Since Free Agent Shortstop Juan Uribe decided to accept the Los Angeles Dodgers offer a few days ago, now the spot light is centered directly on Tampa Bay Rays middle infielder Jason Bartlett who might have priced himself out of the Rays fold. Bartlett is entering his last phase of arbitration this off season and could command up to $ 5 million dollars through arbitration.
The shortstop is still a viable defender and might have just had a down year in 2010, but his upward salary scale is definitely making him more than expendable to the cost efficient Rays. And with Uribe now off the books, during the upcoming Winter meetings I am expecting Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman to be a popular man with at least four teams searching for a shortstop option.
The teams considered at least mildly interested in Bartlett include the newly crowned World Champion San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles. Three of the four make perfect sense to also get Bartlett out of the American League where he would only post a 3-game problem at the least when the Cardinals and Rays square off in an InterLeague match-up at Tropicana Field July 1-3,2011.
The most interesting possible trade scenario might be if the Rays decide to trade with their American League East divisional partner, the Baltimore Orioles. Considering that the Orioles still have Julio Lugo, also an ex-Rays shortstop on their current roster, it could make for an interesting 17 game home and away seasonal series in 2011. With that in mind, it also makes the Orioles the most unlikely of candidates for the Rays to consider a trade for Bartlett, but Friedman has been known to shock a few people before, even among the Rays faithful.
So with these few teams in mind, let’s take a look within their respective rosters and see just who might be able to be considered off all four teams as potential trade pieces with the Rays for Bartlett. With Uribe off the boards, Bartlett is probably at his highest possible trade value at this point, and if the Rays do pull some sort of delay or freeze any trade discussions past the Winter Meetings, the Rays could have overstayed the marketplace and would have to trade Bartlett for less value in return.
I am going to embark on the possible trade candidates with the Orioles in mind with two of the most logical players, but also one that might end up looking more like a potential arbitration salary swap than a true upgrade in talent and moderate salary. Luke Scott has been within the Rays crosshairs for a few seasons as a potential offensive weapon. Scott is entering his third chance at salary arbitration this Winter, and could demand even more than Bartlett’s $ 5 million dollar prospective 2011 salary price tag.
But you can not argue with a .281 batting average with 27 HR and 71 RBI’s after you saw your best offensive weapon (Carlos Pena) go on the open market this Winter. It is imperative that the Rays find an adequate replacement for Pena to protect Evan Longoria in the Rays batting order. Scott also has the ability to hit for average along with power, which might be a great combination that could influence the Rays decision.
Considering that Scott might have peaked at the right time in 2010 by having a monster August hitting for a .314 average with 9 HR and 20 RBI, he might gain some serious looks by the Rays. His OPS (.898) and Slugging Percentage ( .535) suggest that he might be the bat the Rays missed in 2010 in the Designated Hitter spot. Scott also was the AL Player of the Week (July 25) and posted a 11-game hitting streak during the 2010 season. Scott might not seem like a value in trade for Bartlett, but it would help the team solidify a position (DH) that has plagued the Rays line-up for at least two seasons.
A second potential trade candidate has been mentioned a few times before in regard to Bartlett. Pitcher David Hernandez has only a $ 402,000 salary in 2010, and might just be the type of pitcher the Rays could effectively carry in their Bullpen for several seasons before he becomes too expensive for the team to carry. Hernandez posted an 8-8 record in 2010,which might not seem impressive, but once the Orioles took him out of the starting rotation where he went 1-5 with a 5.31 ERA in 8 starts, he quickly adapted to a relief role.
Hernandez then went on to post a 7-3 record with a 3.16 ERA along with 2 saves as a Oriole reliever. The fact that Hernandez could be an effective part of the Rays Bullpen either as a middle inning reliever or as a inning eater should intrigue the Rays to more than just kick the tires on Hernandez. Sure he might have only, logged 33 total relief appearances in his career, but Hernandez has the fire and desire to succeed. That fact is truly demonstrated in his ability to go at least 5-6 innings in 7 of his 8 starts in 2010 for the Orioles.
San Francisco Giants:
Considering the Uribe left the World Champions for a new home in Chavez Ravine, the G-men will be looking quickly for an alternative with some relief pitching as the main bait. Javier Lopez, who the Giants got in a trade in late July from the Pittsburgh Pirates is a 4-time arbitration eligible player this Winter. Even with his fourth try at the arbitration game, his prospective arbitration amount should be considerably less than Rays Free agent RP Grant Balfour. Lopez earned a total salary of $ 775,000 in 2010 and could be a possible middle inning replacement if the Aussie refuses the Rays arbitration offer.
But as a left-handed option, Lopez brings a lot of great ability and stamina to the table. Lopez went 4-2 this season with a 2.34 ERA in both locales, but his numbers quickly dropped once he was sent to the West Coast. He posted a 1.42 ERA in 27 games with the Giants after leaving behind a 2.79 ERA in 50 games with the Pirates. But his main selling point to the Rays might be his ability to get out left-handed hitters as a viable replacement for another Rays Free Agent, Randy Choate.
Lopez held NL batters to a .163 opponent’s batting average, which was the lowest mark posted by a National League LHP since he joined the Giants. Even more impressive is the fact Lopez held left-handers to a .68 batting average. Another plus for the Rays would be the fact Lopez limited his opposition to a .190 average with RISP and induced 7 GIDP opportunities during that span.
San Diego Padres:
With the Padres sending two great young potential relievers to the Florida Marlins earlier this Winter for outfielder Cameron Maybin, they seem to be a bit bare in the cabinet in relievers unless something drastic or inventive can be arranged in a possible trade with the Rays. Sure you would love to see the Padres offer up closer Heath Bell, who is up for arbitration for the third time, straight up for Bartlett, but that possibility might just not be in the framework. But a guy like Bell could ease a huge chunk of the Rays problems with their Bullpen if they knew a guy who was 6-1 with a 1.93 ERA with 47 saves was to come in and take over for Free Agent Rafael Soriano.
But the real life scenario of the Padres sending Bell to the Rays would be more of a potential salary swap since Bell could also garner over a $5 million 2011 salary through arbitration. But again, it would cement close a huge Rays hole in the back end of the Bullpen? A more realistic trade option might be left-hand reliever Joe Thatcher who would still be under team control for a few seasons. Consider the southpaw posted a 0.51 ERA over his last 39 outings could make the Rays salivate knowing they could receive a quality LHP option in return for Bartlett.
Pushing Thatcher more into the spotlight is the fact he struck out 41 batter over his last 56 relief appearances, plus had only 19.7 percent of his inherited runners score on him this past season. Considering Thatcher went to the mound with 66 inherited runners and less than 20 percent scored is a huge plus compared to some of the Rays totals last season. But even if Thatcher did have 59 scoreless innings in 2010, he was used mostly as a left-handed specialist facing 1 batter in 33 of his 63 outings. But still a 0.00 ERA against right-handed hitters over 17 innings of work with 17 strikeouts provides a nice exclamation point as to Thatcher’s value to the Rays Bullpen.
St. Louis Cardinals:
The last team I will visit is the Cardinals. Sure they have ex-Rays RP Trever Miller under a good contract for 2011 ($ 2million), but I think the Cardinals would like to keep their leftie who posted 15 holds and had the fifth best NL mark in regards to inherited runners in 2010. But there are two young right-hand options that I think could be interesting to the Rays. First is a young RP Mitchell Boggs who is not arbitration eligible this Winter and made MLB minimum salary in 2010.
Boggs appeared in 61 games for the Cardinals in 2010 and came away with 44 scoreless outings. Combine that with his ability that he went extended innings in 11 of appearances, you get a little endurance to go with your stability. Boggs also retired 42 of his 61 first batters he faced last season, but also has left-handers handcuff him to a 5.23 ERA. This points to a positive upside as the young reliever (26 years old) can grow into a solid part of the Rays Bullpen for many years.
But the guy who really has my eye as a potential trade piece from the Cardinals is right-hand reliever Jason Motte. He converted 2 of his 3 save opportunities during 2010 when Ryan Franklin went down in 2010. The fact this young gun is not even arbitration eligible yet but ranked 13 holds for the Cards in2010 speaks to their commitment to using the young pitcher . After a short rehab assignment following a right shoulder injury, Motte did not allow a run in his next 10 appearances. His 54 strikeouts in 2010 pushed him to a 9/3 K/ 9IP clip that is impressive for such a young reliever.
Combine that with the fact Motte held right-handed hitters to a .198 batting average with 39 strikeouts shows that he can get hitters out from both sides of the plate. At one point in 2010, Motte retired 32 straight hitters and never surrendered more than 2 runs during an appearance. Another nice stat is that Motte worked better off one days rest ( 0.57 ERA/ 16 appearances) than with two days off (.079 ERA/ 12 appearances). But both stats show that Motte is beginning to provide secure and stabile relief ability, which could benefit the Rays for an extended time out of their depleted Bullpen.
Bartlett is going to be traded at some point in 2010. Now is the time when his inherent value might be at its peak and other teams might be willing to trade for the arbitration eligible shortstop. As the season grows closer, his value will go down and the return will also suffer. At this point with more than a few teams looking for middle infield options, Bartlett’s stock is on the rise. Friedman will be diligent, but hopefully he will not be so cautious as to not entertain a reasonable offer for any young reliever or hitting option. Hopefully by the end of the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Florida, the Rays will have found a good locale for Bartlett for Spring 2011.
He has appeared in over 1,500 television programs and 100 films, but the one scene that still means Leslie Nielson to me is the scene at old Angels Stadium in the comedy “The Naked Gun :From the Files of Police Squad“. You know the scene I am talking about. Nielson is playing Lt. Frank Drebin in the classic comedy scene and he is at the Angels versus Mariners game looking for the man that is going to try and assassinate British monarch Queen Elizabeth.
Drebin(Neilson) wanders into the Umpire’s Room at the stadium and don’s the uniform and pads of the Home Plate Umpire for that afternoon’s contest. What transpires, from the moonwalk to the constant body frisking during the course of the game is comedic gold. From the point of watching Neilson’s straight man George Kennedy eating multiple types of food just beyond the field level to the final climatic moment where Baseball Hall of Fame member Reggie Jackson becomes a transfixed killing zombie.
The film itself is one of those classic tongue-in-cheek comedies that you see something different every time you watch it . But the baseball scene is one of the best comedic filmed moments since Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s On First“. No other clip, not even during “Major League ” did I find myself laughing so much and wishing I could personally see even a fraction of the great stuff shown on that big screen. It was one of those movies I did go and watch inventively more than once when it was originally released in 1991.
It saddens me today to hear the news that Leslie Neilson has died in his sleep recently in the Florida community of Fort Lauderdale because of complications from a bout with pneumonia. The duo comedic masks must all have frowns today as we lost a true giant of a man who could do the pratfall and slapstick style of comedy with a expression and a demeanor that showed his versatility as an actor.
Even though this was the only film Nielson did with baseball ties, his portrayal in this first installment of “The Naked Gun” trilogy was one of the moments that got me hooked on the former Canadian disk jockey. Some might say his acting on such classics as the “Poseidon Adventure” or even “Airplane” should be more remembered than his slight foray into the comedy realm. “The Naked Gun” trilogy based on the short-lived television series “Police Squad” became an instant classic.
It is kind of funny that the city of St. Petersburg, Florida is complaining about a $ 1.25 million dollar 2010 deficit after providing Rays fans with an envelope of protection, direction and the general upkeep needed for the Tampa Bay Rays remain tenants at Tropicana Field. Could the city have finally realized what the Rays have been complaining about and be asking for their own dose of empathy right now.
Suddenly the city of St. Petersburg staff was awoken by the Trop’s operational costs skyrocketing upward even as the Rays revenues did not drop into the red. But the city’s outlined contractual agreements providing police assistance pre and post-game has elevated along with another source that could not have been estimated or foreseen back in 1995 when the first agreement was signed by then Rays Team President Vince Namoli and the city of St. Petersburg.
Could the city’s officials premature optimistic thinking back in 1995 prior to their initial stadium agreement with the Rays that the team would/could draw up to 3 million fans a season been a forecast for the present financial disaster besetting the city? Current St. Petersburg Mayor David Foster was right in the center of the action back in 1995, and was one of the city staff members beaming at the potential windfall of seeing 3 million fans attend baseball games, and an additional figure up to 300,000 of fans traveling through this great city for concerts, football and non-baseball events each year.
The reality today is that only a handful of concerts or events take place between the last Rays game of the season and the beginning of Spring Training within Tropicana Field..
If this 1995 scenario had actually worked out, the city would have received an estimated $ 4000,000 windfall ( with 3 million fans ) during the Rays first full season in 1998. Back in 1995, there was the enthusiastic promise and monetary pledges of 32,000 local citizens showing their early support for the Major League Baseball squad. And the excitement piggybacked on the optimistic forecast that the Rays also could bring in 3 million plus fans like their MLB brethren the Florida Marlins did during their first MLB season. Supporting Major League Baseball looked like a sure fire bet for both communities in Florida at that time.
The scenario then began change drastically for the city when the recession began to take hold of this Tampa Bay community just as the Rays began to establish a winning tradition. With their new found winning ways, the city banked on the fact that the Rays would eventually transform from a break even or losing investment to a slightly profitable arrangement for the city. But they did not play into the mix a huge increase in day-to-day costs of providing the services and insurance needs of supporting the hometown Rays.
With deeper budget cuts and fiscal downscaling still on the horizon, the city knows that the Rays and City of St. Petersburg contractual agreement in regards to Tropicana Field is the one program that can not take a budgetary hit, or it could turn further sour for the city. There is no way anyone could have even envisioned this a fiscal fiasco 15 odd years ago in connection with the Rays playing in the city. Optimism reigned supreme in 1995 and even with a hint of impending darkness, the light at the end of the tunnel shown bright like the Rays post-2007 logo.
Could this once sleepy town known more for it’s green benches and Spring baseball downtown have bitten off more than it could chew? Could the sound of the fife and drum calling for everyone to get behind this team back in 1995 blindsided the city to leave some of its municipal common sense at the doorstep. Could another factor not even a pending issue in 1995 provide the lubrication for the eventual fiscal slide by the city towards this deficit. Did the rippling effects of the September 11th terrorist attacks filter down to play a part in the city’s troubles today?
According to a St. Petersburg Times article, the city of St. Petersburg paid about $ 160,000 a year in property insurance premiums back during the early years of the Rays playing at Tropicana Field. After those horrendous attacks on September 11th, the city’s insurance premiums instantly quadrupled to around $ 760,000 annually. Add in a few devastating Hurricanes that destroyed and pummeled communities around and near Tampa Bay and the city of St. Petersburg’s property insurance premium suddenly ballooned to around $ 2.2 million. Even with a slight reprieve in 2010 of the premiums scaling back to $ 1.7 million , the fiscal damage had already been done.
There was a thought briefly that the Rays partnership offshoot of the forming of the Sunburst Entertainment group within Tropicana Field might help bring in additional concerts and events to Tropicana Field and boost the probable revenue stream a bit for the city. But those events have not yet materialized and combined with the Rays management selling their shares of a regional United Football League (Orlando) franchise, it appears the St. Petersburg Bowl held during mid-December will be the only substantial non-baseball event to be held at Tropicana Field besides the yearly trade shows before the Spring.
The city of St. Petersburg currently nets only .66 cents for every ticket scanned at Tropicana Field. In 1998, the Rays first season, the city took in only a $33,000 windfall even after 2.5 million fans graced the Trop’s seating areas. Much less than the estimated revenues forecasted in 1995, but still a profit. Even with 1.9 Rays fans attending games in 2010, the city only garnered $ 984,000 dollars in revenues from ticket sales. Quickly the dome’s property insurance premiums ate the figure up providing no financial relief for the city.
Back in 1995 the local St. Petersburg vibe was alive with the Tampa Bay Storm winning Arena Football League Championships, and the Tampa Bay Lightning making their first postseason NHL appearance at Tropicana Field when 28,103 fans tucked into the domed stadium for a playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers. Since then the concerts have disappeared from Tropicana Field accept during the Rays Saturday Night Concert Series, and the Lightning and Storm vacated the Trop for a new arena built on the channel in Tampa.
With the Rays ownership constantly looking eastbound to the other side of the bay for a possible stadium site, it is due time for the city of St. Petersburg to become increasingly proactive to not only insure, but assure that the Rays can play their baseball within the city limits of St. Petersburg for a long, long time. But that side of the bay is also crying municipal deficits that might hinder stadium discussions right now.
Either the Trop has to become a more feasibly functioning business asset or the loss column will only grow bigger for the city of St. Petersburg. Something has to give in this fiscal tug of war. Hopefully it will not end up with the city finding itself sprawled out on the ground with the Rays taking their balls and bats and leaving for another home. But sooner more than later, something has to give.
On a day when we all sit down with our families and gather to feast, reflect and also reminisce on the past year since our last Turkey Day the one word synonymous with today is Thanks. It is also a day I am going to tell you about something I have hidden away from most people who know me, and finally feel needs to be addressed now.
No, I am not sick or getting worse with a terrible illness, but there is a ailment that has attached itself to me. Since about June of this year I have been foreclosed, repossessed and bitterly had to face the reality that my life choices, no matter how much I have enjoyed them, were wrong turns at best. I guess you can see a positive that when they came and picked-up my new old car I went immediately to a pawn shop and purchased a 21-speed bike so I could attend all 81 Tampa Bay Rays games this season.
And there lies the one positive that has kept me plugging away and not giving up. Even as I sit with my little laptop on my lap right now stealing/borrowing/sharing a WiFi connection through a local coffee shop, the reality is that I have never given up. Even in the rain and slick roads I tumbled my way to the Trop to get satisfaction and pleasure from the sport that has never abandoned me, or made me feel worthless. And for that I owe a lifetime of gratitude and admiration to the Rays.
When I finally slip my head down onto a pillow while doing a real life 24/7 backyard camping trip in a friend’s backyard because I am penniless, but not within the limits of emotional bankruptcy, I and wealthy thanks to the baseball friends and colleagues I know surrounding my Rays lifestyle. Some might say I have finally scrapped the bottom of my collective barrel, but I see it more as a way to finally treasure what I had, what I lost, and hopefully in the future, what is ahead for me.
This is the first time I have admitted publicly and to more than a few people the plight I have thrust myself into since I first started to pull my retirement savings a little at a time since April 2008 to secure my time with my Rays family at Tropicana Field. So on a day like today I give a huge bushel and gaggle of thanks to the many and the few who have passed paths with me in my Rays adventure.
This is not a solemn time, or one made to make people think they need to help. This is just me, an overly proud and optimistic person finally coming clean on the true extent of the damages. But please, do not despair, I cooked myself an amazing steak today with green beans and corn on the cob and reflected on the past year with great baseball joy and a personal admiration that I am stronger than I realize at times.
I am stuffed with the optimism of the coming months leading up to the Rays Fan Fest and again seeing members of my extended family again. Full to the gills of determination and persistence that by April things can be better. I am never homeless as long as I see Tropicana Field. I am not jobless for the work of following this team and writing about it fills me with the joy and reasoning to travel on. The ultimate “Thank You” is to the people who grace and read my passages day in and day out. For if it wasn’t for you…
To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven. ~Johannes A. Gaertner
Right after midnight last night I was praying long and hard to the Baseball Gods that the message I was seeing on my computer screen was the aftereffect of some radically liberal baseball geniuses who had somehow hacked into the central mainframe of my favorite MLB rumors website and posted the lies that now had me sweating like a sacrificial lamb.
The shock and awe of both Qualls and Hawpe had me hyperventilating for a few moments before it came to me that a calculated plan had to be in effect. For Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman would not effectively curse or even mitigate bringing back two atrocious athletes like Hawpe and Qualls again into the Rays fold, thus risking multitudes of members of the Rays Republic from shunning the “Rays Way.”
After an hour of constant pacing and surreal images of watching inherited runner after inherited runner scoring again on Qualls in 2011,word come to me via a daydream of Hawpe actually having a pre-arbitration agreement with the Rays to decline their arbitration offer and thus become a free and clear Type-B free agent. But there were moments of fear within me that Hawpe would accept the Rays arbitration offer and possibly get a bump in his old Colorado Rockies $ 7.5 million salary for 2011.
The “gentleman’s agreement” by Hawpe and the Rays front office instantly quelled at least half of my impending stomach convulsions, with only the image of the ineffective Qualls clutching the ball on the Rays mound with the bases loaded and no outs in a 1-run game. That image is constantly churning within my skullcap after the dismal first half of Qualls season that saw him totally implode as the closer for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
That since his reprieve to the Rays on July 31st, right-handed hitters had only posted a .179, but left-handers feasted on Qualls to establish a pathetic .425 average since his first Rays pitch.
I instantly felt myself immersed in a putrid bath of sweat thinking about how Qualls only converted 12 saves in 43 games for the Diamondbacks while posting a horrific 8.29 ERA. That Qualls even got the chance for two separate Rays wins is still a mystery to me. That even after surrendering a 2-run Home Run to New York Yankees centerfielder Curtis Granderson on September 15th , thus suffering his third blown save since joining the Rays, a Dan Johnson 2-run shot then got him his 1st Rays victory.
I was instantly scared that Qualls would accept the Rays offer of arbitration with an eye on competing for the Rays closer spot in the Spring 2011, and that thought scared me all the way down to my bones. Not merely for the fact that 7 of 26 inherited runs scored on Qualls with the Rays in his brief 2010 stint, but that he was no longer the confident and prolific reliever who in 2009 converted a career high 24 saves and led all MLB relievers with a 1.21 BB/9 IP ratio and 6.43 SO/BB ratio. The immediate sightlines of his fall from grace over the past season resonated that we might have acquired a aging arm set for a breakdown.
Even at this moment it is not clear yet if Qualls enter into a same arrangement like Hawpe to vacate his chance for a 2011 spot this Spring at the arbitration table opposite the Rays front office headhunters. Hopefully it is a done deal that has not made itself privy to the media yet, or seen the light of day, but any acceptance of Qualls to be a member of the 2011 Rays is an abominable affirmation of an impending apocalypse .
Even the thought that Qualls could venture northward of the figure of his past 2010 amount of $ 4.185 million has me almost throwing up into my own mouth. I do not get too emotionally overcharged by signings or the arbitration shell game too often, but this one really just sickens me down to the core. I have nothing against Qualls personally, but as a baseball player and as a future Rays closer, I hope he never sees the light of the Rays clubhouse again.
Should be an interesting 24 hours for the Tampa Bay Rays front office. With 9 pending arbitration decisions to be made during this tedious 24 hour period, it could ultimately show the Rays poker hand. The arbitration list set for immediate discussion by those in the Rays boardroom comprises 6 relief pitchers, 2 former All Stars, and a offensive player picked up off waivers in 2010. Tomorrow’s final decisions at the conclusion of the deadline will show a distinctive and resolute signal by the Rays head honchos of whether any of the nine have any possible future with the Rays.
But from that one secure arbitration point, it becomes more of a interesting gamble for the Rays to consider offering arbitration to their other Type-A players who might just take the arbitration offer and force the Rays hands to trade them or face some difficult financial decisions considering the Rays will cut their 2011 payroll nearly in half to around $40-59 million dollar range. But does it really seem in their past character that Carl Crawford or Rafael Soriano would accept such an arbitration offer to rejoin the Rays knowing that multi millions are lying out there waiting for their services outside Tampa Bay? Hopefully the dice do not come up “snake eyes” in this situation.
A more possible arbitration offer could be extended to Rays reliever Grant Balfour after another sub 4.00 ERA year with the Rays. This also might not be a “given” knowing the facts that the Rays are searching high and low for low cost Bullpen bodies to replace 2010 members like Balfour, Soriano and Benoit. Balfour seems like one of the two possible Rays arbitration offers ( in my opinion) that might be accepted. Then again, recently Balfour’s name has been mentioned as a top tier relief option that could hit the unrestricted market full bore on Tuesday if he is declined arbitration.
The Rays again have issued their usual code of silence that is not letting out a single whisper or hint as to their final decision or possible direction in terms of these arbitration issues. But the thought of a possible arbitration offer to Choate might actually provide an adequate Rays insurance policy in the event Rays reliever J P Howell has some sort of delay in his return in 2011 from his shoulder surgery. That could instantly open the door wide for Choate or another Free Agent southpaw to join the Rays roster with an eye on a possible departure during the Trade Deadline. Roll the dice again and hope for “Boxcars”.
That leads us to 4 former Rays players who have played their last games in a Rays uniform unless a drastic change of heart by the team. Brad Hawpe, who was picked up by the Rays after his release by the Colorado Rockies, and reliever Chad Qualls, who was traded to the Rays by the Arizona Diamondbacks at the Trade Deadline should be two players who do not get even a thought of arbitration by the Rays. Both had seasons to forget, and did not instill any sense of confidence in their abilities to continue with the Rays for 2011.
Qualls in particular did not seem to embrace his change of scenery and in the end almost duplicated his high dubious ERA that he maintained with the D-backs before his trade. Most people might point to his recent success near the end of 2010 and the postseason as reasons to keep Qualls, but the end result is there are dozens of reliever out there who can get ground ball outs with less extra baggage and worry than Qualls. A 5.57 ERA in a limited amount of appearances does not bode well to promoting confidence or providing an assurance of a relief reprieve.
Hawpe never seemed to get into a solid Rays groove once he came up in August mostly getting chances as a pinch hitter or the Rays Designated Hitter role. Not showing positives and embracing the DH spot might of brought an instant kiss of death for Hawpe. His .179 batting average in 15 games with the Rays did not instill any other emotions of enthusiasm or hope that he could be a possible solution to the DH problem for 2011. Hawpe was brought in to test run for a possible arbitration decision this Winter at DH for the Rays.
Instead it seems that Hawpe just folded his hand and left the table early.
There might have been 4 million little reasons ( his 2011 club option figure) that could have easily factored into the Rays deciding to decline his option for 2011. With Howell also up again for salary arbitration this Winter, it is possible that the Rays did not want to spend around $ 10 million plus just for three pieces of their 2011 Bullpen. The aspect of offering Wheeler arbitration could blow up in the Rays faces considering he posted his third straight season of 60+ appearances, and ended the season with 6 scoreless appearances. Always a gamble to offer someone arbitration as their stock is climbing.
That leaves one more soul that the Rays will not offer arbitration, but hope that he will eventually offer a bit of a “hometown discount”, possibly cutting his 2010 salary up by 25 percent to make him again affordable to the Rays for 2011. Carlos Pena has been very vocal and more than adamant about returning to the Rays again in 2011. The Rays definitely can not discount the loss of offense and defense by the omission of Pena from their roster, but also can not afford another $ 10.5 million salary in 2011 for their former All Star First Baseman. The two parties must somehow find a suitable compromise.
As of right now, the only sure decision by the Rays is a arbitration offer to Benoit that will net the Rays another pick in the 2011 MLB Draft. The other eight decisions will have to be weighed with possible risks and counter balances to either extend an offer or possibly slamming the door shut to further free agent discussions. Will the Rays put their money firmly on the hopes that Crawford, Soriano will decline arbitration, thus netting the Rays additional draft picks when they do eventually sign with another team? Or could it all suddenly backfire and the duo accept arbitration and handcuff the Rays to finding a suitor for the duo before their arbitration hearings?
Joaquin Benoit Yes
Carl Crawford Yes
Rafael Soriano Yes
Grant Balfour Yes
Randy Choate Yes
Chad Qualls No
Brad Hawpe No
Dan Wheeler Yes
Carlos Pena No
Last night I decided to do some channel surfing and came upon a movie on TNT making it’s network debut. The movie was “The Bucket List” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson as two aging gentlemen who were given only months to live. As I watched this film, it got me eagerly thinking about my own Tampa Bay Rays “Bucket List” and some still unsatisfied opportunistic goals I still want to achieve before I wander away from the Rays community for the last time.
Freeman then told Nicholson the second part of the Egyptian equation, “Did you give JOY in your life? ” Now I am going to answer those two questions in relationship with my Rays lifetime experiences, and hopefully I can some day be admitted past the turnstiles some day in a celestial Rays game. In returning to these events, even within my mind I am hoping the emotions and excitement of those activities do not get the better of me and I begin to wax to poetic like a babbling moron.
Did you have JOY in your (Rays) life?
But the true joy I have had in the last 13 years following this team has come from the people I have gotten to know over that period. From the Rays Fan Host who took my ticket on the first day, and who still works with the Rays, to a duo of Rays facility employees who stopped on Roosevelt Blvd and picked me up, then gave me a ride home after the Rays airport experience in October, it has been one glorious rollercoaster ride.
I gotten the chance to watch a single player (Carl Crawford) develop as a Rays prospect, then be promoted to the Major League level and achieve All Star status, before sadly also witnessing his last at bat and time pulling on his Rays uniform during Game 5 of the American League Divisional Series. Been privy to amazing stories and discussion with a host of Rays players past and present who I consider baseball friends. Once even asked Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi to be my best man, but then found out my fiancée was a closet pinstripe fan.
Have experienced the joy of catching foul balls during the game. Be granted the opportunity to share precious moments on and off the field with players, coaches and other Rays fans that will always be high on my list of accomplishments of my Rays life. Always been blessed to be around the great Rays fans and friends who made the time and games more memorable and special. Have gained friendships within the Rays front office and with former Rays staffers that will last a lifetime, even if the Rays dreams ends.
Can definitely say I have had more than a bucketful of joy in my life when it comes to following, covering and enjoying the Rays. And it might seem funny to write this right now with so much other adventures and events still to unfold that I have not seen, but one moment the 2010 Rays season is definitely shining brighter than the rest right now. It was right after the Rays clinched their 2010 postseason berth that the players began to walk down the First Base line thanking the fans that the moment presented itself.
Again, it was my longest tenured baseball friend with the Rays who again brought an untold amount of joy to me as Cursi appeared between the handshakes with a few Rays players to present me with a full bottle of Domaine ste Michelle champagne for me to enjoy the moment. It is not that Cursi brought me a bottle of adult beverage, but the pure fact that he remembered me with all of this celebration and joyous occasions going on all around us that he thought of me. I then spread the joy of the moment by letting a few of my surrounding Rays friends also taste the nectar of the Gods and also become a part of this joyous moment.
Did you give JOY in your (Rays) life?
I truly hope I did. This is one aspect of that total ancient Egyptian formula that could be more subject to my own stern interpretations of my actions . Hopefully the moments I have taken to field Batting Practice balls and hide them in my backpack to give to kids attending their first baseball game adheres to this provision. That by my relationship with a few of the Rays players, I have given some young Rays fan joy when I stopped them and asked them to either ay “hello” or sign for them as their eye grew bigger.
That the way I have produced facts, figures and vocalized untold stories about this team or even a singled out player has provided an ounce of joy for another fan or even a opponent’s fan who became delighted by the fight and desire of this Rays squad. Sure I have seen the bright smiles and awestruck looks of children when I present them with a ball. Have also seen the same facial expression of people my own age who were attending their first baseball game and I somehow magically procured a game used baseball for them to clutch and remember in the privacy of their own homes and joyous lives.
Or maybe it was the moment I gave a young Rays fan who’s family was moving to Alabama a special going away gift that she would not forget. She was an avid B J Upton fan, so I gave her a game used Rays road jersey autographed by Upton which featured the old “Tampa Bay” emblazoned on the front of the jersey. That way she can never forget where her baseball heart lies… in Tampa Bay.
Hopefully there has been people who have read my passages since September 2007 that has awaken their baseball love, or provided them with a way to relive a moment in words and paragraphs when they could not attend or see the events themselves. And I really hope that a few of the photos taken over the last few years of Rays concerts and game day photos has provided some extra spots of joy or appreciation to someone online who lives far away, or wishes they could have attended the events themselves.
Do I truly think I have achieved the two aspects of the Egyptian equation to be considered for entry into the afterlife based on my Rays life? I honestly do not see it as my place to set that bar or even approach that level right now in my Rays life. There is still so much to see and do that could have the scales weighing to and from for a long time until I have to consider this in person before those gates.
They say that karma always is a never ending circle fo events and moments that enter and exit each of our lives. Forver we are in an endless game of flux with the scles always rising or lowering with our actions and reactions. The aspect of having or even giving joy has always had a centerline somewhere within my life, but never as tranfixedand focused as in my Rays life. I guess the Rays knew what they were doing when they named my persona for the Wall of Fame plague. Because even before that Wall of Fame induction moment I always imagined myself as “Mr. Lucky” when it comes to this Rays team.
The city of Orlando has always been an optimistic little borough centralized . If you mentioned the city’s name to most people, it would quickly entertain visits to Disney World or Universal Studios, and it might even bring back memories of watching spacecraft launch off the Space Coast headed for the Stars. For a long time it was considered one of those ” cities on the cusp” of becoming a striving metropolis.
Right now however it is the epicenter of the Winter first folly for Major League Baseball as the league’s 30 General Manager and higher echelons filter into this Mickey Mouse town not to see the new sparkling Amway Center for a Orlando Magic game, but hopefully to part with a few MLB souvenirs of their own before packing and leaving.
Within the hustle and bustle of all this activity surrounding the possibilities and envisioned movements for 2011 is a want by this once sleepy little town to again be considered “on the edge and hip”. Once again this town wants to have professional baseball within its city limits, and the team it is pursuing might surprise you. The city now boasts only Spring Training baseball out at the Walt Disney World of Sports complex when the Houston Astros come into play from late February to the end of March.
For a long time, this region had a team to call their own before the Tampa Bay Rays decided to move their Double-A affiliation to Montgomery, Alabama and left the city bare of any minor league baseball. But all that could soon change if Armando Gutierrez Jr. has his way. The former 8th district United States Senate candidate feels so passionate about this endeavor he withdrew his name from his Senate race and pushed his loyalties and political clout towards again eating popcorn and Cracker Jacks at a future Orlando baseball game.
When the group first announced its intentions to find a professional baseball partner for the city, some mused that the city might be trying to entice and influence the Rays ownership to have team possibly migrate along the I-4 corridor from the west coast of Florida to O-town. But that illusion was quickly eliminated from the formula as the Rays did not seek such a drastic change of local, but only wanted to expand their team presence towards Orlando by providing more exposure through out-of-town television and radio broadcasts to the Orlando and it massive suburbs.
And Gutierrez had the right bait on his fishing pole to try and seduce the Rays ownership as one of his key points to his sought after goal of bringing professional baseball back to Orlando would be to build a state of the art baseball facility and a baseball museum. Both actually played well into the Rays foreseeable future want and need for a new stadium, and with the Rays also currently housing the Ted Williams Hitters Museum within the bowels of Tropicana Field, it might have been a perfect “two birds in the bush” analogy for Gutierrez.
Gutierrez however is not focusing on the Rays. He has a bigger fish in his sights and after meeting with some interesting possible investors while on his U S Senate campaign, Gutierrez has set his sight on another classic minor league team that would bring both local and out of town fans by seducing them with the attractions of baseball and the other surrounding family activities that could be enjoyed during the Spring and Summer months in sunny Florida.
Orlando Yankees proposed Stadium photo
But you have to take this teasing with a grain of salt. How hard do you think the city of Tampa will fight any movement or even relocation of the Yankee Spring Training complex and Class-A squad after the city sunk in so much financial resources, initially posting bonds to provide for the massive upgrade and changes to George Steinbrenner Field and the surrounding area.
This is not to say Gutierrez is putting all his baseball in one bucket, but he is definitely swinging hard for the fences in trying to relocate an iconic baseball affiliate from a well-known locale that treasures the Yankee legacy and fan following like a pilgrimage each Spring. If Gutierrez and his crew can get such a franchise, the Orlando region instantly lights up as a possible relocation sight for a future MLB franchise.
This is not to push the aspect of MLB putting a franchise right into the lap of O-town, but with the backing of such industry giants as Disney and Universal Studios, it would be insane for MLB’s top tier to not at least research and entertain a possibility. Put the added essence of the Rays saying the right words right now in public, but not on paper about their continued involvement in the Tampa Bay region, and you get a small state of flux within the heart of the state right now.
I actually commend Gutierrez and his enthusiastic crew for�their brash and candid decision to thrust it all into the fire here and go for an iconic minor league affiliate that would instantly bring attention to his city and their efforts to again have baseball within its city limits. Back in the early 2000’s, I used to attend a few Orlando DevilRays game when the big team was out of town on road trips. It is a great community with all the hustle and bustle of a thriving metropolis intertwined with the charm and romance of Southern baseball traditions.
It take a lot of courage and conviction for a man to withdraw his name from an election towards securing a prestigious post like a seat in the U S Senate. But sometimes the passion and enticement of the game can be more alluring than a trio of sirens upon the rocks. Gutierrez and his group are firmly committed to standing at the plate and taking whatever baseball throws at them. Not sure how this will all turn out in the end, but Gutierrez sounds like one of those guys who will not stand there and take a third called strike. I think he will find his team soon and the goal will slowly unfold again to have Baseball back in O-town.
The more you watch him play, the more you seem to visualize the hidden persona that is within Tampa Bay Rays rookie catcher John Jaso. There is a cerebral side to him that only a select fraction of friends of Rays fans have ever seen off the field because Jaso is a bit different that the catching norm when it comes to usual physical demands of a Major League catcher. It is common knowledge that to play behind Home Plate and take the constant hammering catcher do on a daily basis from errant breaking balls and foul tips you got to have a few screws loose. But maybe Jaso’s nuts and bolts are tighter than you think.
Here is a rookie ballplayer who is so “green” conscious that several times during the 2010 MLB season he had a friend drop him off at the back gate entrance to Tropicana Field to carpool or save energy. But that isn’t the only quality that makes this young catcher unique. Then again, don’t get caught up in the old analogy that Jaso is one of those enigmas wrapped in a riddle, that usually sits behind the plate for Jaso’s sin or folly is actually that he is just a little more mathematically inclined than most of his catching brethren.
On more than one occasion during his rookie campaign with the Rays, Jaso has vocalized his future aspiration of possibly becoming a mathematics teacher after his playing days are finished. I can easily imagine Jaso walking around a high school or university classroom entrancing his students with his profound joy of analytical equations and formulas and professing to the invisible magic that lives among the numerals that most of us only love to see on our weekly paychecks.
You could easily see someone with the passion and excitement of numbers like Jaso possibly changing many young lives with just a few paragraphs about algorithms. But right now he is trying to change a few lives with his bat and his play behind the plate for the Rays. And it works to Jaso’s advantage that mathematics plays such a central component of his life. The art of catching in the Major Leagues is a position ultimately steeped in game time probabilities and a everlasting sea of predictable percentages.
With Jaso’s ease at taking in large quantities of numbers and simultaneously filtering out the mundane and unusable with quick precision, it will make him more in tune with his game day play calling duties behind the plate. With a razor sharp mind based firmly within the guidelines of logic and statistical reasoning, it makes him a clear asset for the Rays, especially at a key defensive play-calling position like catcher.
Want to put Jaso’s lead-off status into a more funneled down wisp of probabilities and clarity? No other rookie has ever started more games catching and batted lead-off in one season than Jaso. Sure he might have only started 41 times behind the plate and hit lead-off in 2010, but that mark completely destroyed the previous record held by Hall of Famer and former Philadelphia A’s catcher Mickey Cochrane who held the previous mark of hitting in the lead-off spot only 13 times in 1925.
All of this statistical brilliance might not have evolved if Jaso had not had an open mind to change this past Spring in Port Charlotte, Florida. It was during the early stages just after Jaso reported along with the Rays roster of invited pitchers’ and catchers’ that the Rays staff sat down with Jaso and explained that his probable chances of him making and retaining a spot with the Rays unless he devoting some extra time and energy to revamping and reformulating his catching basics behind the plate. Jaso needed to quickly subtract a few bad habits and add a few more wrinkles to his current catching foundation.
With the help of Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi and Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos, Jaso began a intense and prolific change to his overall catching style. By infusing a quicker throwing style and more profound blocking techniques, it easily multiplied Jaso’s overall chance to finally aspire to the Major League level. Jaso quickly adapted and performed his changes with precision and became more acquainted to his new stances and throwing motion. Even with his quick renovation to his catching persona, the Rays still had Jaso start the season with the Rays Triple-A club, the Durham Bulls.
But when Shoppach went down with a knee injury, Jaso was quickly recalled from the Bulls on April 13, 2010 and became a key member of the Rays catching equation. Jaso still shows signs of falling back into bad habits behind the plate on breaking pitches in the dirt, or holding onto foul tips. But he showed the initiative of picking the brain of Ramos and Cursi in further developing his overall catching and his ability to show improvements on a daily basis were quickly noticed by Maddon and his Coaching staff.
Since the mathematical classification of statistics seem to be at the true heart of the game of baseball, let’s look at some other of Jaso’s accomplishments that could ultimately make Jaso the first name on the Rays flowchart both in the line-up and behind the plate again in 2011:
*** Jaso’s 59 walks in 2010 led all American League rookies in that category and beat the previous Rays rookie record set by Akinora Iwamura set in 2007 by one lone walk.
*** No one in Major League Baseball had a better walk to strikeout ratio (59-39) than Jaso in his 339 plate appearances.
*** The last American League rookie catcher to finish the season with a OBP ( .372 ) as high as Jaso’s (min 100 games) was New York Yankee great Thurman Munson with a .386 OBP in 1970.
*** Jaso finished in fifth place in the 2010 AL Rookie of the Year voting garnering only a single third place vote. That put him right on the heels of fellow Rays starter Wade Davis who finished in fourth place, but Davis’s tally only included fourth place votes (11).
Mathematics has always been a key component to Jaso’s life off the diamond. And now his love of numbers and probabilities is also starting to help him control his fate on the field. Jaso was a career .291 hitter in the minors for the Rays, and his bat has never been seen as a negative element for him.
Playing the odds and taking calculated risks have come out to his advantage during his rookie season. If Jaso can keep his analytical mind trained on his hitting, and keeps evolving defensively behind the plate, the Rays might have finally found the all around catcher that they have been searching for.
I could see Jaso standing in front of an auditorium or classroom with his trademark post-game Birkenstocks with his excited voice bellowing through the room about the symbolic notations of mathematic principles and the simple origins of numerals. But all that will have to wait as Jaso took full advantage of the opportunity presented to him this last Spring by the Rays to heart to change his catching style.
Maybe Jaso has finally found a feasible conclusion to his personal internal algorithm with a future in the Major Leagues. With more Summers in the Sun predicted for Jaso, it should give him more than ample time to finally come to that long sought after analytical final conclusion that his career in the Major Leagues might just be the best mathematical solution Jaso has ever solved.
I still remember the Friday afternoon in the Spring of 2007 when I got a voicemail from someone within the Tampa Bay Rays front office that Carlos Pena was originally going to sign a minor league deal to play for the Rays. Still remember the sudden rush of excitement I had bubbling within me that a guy with such awesome offensive and defensive potential was going to be positioned at First Base for this Rays team.
The Rays staffer who left the message on my phone played with Pena in the Summer Cape Cod League and knew firsthand Pena’s ability to bring strong and confident leadership qualities to this team along with the graceful power hidden within his maple bats. This Rays staffer had played beside Pena at second base and had seen for himself the uncanny grace of Pena’s defensive magic and the confidence and charm Pena emulates and could bring to a young Rays team both on and off the field.
So here we are 4 years later and Pena has seen his stock rise from a minor league player to potentially receiving the largest contract of his career this Winter. Even with his name now removed from the Rays 40-man roster as a Free Agent, Pena holds a deep love and affection for his old team. Pena’s impending actions this Winter must now speak louder than his eloquent words if he even remotely has a chance to again report to Port Charlotte, Florida on February16, 2011. Many times during the Rays 2010 season, with his impending Free Agency on the horizon, Pena spoke loud and clear of his want to stay with the Rays.
But it might come at a huge price. Pena is a sought after Free Agent that will have more than a few teams digging into his 2007-2010 Rays stats and videos to see if he can again raise that same level of magic both on and off the field with their teams. And with an vocal agent like Scott Boras, you can easily define that even attempting to facilitate Pena’s services for 2011 will come with a very stiff price tag.
Pena commanded the Rays top salary last season at $ 10.5 million salary and could command a increase in salary this Winter for the 2011 season. By itself, his possible salary level might sink his ultimate chances to reunite with his Rays teammates this Spring. It is curious as to why a player like Pena who can demand up to $ 10 million again for 2011 would be so publicly campaigning this past week in the local media to get another shot with the Rays when his salary might be unobtainable by the payroll stingy Rays?
Pena knows the fiscal limitations of the Rays for 2011. And even with the fact Pena was very vocal during 2010 of possibly giving the Rays organization a “home” discount to retain his services, can the price be whittled down to be considered by the Rays? But even if Pena was to lower his 2010 salary to around the $7 million mark, would it be a bargain for the Rays? That kind of salary might still be on the upper cusp of what could be affordable by the Rays, but is it too low for Pena to consider?
Not to mention that if you sliced Pena’s 2010 salary in half it would only reach the projected upcoming arbitration salary mark of Rays starter Matt Garza, who is projected to gain a projected $ 5.25 million salary this Winter. Can you justify a larger salary amount closer to that $ 7 million mark being considered by the Rays and by Pena based on Pena’s long and devoted community service history and popularity with the Rays Republic.
Can you put a viable salary price on Pena’s unique personal charm and his grace both in public and with the media in showcasing himself as a role model and devoted member of this Tampa Bay community. Personally I think Pena has done more for the image of this Rays team and franchise than anyone else in the team’s short history, but can you put a price on that spirit and chemistry? Tampa Bay is the second largest Hispanic community in Florida and would retaining a popular icon like Pena be applauded by that community with increased ticket and merchandise revenues?
Retaining someone of Pena’s stature in the community will be difficult, but can be achieved with the many young and talented players coming up through the Rays farm system. But can any of them command the respect and admiration of Pena with his poetic gestures to the Rays fans during the season, or his mystic that makes him loved by men and women alike in this community. I am not going to debate the trials and tribulation of his offensive makes on the Rays, but salute the drive and determination Pena has instilled upon the Rays fabric. You can sit here and debate his offensive and defensive skills for days and still not have a clear indication of his entire net worth to this Rays franchise without looking at his voice off the field.
Some players make vocal signals to the team’s fans as a gesture of saying “Goodbye” knowing that their future with the franchise is not in their hands. In this endeavor with Pena, it might be his willingness to accept less in salary to stay with a team he respects and admires above all others. The bonds of Pena within the Rays is deep and rooted, but it is his turn to show his willingness to want to stay here. A possible low salary with offensive incentives might be the key to enticing the Rays to continue their ongoing relationship with Pena.
Right now I can not truly imagine a Spring without the likes of Pena strolling the sidelines or laughing in the dugout with his Rays teammates. I always thought he was more retainable this off season than outfielder Carl Crawford or even reliever Joaquin Benoit. For some reason, Pena has personified the Rays player for me since the first time I saw him on the fence line during the 2008 Spring Training signing a taco and then watching a fan eat it as a good luck omen.