Photo: Rays Index
On paper, the signing of experienced closer and set-up man RHP Fernando Rodney seems like a solid investment for the right coinage to solidify the back-end of the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen. Rodney’s contract leaves the Rays 7-8 and 9th inning possible options with a combined commitment of just over $ 7 million and the clarity that they do not have a huge reliever contract lingering over their heads. Somehow I think Rodney is of the opinion the closer role is wide open and he wants toi take a huge step towards claiming it this Spring.
Rodney will take home $ 1.75 million for 2012 with a club option kicker of a $ 2.5 million dollar question mark for 2013 (with a $ 250K buy-out), which seems within the guidelines of what the Rays value their relievers. Current closer Kyle Farnsworth will pocket $ 3.3 million and the new contract by Joel Peralta will net him a cool $ 2 million. Just under $ 7.1 million for the Rays possible 7th, 8th and 9th inning slots, which is considerably less than the $11 million the Philadelphia Phillies will pay for just their new closer, Johnathan Papelbon.
Here is where this signing by the Rays can become a bit hazy and gray. Is Rodney being brought in as an insurance policy in case the elbow tenderness that wrecked havoc for Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth this past September rears its ugly head again and promotes an angst that will remind all of us of the 2008 Troy Percival debacle.
Do the Rays see Rodney possibly as a “situational closer”, but more in tune with being a 8th inning set-up guy pushing Joel Peralta back to the 7th inning or into his own situational black hole. For some reason I have a sneaking suspicion the Rays are wanting a little competitive spirit and competition tossed into the Spring, and Rodney and Farnsworth have history as a pair of late inning guys. But there are still a few things that worry me about Rodney, and it is not the fire in his belly or his experience.
Sure Rodney has posted 87 career MLB saves, but only 17 of them have come over the past 2 seasons while he was with the Angels. 87 career saves over his 9 year MLB tenure with the Tigers (7 yrs) and Angels ( 2 years) doesn’t leave me with a true air of confidence he could be the guy to set in if Farnsworth does have an elbow setback or is lost for a prolonged hiatus from the Rays. Rodney did post 26 K’s in his 32 innings of work in 2011, but he also tacked on 28 walks and 26 hits during his 2012 Angels season.
Still there is a great similarity between Farnsworth and Rodney that they both take care of their bodies, and can throw some extremely hard stuff at times, but can this former duo who used to work together in Detroit find that magic again in Tampa Bay? For Rodney is dominant on the hill when he has control over his change-up.
Could the Rays be a great matching for Rodney considering Rays starter James Shields has one of the best change-up in the game and is constantly tinkering with his grips and release points. Possibly the two hurlers could get together and find a better change-up in the mix for Rodney and bring him back to the top of his game. Rodney also employ a decent slider that tops out at around 86 mph, which can be greatly effective when his fastball is sitting in the high 90′s.
The problem I am having here is the inconsistency during 2011 of Rodney in his limited role and if the off season will produce amazing results or will he remain within his present flux state when it comes to his pitching. What effect could this have on Peralta considering he might have thought the 8th inning slot was his to lose, and now the Rays bring in competition. It could be a blessing or a curse for either player, but I still have a boatload of confidence in Peralta possibly pushing Rodney into a 7th inning slot by late March.
Some have already brought up the old baggage in regards to Rodney and his high and outside fastball up towards the Rays Press Box back in 2009 when he was a bit over excited during a save opportunity in Tropicana Field. Rodney ended up getting a 3-game suspension on the heels of a letter sent to MLB by Tampa Bay Times Rays writer Marc Topkin. I would love to be a fly on the wall on the first day of Pitchers and Catchers reporting and see if Topkin and Rodney shake hands. Still, as far as I’m concerned, he did the crime, the time and it is in the past.
Still, the signing of Rodney did not break the Rays piggy bank, and it filled a void left when they did not re-sign Juan Cruz. The final determination of the usage of Rodney has not been revealed yet, but you can definitely pencil in his name in the late hash marks of the game. It could end up being another blessing in disguise for the Rays in 2012 just like the unexpected signings of Joaquin Benoit in 2010 and Peralta in 2011. I have an odd feeling Rodney knows he has a chance to be with a contender and will come out fighting for his slot this Spring.
This signing of Rodney could end up being the huge exclamation point the Rays Bullpen need heading into the Spring, or a demise in waiting. My money is firmly on Topkin and Rodney burying the hatchet and Rodney throwing so much heat a few of the Rays catcher’s mitt will need flame retardant materials sewn on them. In the end the Rays reliever corps will be a better unit with this competition, and who ever wins out and claims the closer role, well the other will probably be the first one to shake his hand. ….I hope.
They were supposed to be the heirs apparent to the Tampa Bay Rays revolving door situation at shortstop. Each saw their 1st Round selections in their season’s MLB Draft as the enthusiastic stamp of approval by the Rays that their style of baseball had a place under the Tropicana Field roof, and that their rise through the Rays farm system would finally accumulate with them manning the 6-hole for this team for years to come. One saw his future and position changed upon his arrival into the MLB, the toehr could be going down that same familiar path soon for the Rays.
Funny how the early farm system years and expectations of B J Upton and Tim Beckham mirrored each other with such eerie similarities and the promise of them becoming the Rays sure-fire solution on the right-side of the infield. Upton was the first to take the venture, and Beckham soon might find himself at that same crossroads Upton faced, possibly never getting a chance to show his potential at shortstop.
But it is actually good that Upton has taken the journey and could be a beneficial listening post for Beckham as he too might encounter a roadblock in his escalation towards the MLB level. Upton has become an outspoken clubhouse voice, and has grown into the role as mentor and responsible MLB member as he has become secure with his career position change. This talk could come as soon as the Spring of 2012 with Beckham seeing his stock as a Rays top prospect plummet to the # 13 slot this off season. Beckham, like Upton has the skills and tools to be a major leaguer, it just might not be at the position he envisioned on his MLB Draft day back in the Summer of 2008.
Upton finally made it to the MLB level, but not for his shortstop skills. He was being considered a plug-in alternative around the infield when he was first called-up, manning the Second Base position, then taking his shot at the Hot Corner as Evan Longoria was taking his bumps and lumps in the Rays minor league system. Something happened to Upton as he matured as a SS prspect through the Rays system, he suddenly became erratic with his throws, his footwork was being questioned, and his once abundant confidence as a future MLB SS began to fade. But Upton came to a crossroads, with a positional change firmly blocking his path to the shortstop spot.
I somehow feel the same fate just on the horizon for Beckham. It is not that Beckham like Upton could not man the position, but there is another hot prospect who might have taken the thunder from them, and thrust his name further up the potential depth chart. Beckham did start to show some of the fundamental breakdowns that Upton faced at Triple-A Durham before his MLB rise, but Beckham has also worked tirelessly to correct, manipulate and strive to again have his name whispered as a MLB level shortstop.
With Baseball America tapping Rays current Double-A SS prospect Hak-Ju Lee as the Rays infield prospect, you have to wonder if the Rays scouting department is turning their head towards Lee as the heir apparent and possibly having Beckham do the infield shuffle himself. 2012 could be a great indicator of if the Rays think Beckham is the right guy for the 6-slot, or someone to man the slot until Lee shows he is ready, willing and able to be that everyday middle-of-the infield commando.
I truly think it might be a blessing in disguise for Beckham to shift his role across the Second Base bag and take the ball from a different angle. It might even be career changing. I watched Beckham hit last Spring and he reminded me of a budding Rickey Weeks. You remember him, the guy the Rays passed up for SP Dewon Brazelton back in 2001. Beckham has that raw talent and bat speed that made some drool about Weeks, plus Beckham is still growing.
Beckham might be currently be the invisible man in regards to the SS position, but he will get his chance this Spring to make the Rays reconsider, possibly making himself a go-to utility guy who could learn on the job while working with long-time Rays Coach Tom Foley on his fundamentals or positioning. But the reality is that Beckham may only stand at that SS position a handful of time when he finally gets to the MLB level, and even then it might be until Lee is ready.
Still, a shift across the diamond, possibly being a heir apparent to the 2B spot could end up being the thing that takes Beckham to the next level. The current supply of MLB superstars that man the 4-spot are aging, and a shift to that position might actually help his reputation and future aspirations within the MLB. With some saying Ben Zobrist will slide over to the First Base bag in the next few years for good, the 2B slot could be wide open.
Upton came up to the MLB with hopes and dreams of manning the 6-spot for 10 seasons, but finally found a home deeper in the slot back by the Rays sunburst in Centerfield. It was a great move by the team and Upton to slide him into the outfield, and even without an All-Star selection to his credit, Upton is one of the fastest and best defender in that position.
Beckham might have to make his own decision possibly this Spring as to his future with the Rays, and a slide vertically could benefit not only him, but the Rays as he could be a critical pivot man for Lee in the double-play format. Beckham could win a chance at a utility role with an outstanding Spring, but the reality is he might be Durham bound again, possibly even switching to the other side of the bag for the Bulls in preparation for the switch-a-roo.
No matter if this pans out, or if my vision is just as blind as some behind the plate, Beckham’s future role with this team might depend on his flexibility and mental toughness possibly learning a new position and becoming a huge cog in the Rays future infield. Hmmm, I think I said the same about Upton not so long ago, and that position switch has turned out pretty well for the Rays.