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?”

6 Comments

I don’t think Sweeney is a very reliable option. He’s past his prime, and we saw what happened to Carlos Peña after his prime. Do you think Greg Dobbs could be a possibility? He’s a corner infielder and a consistent hitter, but he obviously wouldn’t get much playing time at third. Thanks for putting up “Who’s on First?” I had never seen it in its entirety…funny stuff!
Steve
http://fishfry55.mlblogs.com

Fish,
I think you are referring to the wrong “Sweeney”. This one was acquired by the Rays in the trade sending SP Scott Kazmir to the Halos which also garnered the Rays INF Sean Rodriguez and LHP Alex Torres. This Sweeney was born in Maryland in 1988 and was drafted in the 8th Round by the Angels in the 2006 MLB First Year Player Draft.
Funny you mention Pena, he came to the Rays after being cut from the Boston and Yankees minor league system and had a few explosive years with the Rays including his first Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2007….And do not forget his 2009 All-Star selection.
Greg Dobbs is not a fit here. He is more of a Greg Norton to us than a real First Baseman. The Rays will probalby sign him with my luck, but I would pass him up like a hitchhiker with bloodstains.
Who knows, maybe the Rays are hoping Damon wants another “Rays experience” and he will man the 1B bag?…….We all know Aubrey Huff will never come back here.

Thanks for the clarification. I was referring to Peña’s not-so-great 2010-2011 seasons, but he was great for those two or so explosive years in Tampa.
And on the note of Aubrey Huff, the first major league game I ever attended was at Camden Yards in 2003 (I was 6), and Huff robbed a home run just a few feet from where I was sitting in right field. That was my only vivid memory of that game, and it was the only “Devil Rays” game I ever saw.
Steve

Steve,
You will not be the last person to think SWeeney is the older version than a newer model. Pena had a productive year in 2010, but it paled in comparision to his prior Rays adventures. His Cubs venture still had the defensive cat-like movements, but he did look a bit rigid at the plate.
Huff Daddy was a friend, but his comments to a local radio station after his journey from the Rays kind of soured our baseball friednship. Still got hisd annual “Huffapaloosa Karaoke poster, a few of his bats, and a great photo of him tip-toeing during a flood at Ferg’s. He was an instrumental player during the Rays development phase, and one of their first homegrown guys to flourish, but this town has not forgiven him for his comments. I. however put it into a bucket and tossed it away not long ago when he was celebrating in San francisco.

Casey Kotchman is simply the best first baseman the Rays are going to get for the money, and he needs to be re-signed. The big names are way to expensive for the Rays to afford, and I don’t think Posada is a good option. Unlike Posada in his younger years, Jorge is not going to provide the team anything except hitting. Playing him at first good end up as a disaster, when you compare it to the slick fielders the Rays have had there in the past 5+ years. Zobrist is not the guy the Rays want as their everyday first baseman, but he’s definitely a player that can be used there every once in a while.
The Rays Rant- http://yossif.mlblogs.com/

Yossif,
Some one else today hinted that possibly Johnny Damon could be re-signed and play First Base, but his power numbers would be lower than Kotchman’s last season. I am one of those on the “Magic of Kotch bandwagon, and not because he is a local guy. I think his < $800,000 payday in 2011 would have to triple for the Kotch to catch Longo's throws again.
Still, it is early, and the cloak of intrigue is bound tight upon the Rays 4th floor offices…. Guess we will find out when we find out…..Still, Who's on First?

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