November 2008

Maddon, Longoria also get “The Sporting News” honors

        

 

Last night more honors got bestowed on the Tampa Bay Rays.  The Sporting News  announced yesterday that Tampa Bay Ray’s Manager Joe Maddon was selected asthe 2008 Manager of the Year.

Now to everyone in Tampa Bay, this was only a formality. We have seen Maddon go from the guy no one really knew anything about, except he loved printouts and statistics. To the lovable manager we all enjoy just talking to for as few minutes.

I have been honored to be a memeber of his “Maddon’s Maniacs” since their inception a few years ago, and I still have  a set of his retro glasses hanging from my bedroom mirror. Maddon has brought a sense of professionalism and respect to the Rays in his 3 years here. Every meeting we have with him before games he has been upfront and been totally at our disposal for photos or comments. He is the type of manager you want youe kids to play for, becuase you know they will learn how to play the right way under his wing.

 

       

 

He is also now the winningest manager in our franchises short history. You all might know him more for his slogans, or Maddon-isms. His most famous was his 9=8 slogan for the 2008 season. In it he proposes that if 9 starters on the lineup work hard for 9 innings, that will translate into one of the 8 playoff spots in the post season.

As we all know locally here in Tampa Bay, the 9=8 goes beyond just the surface. Maddon was actually hoping also for 9 more wins from the starting pitchers, 9 more wins from the improved defense, and finally 9 more games from the offensive unit of the Rays. In total a 27 game increase in wins. And if you put that on top of the 2007 total, you get 93 wins. The Rays regular season total wins for 2008 were 97 wins, 3 better than Maddon’s plan.

 

Maddon is already in California getting ready to celebrate again, but not about his Tampa Bay Rays great season. This time the charismatic manager of the upstart Rays will be walking down the aisle with his long time fiance’ . Maddon and the future Mrs Maddon has had this planned all season long, and you can bet it has a better flavor to it after the team’s success.

Not to diminish the event, but his fiance’ has been by his side most of the season watching Madden and the team gel into the team that people can count and rely on for years. Maddon and his blushing bride will be then headed off to a romantic European honeymoon where Maddon hopes to see a few Rays jerseys in the French and Italian countryside.

After he comes back home, there is a second planned reception in the small hamlet of Hazleton, Penn., for  a December celebration of the nuptuials. Maddon thought that it would be a logistical nightmare for everyone in Hazleton to attend the fuction, so they will return to his hometown after the honeymoon and celebrate with his life-long friends and family. 

 

               

 

Besides the playoff run for his team this year, Evan Longoria now has another reason to pop a few champagne bottles this week. He was recently given the 2008 The Sporting News Rookie of the Year honors. The award is a huge honor, and will proceed the announcement in the coming days of the MLB American League Rookie of the Year award.

Longoria played well enough to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training for the Rays, but was sent down to Triple-A Durham for the first 11 games of the season. And injury to Willy Aybar brought him back up to the majors to stay for 2008.  During the season, Longoria played with the team lead in homers and RBI’s before finally falling to an injury in August after being hit by a pitch in Seattle.

Longoria led all American League Rookies is Slugging Percentage, Home runs and RBIs in 2008. His first half ended with his first All-Star selection as the last player voted in by the fans to the game at Yankee Stadium. There he participatedin the Home Run Derby, but rookie nerves got to him early and he did not fare well in the event.

His outstanding play at third base for the Rays this year  got him a second place on the pretigous Fielding Bible list for 2008. But his play at third will get him noticed for a long time in the league. People have ermarked that his power and his control and grace at thrid remind them of a young Mike Schmidt. That is truly high praise for a rookie and I personally think he is more like ex-Oriole Brooks Robonson, and will be remembered as one of the best third baseman in not only Ray’s history, but in the American League.

 

 

Rays Hot Stove Pot Beginning to Simmer

 

When the World series ended with the upstart  Tampa Bay Rays losing to the Philadelphia Phillies, it was the first bit of heat to the offseason’s Hot Stove predicitions and rumors. The Rays quickly made announcements on declining options and granting free agency to 4 of this years Rays’ players that helped the team land in the Fall classic.

First to hit the free agent market was Tampa Bay Rays’ mainstay Rocco Baldelli, who had his 2009 option actually turned down in the early atages of 2008 after he was diagnoised with fatigue syndrome. Baldelli still might sign back with the only club he has ever played for maybe more out of loyalty for all the years and times they took to secure his health and might even give a nice “hometown” discount to the Rays.

 

 

Baldelli has had a series of injuuries from Tommy Johns’ surgery, knee surgery, and his latest set back that the Rays stood behind him and kept him on their roster. Some other teams might have cut loose years ago, but the Rays felt they needed to get Baldelli and themselves on steady ground before committing to a future deal. Both sides will probable settle on an incentive laced agreement with playing time and offensive statistics playing heavy on the deal.

 

 

Eric Hinske came to the Rays and provided ample protction on the offensive side for the club while they searched for a right-handed bat for rightfield. With the renewed health of Baldelli, it gave Hinske less time in the field, and he was primarily a bench player after the trading deadline. Hinske will probably noy be with the club in 2009, and will seek more playing time either in the outfield or at third base on another squad.

 

 

 

One of the fee agent signees’ of 2008 that will not be back with the club might be Cliff Floyd. It was discovered during the World Series during Game 3 that Floyd had injured his shoulder in that contest while batting. He tried and rehab the shoulder before Game 4, but the Rays decided to de-activate Floyd and put Hinske on the 25-man World Series roster.

This injury was first thought to be career ending for Floyd, but recent reports have come out that if he opts for surgery, he might be ready in time for 2009 Spring Training. By refusing his $ 2.75 million dollar 2009 club option, it frees up money for the club to pursue another DH candidate for the Rays in 2009. Floyd has not stated if he intends to pursue the Rays as a free agent again in 2009, but he will have the surgery to repair his Labium tear in the coming weeks.

 

                                 

A club option that was turned down for Rays reliever Trever Miller might have more than a few heads turing or scratching this week. The team had a 2009 club option that would have paid him $ 2 million in salary for the season. The move might be a financial one, or it might be a sign that the Rays might want to look elsewhere for their lefty specialist. There have been rumors that the Rays still like miller and might resign him to a reduced contract before Spring Training.

Another rumor flying across the Internet is that the Rays are going to make a run at Atlanta Braves’ left-handed reliever Will Ohman, who the Rays tried to trade for duting the trade deadline in August of 2008. Because of the Rays intense involvement in trying to get Ohman earlier in the season, this might be a precursor to signing him.

 

 

 

Then there is the rumor starting to gain steam that the Rays might part with leftfielder, and 2-time All Star, Carl Crawford in a trade with the Colorado Rockies for Matt Holliday. Crawford is about to hit the high dollar marks for the Rays, and by trading him and maybe a  major league ready pitching prospect, the team might be able to free enough salary space to afford the power bat of Holliday in rightfield for the Rays.

Alot of this depends on what the Rockies will ask for in return for Holliday. I think that a package with Crawford and maybe even a Edwin Jackson or Andy Sonnanstine might be attractive to the Rockies. They would get a replacement for Holliday, and get an upgrade in their starting rotation immediately.

I will keep my ear to the ground and see what happens with this rumor. Do not forget that the Rays saved up to 2.5 million by refusing their two club options for 2009, and relieving themselves of Crawford’s 2009 salary of $ 8.25 million dollars would free up about $ 10.75 million. Hollidays 2009 salary is set at about $ 13.5 million dollars.

 

 

Ray’s Executive is Tops in the MLB

 

 

Accolades are beginning to flow into the Tampa Bay Rays after their magical season. Tonight, during a dinner at the Major League Baseball General Managers’ meeting, TheTampa Bay Rays GM, Andrew Friedman was selected as The Sporting News Executive of the Year. This is a high honor for the young gun who has assembled a greatly improved ballclub in such a short time.

He started out  the 2008 year by sending disgruntled outfielder Delmon Young, utility star Brendan Harris, and Minor league outfielder, Jason Pridie to the Minnesota Twins for shortstop Jason Bartlett, starter Matt Garza, and minor league reliever Eddie Morlan.

 

                            

 

Jason Bartlett came to the Rays and immediately gave them a veteran and defensive presence at short. He eventually went on to win the local Tampa Bay press award as the teams’ 2008 Most Valuable Player for his defense and leadership to the team.  Matt Garza grew by leaps and bounds this season, both in the public’s eye and in the clubhouse. He began the year with frustrations and an early injury, but in the second half of the season showed that he the stuff to be a top pitcher for many years in the American League.

His improvement accumulated with his Game 7 victory over the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. It was one of his most impressive performances of 2008. Eddie Morlan is currently at the Double-AA Montgomery  working on a variety of new weapons coming out of the Bullen for the Bsicuits.

These players are not the only positives trades or pickups for Frienman in 2008. He traded  MLB-ready reliever Jeff Ridgeway to the Atlanta Braves for utility player Willy Aybar. This trade did not look like a positive until near the end of Spring Training where Aybar showed that his injury had healed and he was motivated and mentally prepared to play daily in the MLB. His output during the early part of the season, and when thrid baseman Evan Longoria went down have been a true asset to the Rays during the season and the playoffs.

Friedman also picked up Eric Hinske off the Free Agent market and made him the Rays rightfielder with power. Hinske, a former Rookie of the Year winner with the Toronto Blue Jays helped provide leadership by example early in the year for the Rays.

 

                           

 

But not lost in the year was the free agent signing of Cliff Floyd as the team’s primary Designated Hitter this year. Floyd came to the Rays having been in the MLB playoffs the last several years with the Chicago Cubs, ansd the New York Mets. Added to that impressive resume was a World Series title with the Florida Marlins in 2003. He brought a calming and leadership role to the young team and took the challenge on head first with players like B J Upton and Evan Longoria.

The trades and the free agents signings in 2008, made the team a better squad by bringing in a catalyst of strong winning personalities and winning attitudes. These changes in the clubhouse mended and bonded the players into a “family” type unit that played as a whole and not as individuals in 2008.

 

 

Not lost in all of this is the fact that Friedman does have a baseball background. People forget he actually attended Tulane University in Louisianna on a baseball scholarship and palyed until and injury to his shoulder led him to more academic adventures.  With the Hot Stove action beginning to simmer for the Tampa Bay Rays, do not be suprised if Friedman doesn’t steal another great player, or work out a free agent signing that will futher propel the Rays in 2009. 

 

 

Thoughts after the World Series Hype Has Died Down

 

 

 

Congraulations to the Tampa Bay Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford for winning the 2008 Fielding Bible award for hsi position. Crawford also won the award in 2006. He is the only two-time winner for the Tampa Bay Rays, despite missing an entire month due to  index finger injury.

 

He’s baaack! And he didn’t even have to play a full season to win it. Carl Crawford missed most of the month of September but still wins the Fielding Bible Award in left field for 2008 with 87 points. It’s his second award, having won it in 2006. In 2007, he finished second to Eric Byrnes by a mere three points. Despite the missed time, Crawford held off Willie Harris’ late run for the highest Plus/Minus total in left field (+23 to +22).

One important distinction that differentiates THE FIELDING BIBLE AWARDS from most other baseball awards, such as the Gold Gloves, is that there is only one winner at each position, instead of separate winners for each league. The goal of THE FIELDING BIBLE AWARDS is to stand up and say: “Here is the best fielder at this position in Major League Baseball last season.” Another key feature of the system is that it also recognizes the runners-up for each position, instead of just focusing on the winners.

Also in the running for a Fielding Bible Award on the Rays were Carlos Pena, who ended up 4th in the voting for first basemen.  The Rays rookie third baseman, Evan Longoria ended up second to eventual winner Adrian Beltre of the Seattle Mariners.  Dioner Navarro ended up 7th for catchers in the 2008 voting.  And former Rays’ batboy and current Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher, Jesse Litsch ended up 3rd in the pitchers’ category for the award.

 

          

 

There have been more than a few newspaper accounts calling into question the events that unfolded in Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series. One of the biggest “What If’s” seems to stem from Rays third base coach Tom Foley sending Jason Bartlett to the plate to try and tie to score up at 4-all.

I personally do not have a problem with him sending Bartlett in that situation. The fact that Chase Utley pumped and faked to first made the point kind of moot. If Utley had thrown the ball to first to get the streaking Iwamura, Bartlett would have scored easily and we would not be having this conversation.

But the true fact is that the pump fake by Utley actually had nothing to do with it at all. Bartlett had his back to Utley before he even decided to throw the ball to Carlos Ruiz for the easy tag-out at the plate. I do not even think Bartlett would have stopped if Foley has thrown up the stop signal to him in time. It was a heads up move by Utley that might have changed the entire make-up of thst game and sent the momentium to the Phillies.

It is one of the reason that Utley is considers one of premier second basemen in baseball right now. He made a nano second decision to try and bait Bartlett or Foley, and decided basically in mid-air to not throw to Howard for the easy out at first base. He instead decided to try and nail the sprinting Bartlett and make a statement in the World series. I think it was a bold move by both teams that just speaks volumes to the competitive nature and agrressiveness of these World Class teams.

 

 

 

Another  decision by Rays Manager Joe Maddon has been played out in the media as to the pitching matchups in Game 5. did the wrong pitchers’ get chances in this game instead of the rookie phenom David Price to save the game for the Rays?

I am with Maddon on this one totally. You started Grant Balfour fresh and with a strong hand to take down the pinch-hitter and take on the top 2 spots in the batting order in the bottom of the 6th inning. It was not in the plans that a former team mate of Balfours’ in Milwaukee, Geoff Jenkins get a monster hit off him to set off the inning.

 

 

Balfour actually threw a great pitch that Jenkins had to go up and get high in the strikezone. Jenkins has been listed in the scouting report as a primary low-ball hitter, and Dioner Navarro asked for a high and tight fastball. the ball came in high, but might not have been as tight as they both wanted before Jenkins hit it for a double off the scoreboard in right-centerfield.

 

The real miracle in all of this is the fact that the Phillies used 5 total pitches to get Jenkins from second to the plate to score the go-ahead run in the bottom of the 6th inning. Maddon could dictate that Rollins would put down the sacrifice bunt to push Jenkins to third base, but Jayson Werth hit a good outside pitch to score Jenkins in the inning.

After that play, Maddon removed Balfour becuase he wanted a leftie to face the next two lefties in the Phillies lineup, Utley and Ryan Howard. Here is where the real drama come out people. Maddon brought in  J P Howell, one of his best relievers during the season to face the 2 Phillie power men. He got Utley on three pitches to strike him out for the second out in the inning. Then he got Howard to hit a high pop-up to Longoria at thrid to get out of the inning.

Now what happened in the top of the 7th inning might be a reason to grumble if you were a Rays fan.  Navarro came up and struck out to start the inning off for the Rays. Rocco Baldelli then came up and slapped a high Ryan Madson pitch to right to tie the score up again for the Rays. Baldelli has been a high fastball hitter his entire career, and he got a juicy one from Madson over the heart of the plate.

Then  it gets interesting for the Rays. Jason Bartlett comes up and slaps the 2nd pitch from Madson into leftfield for a single. With the go-ahead run at first with 1-out, Maddon decided to let J P Howell put down a sacrifice bunt to move Bartlett to second base. Howell took the second pitch and put down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Bartlett over to second base.

The play on paper and in action was perfect, but could he have used Fernando Perez instead and maybe gotten a baserunner out of all of this?  That is the question I have. Why not use your speed demon to maybe get you a errant throw to first, or maybe even get a base hit and put more pressure on the Philly defense. Instead you have a pitcher who will not be booking down the line too fast.

The play worked out to the Rays advantage by moving over Bartlett, but could they have gotten more out of the play? Howard had been pretty reliable at making at least one error at first during the World Series, and a ball missed by him at that juncture would have been huge to the Rays confidence.

Then with Akinora Iwamura slow bouncing ball over the pitching mound and heading for the outfield, Chase Utley makes the play of the day for the Phillies. Could this have been the big difference in the game, and not even been a factor if Fernando Perez was streaking into second base in front of Utley. We wil never know if it might have been a game turning play for either team. In stead it became a defensive gem that might have sealed the Phillies victory over the Rays and ended the series.

If Maddon had replaced Howell with a pinch-hitter, would that maybe have prevented Pat Burrell from hitting that monster off the side of the stands in left-center for a double?  We will never know that either. But considering the way Burrell was chasing the fastballs of most of the Rays pitchers’ this series, Howell’s slow rollers must have looked like a softball to him at the plate. These all are great points of interest in this suspended game that took over 51-some hours to finish.

The Phillie still might have won a game in St. Petersburg and still gotten their first title since 1980. But would it have been more fun to see them have to scramble and win one in the hostile home of the Rays. Considering that the Spring Training home of the Phillies is stationed only 20 miles north on US 19, it might have been a surprisingly more even crowd if they pulled off the series win in Florida.

Either way, it was a great learning tool for the young Rays who are built to get here again. For the Phillies, it could happen again, but alot of the media think the Phillies just pounced on Rays’ miscommings and took this one by default. I do not want to detract anything from the Philly awesome run at the title. They were a great opponent and kept the game fair and within control during the World Series.

 

                       

 

I only have one huge problem with the World Series. I know Cole Hamels had a fantastic 2 games in the World Series, but I think the MVP was actually playing rightfield for the Philadelphia Phillies. Every year for the past 3 years, someone different has come forward and lead the Phillies to vidtory during the season.

First it was the bat of Ryan Howard pounding the National League pitching. Then last year it was the fleet feet of Jimmy Rollins and his run at a hitting streak. And this season it was Chase Utley showing power and grace as he was the early favorite to win the Home run crown in the National League.

The Phillies’ Jayson Werth hit .444 in the World Series with 8 hits and 3 doubles for the series. He also scored 4 runs and had 6 walks while posting 3 RBI’s for the eventaul series winners. I do not know what the tally sheet looked like for the final voting for the MVP of the World Series, but I hope that Hamels only got the trophy by a single vote, because without Werth, the Phillies would not have won the series at all this year.

St. Petersburg Celebration Small, but Full of Energy

 

 

The City of St. Petersburg and your hometown Rays held a celebration yesterday in waterfront Straub Park to salute and welcome home the Rays after an impressive run at the playoffs for the first time. The team went farther than even the biggest optimist could dream this summer, and they are hungry for more in 2009.

The adventure left several Rays wanting to make a run again and again at the elusive World Series title.  With skipper Joe Maddon in tow, four Rays came out to be sure that Tampa Bay knew the love and admiration these players have for the bay area.

 

          

 

Lost in all of this was the shuffle of season and off-season for alot of these players. Some needed to get home to loved ones, or had committments already in the books before the city announced the rally to the public.  Some people have griped about the date of the rally, because Halloween was for the little ones, and 6 pm gave them little time before dark for candy wrangling.

I did see a few dozen kids dressed as their favorite Rays, and even saw a few goblins and princesses’ wandering through the park during the event. The city did a great job basically throwing this event together in less than 48 hours.

 

        

 

Bay area sports guru, Dick Crippen acted as the Master of Ceremonies for the event and truly again showed why he was one of the best sports broadcasters for so many years. He kept the crowd energy high and the event rolling with his great tone and enthusiasm in his voice.  The event went quickly and was a nice celebration of all the Rays success this season. It started with a new St. Petersburg Times video on the past years’ top moment for the Rays highlighted with their first appearance ever in the World Series.

Some people, included members of the Rays had tears in ther eyes as they saw just how far they came in that short, but beautifully mastered video. Rays skipper Joe Maddon was seen sneaking a peak from behind the stage trying to catch the moments again that he had a front seat for….. that will be some of his best memories of his life.

 

 

James Shields, Ben Zobrist,Grant Balfour and Carlos Pena attended the event and seemed a bit surprised at the large turnout of the event. The event did not attract the 5,000 plus that the Playoff celebration pulled in right before the first game of the ALDS, but the true Rays fans came out and showed their colors and love for the team.

Not lost in the event was the fact that several members of the team wanted to be here, but had to put some things on hold at home for the playoffs, and could not postpone them any longer for fear of upsetting family members.  But the hear and soul of the entire team was on display both on stage and on the video screen.

 

                

 

Maddon talked of the love and the committment of his squad and how they are still very hungry to pursue the prize again next season.  He talked about the pride and the admiration he had for everyone on his roster, from Rocco Baldelli contributing, to Eric Hinske hitting that clutch pinch-hit homer in the World Series.

Every player who attended the event will be back in uniform for the Rays in 2009. Player Rep., Carlos Pena made sure to remind the fans that they will be shooting for the stars again next year, and that the goals were now raised high for sucess in 2009. The event was  a great event to jumpstart the 2009 Rays eason. It showed the arly committment and early dreams of the next season.

 

          

 

The event ended with all four players’ and Maddon singing a redition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” the smiles and the enthusiasm showed by everyone on that stage bodes well for the future of the Rays. Think about it, you had “Big Game James” Shields representing the pitchers’. Grant Balfour was the voice of the Bullpen, Ben Zobrist was the players not starting, but contributing huge in the playoffs. The you had Carlos Pena, who has been elected “Spiritual Leader” of the Rays way back in Spring Training.  

If you have ever met Pena in person, you know that the enthusiam and the pride just flow off him like water. that he is the perfect representative for the Rays now and in the future. He is smooth, clean and can swing a mean bat.

 

         

 

The future of the Rays is bright in 2009. the unfortunate thing is they will not be able to snaek up on people anymore in the MLB. The word is out about the Rays, and they will be have to earn it next year.  No more are they going to be taken lightly. From this moment on, the Rays will be the hunted in the American League. And by the look on Carlos Pena’s face, he doesn’t want it any other way.

 

As the event ended there were several kids rushing up to meet their new idols and wanted autographs, and in one case, a hug from their new heroes. Then one by one they were off for the Snickers and Milky Way treats given out by the local businesses before hadin goff for home and more treats.

I saw one little guy with his bat and glove walking away and asked who he was dressing as this year, he said, “I am dressing as the Rays, the whole team. They are special and I know they will get me more candy this year.” I guess that is one way to get community support, dress as the Rays and see just how much candy and love the area has for the Tampa Bay Rays.

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