Who’s On First?
I was entranced the first time I saw the comedic team of Abbott and Costello perform this routine on our family television console one Sunday afternoon. I was mesmerized by the ingenious wordplay by the duo to the point of repeating it so often the following week in school I got a isolated seat in the library by myself to perfect my comedic nuance.
That same hilarious routine comes to mind so vividly for me now with the Tampa Bay Rays current conundrum at their first bag position. Scanning the players listed on the Rays current 40-man roster, it is quickly evident that none of them has seen ample time at First Base to breathe any confidence that the team has answer so far in their quest for a secure and reliable player on the first base corner.
Last season’s inspiration Casey Kotchman is a free agent, possibly speaking in confidence with the Rays, but also entertaining other offers, situation and pondering his own 2012 M L B existence. You would have thought it a no-brainier to try and sign “The Magic of Kotch” to a multi-year contract, but so far the homegrown baseball prospect has been mute and silent on any transactions.
Dan Johnson, the Rays 2011 Opening Day First Baseman refused his re-assignment to the minor league and has set his sights on other M L B venues as a possible home for 2012. There is still a hint of a Rays reunion, but that would come at a significant salary reduction again for Johnson who seemed lost early on in the 2012 season before coming back and putting some late September magic onto his resume.
Leslie Anderson, the Cuban baseball reject at First Base played with a bit more consistency for the Triple-A Durham Bulls in 2012, but is his advancement been enough to warrant more than a Spring Training invite and a outside chance of securing a roster spot. This is a position on this team that is in dire transition, a black hole that has to be filled first, then the other cogs will fall into place.
For the Rays defensive existence relies on a solid guy with a ever expanding spider web glove at this spot. He makes Evan Longoria look better, converts the ill-thought out throws of Reid Brignac, and is the key end point of any double play consideration. This position has to be the Rays priority one this off season, or 2012 will be a step backwards akin to the 2009 season.
Where is that definite piece of the puzzle the Rays have found in the past with great 1B names like Fred McGriff, Travis Lee, Tino Martinez and even Carlos Pena. This team can not feasibly afford the bevy of current First Basemen seeking salaries for 2012. The Albert Pujols and Price Fielders’ of the MLB will not accept a price slashing Rays payment slip as their productive years reach their summit.
Even a established young player like current Cincinnati Red First Baseman Joey Votto might come with a price the Rays would balk at paying for a productive bat with ample defensive skills. Some say a run at Votto will cost them at least a duo of pitching prospects and possible a catcher. But in this regard the Rays do have a quickly approaching pitching surplus problem, but is possibly taking on Votto’s 9.5 million dollar contract could possibly eat into a huge chunk of the Rays other “wish list” this off season.
Then there is the attractive but expensive option of the Rays flirting with the possibility of bringing on ex-Yankee C/1B Jose Posada as a short term solution with an eye on his trade deadline value and bat being a easy positive for the Rays. Posada is actually the only Yankee since Bernie Williams I could respect and see as a member of the Rays.
Posada is a true competitor, and walked a thin line in the Bronx in 2012 knowing his diminished skill behind the plate, plus a multi millionaire in front of him (Mark Texiera) prohibited him from getting more than a sampling of his skills at First Base last season. The only huge bind in this logic is the fact Posada made $ 13.1 million, or 1/3rd of the Rays 2011 total payroll. This fact by itself might eliminate
Posada’s name immediately considering the Rays will possibly be slicing even a bit more off their payroll to begin 2012 with an eye on a late July addition if they are within sight of a Wild Card or better post season berth.
The Rays in-house options currently within their farm system besides Anderson is limited to Double-A Montgomery Biscuit duo Henry Wrigley and Matt Sweeney. The problem here is both have not ventured past that Double-A plateau yet, and their addition besides a possible Spring invite would be suggestive at best. The Rays have a deep farm system but not currently at this vital cog in their defensive machine. The answer might be an internal transition for the Rays to save money plus utilize their current players sequencing them into roles that build upon Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s 2011 mantra of “Find Another Way”.
Should the Rays implore current diamond journeyman Ben Zobrist or even Sean Rodriguez or Elliot Johnson to do a bit of off season prep at First Base. Possibly getting reps and game action in a Winter League, or maybe sending them to an isolated camp site to work on it in private and then introduce their transition as a “team united” surprise come Spring?
The following few weeks should be interesting as the Hot Stove season begins to simmer and choices begin to be eliminated from the First Base list. This is a key off season position for the Rays to secure an ample and reliable player who can be a catalyst for this young team. Be it a young player or possibly a grizzly vet, this first base bag has to have solidarity and consistency both in their defense and their bat to be a great addition to this team.
Pujols is not an option, Prince would not get the royal treatment in Tampa Bay. Votto might be established enough to warrant the player fodder needed for a trade, but will the Rays commit a huge chunk to solidify one position? Anderson, Wrigley and Sweeney might not be viable options, but could be future consideration, possibly in 2013 or 2014.
If the Rays want to save their funds for other player options, then a Zobrist, Johnson transformation might be in line with the Rays fiscal reality. Zobrist will make $ 4.5 million plus a possible $500,000 assignment bonus. His rising salaries will institute him into new roles, or define him in 2012. Johnson will be a meager salary option, but with his limited time at this side of the diamond, is it worth the gamble and possible implosion?
I still remember watching Bud Abbott clutching his baseball cap in his mouth in utter confusion and dismay at the swirling names of the players on the field during that routine, but it all comes down to that ultimate question still pondered by the Rays this off season, “Who’s on First?”