Maddon has One More Math Problem to Solve this Spring

         

 

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With Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon seeming to go (on the surface) from genius to deflated mathematical slogans over the last two Rays seasons, it will not be the last time Rays fans see Maddon hits upon a numerical formula for the formulation of his young Rays squad. Just on the horizon, there will be another call for a numerical sequence to shape and ultimately sort out his final 2010 Rays 25-man roster.

And the final direction this 2010 Rays team takes in 2010 will be heavily based on this mathematical breakdown, even before their Home Opener on April 6,2010. And this simple math problem might say a lot about how solid and confident this Rays Coaching staff, and Maddon feel about the key elements of their 2010 squad before firmly heading into the Rays 13th Major League Baseball season.

 
 

One statistical breakdown remains unsolved, and it will definitely define the early roster of this team. This one still undecided simple mathematical conclusion could become the balancing fulcrum towards the realizations of multiple scenarios for possible failure, or ultimate success going into the 2010 season. For these two sets of simultaneous and sequenced numbers will decide the final set-up of the Rays roster. How the Rays split their 2010 roster into their “13 & 12″ segments will be a huge indicator of how the Rays perceive their team’s strengths coming out of Spring Training, and into the early divisional firestorm with American League East ramifications starting with Game 1.

How Maddon and his staff decide if they want to start the season with 13 pitchers and 12 bench players or vice versa will be an early tell tale sign to the confidence level this Coaching staff has with its roster, and its solution towards early challenges.

 
 

For the Rays can not have a downward spiral in the month of April, like in 2009, when the Rays went quickly towards an unpredictable 9-14 early record, and put themselves in “catch-up” mode for the rest of the season. How this Rays squad separates their personnel into those “13-12″ splits might be a instant indication if the Rays organization believes their pitching will need to get the “upper hand”, or if the hitting/fielding players will get the chance to man that “13th seat” at the table.

But you can count on more than a few players trying to force the Rays hands and have their names put in ink onto that “13th” numbered roster spot this Spring. These young and hungry players will do everything humanly possible to make the Rays staff’s decision tougher, and hope to make it lean towards their names with an impressive performance during Spring Training. And the ultimate reward just might make their first Opening Day MLB roster.

 

If the Bullpen pulls it together and borderline relievers like Winston Abreu and Dale Thayer make the roster, it could tilt that invisible line towards the team ultimately carrying 13 pitchers. And even the addition of former Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine thrown into the pitching mix, either in the Bullpen, or as a possible fifth starter. This could throw the whole equation quickly into the pitching sides favor early on this Spring. But that in itself presents an interesting and complex decision all by itself.

GailBurton/AP

 
With returning fifth starter Wade Davis and Sonnanstine squaring off in the only battle this Spring for a starting job, could the eventual loser of that battle just be sent packing to another team like Jason Hammel in 2009, or could they just be sent down to Triple-A Durham knowing they might be the first call-up of the season?

 
 

I have a feeling right now Maddon and his Pitching Coach Jim Hickey might be leaning towards extending that “13th slot” towards a pitcher, but there are also going to be some tough and interesting decisions to be made in the Rays infield and outfield mix that might make that entire pitching situation moot.

We already know that outfielder Matt Joyce is going to try to prove once and for all to the Rays Coaching Staff and Maddon that he deserves that Rightfield slot going into the season, and maybe for the next several years. And even if Joyce wins that spot (which I think he does), it is small factoring process compared to the highly competitive dogfight that will ultimately decide the fate of the Rays second utility guy between Reid Brignac and newcomer Sean Rodriguez.

 
 
And right now, I am basing this opinion solely on drills and exercises I have seen at the Rays complex, it seems at this moment that the Rays staff’s eyes are focusing tightly on Rodriguez’s defensive abilities more and more every day. But real soon we will see just how slick Rodriguez is at second base when Grapefruit League games begin on Wednesday with the Rays take on the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, Florida.

And maybe Brignac’s roster “pop-ups” to the majors in 2009 might have given the Rays staff more of an comprehensive book on Brignac’s abilities coming into this Spring, and possibly Brignac’s scorecard already has a few penciled-in notes and scratches from the Rays Coaching staff, while Rodriguez is a blank slate with everything to gain heading into the Spring Training games.

Sure Rodriguez was a key trade component of the Rays trading left-handed starter Scott Kazmir to the Angels in late July 2009, but this will be the first time most Rays fans and the Tampa Bay media will get an extended chance to see what the kid can do……now or in the near future for the Rays.

 
 
And if you realistically count the Rays bench players right now, with players like Carlos Pena, Kelly Shoppach, Dioner Navarro, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, B J Upton, Gabe Kapler, Pat Burrell and the injured Willy Aybar, you already have 11 Rays players penciled into that first 11 possible bench slots ob the 25-man roster.

If more than one of these young players like Joyce, Rodriguez, Brignac or even Elliot Johnson makes a lasting impression that they “have to be” on this roster, this could ultimately shake up the preconceived notion of 13 pitchers and twist the equation quickly towards 13 bench players. And that scenario has a very distinctive possibility of happening this Spring. These numbers games for the first time in Rays short history, might effectively come down to total game day performances and not the foresight predictions on their talents, or a daily growing maturity in their abilities to play at the Major League level.

 
 

But, the wrist injury to Aybar might be one of the biggest question mark still unanswered totally into this first set of Grapefruit League games. If he is down and out for an extended time, or even gets put on the 15-day Disabled List to start the regular MLB season, the Rays could keep an extra bench player down with the Rays instead of sending them to the minor league camp or even up to Durham.

So there might be a lot of day-to-day evaluations and recommendations discussed with Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield in the next week or so to see if there is a viable option of Aybar playing before the Major League season begins, or they shut Aybar down from hitting drills and let him effectively rehab back into game shape before pressing this same numbers issue again during the Rays season.

 
 

And if Aybar does go on the D L, it could also be a bit of a last gasp of making this roster for one of the reliever fighting it out to become a Rays Bullpen member, or could evolve into a chance for the loser of the Sonnanstine/Davis battle to be kept on the Major League roster as a possible long reliever like Lance Cormier.

My personal gut reaction is that the Rays seem to want to do everything in their power to try and keep Sonnanstine up at this level, but if he falls into that 13th slot and Aybar comes back, he would be the first to fall from the 25-man roster. You already know that Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Cormier, Dan Wheeler, Randy Choate (leftie specialist), J P Howell along with Wade Davis, James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price and Jeff Niemann take up 11 pitching spots before even considering Abreu, Thayer or Joaquin Benoit as a Bullpen option.

 
 

 
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That would leave a possible one viable slots, with a second up in the air right now if the Rays want to carry 13 pitchers. You could pencil in Sonnanstine into one of those two spaces, but with him and Davis both having minor league options, they could always be sent down with the adage that it came down to that “13th ” spot. And even with Thayer and Abreu showing mixed results at this level, you have to think of the two, Abreu would get a longer look based on his 2009 MiLB.com designation as the Triple-A Reliever of the Year.

But not going in Abreu’s favor is his short stint with Cleveland in 2009, when he seemed to imploded a bit on the mound and almost started an all out brawl in a game versus Seattle. But both relievers have paid their minor league dues and could force the Rays hand and send Sonnanstine to Durham, even with great outings this Spring.

 
 

This is only my scenario of the whole situation and is only my personal glance into the Rays possible decision on this issue. I see the loser of the Davis and Sonnanstine battle to be immediate trade bait offered before MLB rosters finalize and if a good trade option can not be found, the loser of the fifth rotation battle will be sent back to Durham knowing they are the first starting pitcher recalled by the Rays.

I think there are a few NL teams that would jump on Sonnanstine if he has a great Spring, but there is still time to see about his 2010 situation. I truly feel that Joyce will win his battle for Rightfield, and will platoon with Ben Zobrist to begin the season until Joyce shows he can hit left-handers with consistency, then it open another can of worms for the Rays as to a final playing position for Zobrist.

 

Out of the infield battle, I see Sean Rodriguez maybe having a slight edge right now, but I feel it is Brignac’s job to lose since he has the confidence and skill level to play at the Major League level. And if Aybar does go on the D L , they both could get a realistic shot to make the initial Rays 25-man Opening Day roster. But I also think in the end, the Rays will shop Brignac and he could be somewhere else either before the 2010 season, or within the first few months of the season.

It is funny how two of the Rays past “utility” guys, Aybar and Zobrist based on their great seasons in 2008 and 2009 will play a part so deep into the Rays decisions in 2010. But that just goes to show you the improved depth and wealth of talent sitting in Port Charlotte right now, just at the Major League camp level.

 
 

 
Steve Nesius/ AP
 

Some people consider the number “13” to be mostly evil with no redemption for any good. But that same number “13” for one Rays player this Spring Training season will be a blessing, and a chance to show they have what it takes to survive and play daily at this level of the game. Whoever gets that coveted “13th” spot in 2010, no matter if they are a Rays pitcher, or field player, they will know internally that they survived one of the most competitive Rays Spring Training camps.

It might not seem so tough to some of the Rays fans watching the workouts and drills, but this Spring’s competition level has been raised very, very high, and the final Rays player to grace that “13th” spot decision has to consider himself lucky indeed, for they get a chance to grow with this Rays team as they again set their sights on games in October.
 

18 Comments

Wow, congratulations featured blog!!!
http://catlovesthedodgers.mlblogs.com

Cat,
Thanks for that.
Every once in a while they throw me a bone.
Glad they picked a photo that makes me look thinner and in shape (lol).
You know the Dodger fans will get there day too!

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

I echo Cat–congrats on being the feature blog! Your entries earn it. One of the first entries of yours that I read this off-season discussed being a “credible blogger”. You wear that badge well, Cliff!
I think your FO would be wise to reserve that 13th slot for the extra pitcher, as you suggest –regardless of whether Sonnanstine or Davis ends up being the “odd man out”. You are right, I think, that Sonnanstine would be snatched up by an NL team easily if he were released–I suspect several AL teams would take him, also! It is a good position to be in when your “odd man out” (pitcher or fielder) is major-league ready, and you have those tough decisions to make. I look forward to following some of them during the season!
Take care, Cliff!

I thought Sonnanstine had a bright future with the Rays, but you’re saying he might be the odd man out? Guess I’ve been out of the loop on this. I can easily see an NL team picking him up. Pitching is hard to come by, as we all know.

http://janeheller.mlblogs.com

rays cool u were featured blog u earned that plus ur boys will be ready to go i expect alot of postive things from the rays from here on out probably 1 of the best young teams out there

Greg,
Thank you for those kind comments.
I try and be credible and accurate when I post anything, even on Twitter.
I just think that is a basis of good journalism, and a rule I try and play by daily.
I honestly think the “13th” guy will be pretty much decided by the time the Phillies and Rays play again on March 23rd, but it could come down to the last game in Durham, North Carolina against the Bulls before it is finalized.
I am just blessed to again being able to write and do what I went to school for, and even if millions do not get to read me, I know I am truthful to myself and my readers….

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Jane,
Andy Sonnanstine is one of those Rays pitchers that had a bad season and is now back in the middle of a bad shuffle after succeeding at the Major League level.
His down season ocrresponded with a few of the other Rays pitchers’ good seasons, and he got popped towards the back of the list. He had an edge of not being arbitration eligible until Winter 2010, but also has a minor league option.
With David Price, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis having good end of the year results for the Rays, it puts him in an odd position, but with options for the Rays.
I still like Sonny as a person and pitcher, but he just had a bad year at the worst time in 2009 and let a few guys gain and pass him on the depth charts.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Tmas,
Thanks for that.
This 2010 Rays team will have more possible power and consistency than even the 2008 model that went through the playoffs and into the World Series.
The big thing to watch out for is the injury bug. Squash it now with great preparations and we might get the same consistent workload from our starters in 2010.
Offense is ready to rock and roll, and might have a few new weapons.
I said something this off season that It is the new character for the Chinese New Year….Year of the Ray… and I wasn’t kidding.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

There is a lot to watch for this spring. Last year, Jeff Neimann took centerstage. Wonder if Davis will do the same this year? I have a good feeling about the team, and there are quite a few options for Maddon to think about. It’s nice to have a lot of options, says a lot for the farm system.
Let’s get the show on the road!
Ginny

Ginny,
Believe me when I say, the boys are as excited as we all are for this thing to kick off tomorrow.
Both at Rays Fan Fest and the day before when pitchers and catchers finally reported to camp, it was excitment and energy all over the place.
I agree, there is a special aura around this team, a bit different from 2008, but the chemistry has rebuilt itself and their team character is already evolving nicely towards positive results.
Always fun to be a Rays fan.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

It’s good to have so many young players fighting for the 13th spot. I really enjoy watching the Rays headlines and I love visiting their site. The Rays are young, and promising. They are gonna have a nice season… I hope.

Ted

http://tribewithted.mlblogs.com/

congrats on being so prominently displayed on the front page that was awesome to see when i logged on. my one fantasy team is littered with rays. crawford and pena are starting for me and shields is a pitcher. i had it set on autodraft just to see what i got handed to me and how i can work with it. im in two more leagues and will draft myself on those
http://pittpeas.mlblogs.com

I copy practically EVERYONE that has commented. Congrats on being the featured blogger. This entry, along with your past entries are amazing and really let the reader think. As far as the number 13 goes, it’s a tough spot for the Rays, who had success a few seasons ago. They pretty much took a nose dive after the Phillies won it all.
-Holly
http://irishsoxkid19.mlblogs.com

Ted,
It is going to be a fun time down here in Florida this season.
But every division has their own fights this season.
Your Indians will be good, but if their pitching and hitting get hot early, it is going to be a great year in C-town.
There is a lot of talen beginning to push up from the minor on both our teams, and hopefully one will show the MLB that building your system is the key to consistent success, and not just a flash in the pan moment.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Matt,
Thanks for that.
I got to be a 1-day wonder, then they move on (lol).
Seriously, it was great to get any type of recognition by MLB since I am having a hard time getting even primary contact right now with any team.
The Rays players I have as keepers in my League are Crawford and Upton and Felix Henandez as my pitcher.
Should be a fun year for all three of these guys in 2010.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Hoyy,
Here we go with another “13”.
We had 13 less wins in 2009, and some people call that a disaster, and like you commented, ” a nosedive”.
I believe differently. We still had a winning record, and still had 6 All Stars, but subpar hitting and a empty space at closer is a good way to lose 13 games without question.
Thank you for those comments, but I am only as good as your guys make me.
I write because I like it, and I write what I want to know about….So sometimes they also mend together and we all like them.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Hey Cliff this is that same kid that wrote “thoughts of a teen fan”. But, something happened to it and I can’t fix it so I started a new one.

This is an important year for the Rays. Carlos Pena is entering his final year on his contract, same for Carl Crawford. But ESPN’s Buster Olney believes if the Rays start off slow, the Rays will trade away Crawford for some top prospects. He also thinks Crawford will be the highest paid FA position player next winter and will not be a Ray in 2011.
What do you think will happen? Do you believe the Rays could possibly give him an extension?
I like the Rays and I would be sad to see Crawford leave for NY or LA…
Teen-Tiger
This is my new blog: http://5toolblog.mlblogs.com/

Teen-Tiger,
You hit on a sore spot for Rays fans right now.
We all realistically knew if a Carl Crawford extension was not done by March, it would be postponed until the end of the season.
Best case, CC stays here until the end of the season and the team performs well enough he signs a 1-year deal hoping to repeat the magic knowing he will still have big $$$ in his future.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

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