My Ray’s 2009 Closer Christmas Wish List
Sorry for the delay in getting this “Wish List” out for my personal Rays 2009 Closer shopping list. For the past couple of days there has been a few rumblings at the Trop. concerning ticket prices and the firing of Raymond’s alter ego, the departure of Joe Magrane, and I decided it all took a front seat to my little wish list.
So I am getting down to business again by checking out the Free Agents and some guys currently thought to be on the trading block, who are considered closers in the MLB. I am also going to do my list on the assumption that current Ray’s closer Troy Percival will either be out still rehabbing his back and knee problems at the beginning of the season, or will not be with the team at all.
This is not to be considered a positive or a negative at this time. Percival has not informed the Rays of his intentions either to rehab or have surgery on his two problem areas. I am going to remain neutral in my opinions on that for the moment, but will consider all options on the table for the position in the Bullpen.
There are several people who have peaked my interest lately in the closer category. Chad Cordero ( Nationals) is a proven closer, but the situation in Washington last season make me think he might not be as healthy as he claims to be physically is on the mound. I still think a healthy Cordero would be a plus to any organization, the Rays included.
But there are a few guys who I think can be taken off this list because of past injuries. These guys I think still have situations that are just smoke screens to bigger problems. People like Eric Gagne ( Brewers) and Jason Isringhausen ( Cardinals) might still have the stuff, but I think they need to go to another club and post some impressive numbers if they want to seek the big money again. Gagne has dropped about 6 mph off his best pitch, his fastball since the steroid policy kicked in a few years ago.
This is not a observation that was missed by people in baseball who have also noticed he has not developed or worked on another pitch since his dominant days in LA.
Jason Isringhausen tried to develop a change-up to go along with his other two pitches, and some of the ballooning ERA might be explained in his trying to force the change-up over the plate and it just rolled and stayed in the strike zone too long and got hammered by hitters’. Both their numbers over the last season would indicate that they might be heading for that fast slope downward as closers’.
Brian Fuentes and Francisco Rodriquez will be the most visible and powerful options this season for the position. The Rays will probably not have the money or the resources to go after a guy of K-Rod’s caliber right now. He would be a plus-plus addition to the young and improving Bullpen, but the high ceiling money aspect takes him out of the running fast in Tampa Bay.
Fuentes is another story. I think he has the same stuff that John Rocker had with the Braves. He is a leftie closer, which is a rare find, and a huge advantage to matching up the lineup with your reliever. But the Colorado Rockies have been very hesistant about even putting him visibly on the market.
Fuentes does offer that unusual low delivery angle which works well with his fastball and changeup in the Rockies home ballpark. His sweeping slider is an out pitch to lefites and can be very devastating to righties at times. He has been on the display shelf for everyone to see since the 2008 Trade Deadline, and I think the Rays underbid for him then, and might not consider him a great asset to their organization.
There are a few guys who have been under the radar, but trade interest has been shown in them this off season. Brandon Lyon (Diamondbacks) is a young guy who could be effective, but I am not sure he is cut out right now to be your close out guy. He has great stuff, but might not have the killer instinct yet and might be the better setup man for a few more seasons.
One guy who I admire a helluva lot as a closer, but got shafted totally by his club was Trevor Hoffman ( Padres). He was sitting there with an offer on the table and thinking about all the pros and cons and the team pulls it and tells him basically to hit the road. Do I think it was classless……….Do you have to ask? I lost alot of respect and think that this move will come back to haunt the Padres in 2009. Hoffman will go on to hit the top spot as the best closer all-time in the MLB, and the Padres missed the boat on it all.
My top three guys might seem a bit odd considering 2 are not even free agents, but I think the Rays have the pitching and the prospects to pull off these trades without a hitch if they want to pull the trigger on them.
I think that the third guy on my list would be Bobby Jenks ( White Sox). People have been remarking about his decrease in strikeouts and his fumbling around the strike zone in 2008. Scott Kazmir had the same problem due to the fact that the team wanted him to throw to spots in the strike zone instead of just fire the ball into the mitt. Jenks is also a leftie and has a unusual cut to his pitches as they near the plate.
He does have an unusual forte of having 4 pitches to throw at hitters, where most closer have 3 or less to work with on the mound. I think Jenks is another victim of progress and is caught up in that same mold of being reigned in and taught to hit the outside corners and throw away from batters instead of just rockin’ and rolling the ball in there. He would be a huge plus upgrade for the Rays and would be a impact player from his first pitch with the organization.
My second guy is also still on another team’s roster, but the Rays have been hot on him for the past year. Huston Street ( Rockies) lost a huge dose of confidence in Oakland last season. At times it seemed that his own Pitching Coach gave up on him for awhile before finally giving him a chance to redeem himself on the mound. Street is another guy who has a 3/4 and almost side-arm delivery that can make it harder for batters’ to see the ball early on him. His slider is short and tight, not like most of them that tend to sweep around and catch you unaware at times.
During the 2008 trade deadline, the Rays were talking a lot to the A’s about him and seriously wanted him to help the back-end of the Rays bullpen. At that time , Percival was a hot and cold closer for the team battling injuries and a unwillingness to speak up about potential injuries or problems. Street could be had also for the right mixture of prospects and pitching and would be a valuable addition to the staff.
My top guy on my wish list has been a guy I wanted to get 2 years ago when he was struggling with his old team. He had been a starter and had a few injuries that basically forced the power- that- be with his team to consider him damaged goods at the time.
He struggled and fought and earned a right to go to the Bullpen and became a huge factor in his team’s Bullpen plans. He progressed to become one of the hidden gems in the closers’ role and is out as a free agent for the first time as a closer.
The guy who I would love to see take the mound in the 9th inning for the Rays in 2009 is Kerry Wood. The guys knows competition and how to prepare now. It took him a bit to get used to being the last guy out there every night, but I truly think he will have a banner 2009 season. With the obvious need by the Rays for a closer past 2009, this guy could fill the role and give you a guy who might even put a bit of fear in people on the mound.
Because he is not just a fastball pitcher, his breaking pitches, basically a huge 12-6 curve ball would be a great out pitch to the batters seeking a big fat fastball over the plate. With the Rays, Wood could develop a slider that could be a great addition to his arsenal. One thing I have always like about the up and coming Rays pitchers’. The Rays minor leaguers’ have some of the nicest sliders you will find in baseball.
So with the addition of this pitch and Wood on the Rays roster for 2009, I think the closer position will be filled for 3 years with no problems. For the team to continue this closer-by-committee BS is totally out of line with normal thinking. Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour have designated positions in the late innings of the game. To keep playing with the formula will instill a bad karma for the team and place some instability to their game preparations.
When you are in the back end of a Bullpen, you best friend is repetition and the fact of security in your role. To keep throwing the names in a hat and picking my matchups and not by strengths the team is sending the wrong message to it’s Bullpen veterans.
Tomorrow I will hit the trail and throw a few names out for Bullpen upgrades via the free agent market. There is a good amount of quality arms out there who could be a huge factor in the 2009 pen. Both lefties and righties will be thrown out in tomorrow’s blog.
Until later, have fun, stay warm and do not catch one on the outside corner for that third called strike.