Could Rays Bring Back Riggans?
I swear I almost wanted to scream at my computer screen when I got home late Saturday night and saw that the Tampa Bay Rays had announced that they would not be offering a contract to their long time back-up catcher/heart throb Shawn Riggans for the 2010 season. Rays fan’s hearts were breaking all over the Bay area knowing the popularity of Riggans with the Rays Republic.
I have to admit it here that I was perplexed by the timimg of this decision by the Rays front office, but I was not totally in shock. Most of us in the stands knew that the writing might be on the wall after Riggans fought off a number of injuries during the 2009 season to only get a chance to start 7 games for the Rays. And this position was considered a strength before Riggan’s key injuries and the year long struggles of Rays starting catcher Dioner Navarro.
But I thought Riggans might still have time to change the Rays mindset while he was playing Winter baseball in Puerto Rico. It seemed like a safe bet to consider that the Rays would wait until the end of that Puerto Rico Winter League season before finalizing their decision concerning Riggans. And when I asked Riggans about his off season plans, he seemed anxious to get an opportunity to get some extra game exposure and continue working himself into game shape before reporting to Spring Training. Riggans was genuinely excited about heading to Puerto Rico and playing for the Gigante de Carolina this winter.
It was a bit curious to me that the Rays took this weekend, which is usually reserved for arbitration eligible decisions to deal the cards on Riggan’s future with the Rays. Riggans was not one of the ten possible Rays players who were seeking an arbitration offer that night because Riggans still has one more season where his contract would be controlled by the team before he officially enters the arbitration carousel.
And with Riggans still not even on the board to make the big dollars this season, his $ 450,000 estimated salary was just a drop in the bucket in comparison to the contract signed by Dioner Navarro for $ 2.1 million on Sunday. And with Riggans still having a Minor League option, it seemed almost like a “win-win” situation for him and the team in refernce to salary and team control for 2010.
But I can see an outside fringes of the Rays risk management style in action here by maybe reducing half a million dollars off the 2010 books to lightly trim their payroll. And combined with Riggan’s recent injury history, you could see the team’s increasing concerns to upgrade the team behind the plate and keep the possibilities of another unexpected rash of experience being on the disabled list during 2010.
And you have to look no further than at the injuries sustained by Riggan’s in 2009 to squarely to see that the Rays might not have total confidence in him regaining 100 percent of his abilities and staying healthy throughout the enitre Rays season.
From Riggan’s first stint on the disabled list in 2009 on April 13th (Right shoulder tendinitis) to his final recall by the Rays on September 1,2009, the Rays did not seem to have the same confidence in Riggan’s abilities towards the end of the season. And Riggans did try and climb up the Rays organizational ladder during his rehab assignments by going from Class-A Charlotte Stonecrabs, to Double-A Montgomery Biscuits and finally stopping at the Triple-A Durham Bulls. But at one point during his journey, Riggans suffered an abdominal strain while trying to throw out a runner while he with the Biscuits and was shut down again for some time.
And because of this uneasiness towards Riggans being the consummate Rays back-up,or even a third option in 2010, the team might have just decided to now cut their ties to the young catcher to give him a chance to grab onto another team’s roster during the Hot Stove season. There are more than a few whispers of a possible Rays/Riggans reuniting with a possible minor league contract being offered to Riggans in the future, and an option of a possible Major League invite to Riggans.
That future scenario might be a prefect chance for Riggans to again show the Rays front office/scouts that he still has the stuff to play the Rays organization. For the first time in the last 9 months, it seems that Riggans might have finally regained his health and was playing the game he loves so much. He has appeared in 13 games so far for Giantes de Carolina (13-9), which is leading the Puerto Rico Winter League right now. Riggans is batting a modest .219 this season, but boasts a healthy .372 Slugging Percentage.
And Riggans has come a long way since he last played baseball for St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale,Florida. It is a really wild fact that Riggans never started a single baseball game for St. Thomas Aquinas before the Rays selected him in the 24th round of the 2000 draft.
No matter what happens from this moment on, Riggans can take some special moments with him as a Ray.During 2008, Riggans made his first Opening Day roster and started behind the plate in the Rays home opener on April 8th against Baltimore and hit a 378-foot solo shot for his first career home run off Orioles starter Erik Bedard in that contest.
And Riggan’s was behind the plate during Rays starter Matt Garza’s one-hitter against the Florida Marlins with some of his family members in the stadium that day to enjoy the moment with him. But you have to believe that the biggest Rays memory for Riggans might have come during his first full season at the Major League level to be with the team while they were still playing deep into October, and then being here on Opening Day in 2009 to help raise those two Championship banners to the rafters.
If last Saturday night’s announcement is the last time we see Riggans in a Rays uniform, he can be proud of the 64 games he appeared in a Rays uniform in his short Rays career. Some guys get to come up and only have a small cup of coffee before a team decides their future and they are gone. In the last few seasons, Riggans has become a fan favorite as much for his smile and love of the game as for his abilities. And hopefully with health on his side, we might again possibily see Riggans in the Rays uniform this February.