Sometimes I can visually see vividly in my mind a few of the Tampa Bay Rays staff inside the dugout tunnels or near the clubhouse during games banging their heads against the wall in regards to the antics and misadventures involving Rays catcher Dioner Navarro over the past two seasons. The mire fact that Navarro is still on the Rays 40-man roster even at this moment just baffles me to no avail.
Navarro in my mind is one of those professional baseball players who just seems to be more of a heavy albatross around the neck of this franchise than any measure of a good omen. It just seems to me personally that Navarro must have had a few unflattering photos or video of someone somewhere within the Rays organization. I guess that is the rationale I have to put into my mind to explain how Navarro still has a coveted spot upon the Rays 40-man roster.
Soon the Rays front office could end all of this mind boggling insanity and possibly non-tender Navarro, thus setting set him free upon the rest of the MLB. Or could the Rays be hoping and praying for someone to be willing to trade even a few minor league prospects for their catcher who now seems to have his Rays days numbered.
Why in heck is this guy still got even a hint of possibly securing another year with the Rays after his blatant disregard for his own club after he walked away from the Rays on October 7th because his name was omitted from the American League Divisional Series 25-man roster. How in his mind could Navarro really think he deserved a ALDS roster spot over the more productive pairing of current Rays catchers Kelly Shoppach and rookie John Jaso?
Could his agent have possibly diluted his mind to such a state that Navarro took the omission as a disrespectful move by the Rays instead of the right personnel move considering Navarro’s 2010 track record? Might that roster omission by the Rays fueled Navarro’s frustrations and made him implode and pack up catching gear and leave the Rays clubhouse for maybe the last time?
Or was this another visual outburst of denial by Navarro of the ever increasing valley between the team and himself after Navarro spent his time from June 24th until his call-up on August 31st with the Rays Triple-A affiliate in Durham, North Carolina. The fact that Navarro openly told the team on October 7th that he was “going home” instead of staying with the club and working out in case of an injury to any of the Rays catchers’ should have pushed him beyond the confines of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s doghouse and given Navarro an instant exit from the Rays 40-man roster.
But still, the Venezuelan catcher still sits upon the 32 names currently resting on the Rays 40-man roster this off season. Isn’t this the same Navarro who became certainly expendable in the Rays minds back during Dec 2009 when the Rays first had thoughts of trading away Navarro, but the return was not considered beneficial to the team’s future. Wasn’t Navarro the figure on the Rays roster who should have been more aware and concerned for his job when the Rays traded one of the Rays top farmhand pitchers Mitch Talbot to the Cleveland Indians for Shoppach.
Shouldn’t that transaction by the Rays during the off season been a clear signal to Navarro that his Major League job might be in deep jeopardy? Instead it just seemed like Navarro, who had seen the Rays bring fellow backstop Gregg Zaun late in 2009 did not seem to heed the warning signals. Instead it seemed that Navarro just tried to do just enough to again hold onto one of the Rays two catching positions.
Even during the Winter of 2009 when teams like the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays were hunting for catching options, the slow-footed Navarro did not peak anyone interest farther than a casual phone call to the Rays. During the 2009 off season the Rays did think long and hard about non-tendering the arbitration eligible catcher, but again he somehow had enough believers in the Rays staff to fend off his departure.
More and more in 2009 and early 2010 the Rays faithful had to witness the extreme casual attitude behind the plate when Navarro basically saw balls hit the dirt in front of him and he mysteriously missed the balls and had to chase them around the Tropicana Field backstop. It was if Navarro had stepped into a hole defensively that he could not get himself out of in time to save his starting job.
But now as another arbitration time is quickly approaching it is time for the Rays to send a loud and clear message to their one time All Star catcher. It is time to cut the string between Navarro and the Rays and set him along towards another team. With the emergence of Jaso and the stability of a contract with Shoppach for another season, it would be ill advised to hold onto an arbitration eligible Navarro who could demand a $ 2.9 million salary even with his demotion during 2010 to the minor leagues.
It is time to let the slow-footed catcher makes his way out of the fold of the Rays and into the glaring sunlight to see his true worth around the Major Leagues . They say a mother bird sometimes has to push a baby bird out of it’s nest to make it realize it has to fly. It is time for this bird to definitely get pushed out of the Rays fold. Some might call it a reality check for Navarro, but I consider it more a relief of catching albatross from around the necks of the Rays. Fly away little Navi, Fly away!
His defensive instincts and cat-like reflexes have more than a few folks around the game of baseball comparing him to the first “human vacuum” and Baseball Hall of Fame member Brooks Robinson. Even more remark how his bat is still young and could develop into am modern day Mike Schmidt at the plate in less than a few years. With such high praise as this surrounding his name, it is no wonder we are celebrating him this afternoon.
For about two minutes ago the official announcement came forth that Tampa Bay Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria has won his second Rawlings Gold Glove Award in two seasons….and rightfully so. The young Rays corner infielder might just be starting a trend of dominating at the “Hot Corner” for a long, long time.
Amazing how three years ago this same former “Dirtbag” came up after an injury to Willy Aybar and since that moment has been the most solid member of the Rays revamped defensive core. All that while still learning his craft at the plate and beginning to show a level of play much needed within the confines of his small marketplace. Today Longoria doesn’t have to worry anymore about who stole his cap, a fans will rightfully take his own off his head and offer it to the Rays slugger.
It really doesn’t seem like only three years when Longoria posted up just in front of the Field Turf of Tropicana Field for his first professional start against on Saturday, April 12,2008 against the Baltimore Orioles. Ironically Longoria went 1 for 3 during his Major League debut with a RBI. That was the start of the long awaited Longo phenomenon in Tampa Bay. He did not win a Gold Glove in his rookie season, but he did show the signs of brilliance and agility needed that has blossomed over his past two Rays season at the corner.
In his second season with the Rays in 2009, Longoria only committed 13 errors in 427 total chances and contributed in 43 double play opportunities for the Rays. Remarkably, Longoria has fewer errors in his rookie season (12) but only helped produce 26 double play chances in his 119 games at Third base and one lone start at shortstop for the team. But the firm foundation established by Longoria during his rookie season only helped ferment and illustrate his value to the Rays overall cloak of defense in 2009.
Amazingly in 2010, Longoria hit a career high in errors with 13, but also provided more than a few web gem defensive moment on attempted bunts down the Third Baseline. It became almost trademark in 2010 for Longoria to take a ball barehanded and get the runner with a step or two to spare. His defensive game had elevated itself, and the rest of the baseball world noticed.
In 2010 Longoria set personal highs in innings played (1330.2), putouts (127) and watched his double play number soar even higher (46). I see no stopping or diminishing of Longoria’s defensive abilities for a long time. Longoria might even have a legitimate chance to one day try and match the totals number of Rawlings Gold Gloves by Schmidt (10 ) and Robinson (16)
As the musical group Timbuktu once said in a song lyric “Futures so bright I have to wear shades”. Only problem with that is the image of Longoria behind a pair of mirror shades just hoping you hit it down the line at him so he can rob you of that extra base hit and just give you a smile as you jog back to the bench. I got Longoria to sign a ball for me the day of his MLB debut, and ever since then not only has the ball gained in value, but Longoria’s defensive game has just been…well, Golden.
The Tampa Bay Rays front office and my moles have gone silent. The organization seems to have again gone into their seasonal Black Ops mode when finalizing and considering their list of targets for the current 2010 Hot Stove season. But just like a hunter, the Rays have their scouting department scouring the countryside for videos and research that will point their direction towards a few of their prized prey.
And with another banner set to be raised to the rafters in April 2011, the Rays have the young talent and pitching to again cause some havoc in the American League East. But the 2010 season took a toll on the young team as they saw 5 of their top 6 2010 salary earners exit the franchise 40-man roster on Sunday morning. The team saw a combined $ 40 million in 2010 salaries instantly fall off their books which was almost 55 percent of their 2010 outgoing financial picture for Rays players.
The main problem with losing a person like Pena and his ability to command this Rays clubhouse is that you can never match up the team again with that personality and intensity type, but you look for a figure who commands the respect and can take the reins in the clubhouse without a power struggle or in fighting. That is a rare thing to find as ex-Rays slugger Pat Burrell found out in 2009 when he accosted B J Upton in the Rays locker room thinking he had the support of the team, then suddenly found out he was not in the power loop.
Maybe the Rays could set their gun sights on someone like Free Agent Jim Thome who might command a salary like Pena’s, but could provide a instant patch to their leadership and Designated Hitter hole with ease. No longer can the Rays set their sights firmly just upon possibly inviting Pena again into the Rays sanctuary. Even with Pena’s past vocally adamant wants to return to the Rays, can a financially adequate figure be reached without hindering the rest of the Rays off season secret double agent game plan.
Not only will the Rays be trying to find players to take over the missing pieces in their roster, they will be trying to glue together a few ripped apart seams in their clubhouse character. This might be more difficult than finding a guy who can hit over 30 Home Runs, or hold hitters to under a 3.00 ERA as a reliever. Physical ability is always available within the cycles of players who yearn for a shot in the Major Leagues, but sometimes character and leadership is not their game or part of their professional credo.
Mother Nature has done her best in the last day to remind all of us in Florida that Winter is quickly approaching. It’s blustery message was delivered locally by a huge weather trough of icy Artic air that has temperatures in the Tampa Bay region tumbling from the mid 80′s to a blustery 50 degree in the last 24 hours . With that blast of colder air comes the oncoming and anticipated hibernation of most of the Tampa Bay Rays non-baseball related staff as the rest of the Rays front office embraces for a hot and humid Hot Stove season. Does it really seem like it has been 5 days since the members of the San Francisco Giants first thrust the MLB Commissioner’s Trophy high into the Texas sky and signaled the beginning of a well orchestrated off seasonal dance between Major League Baseball players and the upper management of their respective franchises who can take this 120 hour grace period to entertain or separate themselves from players that once could be considered critical to their team’s plans.
Within this ticking of the clock all 30 MLB teams can either play the respective “devil or angel” card by securing their valued players by joyfully acknowledging their acceptance of their players’ exclusive club options, or possibly declining the same said options with an eye to a possible salary reduction and welcome back into their team’s fold as if nothing happened. It is in this time of the year that the player’s agents and representatives can either make or break their clients “bankability” with their clubs, or begin to put feelers out for another opportunity.
It is the time when the gloves come off and the pleasantries can sometimes take a back seat as clubs’ begin to weed and filter out veterans or high risk contract players who’s declining skills or performance potential doesn’t adhere to the club’s style of play or forecasted remolding of the franchise. Within this 5 day period more than few gasps and whispers will be heard when players who were considered “untouchable” almost 4 months ago are given their unconditional walking papers or left dangling within the trade winds as pieces that could be acquired for a few pieces of silver now.
Take what has happened recently to Giants Shortstop Edgar Renteria who in the beginning of this 5-day period was preparing for a huge celebration with the fans of San Francisco, but even before he could step upon the float for a celebration parade was non-tendered his option by the same club that saw him hoist the Most Valuable Player award for the World Series. In less than 120 hours Renteria went from the penthouse to the basement with nothing to break his fall from Giants grace.
This 5-day fiasco is where your personality and abilities as a player are defined under a stark microscope along with a dollar sign anointed to your forehead and either you gain the fiscal approval, or you are cast into the darkness with one match and candle. It is where the ugly head of business within the MLB has to rear its hideous face and make decisions that are not welcomed or anticipated by either the fan base or the general public. Where even a team fresh off a whirlwind World Series trip has to define their 2011 goals and payroll within the confines of cold reality and monetary limitations that might exclude a key member of the celebration.
Dan Wheeler was one of the first pitchers in the Rays farm system to ascend through the ranks and get to the Major League level back in 1998. He has a long history of his love and involvement with the team having a chance to come back to the team that gave him his start in 2007. But Wheeler’s $ 4million dollar salary is not conducive to the Rays structure of their payroll for 2011 and saw his 2011 club option declined by the Rays. Wheeler will receive a nice $ 1 million consolation prize from the Rays with a hope of extended talks to possibly come to a financial crossroads that can benefit both parties and rejoin the team.
With this chill felt in Florida today, it instantly reminds me of the brief time period between the final out of the 2010 MLB postseason and the sudden approach of the 2010 Free Agent season. A time when MLB member clubs will see the leaves (players) fall from their roster trees as they begin to shed salary and personnel for the long Winter. 120 hours doesn’t seem like enough time to fully examine and filter out the pros and cons of a currently MLB player before plucking him off your roster….. possibly forever.
As the chilled wind rustles through the trees outside, Winter is approaching and Spring is still just a daydream away. But within the next 24 hours every front office of the 30 MLB clubs will poise to again spring into action the off season fight for Free Agents and begin the hearty task of creating another possible winner who 51 weeks from now will thrust their own MLB Commissioner’s Trophy into the night sky and the process begin all over again.
More and more it seems that every time Baseball commentator and long time Red Sox lover Peter Gammons has opened his trap lately, I have lost another inch or two of respect for the Baseball writing icon. Sure Gammons is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he has a closet full of writing and reporting awards, but recently to me Gammons has become more of a blowhard than an accurate and reliable baseball source.
For many seasons, he has been the loud and proud voice of the Boston Red Sox, and an opinionated thorn in the side of all Tampa Bay Rays fans. But that is what your opposition’s media malcontents are suppose to do…Stir the pot and get the natives a bit restless within the Rays Republic. And Gammon does that side of his job with expertise and committment bar none.
And Gammons has been active this past season to point his bony fingers towards the Rays troubles and bubbling cauldron of concerns as his beloved Red Sox struggled to climb the standings and lay siege on the Rays for a American League East postseason spot. This is the same Red Sox mouthpiece who in 2010 threw out the rumors and ramblings that the Rays were going to move to the Northeast, possibly to Connecticut, then to New Jersey the next week. All throughout 2010, Gammons has done his job poking at the Rays beehive and getting all the Rays republic in attack mode.
And you have to give a guy credit for saying something as outlandish as proposing that the Rays fans listen more to the New York Yankee broadcasts than their own Rays game on television during the season, even when the Rays were constantly in the top 5 spots within Major League Baseball in overall regional viewers in 2010.
It also seems that in the last year, Gammons has not let a little thing like facts get in the way of a good story. But this time I definitely think his doctors need to maybe do an emergency CAT scan or even check his medication’s side effects, because his recent faux pas might cause his own beloved Red Sox a change to even discuss a contract with Rays Free Agent leftfielder Carl Crawford. This time, the rue might have gone beyond reality and into the obsurd realm.
I can still remember on several occasions this season in interviews where Gammons has considered Crawford the best leftfielder in baseball. More than once those words have swirled off Gammon’s silver tongue and made their way into the airwaves or in news print.
It was if Gammon’s was beginning a long distance relationship with the thought of Crawford possibly suiting up in a Red Sox jersey and taking balls off the Green Monster full-time in 2011.
Gammons even recently went on Red Sox flagship station WEEI and did an interview last week where he said the Red Sox ownership was going to go full bore after Crawford this off season. I can honestly see that happening, but as a central media figure for Red Sox Nation, then why would Gammons do a 180 degree turn and vote Crawford as the 7th best Leftfielder for a prestigious fielding award?
Not forgotten here is the fact that Crawford has either won or placed second in this same category for the Fielding Bible Award since 2006, and was looking for his fourth straight trophy this season. Sure I do not condemn Gammons for possibly pushing Crawford below the top spot, but why in the World would a supposed superior baseball mind put Crawford under the likes of Cardinal Matt Holliday (3rd) or even Pirates rookie outfielder Jose Tabata (5th) ?
Has Gammon’s medications possibly done some form of dementia or oozed into his thought process? Could this be an indirect mind play game by the Red Sox booster to throw a shadow upon the true abilities of Crawford to hopefully draw down the going price for Crawford to under a ceiling of a $ 100 million contract now?
Seriously, Gammon’s actions have to have a secondary reasoning, and in this case, it might have just slammed the door on Crawford considering a Boston uniform for 2011. How Can Crawford even remotely consider a spot on a team within his own old division that had one of their biggest figure heads disrespect his defensive abilities in print by putting Tiger outfield journeyman Ryan Rayburn (4th) above him in his rankings of the top 10 leftiflders in baseball?
But Gammons was not the only baseball figurehead to push Crawford’s chances for a fourth straight award into the dustbin. But could Gammons have also done some unexpected collateral damage by awakening a sentiment for the Yankees to by-pass Crawford with their own current leftfielder Brent Gardner garnishing the 2010 Fielding Bible Award for leftfield.
Gardner received all first or second place votes to post himself 10 points ahead of Crawford, but it really wasn’t even that close. Third place vote-getter Tabata got 62 points or 33 points less than Gardner in his first Fielding Bible chance. Could Gammons have effectively multi-tasked his demotion of Crawford’s defensive ranking to take him off the Yankees 2011 “Wish List” ?
Gammon’s is a smart and very calculating individual, and it will be interesting to hear his latest rhetoric on why Crawford is not in his top 3 leftfielders in baseball after singing his praises for so long this season. Some will say that Gammon’s brain injuries or even mental status might well come into question with this recent blatant show of utter disrespect towards Crawford. But even with a steel trap mind like Gammons, the trap can end up catching you in its teeth instead of your true victim.
Others around baseball will see Gammon’s wild comments as a cat and mouse game started early by Gammon’s to downplay the defensive and offensive skills of Crawford and possibly bring his salary demands within the guidelines of team’s like the Red Sox. Sure it will take a multi-year huge contract to land one of the biggest fish of the MLB Winter Free Agent markets. But at what price will Gammon’s ploy end up costing Crawford’s old American League East rival. Will the apparent gamble be worth it all in the end?
Could the vaulting of Gardner to the top of the Leftfield pile by such MLB royalty as Gammons and statistics guru Bill James (who voted Crawford as his 5th best leftfielder) possibly push Crawford towards thinking more about teams like the Detroit Tigers or Los Angeles Angels in stead of staying in the AL East? Or could it turn his mind towards the National League and a team like the Washington Nationals or even Los Angeles Dodgers?
Today signals the first day of the beginning of the Winter garage sale when the MLB’s top brass will start actively considering their options for 2011. There is no doubt Crawford will make more money in 2011 than ever in his career. The question now is just how much will this apparent ploy by Gammons cost Crawford in the long run? Plus did Gammon’s ploy effectively start a campaign within the Pinstripe Populous to keep Gardner entrenched in leftfield for 2011?
It is going to fun sitting back and watching to see if the rest of the baseball world think Gammon’s is either a genius, or speaking with a foot firmly planted in his own big mouth. Maybe I am dreaming more of Gammons planting his left foot a little further down into a hidden location and wiggling like mad, but that is just me.