I was sitting here at the computer on Sunday morning after the late night news that the Tampa Bay Rays decided to non-tender former catcher Shawn Riggans, who was at that moment was playing Winter Baseball in Puerto Rico. And now that Riggans was a MLB Free Agent and still playing in the Puerto Rico Winter League, who else from among the other MLB squads could be playing or even rehabbing amongst the League’s five rosters.
Could there be some of the well known players from around Major League Baseball using this Winter League as an extra workout primer to get into early game shape, or is this the “in” spot for MLB Free Agents to using the league as a visual point for scouts and MLB teams interested in their services for the 2010 season.
I have to be totally honest here, before this season I really did not even think twice about the Liga de Beisbol Professional de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League) when it came to the yearly Winter Leagues around the Carribean.
I guess I have been a bit shortsighted and naive to think that great players are not playing on teams in these Winter months. I mean, the PRPBL does have a great history and respectability around Major League circles. And their League Champion does get a berth in the Carribean World Series. But why is it that as soon as the World Series is over most of us who follow baseball just seem to forget about the game until the pitchers and catchers report in the middle of February?
I mean as of December14th, there are currently around 37 members of an MLB clubs 40-man roster playing in the League. And some of those players are household names around baseball like catcher Ivan Rodriguez (Wash), and outfielders Lou Montanez (Balt) and Alex Rios (CWS) who play for Crillios (Creoles) de Cagua. Or maybe you are looking for pitchers like Ian Snell (Sea), Javier Vasquez (ATL) or Jake Westbrook(Clev) who are currently on the Leones (Lions) de Ponce squad.
And they are just a small smattering of the current members of MLB team’s 40-man rosters that are participating in this Winter’s season. Other squads include pitcher Rick VandenHurk (FL) or outfielder Nate Schierholtz (SF) and infielder Ivan DeJesus (LAD) who play on the same Gigantes de Carolina team with Riggans.
Or maybe you are more interested in the Indios (Indians) de Mayaguez roster that boasts players like pitcher Johnathan Albaladego (NYY) or Carlos Beltran (NYM) who is getting extra work in before Spring Training, or Randy Ruiz (Tor) who is using the league to get more time at first base so he can secure a 25-man roster spot.
But the League is not only full of current guys on a teams 40-man roster, but you have a bevy of Free Agents down here playing right now in front of scouts and teams looking for a contract and a possible Spring Training Invite. Players such as Joel Pinero (P), outfielder Reggie Abercrombie (OF),Luis Mateo (OF),Jose Molina (C), Jose Vidro (INF) and Alex Cora (INF) are all down here basically playing for exposure and a possible 2010 MLB contract.
And there are other names of MLB prospects and guys needing some extra fine tuning before reporting in a few months to Spring Training. But it is kind of weird that MLB and the PRPBL suspended play for one season back in 2007-2008 to reorganize and institute a marketing plan, but none of us everyday MLB fans really knew anything about this league.
Maybe MLB needs to better educate the public as to the time tables for these Winter League’s so that we can also follow some of our hometown MLB and farm system players as they playing in these leagues. This season is the first time I have been remotely interested in checking up on Rays farm system players in the league. At first it was to see how Riggans was doing in his rehab. But now it is to see the performance of reliever Eduardo Morlan or even to check on how former Rays player Eduardo Perez is doing as the Manager of Leones de Ponce.
And I think other people will also be excited to check up on their players and their progress in the future. This League never crossed my mind before this season, but now I am coming back every few days to see the progress and check to see if Lobos de Arecibo is still in front in the League, and if their winning streak is over. I have discovered Winter League baseball in Puerto Rico, and have also discovered that well known players and MLB prospects are both playing great ball late into December.
Rob Carr / AP
I know for myself personally, the action of trying to convince and construct a viable financial way for me to mortgage my vested future for use today would retroactively reduce my chances of enjoying my retirement or grant me some forms of comfort in my so-called “Golden Years”. So it is a bit strange to me that the Tampa Bay Rays keep taking bucket loads of money from their financial future reserves and plopping it into their wallets for use now for the upgrades for their 2010 payroll.
Could the Rays prospects of increasing their 2010 payroll to its breaking point really be justified in their minds that it increases the teams playoff chances in 2010? And even if this team is headed by a pretty savvy and financially rich money Mensa, in an unstable investment market is it really wise to hedge your fiscal future for your present wants and desires? You have to honestly think that the Rays are hedging some of their monetary hopes on the possibility that the Chicago Cubs will eventually cave in and send to them a nice full money bag of about $ 10 million to close out their trade end of the revolving Burrell/Bradley circus.
Might the ending of the Burrell/Bradley sweepstakes be the anticipated fiscal prize the team needs to add a level of firm stability to the Rays 2010 payroll and also safeguard their future payrolls. Or maybe the Rays front office could further amuse and confuse their fan base by continuing to open their pocketbook and signing another reliever or player so far out of their financial means that Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg will be seen modeling a nice wrap-around jacket that buckles in the back, and surrounded by a few new friends dressed in white coats.
I already think the Rays have gone above and beyond their projected 2010 allowance given to them by Sternberg, and now are scrambling for a every single dollar to find a few needed pieces in the bargain basement for their Bullpen. And their financial situation was not made an easier when the Rays traded for closer Rafael Soriano and then gave him around 7.25 million reasons to play for the Rays in 2010. I am worried that the Rays have might gambled heavily on their present roster concerns with a blind eye to their future Rays plans for the high risk chance to hopefully again hoist a piece of metal high into the air.
And to make the Rays sweat even more, their top two rivals, the Red Sox and Yankees have not only opened their own bank accounts,but have quickly added some additional pieces to their teams. They have visually thrust their checkbooks into the Rays face to illustrate to the small market team that they will always be just meager spenders in this division. The Rays suspected payroll of around $ 71.1 million might not even put so much as a small dent into the 2010 plans of their two American League East rivals, and that fact should scare the Rays. The Rays will have to firmly adjust their future budget restrictions with their home grown talent hopefully closing the gap between the teams.
On this side of the financial equation, we can see the Rays financial noose starting to grip tightly around their necks with no clear answer to ease their fiscal pressure. And I know that in this fragile financial climate, that even a slight decrease, or even a free fall in attendance and revenues could cripple the team in 2011 and might send us back into the pre-2007 spending levels for players and talent for quite awhile.
If I went to a financial planner for advice, he would probably tell me that budgeting and allocating a certain amount to unforeseen problems is prudent and financially-wise for me. But he would also guard me against the dangers of trying to live too far above my own personal means, or obtaining revolving credit woes that would hasten financial ruin to become swift and unmerciful. He would then remind me that the mantra of “ living for today” might be a nice song to sing to the heavens, but in reality it doesn’t pay the bills.
And I know the Rays have a calculated and well formulated plan to borrow from the team’s future revenues and still have an adequate windfall for 2011 budget concerns. But I have seen this team come from some pretty low depths to find early bouts of success. I guess I am just worried that even as I see my own fortunes rise and fall like the tides that the Rays are also feeling this same concern.
And it would be a pity to one day wake up and see the Rays again struggling and trying to find ways to support the team when they had the money hidden away for a rainy day, and a big financial storm was brewing for them with massive concerns. I have a bad habit of forgetting that baseball is a business first and see it as just another single entity struggling in this financial climate. And for the Rays, their “Golden Years” are also ahead of them, and may, just maybe I want them to still be here when I am old and gray for can be the menacing old guy who tells tall tales of the “Good Ol’ Days”.
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.
Here it is Sunday again, and this week I want to go back into the Rays Renegade archives and pull out a posting from May 23,2009 where I peek into another side of those men we all love to hate behind the plate.
Major League Umpires have been getting the wrath of the fans over the last several months, and I wanted to again remind people at this time of the year where we give as much as receive that they too, sometimes go beyond the lines of the field to give in every MLB community before, during and after the season.
http://www.msplinks.com/http://www.umpscare.com/ / Ricky Roberts
I have to be the first guy to admit this today. Sometimes I have a habit during the game of not thinking about those guys in blue being anything other than sadistic holders of my emotions during Tampa Bay Rays baseball games. For some reason, the umpiring crews are the easiest people to not feel any pleasure for in the entire scope of MLB baseball.
We all yell and scream and question their every moves. But we as fans, do not get to see that other side of them after they take their rough exterior beyond the Home Plate club area back into their little room under the stands at Tropicana Field.
But recently the guys in blue came to Tampa, Florida to bring smiles for miles to some deserving youngster through the Umps Care charities. This is a non-profit foundation supported by the MLB umpires. With a new arrival of the men in blue coming in for the Oakland A’s versus Tampa Bay Rays game at Tropicana Field, the visiting Umpire crew of Lance Barksdale, Alphonso Marquez, Randy Marsh,and Mike Winters took some time out to visit with local children at St. Joseph’s Childrens Hospital of Tampa this last Tuesday. They were also accompanied by our own “Rays” blue man in the form of the ever loving mascot Raymond.
www.umpscare.com / Ricky Roberts
During their visit to the cancer and blood disorder areas of the hospital, the umpires went from room to room with pre-stuffed bears and a huge collection of clothing for them provided by the Build-A-Bear Workshop Experience. They spent their first part of the visit going to the rooms in encourage the youngsters to come out and help build their own personal bear,rabbit or puppy and were allowed to get one additional outfit for their animal.
Lance Barksdale, set to work home plate in the Rays game later Tuesday evening, told Samuel Dearth in a Special to MLB.com article, “This is a wonderful way for our umpires to give back in Major League cities across the country.” After visiting in the wards, the umpires set-up shop outside in the lobby area of the hospital and also provided additional stuffed smile producing animals for other children in the hospital that day.
The Umps Care program was founded in 2006, and the Build-A-Bear Workshop experience is called BLUE for Kids. In the past 3 seasons, the umpires have conducted 31 special visits to hospitals and care units like St. Josephs.
www.umpscare.com / Ricky Roberts
In those past events, the umpires have distributed over 2,500 huggable bears to community children. The events have a firm backing of such awesome companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gerry Davis Sports, MLB.com and The World Umpire Association. We all know that umpires are not the cold-blooded individuals they display on the turf at our stadiums every night. These events instill that sense of community bond and also a reality of life that is important to all of us……….even umpires.
If you would like to know more about this organization, please got to www.umpscare.com where you can find additional photos and programs supported by this fantastic organization.
Just remember the next time you see an umpire near the sideline to just thank them for what they do in this great program. We might not show our love for them once the words “Play Ball” sound throughout the stadium, but it is great to know that these guys also have a release for the pressures and the stresses of this position within the MLB.
www.umpscare.com / Ricky Roberts
So by thanking them you might not get that close call at first base, or maybe that strike called on the black, but you might instill a sense of warmth in their minds that people do appreciate them outside of the uniforms, and beyond the chalk lines on the field.
As I glance up at the luminated clock on the kitchen wall, I see that it is just a few minutes past midnight on Saturday morning. Within the next 24 hours, the Tampa Bay Rays front office will be finalizing the 2010 fate of 10 of their players. This is that stressful 24-hour period that every Major League team and their selected players have to endure where offers of arbitration, possible signing of contracts, or non-tendering their players so they can find employment elsewhere, or possibly sign with the team as a free agent (but doubtful).
It is not only a nervous time period for the 10 Rays players the team has up for arbitration this season, but also for the Rays fans who have grown attached to these players. A few of these player’s names might be absent from the Rays 2010 equation within the next 24 hours. And the possible 10 decisions by the Rays will include core players and borderline players who stepped above and beyond, but might be eliminated by numbers and talent rising up from the Rays farm system.
Of the 10 Rays players being considered for 2010 arbitration hearings, only one of them is currently a Rays starting pitcher. And on paper, you have to consider him to be a bona fide “sure thing” to be offered a contract. Rays starter Matt Garza might actually be one of the four possible ”sure things” for the Rays within the next 24 hours. Garza has been a key member of the Rays staff, and has upped his game again in 2009, and on paper is a solid choice yo again be with the team in 2010. And Garza will see a nice bump in his 2010 salary (estimated $ 3.2 million) compared to the $ 430,000 he receiveded during the Rays 2009 season.
But during this 24-hour period the Rays front office might be finished crunching the numbers and getting scouting reports while letting their personal feeling for the players disappear from the equation. The Rays Bullpen could look considerably different after this 24 hour period as 5 total members of the Bullpen are up for arbitration. But the first glints of daylight also showed a rays of light that one arbitration eligible player will not have to wait for his fate as left-handed reliever Randy Choate signed a 1-year $ 700,000 contract with a possible $ 25,000 bonus if he appears in 80 games next season for the Rays.
That’s right, Choate is the first Rays player to feel the joy of not having to worry about the anxious stress of not knowing his 2010 fate. But even with one player down, and nine to go, that still leaves Bullpen mates Grant Balfour,J P Howell, and Lance Cormier to wonder about their possible fates for the next several hours.
But of that selective reliever corps, I have to consider Howell the second “sure thing” bet of all the Rays players to again get a clear contract offer from the Rays. He went above and beyond his job description in 2009, even giving the closer’s job a chance before the Rays finally shut him down in late September due to arm fatigue. The progress that Howell has shown from miserable,disgruntled starter to confident, out-going reliever is like a night and day transformation. And with that, Howell might finally get a chance to celebrate with his new wife that fact that he could have an estimated 2010 salary in the $ 1.8 million range during his first time on the arbitration tightrope.
But that still leaves both Balfour and Cormier to be in the “unknown” group based on a few personal observations, and not on their solid pitching performances in 2009. During the late 2009 season, Balfour was critical of the Rays pitching concepts late in the season and might have produced some bad blood between him and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey. Could Balfour’s small episode of mouthing off cost him a chance to continue with the team?
Also considering the Aussie is about to get hitched on January10th, you hope he did not put a wedge between him and the Rays front office and coaching staff in 2009. Could the Rays make him sweat a bit before late in the evening offering Balfour a contract? And if they do sweat him out a bit, could they be possibly motivated by the comments to try and get his estimated $ 2.1 million reduced through the arbitration hearing?
But my biggest Rays question mark concerning the Bullpen might come down to what the Rays will do about their long reliever spot. Cormier was impressive in that role during 2009, and I truly hope he is safe. But the Rays have two other pitchers fighting for their 25-man roster spots who do not have a secured spot for 2010. Might Cormier be the “sacrifical lamb” to give the Rays a possible roster spot to pitcher Mitch Talbot, who has no minor League option left, or Andy Sonnanstine.
Cormier would garner around $ 1.1 million in possible 2010 salary if the Rays offer him arbitration. Sonnanstine and Talbot’s combined 2010 salaries might only cost the Rays around $ 850,000, and could be the main reason the team doesn’t give Cormier an offer. Personally, I hope he gets an arbitration offer from the Rays because the job he did in 2009 was fantastic, but my word means nothing in the final scheme of things.
Now that we have looked into the Rays possible arbitration plans for their 2010 pitching staff, lets look to the five Rays field players who also could receive an arbitration offer within the next 24 hours. I will also make a quick evaluation on their possible chances to remain in the team past December 12th.
Jim Mone / AP
You have to consider both Rays players B J Upton and Jason Bartlett are pretty much another set of “sure things” locks for a contract offer within the next 24 hours. Bartlett has increased both his offensive and defensive worth to the Rays since the first day he lined up at the shortstop position for the team. But considering he might get a huge bump in contract up into the $ 3.3.5 million range in 2010, you can never count out anything until the arbitration contract is faxed to your agent. And everyone, everywhere has their own special opinions on Upton.
I personally can not see this team without Upton in centerfield in 2010. With the flip flopping of people around baseball as to the possible departure of Carl Crawford by the MLB Trade Deadline in late July, Upton is the solid member of the outfield and has increased tremendously over the last two years while learning his centerfield positon “on-the-job”. I truly have a feeling Upton will come into his own in 2010 both at the plate and in the field. Everyone has comments on his running style and his sense of complacency at the plate, but in reality, no one on the Rays is more concentrated and inwardly critical of his own actions as Upton.
But the stark reality is that Rays farm hand Desmond Jennings might just be on the cusp of playing in the Major Leagues, but it will not be in centerfield. Upton will be at the arbitration table for the first time and should get a considerable jump up from his 2009 salary of $ 435,000 to an estimated $ 3.5 million on his first journey through arbitration. It might seem like a good idea by Upton and his agent several years ago to not sign a long-term deal with former GM Chuck LaMar and continue with his norm of 1-year contracts until his arbitration years.
And this leaves us with only three members of the Rays squad still being considered for arbitration to discuss further. The trio left consist of outfielder Gabe Gross and catchers’ Dioner Navarro and newly acquired Kelly Shoppach. I do not think I am going too far out on a limb thinking here that a budget restricted team like the Rays usually do not trade for an arbitration eligible player unless the player could be a solution to a internal problem. And one of the main off season priorities of the Rays this year was their catching situation.
And that is what intrigues me most about Shoppach. Would the Rays possibly go to arbitration with both of their catchers and secure both of them on their 2010 25-man roster, or is one of them(hopefully) being shopped around for a possible new locale right now for 2010? Seriously here,I think Shoppach is a clear power upgrade to Navarro and might possibily be saved by the arbitration alarm clock in the 11th hour. Navarro might not so lucky.
Considering that Shoppach’s estimated 2010 salary ($ 2.1 million) is close in comparision to the estimation for Navarro ($ 2.5 million),I think Shoppach wins a arbitration submission based on his possible upgrade at the plate and his ability to get on base over Navarro. Their catching styles are similar, but Navarro has shown to be a bit lazy this past season behind the plate, or the team would never have traded for Gregg Zaun in the first place late in 2009.
I am thinking that Navarro might be one of the two Rays on the outside looking in after the bell strikes at midnight tonight. And I think there is nobody else to blame here but Navarro. The Rays gave him the steering wheel early in Spring Training by not bringing in a veteran to push him for the first time in his Rays career. But Navarro visually seemed to have gotten more and more lazy on bouncing balls in the dirt and seemed to have lost some concentration and confidence in his game behind the plate. Combine that with his solid decrease in hitting, and you have a formula for possibly being non-tendered tonight.
The lone Rays player left to be considered for arbitration just might be a victim of the Rays farm system and available options that exist within the club. He is a guy I have seen play above and beyond his abilities in his two seasons with the team, but hard cuts sometime have to be made,and Gabe Gross might be the hardest of the Rays decisions today.
You know the team has treasured having him in the lineup for the past two seasons, but youngsters like Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings are knocking at the Major League door to play in rightfield. And if Sean Rodriguez is dominant this spring at second base, it might force a position change for uber-player Ben Zobrist to play in the outfield. The Rays organization is coming to a point where a decision like this is not going to be based on performance, but on an obtainable roster space.
And you know the Rays have tried to find another suitor for Gross, but corner outfielders are a deep position this Hot Stove season, and no one has made a play for Gross. For years Rays fans have know that at some point the team would have an abundance of talented young players in place to force an established player off the Rays roster. And this season, the player elimination hatchet might fall hard on Gross. The Rays decision will not be based on monetary reasons, but on the overflow of talent just below the Major League level.
So within the next 24 hours, there will be cheer and tears for members of the Rays roster. Some players might be faced with the stark reality of looking for another team, while other might be just starting the battle for their positions in 2010. But as the arbitration offer clock winds down, some of the Rays arbitration eligible players will be sweating while others sit calm waiting for calls from their agents and the team. I am guessing that 7 or 8 of the Rays arbitration eligible players will be smiling.
(Fellow Rays blog, Rays Index was the source for my estimated 2010 salarie
s included today on my blog post. You can visit them on their website www.raysindex.com. It was a great help using your sidebar tools to complete this blog…..Thank You).
The more I read about this guy, the more I am liking the Rays possibilities in 2010. But the reality is now set in stone that the Tampa Bay Rays have traded for Rafael Soriano to man the back of the Rays Bullpen for 2010. And what a beautiful birthday present (Dec 19th) this turned out to be for Soriano that he got a bundle of money ($ 7.25 million dollars) and a chance to play in 74 degree weather for 81 games a year in Florida.
I mean the minute I heard the deal was about to be completed, I started to do some research on the guy and found some thing I automatically loved and caused concern about the Rays new closer. But the true fact that he is not Troy Percival is the first good news I have heard in the last two seasons for the Rays Bullpen. Soriano is from the Dominican Republic, and as most players from that region, did not start out as a pitching prospect. He was originally signed as an outfielder before being converted to a pitcher.
In 1999, Soriano was finally began his conversion into a pitcher while with the Everett and the move was considered an instant success as he finished his first season as a pitcher second in ERA and strikeouts, but also third in walks. Control would come with time as the young pitcher began to tweak his finger grips and learn the art of pitching.
And his pitching progression showed in 2000 as he was boasted a 2.87 ERA and was considered the third best pitcher prospect in the Mariner’s organization in 2000. Soriano also surrendered only one Home Run in the 167 batters he faced that season. And during the 2000 offseason, he got his first taste of Winter Ball as he was selected to play for Escogido in the Dominican League.
And his impression during his escalation through the minors was not missed by the Seattle front office which selected him from the Double-A San Antonio on May 8,2002 and he made his Major League debut against the Boston Red Sox on May 10th and earned his first MLB save in a 7-2 Seattle win. During 2002, he ended up only appearing in 10 games for the Mariners, but started 6 games during his tour with the big club.
There is one thing that bothers me a bit about Soriano. Early on in his career he did show a pattern of getting injured when he first went down with a right shoulder injury while up with the Mariners on July 10,2002. and was put on the disabled list. Soriano suffered a strained oblique muscle in Spring Training 2004 and saw very limited action before the regular season.
He then suffered another injury in May 2004 when while he was up with the Mariners he developed a right elbow strain. He sat out until July and tried to pitch during a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma, but the pain came back in the elbow. Soriano was diagnosed with a ulnar collateral ligament tear in the elbow and Dr Lewis Yocum performed Tommy John’s surgery on the aliment on August 17, 2004.
Soriano spent the rest of the 2004 season rehabbing from the surgery and after multiple rehab assignment in the minor leagues, finally returned to the Major Leagues on September 10,2005 for the Mariners and stayed with the club the rest of the season appearing in seven games that season. Soriano ended his season right by not allowing a run in his last five games of the season.
During the 2006 season you might have remembered Soriano as the pitcher that got clocked in the right ear off a line drive from the bat of Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero during the eighth inning August 29th contest at Safeco Field between the Angels and Mariners. Mariners Team Medical Director Edward Khalfayan said that Soriano was hit right beyond the right ear region and he never lost consciousness before being transported to Harborview Medical Center for further testing.
Soriano spent the night at Harborview after suffering a concussion, but was finally released the following afternoon. But the Mariners took a cautionary route and Soriano did not pitch again in the 2006 season. Prior to the August 29th incident, Soriano spent time on the DL for right shoulder fatigue before being reinstated in early August. That would be his last appearance for the Seattle Mariners as he was traded to the Atlanta Braves on December 6,2006 for fellow reliever Horacio Ramirez.
Soriano has been known to throw the ball in triple digits before, but suffered in his first season with the Braves setting up Braves closer Bob Wickman. After seeing Soriano begin to emerge in the Bullpen and Wickman starting to show regression, the Braves made a move in August 2006 by designating Soriano into the closer’s roles and designating Wickman for assignment.
But the drama was not over for Soriano in 2006. In September during a game against division rivals, the Florida Marlins, Soriano drilled Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla with a pitch and drew a four game suspension from the National League front office. After appealing the sentence, it was reduced to two games, but Soriano ended his first Braves season with mixed reviews providing a 3-3 record and a 3.0 ERA for the season.
Soriano had stayed relatively injury free during his first two seasons with the Braves before finally feeling some right elbow pain, and went on his first stint on the DL with right elbow tendinitis during May. Soriano suffered another setback during the season and was activated from the DL on July 27th. Eventually, Soriano went back on the DL on August 3, and stayed there for the rest of the season. On August 28th, Dr James Andrews performed an ulnar nerve transposition surgery and removed some bone spurs from Soriano’s elbow.
The 2009 season was the first injury free season for Soriano in a long time. And his level of play did increase dramatically as he held righthanded batters to a .138 average during the season. He also converted 27 of 31 save opportunities while holding a 1-6 record on the season. But the season also saw new career highs in strikeouts (102) and innings pitched (75.2) to show that when healthy, Soriano is one of the rising closer stars in the Major Leagues.
During his three season with the Braves, Soriano might have only compiled a 4-10 record with 39 saves, but he gained valuable experience during the season gelling into the closer’s role for the Braves. And even if he only has three pitches in his arsenal, Soriano’s fastball maintains a consistent velocity in the upper 90′s, and has hit triple digits a few times last season. Combined with his hard-biting slider(81-84 mph) and a seldom used change-up(84-86) that he usually reserves for hard hitting left-handers.
But there is a level of concern that hits my brain about Soriano. There has not been a consistent level of health yet in his career for me to be jumping up and down yet about this trade. Sure I do not want a repeat of the last two seasons where you get ex
cited and looking forward to a closer taking it to the house for the Rays, then get saddened quickly by a sudden or hidden injury situation.
Maybe that is what is wrong to me about this trade. I like the pitching statistics of Soriano a lot, and really want him to be effective and healthy in 2010 for the Rays. But I was also excited to see what hard throwing reliever Jesse Chavez could do for this squad in 2010. It is an upgrade in instant talent, but for some odd reason, Chavez to me felt like a better long term addition.
But with the horrors of the ”Percy” era still fresh in my mind, along with the wasted millions of dollars spent on him sitting in California on his duff while this team struggled without a bona fide closer. I am a bit more cautious to throw out the arms and welcome a closer now. Especially one who has only had one legitimate healthy season after several trips to the diasabled list in the past.
I truly hope that Soriano proves me wrong within the first few weeks of 2010. I want to again believe that we have a viable closing option on the Rays and that the “closer-by-committee” concept is thrown in the trash can and burned forever. But it is still funny to me the recent quote from Rays team owner Stuart Sternberg that this team payroll would not allow for a $ 7 million dollar closer. And he was right. But as is always the way with the Rays, irony had the last laugh as now we have a new $ 7.25 million dollar closer to put out hopes and playoff dreams upon in 2010.
The more and more I heard that the Tampa Bay Rays were seeking a possible closer candidate for the 2010 season, the more the name of former Rays closer,and free agent Danys Baez pops into my mind as an option. Before the recent two-day whirlwind that landed the Rays former Braves reliever Rafael Soriano, I thought that Baez might be the Rays best option based on the high ceilings to salaries wanted by free agent and reliever out in the market place this winter.
Baez was seeking a roster spot with a team on the Atlantic coast to be closer to his family, who reside in Miami, Florida. And that fact totally played in the Rays court if the team tried to negotiate a contract. But the two sides never met and the phone lines remained silent between them. The kicker is that I know first hand that Baez would love to return to the Rays because of the direct the team is headed in the next few years. He saw the mass improvement and was excited to possibly be a part of the resurgence of the Rays.
Even though it has been a few years since he was last with the Rays (2004-2005) the team has now formed a firm foundation and have established themselves in the American League East division. And with Baez’s being a part of that first thrust towards respectability, he also holds a positive historic mark on the Rays past. A reunion of the two seems more and more possible before todays news.
Baez held the second spot on the Rays All Time Saves leader board with 71 career saves. And during his first season(2004) with the Rays, he became only the second Rays reliever ever to post at least 30 saves in a regular season for the team. During his second season, he became only the second Rays pitcher to post 40 saves in a season. With this, you start to see his level of constant rising to the moment by the Rays former closer.
I could see Baez maybe signing with the team for about $5 million plus incentives, but still be under that “$7 million mark” that Rays team owner Stuart Sternberg is warning will not be in the Rays picture this season. But there are plenty of other reasons why the Rays could have considered Baez before bringing in,or trading around for another arm this off season. All the Rays front office really had to do was open their individual minds and the Rays record books to see the value of including Baez on this team.
During 2004, Baez’s 30 saves ranked sixth best in the AL, and he had a save opportunity in 43 percent of the Rays 70 wins that season. Baez might have only been 30-33 in total save opportunities, but in a wild twist, he ended up as the games winning pitcher during all three blown saves. Baez also converted 18 straight saves from June 16th, to September 24th, to provide a positive benchmark towards the type of consistency that Baez could of produced for the Rays in 2010.
Another interesting sidebar about Baez was he converted 12 out of 12 saves opportunities away from Tropicana Field and he saved 25 out of 26 opportunities against American League foes during the 2004 season. Opponents batted for a .191 average against him with men on base, and a lowly .091 batting average when the bases were loaded in 2004. Baez did the job of closing down the opposition during his first season with the Rays.
And that high level of consistency kept going in 2005 when he improved his save total for the third time in his professional career. Baez saved a career high 41 saves during 2005, and was rewarded during the season as a Rays representative at the 2005 All Star game. Baez also became the first Major League Baseball pitcher to save over 40 games on a sub .500 team in MLB history. Baez ended up saving 62.1 percent of the total Rays wins (67) for the season. And Baez went an impressive 7 for 7 against the New York Yankees in save opportunities, tying the Yankees team record of save against them in one season set by former White Sox Bobby Thigpen in 1990.
And one of the reason I really felt like he could be the possible answer for the Rays was most of his career has been set in the American League, and he has been a closer in the competitive A L East and knows the stress and pressures of the division. But all of this logic and statistics might be thrown away now with the addition of Soriano top the Rays staff. The Rays have made their decision on their possible 2010 closer and the Baez idea will be again thrown on the back burner.
I am a bit upset that the team would not even consider Baez, but maybe they are seeking another direction of not including any of the past, and thrusting towards the future. I guess I will just have to catch Baez sometime during 2010 somewhere along the sidelines during Batting Practice and just personally let him know he was the guy I wanted to see close in 2010. I will keep an open mind with Soriano and hope that he can be that guy at the back end of the game to provide some stability and some exciting Rays moments for 2010.
As I always say, I guess we shall see………….
I wrote an MLBlogs.com piece not long ago where I used some “Old School” journalism to gather and decifer information on what locale relief pitcher Jason Grilli (Grillcheese49) was going to call home for the 2010 season. In a really intelligent gesture,Grilli used a well known social network to send out a few 140-character clues and photos into cyberspace to give us “laptop journalists”, a chance to join in on the circling whirlpool of information to conclude where he was going to be hanging his New Era cap and glove in 2010.
Grilli is defintely one of those tech savy athletes that truly “gets” this new era of networking and media interaction. He is using the availiable media tools like the social networking sites to get his message out there, and is using the network in a positive way to his advantage. And that system of giving information,or citing personal opinions might be the downfall in the current direction that media information gathering is heading towards right now.
I read recently that there were less than 20 Twitter verified baseball writers posting updates and relevations last season from the Major League Baseball 2008 Winter Meetings. In comparision, so far this year, it seems that everyone/anyone with a web-based device is in the hotel’s hallways, lobby and their rooms throwing across bytes of information onto the web for the baseball world to digest.
Technology savy baseball followers can now get information from one place to the hungry masses in a nano second, and then the real work begins. At this point it will be up to us to chip away at the garbage and keep the good information as a precious jewel. I can see soon an ever increasing wave of savy athletes, agents and hidden sources throwing out byte-size morsels of info to all us media mongrels. But they also could be able to get the upper hand on us by lacing messages with mis-information.
Athletes like Grilli knows that there are bleary and red-eyed souls lying in wait on the Internet trying to turn any tidbit of information into financial fodder for the hungry media parasites to devour to fill their deep hungry for an edge in information. I have to admit, when Grilli first posted those “hint” photos, it sent me on a fact-finding dance through all 30 Major League Baseball front office rosters looking for that unique job title and a certain flair in their signature. But then again, that is “old school” flair I was taught long ago.
We all want to find that sparkling gem of hidden information amongst the rubble sent out in cyberspace every day. We all want to be able to thrust up that gem of info towards the heavens to show we have the right stuff and be recognized for our efforts. But in that rubble, we will have to hone our own sense of truth to smell out the rotten misguided bytes and pull out all the good information.
Back in college, my Professor was pretty adamant about his personal ”First Rule of Journalism”. He stated the simple fact that “Acuracy, Acuracy, Acuracy” had to be the first foundation thought in our mind when dealing with info before writing or submitting a story to our editors. And with the advent of instant media, this rule seems a bit lost in the translation as tidbits of info come onto the web as fast as we think it in our brains, and type it on our keypads.
How many times in the last few months have we seen blogs posted, then pull down on trades and even player’s futures after they are deemed useless by us doing the legwork and seeing the errant flaws in the post like a nugget of fools gold in a miner’s pan. It has been happening at an increasing and alarming rate, and even happened recently with my own Major League team.
On Monday, a Philly blog( Phillyblurbs.com) posted a blog entry that described the Tampa Bay Rays trading Rays whipping boy Pat Burrell to the New York Mets in a late morning trade. The posting was that was quickly denied by Rays sources, then eventaully pulled from the Philly blog site like it never existed. The funny part of it all was that the guy with the tigger to pull off that deal, Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman, was actually on an Air Tran flight with the rest of the Rays contingency and Friedman would of had to make the trade work via an in-flight WIFI connection at 30,000 feet.
This is just another example of the increasing “instant coffee” mentality held firmly by some people on the Internet. Another example of this increasing problem also features the Rays in a trade during 2009. National media members were falling all over themselves during the speculation of a possible trade in late July 2009 concerning Rays starter Scott Kazmir being sent to the Los Angeles Angels. While most of the media mongels were trying to figure out what was credible and what is garbage, other members of their field posted ” on the fly” postings tossing 140-character messages across cyberspace.
During this “He said, She said” source war of the Rays potential trade of Kazmir, most of us sat waiting on Twitter for media gems about the possible trade. I personally only read the postings of one media source, Marc Topkins of the St. Petersburg Times because I trust he does the legwork before throwing out information. What ended up happening during those few hours was the reality that Twitter followers were being bombarded by direct hits of garbage and half-truths and we ended up having to be the ones who searched through the rubble to find the right information.
Even people from such media giants as ”Sports Illustrated” and “ESPN” had their mis-information army at full force with their sources throwing out half-truths and misguided verbage, and they quickly saw their sources digressed within seconds of spouting to the heavens their revelations. I still remember reading a few posts from respected journalists, that some how instantly disappeared without warning or a blurp of apology and we all were left hanging in the balance until after that night’s Rays contest in Detroit.
I do not have the answer to all of this here. I am one of those guys who looks between every letter on postings seeking a clue or another possible direction to find great additional information. I really wish I had the answer to this increasing illness that will plague us for a long time until someone with more media power speaks up and demands a change. It is not me, I am a blogger who can not even demand attention from my own German Sheperd.
But the stark reality of this epidemic is that some people in the instant media world will mak a mistake on almost every story written until things are changed. I am not talking libel or slander laws either, but the advent of solid facts before typing our gathered information for immediate consumption by the masses. I did get Grilli’s 2010 destination right, and I am proud of that because I did not use any misinformation or blog postings except for the ones provided by the athlete himself. I went further than just the words to find the answers I was seeking with clarity and conviction.
All we can do as bloggers is strive to be as accurate and fact-based as we can and hopefully the ”accuracy” bug will rise from our low level back up to the National Media folks. Then again we can believe everything we see posted, and believe that things are heading in a positive direction within the media. But right now, it is all “Reader Beware”, and that is not the way news should be…..We should be able to trust it, and know they have our best interests at heart.
Blogger’s Note: As usual it is Sunday, which means a drop back into the Rays Renegade vault for a blog posted sometimes between the end of the 2008 season and the 2009 final game. Today I am going to be posting again my Interview with Victor, the GIECO Caveman that took in a game at Tropicana Field back on July 29,2009. It was fun chatting with him and getting to know a person outside of the Rays Republic’s views on the game.
Prior to the fifth inning of last night’s ”rubber match” against the New York Yankees, I got to sit down for a few minutes and do a short 1-on-1 interview with an Cleo award winning icon. No, it was not movie actress and A Rod squeeze Kate Hudson, but it was someone we have gotten to know better from watching their lighthearted humor in their classic television commercials.
I had the honor to go back-and-forth for about five minutes with Victor,the GIECO Caveman and we chatted right there in the Checker’s Bullpen Cafe during the top of the inning about life,art and the constant similarities of fame and recognition (or that was the idea).
Rays Renegade: Victor, thank you again for taking the time during this thrilling game tonight to chat with me. It is amazing that you can give me some of your valuable time today to chat here in this great setting just off the Rays Bullpen area. So what do you think of the Rays home? It does have some wild things about it.
Victor: First off, let me thank the enitre Tampa Bay Rays organization and their cowbell wielding fans for the opportunity to take in such a zany game environment and check out this techno 1970′s style indoor stadium. It is amazing that it is always 72 degrees in this white dome. Simply Amazing! But why is it tilted? Did someone not put a firm foundation in one end?
Rays Renegade: Well, Victor, thank you for noticing that. It is our home, even with it odd imperfections. It is actually a economic factor put into the original design to have a 6.5 degree tilt in the building to decreases the volume of air under the dome by 16.8 million cubic feet by taking a lean towards the outfield fences. It is said to save massive amount of energy and electric because of the funky shape. Plus this structure is built to withstand sustained winds of up to 115 mph during a hurricane
Victor: Hey, I dig funky man, but this place is just insane with the catwalks and the Rays tank, and even that guy in the Centerfield Street crashing through the building by the Taco stand. Speaking of funky, you ever see my dance moves video. Classic Jazz hands moves man, you would love it! Oh, and check out that video of me on “the View” with the ladies. Whoopie was loving me that day.
Rays Renegade: Uh, yeah. The Rays Touch Tank is actually in conjunction with the Florida Aquarium over in Tampa to let kids and adults get the joy of petting over 20 real live cownose rays without fear of the bards or shuffling your feet in the sand. I am surprised they did not let you up into the catwalks during BP to just survey the place from a different angle? You know the center bottom of the cupola is about 225 feet above the playing surface.
Victor: Dude, that was not going to be in the cards, but it was on my “wish list” while visiting the stadium. Even though I am not the kind of guy to go swinging up in the rafters, it would have been a once in a lifetime adventure . Man is meant to be on terra firma, not up in the fabricated steel of a lop-sided building. But anyways, did you see those fake and negative drawings on the wall at the Outback Steakhouse over in the Third Base Food Court?
Rays Renegade: What are you talking about? I thought those were Aborigines drawing depicting life in the Australian outback country. Do they have a negative imagery we do not know about? and why do you know that again? Come on Victor, you know something here.
Victor: First of all, just because I have long hair and a beard doesn’t make me out to be a scientist or master in the ways of archeology here. I put in my long hours at the salt mines working just like the rest of Tampa Bay. And by the way, I am a practicing Paleolithic investigator that specializes in the art and culture of the “wild men” theory brought about in the 17th Century by Thomas Hobbes. I dig his theory on materialism.
Rays Renegade: Oh, you mean the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes. I never knew that the art of philosophy can bring about a job description, but I guess anything is possible. So you dabble in the fine arts and ancient cave drawing? How is it you got to know a thing or two about that Era of life?
Victor: What is with the sarcasm there buddy! Hey, I am someone who is investigating the meaning of life “without civilization” that Hobbes taught back about the time of the English Civil War in 1642. That during the Middle Ages these “wild men” were often unshaven and grew massive beards and long hair to define who they were in society. And that their unusual appearance led to them wielding sticks and club for protection and their survival in cave dwelling was for safety, not pleasure. It was a dark time to be different.
Rays Renegade: Sorry, did not mean to rattle your cage about your ancestry. But what about those drawing in the Outback booth again? And why do they seem so “fake” or unoriginal to you?
Victor: Not meaning to be so over dramatic, but that old commercial series we did for such a long time will not die. And I have spawned some trust and security issues because of it. Again, thank you for not asking about that advertising part of my life.
Okay, the drawing are really not badly racial or utterly fake in nature, they just portray the “corporate” settlers of the region eating Blooming Onions and Steak N ‘Srooms instead of cooking and killing their prey like their ancestors. It is another example of this advertising mumbo jumbo to look like an authentic ritual drawing that is basically a subconscious advertising tool by the corporation that spawned the Outback name. It is a symbolic drawing of people eating……..fast food.
Rays Renegade: Wow! I usually come to a baseball game to watch history unfold, not explore the deep. dark secret of Corporate America. I guess I will look at that wall a bit differently from now on. Thank you for that. So, have you been around this area before?
Victor: Well, I did have distant relatives who lived here a long time ago and spoke highly about the seafood and the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but this is my first time outside my area of the country. Back where I live, we do not get these balmy days with a shower in the afternoon and evenings. It actually has been a wild time seeing a sunset to the west, and a lightning storm to the east. Amazing stuff, and you guys are hidden from all of that under a dome.
Rays Renegade: Okay. That is a whole ball of wax in itself. The “Dome or no Dome theories”. With all of that in mind. Victor where do you call home, you know lay your head at night and look up at the stars and dream?
Victor: Oh, there is that sarcastic wit I was told about with you. Are you trying to imply that I was born in a cave somewhere amongst the Catskill Mountains of New York or that I am a descendant of someone who resides in the hills of Kentucky or Tennessee, or that I have a striking similarity to some of the fans here tonight wearing pinstripes?
Rays Renegade: No, that is not my intention, but since you brought it up, you are not from the region of New York or New Jersey then? You strike me more as a guy from South Philly, maybe even from Chinatown. So where does Victor call home?
Victor: I live in the metropolis of New York City, but I am not a guy who lives in the Bronx, Brooklyn or even Queens. Because of the continuing success of the advertising campaign and their residual checks, I can afford to live life to the fullest. Why don’t you just call me a Soho kind of guy, you know the bohemian, the relic, the “caveman”. I live on the Lower East side, but I am a closet Mets fan.
Rays Renegade: Man, chill. I am just seeking the truth, nothing else. I just felt that you were hiding something from us here. The truth shall set you free Victor. Dude why are you so paranoid right now? Do you feel like someone is watching you?
Oh My Gosh. Dude, you are on camera right now on the Jumbotron!
And at that fastly developing moment, the Interview was definitely over. Not because Victor or myself was at odds with each other with our questions and answers banter, but as Victor had just looked up and he seen that he was the Rays nightly winner of the “GEICO Fan of the Game”, his mood quickly went another direction.
And he instantly went a bit hyper on me and began to run around the Bullpen Cafe area wandering ever close to the playing field, and he then flew over the 3 foot blue wall and streaked quickly towards the GEICO advertisement sign in rightfield. At this point he flung his fists in rage at the plastic GEICO sign covering the right outfield wall and fell to the turf after a few moments in a heap of frustration and defeat before Rays security began to storm towards him.
It seems that the pressures of being both a caveman and a advertising icon/celebrity had gotten him past his threshold of anger and he took matters into his own hands that night. As the Rays security guards took a hold of him and they were physically dragging him from the field, all of us in the stadium could hear him mutter over and over again the phrase “Why could they have not just stayed with the animal theme. Why us!”
So as Rays security men Eric and Dan lead Victor off the field and towards a holding cell deep under the cavernous walls of Tropicana Field I wonder what would become of Victor. As he came off the field you could notice a distinctive change in his appearance and in his demeanor. He spoke briefly of the demons and resentments within him, but was this a cry for help, or a reassurance of the way his relatives have been singled out in recent years.
He had become more primal, more like, a caveman. And it was a pity. I still had a few interesting questions on his appearance in this area, and what is in his immediate future. But for right now, the future might be a little chat with the fine uniformed members of the St. Petersburg Police Department,and the Rays management team, then depending on the outcome of that chat, maybe a short ride to another location.
I hope to some day get a post-incident interview with him to talk about the event and clear the air on the situation. There was so much more to him than just that short interview. The commercials only show a small side of him and his struggle for acceptance within our society. For Victor right now, life is more like a reality show set to a Sit-Com soundtrack instead of living large and in charge.
I still remember coming home after a Tampa Bay Rays game on April 23,2008 and watching ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” when Brewer outfielder Gabe Gross sprinted across home plate and was met by an impromptu Brew Crew team meeting after a walk-off victory. How wild that night must have felt to Gross before he wandered into the Manager’s office that night to find out he got traded to the Tampa Bay Rays.
A lot has happened to the former Auburn University quarterback since that rollercoaster April evening. In the near future the Rays might end up not extending an arbitration offer to Gross. And as a non-tendered player, he will be seeking employment somewhere else for 2010. But let’s not forget, Gross has brought a great blend of on-field moments for Rays fans over the last two seasons.
And before he is gone from the Rays, I want to remember the shy outfielder and thank him for great moments with the Rays. Who can forget his 3 walk-off RBIs in 2008 that not only tied a Rays club record, but produced some special moments in Rays lore. One that quickly comes to my mind is his 9th inning home run off Chicago White Sox reliever Matt Thorton in 2008 that produced the first home run off a left-hander in his career.
We can’t remember Gross for just his offensive contributions of facing mostly right-handers over the last two years for the Rays. Gross was the defensive ”go-to” outfielder for Rays Manager Joe Maddon over the past two seasons, usually as a late inning defensive replacement. In 2008, Gross was sent into a Rays game 39 times as a late inning defensive move by Maddon. Over his two seasons with the Rays, Gross started 149 times for the team while appearing in a total of 255 Rays games.
And Gross did have an offensive presence for the Rays illustrated by 14 of his 38 RBI in 2008 either tying or giving the Rays the lead in a contest. But that is not where Gross made the biggest impression as a Ray. His defensive game will be remembered long after he is gone from the unlimited photo opportunities where he was shown sprawled all over the field and walls of Tropicana Field. You never had to question his effort in a game. He always gave 100 percent.
Who can forget the moments when Gross was either jumping or bouncing off the outfield wall to grab an unusual out for the Rays. And you know that the Rays opposition did heed running on Gross’s rocket arm. And the second guessing of teams helped him produce 9 outfield assists the last two seasons gunning down runners trying to advance. There always seemed to be more tension in the air if there was a runner in scoring position, and a ball hit towards Gross in rightfield.
In his short time with the Rays, Gross embodied everything Maddon and the Rays Coaching staff wanted from a player to exhibit professionalism and pride to this young Rays team. Gross worked hard every single game, and never took a single play off, or went half speed at anything he did in the field or at the plate. He was an excellent example of professionalism that others should model their behaviors after in this league.
Some fans call that sort of person boring or predictable, while other see the truth that Gross respects the game of baseball and treasures his God given abilities to play this game at this high level. While with the Rays, Gross became a father for the first time, and it elevated his game. Gross gave the Rays fans his dedication and total effort at every opportunity, and another team would be lucky to have him on their roster.
It is rare for a child who early in their life dreams of playing professional baseball and finally gets the chance to take in the journey to finally being able to tip his cap on a Major League field. Gross will forever be remembered as a player on the Rays 2008 American League Championship team. But the vivid memory of Gross embedded in my mind is of a play seemingly hit over his head that he leaped for high above the wall and pulled in to rob a potential home run from an opponent.
The play stole my breath away for a moment until you saw him unfold the deep pocket of the glove on his right hand and toss the baseball back towards the Rays infield like any other routine play. That play was nothing special to Gross, because every moment on the field is special to him, and every play was just another way to show his appreciation for this game. And it has also given each of us a memory to remember.