitration if their free agent   is signed before December 1st.

 

If a player is not offered or even offered arbitration, the cycle of draft picks ends and the team will not receive any other compensation if he leaves his 2008 club for another team in 2009. I know all of this sounds confusing and might be better suited for an advanced Algebra class, but in the next few days we will be hearing these senario and phrase more and more.

 

I thought this might be a nice way to show the possible results of players switching clubs after the December 1st arbitration starting period. Hope this helps dissect the madness and makes the whole process seems bit easier to digest and understand……………So where is Teixiera going, and what will it cost the team signing him?

 

 

  

 

My Experience Comes of Age Today

 

 

                                  

 

I really hate November 29th, I  have had a tendency to recess into a shell on that day and do not talk or communicate with anyone. But last year was the 20th November 29th, and my psyche is getting better and I am writing about it, so maybe writing does heal sometimes. The people who know me know that I have always hidden the fact of what happened on that day from most of the world.

 

People know I played professional ball somewhere, but most do not even know my jersey number. The worst part about 21 years ago is I was not a replacement player playing during the 23 day strike by NFL players. I was one of the guys sitting at home wanting to be on the field. Maybe that is why that day hit me so hard. It was the first game in 3 weeks and I had alot of adreneline stored up for someone.

 

  I would have never thought in 1984 when I signed my first  contract that I would be sitting here on MLBlogs in 2008 spilling out  the days’ events of  my life’s worst experience. I had just signed a multi-year contract for  2.5 million dollars, which included a $ 250,000.  signing bonus. That put me in the mood to want to explode out of the gate and show the world what i could do on the turf.

 

I thought I was getting myself set for life, or at least set for 40 odd years. I was 24,  and thought I had the world ahead of me, and could dream on any star in the night’s sky. Little did I know what would happen  3 short years later would turn my fairy tale into a nightmare.

 

 I was drafted duirng the first day, but not in the top rounds, but I was one of the top 20 corners to come off the board during the day. But, I  felt like I was  a bit dishonored by my hometown team one pick earlier. They had called and expressed a deep interest in signing and drafting me. That put me in a instant state of euphoria that quickly slumped into disappointment and second guessing. They passed on me for a  slow Offensive Lineman that didn’t make the team out of preseason camp.

 

 I would not have looked any better with a winking pirate on my helmet than a horseshoe, but the certain fact that I would have had familiar faces in the stands, and actually played better in front of my home crowd. I might not have even had the injury if I had been picked by this team that played on natural grass, and not Astroturf.

 

 I had a pretty good 3 years until that home game in late November 1987.  They had a second down and 15 yards to go for a first down. I was in  man to man coverage with a slick wideout from  a school in my hometown who had made it to the starting 11 by playing inspired and energetic football.  He could not outrun me, but  he could however, deke me into over committing at times with a hip roll or shoulder bob.  He had only beat me once that day  for 5 yards and knew I could hit like a locomotive if I got some steam up before hitting him.

 

 I felt like the next one was going to send a violent message to him.

 

He started off the line faking a curl pattern, before stopping and pivoted to run a inside post route. I did not bite on it and was in a great position to intercept or punish him if the QB made the throw. I hit him as the ball was about to hit his hands, and somehow got my  right mit in there to push the ball out of his grasp. A great cover play, but the end result was not a triumph by any measure of the word.

 

 I came down between an Astroturf seam on the field.  These seams could cut you like a knife, and being the first edition of turf developed, had seams that sometimes moved and got bigger during a game. During this play,  my chinstrap buckle got caught in the seam somehow and it jerk my head to the side like a cowboy pulling in a calf with a rope. It was a violent and fast motion that left me vulnerable. 

 

To make matters worse, one of the safeties and a middle linebacker were also covering on the play and did not see the ball come out from their angle. Thinking it was a live play, they came in hard trying to helping me take down this reciever and added to the intial force on me. That was a combined  3 players worth of forward motion and force steaming full speed  into the falling pile of football players. It is the defenses’ job to dish out justice, and I was the one being judged at that moment, not the reciever.

 

 My chinstrap was caught in the seam and jerked my head around to where I thought I saw the name on the back of my jersey. During this, my helmet stayed in the seam area and the full force of all of us hitting the turf rested on my neck and shoulder area.

 

 I instantly felt a pain that I can not even put into words today. It was like a  lightning bolt of eletricity had burned into my skin and gone to the bone and burned into it. I felt a sensation like the skin was melting from my body and muscles to an intense reverb from it exiting my body.

 

I instantly fell under the wide out, and I felt a uneasy and tingly feeling that I knew was not about the great hit, or the impending crash to the turf.  My helmet was 3 yards to the east of me still caught in the turf seam. My head was pounding and spinning and I felt like I only had a slight concussion or  just lost the wind in my lungs.

 

 I laid there for a few moments and thought I was getting up from the turf. I never got up off that turf that day. I instantly felt the sharp and electric pain again going down my arms and legs to spike at my fingertips and toes. The trainers did not even try to move me. There were a protruding set of telltale bumps on my neck above my shoulders pads that pulsed with my hearbeats and sent a weird pulse of pain down the sides of my body. I was in a neck collar, taped to a board and off the turf in a matter of minutes.

 

You can’t keep the players standing around getting cold. You can not let another player or your team see you as vulnerable, we were warriors and we needed to stay in focus to do our jobs with authority. You want your team mates minds be on the game, not on a  mortality of the cripple on the turf.

 

Yeah,I know, I used the “C” word.

 

It was not until I saw the team doctor not look me in the eye that I knew it was bad. I could see out of the corner of my eyes, the opposing teams’ cheerleader with a hand to her mouth, and my defensive guys not looking at me, and standing away from me but within listening distance.

 

 I had one player say something to me. He said,” We need you back as soon as possible. Hits like that keep us in these games.” We were a winning team that year.  This was the first time in the past 10 years that the spirit and tradition of those blue and white uniforms had come back to the elite  forefront of the game. I did not hear anyone else say anything to me. He was the last member of my team I heard from for some time.

 

I was hysterical on the cart and in the ambulance. I was put under with a sedative because I was frantically trying to move  my lower body and arms. My hands and feet did not move, but my torso was wrecking havoc on the straps holding me down.

 

  When I got to the ER, I was still in my  game gear. The ER nurses’ and interns seemed to strip my body of the gear in seconds. I could never of gotten that stuff off that fast myself. I just  laid there naked for the world to see. I still could not move my arms or legs. It was not because of the straps, they were now gone with the gurney back into the ambulance.  I was given another IV and I dozed off as they worked on me.

 

I awoke 16 hours later in a room with a few people I did not know. No one close to me was there. I did not have a  large local group of people I hung out with up there, it was 1,200 miles from my true home. I  awoke with an unusual contraption on my head. I had been given a halo for my head, but not the angel’s kind. I had these screws in the temples and was in a transendental state of motion feeling more robotic than human.

 

I had almost  completely crushed the C discs in my spine above my shoulder blades. I got lucky that my helmet was not tight on my chin or I would be either  be getting fitted for wings, or a pitchfork. The doctor said it was a slight fraction of an inch either way and the result would not be to my liking. I had a DNR letter in my contract paperwork that said if I did not have the full use of my facilities, to not save my sorry butt.

 

The team did not deliver this to the hositpal, and they proceeded to work on me  right away that night. With the swelling and the proluding disc in my neck, I had a 40 percent chance of full recovery. I did the thing you would expect at that moment and cursed anything and anyone within hearing range. I forbide my friends to either come in and comfort or pity me in my state.  I got cards and letters from fans and the team wishing for a speedy recovery. I even got a card from the rookie wideout. Funny, we had never played against each other in High School even though we were rival schools.

 

Seriously, a player can not see another player like that. It ruins the inner fiber of confidence to become “the machine” and really wreck hovoc on that feeling invincible on game day. I could, and would not let another player see me until I could  hit the ground walking on my own. I got the feeling back in my fingers and legs about 2 days later after the intial swelling went down.

 

The nerves was damaged, but the human body seems to heal those who have the will and determination at times. I do not mean to dismiss or even patronize anyone who can not get back to their old selves after an accident. I felt blessed and honored at that time to be able to feel my extremities, and knew the road had  just started to some type of recovery.

 

 I stayed up there for another 6 months doing the pool and weights for the PT people. I gained full mobility slowly at first again and was told that after the swelling went down, two of the discs popped back into place, but the last one was forever damaged and I would feel its effects at times. To this day, if I try to pop my neck at any time, it sounds like a popcorn machine in my head. It still freaks out some people close to me because it is loud and sounds painful.

 

 These odd side effects were a small thing compared to the pain and uncertainty those first 3 weeks. I got into a  recovery training routine and was excited to try and to play again. The only problem was, spinal situations in 1987 are not like todays’ surgeries. There was a 80 percent chance that if I hit my neck like that again, I could be in a chair or worse upon impact, and a 90 percent chance if I hit the disc on anything hard. 

 

With that, I did not retire. I still thought I could find a miracle or situation that would let me play again. But with time, I  felt my future family deserved a healthy Dad who could play and frolic with the kids. With that realization, I said farewell to my athletic life and began my post-sports life. I had been a jock for 27 years at that point, since my first time I walked I had been chasing this dream. And I did not know anything else but sports.

 

I had no direction and spent my money like it was water. I applied for disability payments from the league, but since I was only an active player for 3 years, I had no pension or disability insurance. You could insure yourself for injuries, but most people like myself saw that as admitting we would fail or fall to an injury. That was not in the credo of a warrior in my mind at the time. A player with 5 years active in the league could look forward to a modest pension and  some medical benefits. 

 

Unlike the late 80’s, the league today has ongoing studies and research into head and spinal injuries. I was once proud that I had over 10 minor concussions in the span of all those years ,and could still read a stock market portfolio and use a phone. I have since learned the real truth about those head injuries, and I still have effects to this day of their delayed reactions. Memories are dull and forgotten at times. But I would do it  all again if asked for the glory of the game.

 

In those days, the league did not make you attend  3 day seminars on personal finance or financial foundations for when you finish playing the game. You did not have super agents who cried “foul” at the drop of a hat. I would not have drawn that type of attention to myself anyways, I did my own contract and knew the provisions by heart. I pretty much lost everything fast. Took care of family and bills, did a few great vacations involving baseball, mt second love at the time. I also splurged on some great friends and charities. I have no regrets or planned “do overs.”

 

I lived a great life in those days and loved the attention and adolation. I might not have been an angel, but I was never in the paper for doing the wrong things, or even with the wrong crowds. I feel blessed to still be here. This was written for a cleansing for myself. I have never written about it since that day. I thought I needed to put it down in case something even happened to me because my daughters’ have never heard me speak of those day like this. They were not even born during my career, and I have not had the time or energy to relive it again with them. I hope to some day, but not today….never on this day.

 

Is Trash Talking in Baseball Out of Hand?

 

 

Is there a climate in baseball where the talking is starting to get out of hand during a game. Does it seem sometimes that the players take liberties with the umpires to try and argue balls and strike when they should be just standing in there and trying to hit the darn balls?

 

I have seen a heard a bit more verbal banter in the last year from both coaches’ and players’ sitting in the bench towards either the mound or the home plate umpire. Is it a bit rude to try and dictate what the umpiring crew is doing, or is it a revolution of the game. I can seriously say that the Rays did have a few really good violators of this process last year.

 

Eric Hinske is notorius for eyeing the umpire or talking back after a subjective call. We have had a few umpires even during the playoff run come from behind the plate and warn managers and bench players about their comments being heard on the field. Unknown to alot of people during the World Series, the Rays bench was active in their plate discussions and made sure they were heard by the umpiring crew.

 

 

 In Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series, the home plate umpire actually came over to Rays Manager Joe Maddon and complained that they would start to throw bench players out if they kept their vigil of barking at the crew.  There is a difference in arguing a close call on the bases, or even arguing a subjective call on a tag or even a force out. Those calls come, but they are getting more intense with replays and slow-mo that benches can see seconds after the play.

 

They are not allowed to show close plays on the Tropicana Field Jumbotron. I am taking this to be a MLB directive not to show up the umpiring crew, but in the halls and in the suites they get an instant replay and slow motion that can be heard at field level sometimes. Can this bring about more verbal warfare and instigation by players and fans.. you bet you life it does.

 

Now I am not trying to downplay the showmanship of guys like Grant Balfour who curses himself on the mound. Guys like Joba Chamberlain or any reliever or starter who get a big out can make a whoop and a holler without a second glance. But the guy who pitches inside and then comments should be reigned in by the umpires. A batter who talks to the pitcher should be disciplined if the intention is to start a beanball rally or incident on the field.

 

         

 

A good example of this is during the Rays White Sox ALDS series at Tropicana Field. Rays reliever Grant Balfour is notorious for talking smack, to himself duirng an at bat. With  Whie Sox shortstop Orlando Caberra at the plate Balfour began his usual pump-up mode by screaming at himself. He threw his first pitch insdie for a strike but close to Caberra. He again began to get louder on the mound. The second pitch came real close inside and Caberra went down to avoid the pitch.

 

Balfour was talking to himself, but Caberra did not know this was intentional for Balfour to curse himself. He took exception to the language and thought it was directed at him. He even motioned to go towards the mound at one point to comfront Balfour. Is this outward display a preamble to problems, or should ?Balfour be pulled back a bit to keep the assumption down that he might be trying to show up the batter.

 

Another thing that gets me is the umpire coming from behind the plate and warning the bench for talking smack towards him during the game. Shouldn’t the Bench Coach get tossed for any infractions like that, it is his responsibilities to get the bench in order. Even if it is the Manager that is spilling the words, shouldn’t the Bench Coach suffer for anything. Pitching Coaches’ are also famous for between inning banter to try and change a strike zone or chat up the umpires.

 

Should this conversations be muted and not even allowed during the game. I know it is all part of the game, but sometimes the conversation is so foul-mouthed that I see parents behind the dugouts shield their kids ears. It is a part of baseball, but can it be a bit toned down at times.

 

Managers will always get tossed, and players will get tossed for arguing calls. That is a given of the sport. I really love the old Aguafina commercial where Lou Pinella goes out and arguing with the third base umpire and is actually having a chatty conversation with him before getting tossed as a favor by the umpire. It is a classic moment that I know might actually happen during games.

 

           

 

You know there are managers who say certain things that annoy certain umpires. You know every team has a book on the umpiring crew that also spells out their no-no’s for that umpire. You can get tossed for anything, but to bring into the conversation a personal mistake that has been highlighted, or a past event can get you an early night quicker than a correct call.

 

 Joe Maddon is great at the art of trying to use the entire crew to get his point across. He always asks if they asked any of the other members of the crew if they saw the play differently.  Of course, unless it is totally blantant, the call will stand, but sometimes it does get you to think about things. Which for an umpire is progress.

 

 

Players at the plate each have their own brand of eyeing up an umpire or arguing their points. Most have subtle non verbal movements like Ichiro just looking the umpire in the eyes and not saying a word. That can be more intimidating that a word at times.

 

 But then you have guys like Boston’s Kevin Youkilis who sometimes looks like you shot his favorite dog if he gets a called third strike close in on the plate. He goes into a act of looking like you shot the darn dog right in front of him before sulking to the bench. Does this action even get any movement or different placement of the umpire’s strikezone. Probably not, but it does get Youkilis  has a reputation in the umpire circles to expect the clowning at the plate.

 

What I am proposing is not to limit or even make a baseball game a morgue at all from the field level. But can we pull back the bench BS and the Coaches’ smart aleck comments and just play ball. When I played Little League, if a coach or even a parent got verbal, they were gone the second they said the second word out of their mouths. It instilled in us the fair play principle and that the umpire is God behind the plate and in the field.

 

 

It also made parents better supporters and better fans of the game as they tried to understand the calls without leashing out a tirad of BS and insults.  Most fights during game have happened after trashtalking during an at bat, or during a play sometimes during that game.  Baseball was fun back then, but we did not have to account for million dollar salaries or even sponsorships beyiond the baseball diamond. Accountability is the only way to truly pull people bakc in after an incident duirng a game.

 

Recently in the NFL, the Cleveland Brown’s tight end, Kellen Winslow was fined $ 235,294 dollars for chatting up a disagreement about his injury rehabilitation. Miami Dolphins corner, Joey Porter was fined $ 20,000 dollars for saying the Houston Texans were getting calls during their game one Sunday in the NFL.

 

 Could the MLB and the MLB Players’ Union agree upon a financial penalty beyond the customary fines to repeat offenders or instigators. Who knows what will happen in the future, but I knowe that if a fan gets rowdy like that he is gone from the game, and might even be banned from the stadium if they keep it up.

 

Baseball will never ban guys from the field or stadiums for verbal warfare, but shouldn’t it get toned down to a level where the on-field actions at leats fit the language spilling out of the dugout?

 

Giving Thanks and Enjoying Life

       

         

 

Today is the day that we give thanks to family, friends and the community for the blessing that we have recieved over the year.  Nothing matters today besides the family and the fine food we are about to devour like true carnivores. If it is turkey, brother save me a drumstick, if it is a succulant ham, save me a piece from the end that is overflowing with the juices and the honey glaze.

 

We enjoy everything from the green bean casserole, to the stuffed mushrooms. We wander from the hall table full with appetizers and mouth-watering goodies that will live in our minds for day, years, and maybe a lifetime. We are celebrating the second best day of the year………Thanks giving.

 

As we sit down at the table, it is customary that we all tell what we are thankful for this year. By tradition I am always the last to speak my piece because I am the one in the family who loves to give thanks for everything from TIVO to Amazon.com. As we sit and raise a glass of fine beverage we all acknowledge that the year has been a wild ride and the new one is going to be filled with greater advetures and smooth sailings.

 

                    

 

As the tabel leans in to finally hear my list of wishes, I remind them that this might take a while and ask if anyone needs to get anything from the fridge or the table. I nod to my other half and tell her to begin to cut the 4 pies that she hand baked last night for the guests and proceed to tell you what I am hopeful and thankful for in 2008:

 

                          

 

I am thankful that I have a hometown major league team ( Rays) ,where some cities have minor league or communitie base semi-pro leagues throught out America.

 

I am thankful and blessed to be a member of a great cheering group with the Rays, the “Maddon’s Maniacs”, and be enshrined in my team’s Fan Wall of Fame.

 

I am thankful to the man who finally brought us Tampa Bay Rays baseball after being struck down twice by MLB for purchasing teams, but stood firm and finally got us our team. Vince Namoli does not get the love he should for doing what everyone else could not for Tampa Bay.

 

I am thankful for Stu Sternberg, who bought the club and made good on a promise to make Tampa Bay a winner……….alot sooner than even he thought it would happen.

 

I am blessed and thankful to the entire staff of the Rays for letting me take a Team Photo with them in May, not knowing the significance at the time of what would happen in October.

 

I am thankful to America for staying the home of the brave and the land of the free. While baseball players are sequestered and defiled for wanting to enjoy the simple liberties we take granted daily.

 

 

I am thankful for the sacrifice and the honor bestowed on every man or woman who steps off a transport overseas, that his tour be short and his life be richer for the experience, in a positive way.

 

I am thankful for the men and woman  who daily police the cities and the countryside to keep us safe in our homes.

 

I am thankful for the right to sleep in late, or stay up until sunrise and know that life is only going to get better.

 

I am thankful for the friends and family that I have now and have lost, either by death or by time passing between us.

 

               

 

I am thankful for the travels to other stadiums and cities to enjoy another team’s culture and fandom in their home enviorment, even Boston and Philadelphia.

 

I am thankful I have been at our teams clinching games for a playoff berth, AL division series, and AL pennant wins. The bonus was to attend 4 of the 5  World Series game this year by my team.

 

I am thankful and blessed to be friends with people in baseball, including the Rays, who know my passion and my desire to see baseball and not politics played on the field.

 

I am blessed to finally know what it is like to cheer for a winner. I was a member of an SEC title celebration, but only got to see one side of the joy and excitement from the field, and never before this year got to feel the fans’ side of the joy and energy.

 

But most of all, I am thankful and blessed to have people like you read my rants and raves daily and who comment and live my Rays dream with me. For that I am extremely grateful and give you this promise today. I will read as many of your great articles as time allows me, and comment and show positive vibes where ever possible with MLBlogs.

 

 

So with that, I raise my glass of fine wine and salute you, the readers and writers of MLBlobs, for you are the reason we are, and the reason we write. May your days be bright and memories always as vivid as the day they were made.

 

God Bless and let’s get ready for a rocking Holiday Season and a blast of a New Years for all.

 

 

Cliff Wittig

 Known 364 days a year as Rays Renegade

 

Rays Rumors: Giambi, Dye and Sonnanstine

 

                          

There has been alot of chatter and speculation that the Tampa Bay Rays might be talking to former Yankee Jason Giambi about a possible Designated Hitters’ position with the club.  I have always been a defender and distractor of the “Giambino”  because his past behavior and his hitting prowness .

To say that the Rays would not listen to his agent would be obsurb. We will listen to anyone talk about their client or even tap dance on the top of the dugout, but the price has to be right for the Rays to bite on Giambi. He would have to be willing to give the team a “AL East” discount.

By this I mean he will have to give them a discount to be able to face his former team at least 17 times in 2009 and rub their noses in their refusal to even consider him for the team. He would be an upgrade to the DH position without a doubt, but he will also have to come with the stipulation that fater BP he throws his gloves into his locker and doesn’t look at them again until the next day.

To say he would be a defensive downgrade would be a joke. He has gone from being an ample first baseman, to being a liability with a glove. He no longer has the range or the motion to adequately play the position for an extended time. And considering the Rays have one of the best at the position in house, He will need to stow the gloves after BP.

 

                  

 

For the Rays sake, that might have to be written into the contract. For intimidation factor, Giambi gets a “10”. I always say when I see him on the big screen that he has serial killer eyes. Those baby blues seem to stare right through you even from 50 yeards away. I can only imagine what they look like when he sees a hanging curveball or breaking pitch and is about to thrust it over the wall in one long swing.

 

                             

 

Jermaine Dye is another guy who has been getting a lot of Rays trade talk in recent weeks. He is a powerful hitter who is also right-handed. that plays right into the Rays plans looking for a above average bat who can also play a great defensive outfield position.

But what might not play into the Chicago White Sox plans is the fact that the team is asking for a proven starter and a fielder player at the triple-A level for Dye. He is still under contract for the 2009 season, and will certainly be considered a prime free agent next season.

He has been pretty injury free and has taken his batting game up a notch the last 2 seasons. In the recent American League Divisional Series, the Rays got a lot of first hand looks at Dye as he hit and drove in runs for the White Sox in the series against the Rays.

 

                              

What is also known around baseball is that White Sox GM, Ken Williams wants to lower his payroll a bit before filling his holes on his squad. He will have to start to make deal soon to be able to capitalize on the top tier players before the market goes thin and he will have to trade for his desired postions.

Also of consideration is if the Rays are on the list of 6 potential trade destinations that Dye will veto any trades. The Rays might have been on that list in 2007, but would Dye either void the list or are the Rays a desination that suits Dye………..We shall see in the coming weeks.

 

 

                   

 

The New York Mets have been actively asking and looking for information on the Rays 4 and 5 starters this off-season. Edwin Jackson had early interest from the team, but based on his career numbers and his consistant pitching, they have moved onto inquiring about Andy Sonnanstine.

Sonnanstine has been a fierce competitor for a long time. He was not an orignal target of the Rays in the amatuer draft, but former owner Vince Namoli was interested in Sonnanstine after a win against his alma mater, the Norte Dame Fighting Irish. The Kent State pitcher had always fought the Irish hard and Namoli liked the young pitcher’s style.

So the team drafted him and Sonnanstine displayed this same knack for consistancy all the way through the minor leagues. When he got to the majors, he had already been selected as the Rays “minor League Pitcher of the Year” twice during his tour in the Rays farm system.

 

                    

 

He came to the majors and set a presence of consitant pitching and low run and walks totals, which have kept him into games deep last year and this season for the Rays. He was the first pitcher to hit the 11 win plateau this season, but got mired at that number before finally posting his 12th win. He is one of those inning eater pitchers who can make a staff better by pitching his game and staying on top of the opposition.

I really do not think the Mets have the fair trade prospects in their farm system to make a ideal trade with the Rays. If they were to get Sonnanstine, it would have to be a 3-team deal that would bring in a few pieces that would be heading Tampa Bay’s way.

That is not say that the wheels are not already at work trying to locate pieces that would entice the Rays to give up their young pitcher. The Rays are still under control of Sonnanstine until 2010, when he will be up for his first taste of arbitration.

 

 

 

 

Baldelli is Honored for his Perseverance

 

 

 

It seems like I have been talking about this guy for a long time this week. He has been a linch-pin of the Tampa Bay Rays organization since he was selected in the 2000 Amatuer Draft number 1 for the team. He was a anchor in centerfield for the Rays until a off-season injury began a run of over 3 years of on and off again Disabled List visits.

 

He has been a model athlete and  aggressive competitor. He has beaten not only the odds to make to the major league level, but also taken on a ailment that was poised to take it all away from him for good this Spring. It was a sad day in March2008 when Rocco Baldelli met the media under the bleachers at Progress Energy Field and relayed the news that his ailment might have just cost him the game he loved.

 

But through the teams’ positive efforts and the numerous flights across America to seek out doctoras and remedies Baldelli never faltered from confidence. It was written that one one such flight Rocco told his father that he might not be able to win this fight, but he carried on until he was finally assured that he could again play the game with grace and agility again.

 

 

So it is with great pride and a test of mind over matter that the Tampa Bay Rays’ own Rocco Baldelli was voted the winner of the 19th annual Tony Conigliaro Award. This award is presented annually to a Major League player who has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination and courage that were trademarks of the late Major Leaguer.  Baldelli is the third Rays player to recieve the award. Former Rays pitchers’ Tony Saunders ( 2000) and Dewon Brazelton ( 2004) have also recieved the pretigious award.

 

Tony’s brothers, Billy and Richie, will make the official presentation of the award at the 70th annual Boston Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s dinner on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009, at the Westin Waterfront Hotel in South Boston.

 

The Rays placed Baldelli, 26, on the 60-day disabled list on March 28 with a mitochondrial disorder, a condition that slows muscle recovery and causes fatigue, costing him the first 116 games of the season; he also missed the final 124 games of 2007 due to a hamstring injury.

 

 

 

Baldelli fought his way back to the Major Leagues and returned in August to hit .263 in 28 games with four home runs and 13 RBIs for the Rays in 2008, playing a key role during the team’s postseason drive. The Rhode Island native contributed to Tampa Bay’s World Series berth and AL Championship by hitting .333 with one home run and four RBIs in the ALCS against the Red Sox. Overall, Baldelli hit .200 (4-for-20) during the postseason with two home runs and six RBIs. 

 

In the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, Baldelli went 1-6 during the series, but made an timely solo homer in Game 5.5 in the 7th inning off Ryan Madson to even the score at 4-all. The Rays eventually lost that game, and the series, but the determination and the spunk of Baldelli was apparent to everyone in the ballpark that night.

 

In 1990, the Red Sox began the award to perpetuate the memory of Conigliaro, who died that February after an eight-year struggle to come back from a massive heart attack that left him severely handicapped. Major League teams submit nominations and an independent 12-person panel does the voting.

 

Baldelli came in first with 43 points followed by Arizona’s Doug Davis with 27 and Oakland’s Brad Ziegler with 26. Cleveland’s Cliff Lee, Cincinnati’s Mike Lincoln and Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox also received votes.

 

Past winners of the award are: Jim Eisenreich (1990), Dickie Thon (1991), Jim Abbott (1992), Bo Jackson (1993), Mark Leiter (1994), Scott Radinsky (1995), Curtis Pride (1996), Eric Davis (1997), Bret Saberhagen (1998), Mike Lowell (1999), Kent Mercker and Tony Saunders (2000), Graeme Lloyd & Jason Johnson (2001), Jose Rijo (2002), Jim Mecir (2003), Dewon Brazelton (2004), Aaron Cook (2005), Freddy Sanchez (2006) and Jon Lester (2007).

 

Conigliaro became the youngest player at age 20 to lead a league in home runs when he hit 32 in 1965, and the youngest in AL history to reach 100 homers (22 years, 197 days). His promising career was tragically shortened when he was hit in the face by a pitch at Fenway Park on Aug. 18, 1967. He missed all of 1968, made a dramatic comeback in 1969 and was traded to the California Angels after the 1970 season. Conigliaro played two years with the Angels and then made another comeback with the Red Sox in 1975, his final season in the Major Leagues.

Relaxed Staff is Key to Early 2009 Victories

 

 

Have you ever wondered what you favorite pitcher might  be doing in the offseason? Besides the regular answer of relax and enjoy the family, would you travel, take up a hobby or maybe help coach a local baseball team? Or maybe you want to just learn a new skill like racquetball or maybe even golf.

 

All of the above would be a great answer to an offseason for the Tampa Bay Rays  youthful starting 5 after their successful and long season. 2 members of the 5 have young ones, Matt Garza and James Shields. So you know Dad is taking a little time with the young ones doing the things he can not do with them during the season. One of the biggest complaints I have heard from major leaguers is the time away from family while the little ones are growing bigger and bigger. It is a bitter sacrifice they make to push the financial envelope for their families competing for a spot in the rotation.

 

 

 Bachelor Scott Kazmir is one of the guys who has set down roots in the Tampa Bay area in the offseaso. From his Harbour Island shangra-la he is right in the kidlle of Tampa nightlife with the Channelside District just a short walk away from his abode.  I have seen and talked with Kazmir when he has wandered out to do the occasional bowling adventure on Friday nights at Splitsville. An off season hobby or sport can make the time go fast and also give them an alternative relaxation during their down time. Most people take to competitive sports or activites becuase it mimics the adrenaline and rush you get every time you hit the pitching rubber during a game.

 

Andy Sonnanstine has mapped out plans for his offseason. He’ll be heading to a celebrity poker and golf tournament in Las Vegas later this month, and he’s going to find a place in Tampa. He’s  is also planning on hanging out with friends, and enjoying his time away from the Rays..

 

And he’s going to sleep in, day after day — the kind of sleep where you roll over, glance at the clock and then close your eyes for another cycle or three of rapid eye movement, like a college kid back home right after exams. “I’m probably going to take it pretty easy,” said Sonnanstine. “This is definitely the longest season I’ve ever been a part of.”

 

 

 

When Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey hears  about this, he will be thrilled, because above all else, he wants his young starters’ to recover this winter. He doesn’t want them throwing at all , doesn’t want them running marathons ( Balfour ), doesn’t want them to discover their inner triathlete. He wants them working very hard at resting and recovering after a long, hard season.

 

The Rays pulled off a minor miracle last season of not having a regular starter  go down for a huge amount of time. All 5 starters went through the season with aches and pains, but none went down for ae tended period during the season, or suffered any effects during the long season. That is a true feat in today’s baseball world. Most teams have  at least one of their starters down for months at a time. Sometimes it is a yearly long shutdown for Tommy John’s or shoulder fatique.  The grind of the baseball season can wear and tear at a pitcher worst than a fielding player due to the stress and mechanics needed to throw a sphere over 90 miles an hour consistantly during the season.

 

Because the Rays  Coaching staff are well aware, recent baseball history is littered with teams that suffer a physical hangover from a playoff run that takes them deep into October. The Red Sox had all hands on deck in winning the World Series in 2004, and many parts of the staff broke down in 2005.  And the Rays were witness to first-hand sightlines as the 2007 World Series winners went down in Tropicana Field after a bitterly fought 7-game series against their team.

 

The White Sox’s championship staff of 2005 significantly regressed in 2006. Chris Carpenter led the Cardinals to a title in 2006, and he’s never been the same. The Tigers’ pitching staff was fractured by numerous injuries in 2007, with staff members convinced that the team paid a heavy toll for the remarkable success of 2006.

 

The Rays’ biggest challenge for 2009 might not be in identifying a solid closer, or  even determining who their right fielder or DH will be for the openers. The critical factor might be the ability of the Rays’ young pitchers, whom all but Kazmir, set career-highs for innings in 2008, to recover strongly and repeat their collective performance in 2009. Their health might be one of the true keys to their defense of the AL East crown and the AL pennant. With a healthy staff and a productive Bullpen, it might be possible  to see advancement beyond the magical dreams of 2008 and claim a world title.

 

 

Among the members of the young staff, James Shields is the elder by age ( 26) , but not by  overall game time experience. That medal still hangs around Scott Kazmir’s neck as the All-Time leader already in several of the Rays pitching records as such a young age.

 

 In 2008, Shields threw 240 total innings. Which is amazing for such a young star, but it was still only 25 more inngs or 3 starts more than 2007. Shields is one of the guys who will have to be truly aware of his body in 2009. Throwing that many innings can break down a pitchers body over time, and if he listens to his body respond and even send a pain signal, it could save the Rays alot of time and energy trying to replace his persence in the rotation.

 

Throwing alot of innings can weaken the body the following year. Some say that is why Scott Kazmir might have had the problems he did in 2007. He pitched almost 207 innings in 2007, and had a set back early in Spring Training. Because he listened to the signs and did not push himself beyond a point, he was able to repair and bring himself back from the injury. In 2008, becuase of the injury, Kazmir only threw 190 innings for the Rays.

 

 

                             

 

That is rare in a young pitcher to disregard pain and  most just keep throwing knowing their spot in the rotation or even on the team might be in jeopardy if they go down. Matt Garza had a sense he was hurt early in the season, but tried to play with the pain in his forearm and hand. The nerve situation that Garza suffered is an example of a pitcher ignoring the pain until someone else makes him realize he is only hurting himself and the team by not going to the mound 100 percent.

 

Garza and Kazmir situation were the only episodes for the Rays in a short term injury situation for the team in 2008. With both of them more aware of the team’s committment to them and their own committment to acheiving more in 2009, they will know the problem signs now and can make good decisions on their health.

 

Even before the end of the Rays’ regular season, Hickey said, the staff had discussed how they planned on preparing the pitchers for 2009, knowing that Spring Training in 2009 will begin a week early. “Spring training is only 12 weeks away,”  sighed Hickey . “I want them to flat-out rest. I want a whole 4 or 5 or 6 weeks of nothing but healing and resting up. … Whether they know it or not, they’ll be a bit weary.”

 

Hickey would love if his pitchers did some low-bore physical conditioning over the next 6 weeks or so, before easing their way back into their preparation for 2009. There is really no need for them to pick up a baseball, for example, until the turn of the year, as far as Hickey is concerned.

 

 

Then, in spring training, Hickey already has loose plans to reduce the number of pitches and innings thrown by his starters. Typically, starting pitchers will have built up their arms by the end of spring training to where they are throwing 105 pitches over seven innings. Common knowledge among the team is that they will probably reduce the number of outings for his starters by one, and his relievers will make fewer appearances.

 

The build-up before the exhibition season begins will be more gradual, with the throwing sessions staggered. It’s possible, as well, that Tampa Bay will have more pitchers in camp in 2009. With the great corp of pitching prospects in the Rays; minor league program, they might get deeper looks and more work in the exhibition season to rest the entire staff a bit in 2009.

 

 

 

The alterations may not sound like much, Hickey says, but he is cognizant of saving wear and tear whenever and wherever he can, after his young starters worked for the first time in a postseason, when every pitch is thrown with much more duress, as he said.

 

It may be that the Rays’ young starters will be OK because — well, because they’re young, and can bounce back. But Hickey will work specifically to guide Rays pitchers, because unlike the veterans he’s worked with in the past — Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt, among others — the Tampa Bay starters may not know their bodies as well, this early in their careers. “You’ll rein them in a little bit more than you would old guys,” he said.

 

Sonnanstine will embrace the opportunity to rest. Pitching five innings in the postseason, he said, was like pitching 10 during the regular season. Because of the early start to spring training, he said, “I’ll have to factor that into my plans.”

 

Others like Shields and Garza will have a little less time with family and doing thing this offseason, but all that will melt away when the 2 banner are raised during the Home Opener  against the Yankees. But between now and then, all they have to do is relax and enjoy off season life. Kazmir, meanwhile might be toeing the wood sliding a nice ball towards a 7-10 split and smiling from ear-to-ear.

 

Baldelli Considering a Ray’s Bitter Rival

 

 

 

 

In a move not anticipated this early in the free agent signing period, the Tampa Bay Rays might be losing one of its most popular players to put on a Rays uniform to a American League East rival, the Boston Red Sox. Baldelli, who had his 2009 club option declined by the Rays is hitting the free agent market for the first time in his career. The team ended up paying Baldelli about $ 4 million dollars to opt out of his long-term contract, which made him a free agent this  offseason. 

 

At the end of Spring Training in 2008, the Rays had to begin discussing the future of the Rhode Island star.  They had to make a firm and financial decision on his 2009 option on April 1st,  and if he fit into the team’s future plans with his large salary kicking in during 2009. Baldelii had signed a 6-year  $ 32 million dollar contract in 2005 that rivaled teammate Carl Crawford’s deal to solidify the Rays outfield until 2012.

 

According to professional baseball scouts, Baldelli shared many similarities to Hall of Famer and former Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio ever since his days as a prep star. This can be attributed to Baldelli’s athletic ability, their shared position (center field), wearing the same uniform number (5), and their Italian-American heritage. Al LaMacchia, a professional scout for over 50 years, went so far as to call Rocco “Joe’s twin”

 

 

But because of medical complications after that season, the progress of Baldelli in the field for the Rays was dwarfed by the off the field situation with him. Baldelli  was viewed as one of the keys to the Rays bright future.  But things did not come up roses for Baldelli.

 

 

Baldelli started the 2005 season on the disabled list because he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee while playing baseball with his brother in the offseason. He was initially expected to be back by the All-Star break, but while rehabilitating he injured his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery, which forced him to miss the entire 2005 season.

 

After missing almost a full season and a half, Baldelli returned to the Rays lineup against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on June 7, 2006. Baldelli played frequently for the rest of the 2006 campaign and hit .302 with 16 home runs, 57 runs batted in, 57 runs scored and 10 stolen bases in only 364 at bats.

 

In Spring Training before the 2007 season, however, Rocco pulled his hamstring. This injury would linger. After appearing in only 35 games early in the season, Baldelli was placed on the DL again. He reaggravated the injury while on a rehab assignment in the minor leagues and remained inactive for the remainder of the baseball season.

 

 

In the following offseason, Baldelli underwent extensive medical testing to determine the reasons for his muscle problems and extreme fatigue after even brief workouts. Doctors discovered some “metabolic and/or mitochondrial abnormalities” but were unable to provide an exact diagnosis.

 

Baldelli attempted to return to game action during spring training in 2008 but was unable to do so. On March 12, he held an emotional press conference in which he announced that he would be once again placed on the disabled list in an attempt to overcome his mysterious medical issues. Though he did not retire, the future of his baseball career was in doubt. 

 

After more medical consultations, Baldelli began taking a combination of medications and nutritional supplements that seemed to improve his condition. On May 29, 2008, he began playing in extended spring training games, and in mid-June was sent to play in the Rays’ minor league system for further rehabilitation and conditioning in the hope that he might return to the majors during the 2008 season.

 

Finally, on August 10th, 2008, Rocco was activated and started in right field for the Rays in a game against the Seattle Mariners. Baldelli had been growing a beard for months as a “symbol of his rehabilitation” and shaved it off before playing. In the contest, he had an RBI single as well as a diving catch before coming out of the game after the 5th inning.

 

 

Baldelli ended up appearing in 28 games for the Rays in 2008, mainly as a DH and pinch hitter but occasionally playing in right or left field.  He hit .263 with 4 home runs and 13 RBI, and was deemed valuable enough to be included in the Rays’ postseason roster as they made the playoffs for the first time.

 

 

Baldelli negotiated terms of his huge extension contract without help from an agent, meeting several times with executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman to get the contract done. He had agent Casey Close review the language being signing. Baldelli said he wasn’t as interested in maximizing his earning potential as he was remaining in Tampa Bay.

 

Unknown to most fans is the true origins of their former centerfielder. Many do not know that Baldelli attended the PEGASUS Gifted and Talented middle-school program at Lasalle Academy in Providence before switching to Bishop Hendricken in Warwick, Rhode Island, for high school. There he posted a 4.25 grade point average and often tutored other students in physics.

 

 

He was also a three sport star, excelling at baseball, basketball, and volleyball and was selected in the first round of the 2000 amateur draft. He has said that if he had not signed with Tampa Bay, he would have attended Wake Forest University, rather than Princeton. Baldelli made his Major League debut on March 31, 2003

 

Now in the aftermath of the Rays first trip into the postseason, ending in a short World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.  The Boston Red Sox are doing due diligence on free agent Rocco Baldelli, who could be in the mix as a fourth outfielder after the team dealt Coco Crisp to the Kansas City Royals last week for reliever Ramon Ramírez. According to major league sources, Baldelli, from Cumberland, R.I., met with the Red Sox at Fenway late last week to discuss his future and the effects of the mitochondrial disorder that limited him to 80 at-bats with the Rays last season.

 

 

Baldelli, who has toured the country visiting doctors trying to learn the cause of his premature muscle fatigue, hit .263 for Tampa Bay but never played back-to-back games in the field during the regular season. He appeared in 22 games as DH, five in right field, and one in left field. In the postseason, Baldelli batted .200 over eight games.

 

Baldelli said during the World Series that he didn’t want to talk about his future because he was trying to soak in the moment with the Rays, the team he’d struggled with for so long, playing in just 155 games the past three years because of various ailments. Tampa Bay elected not to pick up the $6 million option on his contract for 2009 and bought him out for $4 million.

 

If Baldelli does sign with the division rivals, it would be a shame to lose the guy who was an inspiration to kids and fans alike for some many years for his determination to overcome all obstacles. But because Baldelli is from the Northeast, there has to be a regional pride to go along with playing with the team that was his favorite for years growing up in Rhode Island.

 

 

If Baldelli does sign with the Red Sox, do we cheer or yeer at him now like the Toronto Blue Jays do for Eric Hinske. Do we look at him as a traitor because the team declined his option and made him a free agent, or do we celebrate the time he was a Ray?

 

This of course, is a personal decision to be made on a one-to-one basis with what you think about the former Ray. I call him a former Ray right now becuase since he is not under contract we can not call him one of our own right now.  Things could change in the next few weeks either for or against the Rays in trying to discuss and sign him to a smaller contract.

 

But we all know that Rocco will not think lightly about the deal if the Rays do offer anything to him. The team has sttod by him through all of the medical situations and consider him a clubhouse leader for his inspiration and devotion to getting back to the majors. I think no matter what Baldelli decides for 2009, it will be a year where he will be striving to finally prove that the years have given him the experience and the drive to compete at whatever level is permissible for him.

 

In regards to the past, I thank you Rocco for all the memories you have given us as a Ray. Hopefully it is not over for you in that number 5 jersey just yet. But the lure of Fenway Park and playing in front of friends and family 81 times a year might be too strong. And for that I understand and will still stand and clap for you to do good, whatever uniform you are wearing….

Rays Top 5 Goals for 2008 Revisited

 

 

The Tampa Bay Rays  went into 2008 wanting to gain respect and admiration in the major leagues from teams and fans. The main objective was to be competitve and to show that the Rays belonged in the rough and tumble AL East. 

 

No one could have imagined that the team would be raising the AL East and AL pennant flags in their home Opener against the New York Yankees in 2009. Most people had the realistic goal of a .500 season and a puch hard towards the playoffs. What transpired was the same majoc and karma that made the 1969 Mets and the Florida Marlins darlings of the baseball world.

 

We had a team that believed in itself to the point of pulling off amazing endings and outstanding feats of sweeping some of the best teams in baseball at home. The Rays proved that if you can believe, you can achieve. The following list is the Top 5 goals that I set for the team in March of 2008. Yesterday I blogged about numbers 6-10, today is the time to see what reality did to the Top 5:

 

 

The 5th goal I put on my list was the idea of starting lineup leading off with  3     “lefties.  In the beginning of the season, the Rays had a  up-and-down bout of     success and failure with their lefties’ by committee lineup arrangement. Akinora Iwamura, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena had the talent and the ability to take over    the lineup, but the opposition right-handed pitchers’ were stacked against the trio.

 

 

Finally, Rays Manager, Joe Maddon inserted B J Upton into the 3-slot and the cycle was broken. Upton began to see  alot  more  pitches to hit in 2008. He did a  remarkable job both at the plate and on the base paths for the Rays. He did not       have a banner year because of a nagging shoulder injury sustained during an early series in Baltimore in May.

 

 

But Upton did pace the Rays when they needed help and finished 2nd in the stolen base race in the AL. Upton then moved up to the 2nd spot in the lineup to be the meat between the Aki and CC sandwich. It further helped him evolve in the lineup and he became comfortable and relaxed in the position.

 

 

The final success to the banishment of the 3 “leftie” regime came near the end of the season and the playoffs. With the team more balanced in the lineup, the Rays had the flexibility both on the field and on the bench to matchup more effective with any team.

 

 

Upton and Longoria both benefited from the 3 lefties in the lineup with more         right-handers going to the mound against the Rays. The leftie revolution might not have been a success, but the experiment also proved to the Rays that they had  great options up and down the lineup and the bench.

 

 

The fouth goal had to do with extensions for the anchors of the team. Unknown to the general public, during the last week of Spring Training, the Rays and the agent of Evan Longoria were working on a long term deal to contractually secure the budding star for years for the Rays. The deal was suddenly annouced the day   Longoria was called up to the Rays, but was in the works for some time while he was down in the minors at Durham.

 

 

It secured a hole in the infield for the Rays for at least 5 years and also gave both sides a feeling of confidence going into 2008. Scott Kazmir also got a extended  deal right before the season started and it also secured a valuable piece of the starting rotation for years. James Shield was also secured for an extended contract   and gave the Rays a bit of relief that their top 2 pitchers were under contract for several years.

 

 

Carlos Pena has a sealed deal for 2009,  in whole, only Jason Bartlett, the team’s 2008 MVP is the only person not under contract for 2009 who plays in the infield.  He is in his first year of arbitration and the team might be working on a multi-year  deal to keep him in a Ray’s uniform until they can decide about the shortstops they have in their minor league system. 

 

 

Behind the plate, Dioner Navarro is in his first year of arbitration , and he did alot to   be sure he will get a nice raise in 2009. With the improved year he had behind the plate, and at the plate, Navarro has done nothing to diminish the vast upward swing   on his stock with the team. I will go deeper into who is up for arbitration in another blog.

 

 

 

Goal number 3 seemed a bit out of line when I first wrote it in 2008, but it proved to    be a monster move for the team. To say that the team needed a healthy rotation   would be a monster in our division sounded a bit far fetched, but it was a true key to 2008 and its success.  Not counting the early glitches in Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza’s season, the Rays had a fantastic run of luck by having all 5 of their starters’ the entire year.

 

 

Not only is this rare, but it is almost unheard of that a team could go through most of the season with the same 5 day in and day out. There were aches and pains and displays of emotion throughout the year, but  a treu key to this year was the fact they stood on the mound daily and did not give up starts. The consistancy of these 5 guys lead to a flow and a confidence in each other to fulfill their goals everytime they hit the rubber.

 

 

All 5 starters’ went over 10 wins this year, and even the guy who everyone outside     the organization thinks is the weakest link, tied for the team lead with 14 wins. To have that kind of production out of a lineup where the oldest stater is 26 years of       age is outstanding. The future of this franchise is based in the fact that they could    have these same 5, or a variation of the 5 for the next 4 years on the mound for the Rays.

 

 

 

The second goal of the year is really something that all teams hope and wish for………Health, health, health. What is so amazing about 2008, is the fact that      injuries did happen and the team did not miss a step in the field or at the plate.     When Kazmir and Garza went down early both before the season, and in it’s first weeks, the Rays pitchers’ took up the slack and gave it 110 percent. Jason Hammel  and Jeff Neiman came on and threw their best in the absence of the team’s top pitchers.

 

 

In the infield, Willy Aybar came to the Rays with a sorted past, but you would never know it by the way he played in his limited roles all around the infield in 2008. He was one of those true finds that can help a ballclub reach the next level. It did not matter if Carlos Pena went down, or Evan Longoria, Aybar brought his “A” game   every night both at the plate and in the field.

 

 

In the outfield, when Carl Crawford was out nursing his groin and then his operation  on his hand, Eric Hinske and Justin Ruggiano came out and tried to fill the gap as if Crawford had not even left. They played to mix reviews, but did an admirable job and proved the depth of this team’s minor league system. When Fernando Perez came up to fill in for B J Upton after an injury, his athletic ability and his speed did not even make you miss Upton.

 

 

Perez became an instant favorite of Rays Manager Joe Maddon for his work ethic and his willingness to learn and help the team. But he area that sealed and  secured itself even when injury hit was the Bullpen. They saw multiples guys go down this year, from Gary Glover and Al Reyes, to their closer being shut down  several times during the year.

 

 

These guys just bucked up and took it all in stride and closed the wounds and     played their butts off. J P Howell became a fixture in the Bullpen, and became one of the best lefties in the game as a reliever in 2008. Grant Balfour also became a force in the Bullpen and his antics on the mound became legend in the AL. All year long people stepped up and were successful for the team out of  the Bullpen.

 

 

 

The number one goal of the team in 2008, was set in motion early by Maddon.    Mindset can be a effective tool to the confidence and emtion of a ballclub.      Maddon’s formula of 9=8 has been around the globe by now.

 

 

The theory of 9 men in a lineup playing 9 total innings would eqaute into one of the 8 playoff berths in the MLB.  A simple philosophy, but it goes even beyond that theory. It is also expanded by Maddon that if they got 9 more wins from the pitching staff, 9 more wins from the offense, and 9 more wins from the defense and Bullpen, they would be able to secure a playoff spot.

 

 

The combined 27 extra wins along with the 69 the team had in 2007 would add up to 96 wins. Wow, consider that for a moment, Seriously here, going inot their last game against Detroit on Sept 30th, the team had a record of 96-65. Did Maddon really think he would or even could imagine a increase like this in one season.

 

 

In 2008, there were moments where mondset played a huge part in the team’s     success. The All-Star break actually might have come at a perfect time for this team after getting shutdown by the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox in straight road series. The break from playing actually might have played into a positive for the team becuse it gave them all a time frame to forget and forgive the bad results and take on the second half of the season with vigor and vitality.

 

So here we are with the final 5 goals of 2008  examined and I feel that this team is indeed ready and willing to try and make another run at the AL East in 2009. The worst thing the Rays have to adjust to is not being the underdog anymore. Mindset might be the first goal again next year as the Champions are always on the top and people love to knock off the big guys.

 

 

 

Rays Goals 6-10 for 2008 Exceed Expectations

 

          

 

In the beginning of the season I set 10 goals or written items that I hoped the Tampa Bay Rays would complete to become a more productive and successful team. At the time we all did not know the type of franchise success we would see in 2008.

Also stuffed into that list was a few personal obsevations ands wants for the team in 2008. I did a middle of the year evaluation of the list on July 18, 2008 and saw that the team was focused and moving forward in achieving outstanding success on the field.

I am again going to go over the high and lowpoints now after the season is over. I am no longer going to assign a letter grade to the options because this has been a totally “A” year in all aspects. There is no way I could see this coming, and the team took the region by storm in 2008. 

 

The blog today will focus on the items 6-10, and the logo unveiling last November in St. Petersburg, Florida at Straub Park.

 

 

 

As everyone might remember, 12 months ago we set out changing the basic style of the team with a logo change and a uniform retro-fitting. Gone was the old “TB” on the hat that had a ray centered beneath the “TB” symbol. In came a clean looking “TB” in a great marine blue color. Then you get to the uniforms that were streamlined into a more uniform design without the old “Rays” on the chest area of the uniform.

The uniforms went from a white and green basic jersey with blue pinstriping on the sleeves to a retro looking White and Blue model with a logo that popped with the odd shaped “R”, and the sunburst in the center of the logo blasting out for all to see. The team held a fantastic outdoor event to unveil the new look with most of the players coming in for the event.

The new design was met with some crtics wanting the old Rays look becuase it had a modern flair without being boring. Others were upset that the away jerseys would not have the “Tampa Bay” moniker blazen across the chest of the players anymore. It was replaced with the new logo “Rays” across the chest.

          

 

Other were debating why to let go of the entire past for the new look. One thing the Rays did leave “old” on their jerseys was the flying ray patch on the sleeve. The team decided to continue that tradition and  replaced the dark black and colorful ray with one that matched the teams new blue and white jerseys. All in all, the new look showed the team was trying to move beyond the loveable losers’ of the past and were hoping for a new attitude in Tampa Bay.

 

 

                

 

Starting with the bottom of the list at number 10, was the Akinora Iwamura must feel at home at second base.  To sya he did not do a superb job this year would be an insult. the guy went from a position where he has won Gold Gloves in Japan to a new position for the betterment of the team. Not only did he do it with grace and style, but he made himself a front runner for years at the position.

Iwamura was one of the people nominated for a Gold Glove this year at second in the AL. He only committed a handful errors all year long and ended up ranked 4th among AL second baseman in his first year ever at the position. He became a vital cog in the Rays double play combination working with Jason Bartlett like he has been playing to position all his life.

The hardwork and the determination of Iwamura to make his transition flawless was carried out to a “T”. Aki stood tall and in the pivot long to make sure the team got a chance to complete every double play in 2008. He was also instrumental in the field making countless great plays behind second and relaying the ball into home. Iwamura has found a new home at second base, and will be even better in 2009.

 

 

 

 Number 9 stated that catching had to hit a new high this year. Well, that will be an easy one. Dioner Navarro started the year off on fire and got hurt. When he returned, he stayed above the .300 mark well into the second half of the season before falling below that mark for the only time in 2008. Behind the plate he took more control and exercised his own playcalling alot this season.

But the action with Matt Garza in Texas in the ruffle on the mound and in the dugout finally put him on top. It showed that he had the heart and the determination to lead this team behind the dish and put his stamp on the team. With his new confidence at the plate translated perfectly to his time behind the mask.

For the season, His batting average for the year was only behind Minnesota’s Joe Mauer at the position in the AL. That is a huge change from the guy battling to stay above .191 during the first half of 2007. Navarro continued during the first half of 2008 getting better and better every game. He was rewarded with his first All-Star invite and was key to the tying and winning run for the AL in the game. He caught 8 innigs in that game and solidified his place among AL catchers with is performance.

 

         

 

Number 8  was about the 1-2-3 setup guys securing the game. Well, this one is a bit tricky. the Rays Bullpen showed a huge upswing in 2008, but the closer role was up in the air alot more than expected in the year. Troy Percival was signed to make a solid end to the Bullpen but went down numerous times during the season.

His back and knee did show the wear and tear of all his MLB years, and by the end of the season he was on the DL and did not even get posted to any of the Rays post season rosters. His health situation put the pressure on the young Rays and they responded brilliantly in most cases.

From J P Howell and Grant Balfour securing the 7th inning for the Rays nightly, to Dan Wheeler or even Jason Hammel being called on to put out the fires in late innings, the young squad held together and mixed and matched nightly to get the Rays the victory.

It was not your picture perfect way to run a Bullpen, but the Rays did make it happen and post one of the best turnaround years ever for a Bullpen. The young guys matured and got valuable experience, and the veterans stood tall and made the plays when they were needed in 2008.

 

                           

 

Number 7  was that the right-field guy has to be consisitant and kick butt.  You would have to define that a bit more to really decide if it was a successful year or a failure. I have it more at a banner year for finding the right guys finally, but it could have been a lot better organized.

Jonny Gomes and Eric Hinske got most of the early reps in right during the beginning of the year. With the trade for Gabe Gross, the Rays brought in a guy who had never been counted on like this to raise the bar for the team. Gross came in and put his defensive and offensive stamp on the position early.

Gross made countless great play in the field and became a electric guy at the plate. He hit a 436 foot homer on August 6th that just showed the improvements he had made with the Rays. Gross made a massive improvement to the position to the Rays before the trade dedeadline.

After the return of Rocco Baldelli, the right-field platooning took on a more effective mode. You had the defensive skills of both guys as  a plus in the field and had bats fron both sides of the plate to balle pitchers’. The Rays had a solid core in the last half of the season, and the addition of Baldelli proved amazing at the plate during the rest of the year and in the playoffs.

 

     

Number 6  was our prospects need to improve. This became a double-edged sword to the Rays in 2008. We saw guys like Elliot Johnson, Reid Brignac and Ben Zobrist come up and solidify the infield when needed, but the additon of these prospects did not make the difference for the Rays. Zobrist was the most consistant of the guys from the minors in coming in and making the job his in 2008.

Zobrist was being counted on to be the “go-to” guy in the Ray’s lineup in 2008. An early injury set him down and it took some time before he came back up and made his mark offensively this year for the team. He developed a offensive style that was not seen in his game before 2008.

Pitching saw Grant Balfour come back up and not back down an inch the rest of the season. Balfour came on and argued and grunted on the mound and held batter at bay most of the year. His willingness to not back away from heavy hitters made him a valued player in the Bullpen this year.  But the guy who made the entire minor league system tremble this season came up in September, and will not have to even think about the minors in 2009.

 

 

David Price was the Rays first selection in 2006. He had been annointed by many even before stepping on a MLB mound to be a phenom. Price did nothing to set that rumor to expectation down after his stint against the New York Yankees in New York. Price got better and better every time he hit the mound and became a inspiration to the team.

To out this into prospective, the Rays had enough confidence in this rookie in the ALCS to put him on the mound to finish off  Game 7 against the 2007 World Champion Boston Red Sox. Price performed brilliantly and helped paced the Rays during the playoffs.

The rest of the prospect system got a bit muddled in 2008. Desmond Jennings went down with an injury and saw limited time this season in the minors. Jake McGee went down with an arm injury and had to have Tommy John surgery. But even with these high ceiling guys going down, players like Fernando Perez came out of no where and made you know that the Rays prospect system is alive and well.

 

 

So here is the first of 2 end of the year goal realization blogs.  Goals 6-10 were finalized today and I will write about 1-5 tomorrow. All in all you have to admit that the Rays saw a increase in every aspect of the game in 2008. Every player on the team stepped up in the season and made it magical in their own ways. 

 2009 will be a year of expectations and the either success or failure to improve over 2008. It will be a harder road for the Rays in 2009. People will be gunning for the team and will not be broadsided anymore. That in itself might be the biggest challenge for the team next year. Living up to the expectations of the local fans and media after a darling season.

 

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