Two Players trade Cardinal Red for Rays Blue
The last time former St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen tossed the ball in Tropicana Field he was a member of the Oakland A’s. Has it really been so long ago that he and Jason and Jeremi Giambi were standing against the wall at Ferg’s following a Saturday night Rays game just enjoying the night and loving the cool breezes coming off the water. Well, now that he has signed a minor league deal with the Rays, he might just get another chance to lean on the wall near the pool tables if he can secure a spot on the Rays roster by the end of March.
Adam Kennedy had not seen been in the American League park since about 2006 when he left the Las Angeles Angels after a 6-year run with the American League west club. But people forget that he broke into the major leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals when in 1999 he played in 33 games for the Cardinals. Both of these players might be considered long shot to make the Rays roster, but wilder things have happened in the Spring Training rounds for the two veterans. But their experience, and their willingness to work for their spots on the team might be a great visual for the young and hungry Rays as they begin their quest to defend the American League Pennant in a few days.
Kennedy might be the most interesting signing of the group considering the Rays have Akinora Iwamura, who is still in Japan training for the World Baseball classic. And considering the Rays just gave a nice hunk of change to current utility player Willy Aybar, it seems a bit odd to bring in a veteran second baseman to compete with someone you just gave a huge economical upgrade. But it might also help to spak some competition between Aybar and Ben Zobrist who will probably be the two utility guys for the Rays when they break camp in April. But if 2008 is any indication, you can not guarantee that either guy will be 100 percent healthy at the end of camp.
In 2008, both Zobrist and Aybar went down either during or right after Spring Training, and maybe a bit of healthy competition will be good this year to bring the blood to the surface and make the team focus early for the task ahead. Kennedy played in 115 games for the Cardinals in 2008, originally drafted by the team in 1997, he was traded to the Angels in 2000 for outfielder Jim Edmonds. But with the Cardinals, being a second baseman really is not a solid position prior to 2008, the Cardinals have had 5 different players start the season at second base in the last 6 seasons. But what is so add is the fact that in 2008, Kennedy had his second best year as a pro hitting .280, with 17 doubles and 36 RBI’s. Kennedy did have 13 defensive gems in 2008, which was tops on the Cardinals squad.
He is known more for his defense than for his bat, which makes this a bit of an odd signing. But with Iwamura out of the lineup until he returns from the WBC, it might just be the veteran’s best position to not only get noticed by another team, but might be kept in the Rays back of mind for future considerations. But unlike Kennedy, Isringhausen did not have a banner year in 2008. This off season he also had shoulder surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon. He only threw 42.3 innings in 2008, his worst in the majors, and was not even considered the closer for the Cardinals late in the year.
His 1-5 record in 2008 should show his struggles to post effective numbers in the closers role. He did save 12 games in 2008, but it is way below his previous year totals of 32 saves for the Cardinals. 2008 also ended a series of season where the right handers ERA went way above it customary mid 2.50 ERA. In may 2008, the frustrations got to huge for both him and the Cardinals that he was considering a change after blowing 5 straight saves. Isringhausen was embarrassed and called for a meeting with Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa and Pitching Coach Dave Duncan to discuss his future with the team.
For some reason his mechanics just left him and he could not effectively get the ball over the plate. Isringhausen has previously been vocal about his want to finish his career in St Louis, but his ineffective pitching led to than not offering him arbitration in the 2008 off season. But this is not the first time he has dad to battle inconsistency on the mound. Isringhausen’s career was nearly left for dead in September of ’06, when he elected to have surgery for his degenerative hip condition. He’s silenced that talk with a 1.45 ERA and 20 saves so far this year. But is his signing with the Rays a way for him to show other teams he is ready to again take the ball, or is it a local team, Isringhausen has a home in the Tampa Bay area, that will provide an outlet for other teams to see that he is 100 percent and ready to again battle in the end of a game.
He is currently sitting on 269 saves for his career and has a set goal of achieving at least 300 in his career. It is not known 100 percent if Rays current closer Troy Percival will be throwing in Spring Training, or will be pushed to the disabled list to be sure he is also 100 percent before taking the mound for the Rays. He could be insurance for the team, but with his ineffective pitching in 2008, maybe a minor league deal was a way for him to at least come out and prove he still has both the abilities and desire to hit his 300 save goal.
I really do not see Isringhausen anywhere near the Rays Bullpen in 2009. Not to cast judgment before he even throws for the team, but I think that the makeup of the potential Bullpen before the signing was an upgrade from 2008. Even if Isringhausen has a chance to crack the Rays Bullpen situation, what would his defined duties be? Would he accept the fact that he might not close here and would be a set-up man for either Percival or maybe Dan Wheeler for 2009. But would the Rays even consider using him as a closer while Percival is out, then if he is effective, he could be dealt to another team for a possible prospect. If you really wanted to place a question mark on any of the signing in 2009, this would be the one that stands out in my mind.
Isringhausen has the past experience and the determination to get back to the top of the pile, but will his body and pitching mechanics respond enough for someone to give him a chance beyond March 2009 Both veteran players can provide something the Rays need in 2009, they can provide added leadership and give sage advice to the young Rays both on and off the field. I am not sure either player is in the long range plans of the team. Even in the short term both players seems to be just pieces added for temporary segments missing in the Rays offense and pitching staff.
I hope that both players can get something more concrete for 2009 after showcasing themselves this spring. Both deserve to be parts of squads in 2009. If either player can provide depth and increase the talent level of the Rays, the sky might be the limit this year. More to the reality is the fact that they will use this opportunity as a springboard to again show teams they can compete and be effective this season. But that is something that the Rays have never been before this season. Usually when a signing like this has happened in the past, it has been to upgrade the current roster. If either player was to make the squad, it would be for an upgrade, but might not be for a starting position, or even closing games for the team.