July 2012

Did the Rays Gamble Heavy on Their Status Quo?

Wondering if the Tampa Bay Rays basically “ standing pat” will come back to either bite them in the hind quarters, or be a Godsend. So many factors were in play in the background today from medical reports on Evan Longoria’s rehab assignment, to equating if sending a piece of the franchise be it B J Upton or James Shields would stall their recent Wild Card forward momentum. I swear Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman will never have to hit Gamblers Anonymous because he only seems to bet on “ sure things”, or options that weigh heavily in the houses/ Rays favor.

I truly could not envision Friedman standing over a MLB gambling table surrounded by 29 of his peers holding the dice hard wishing for a 7 or 11. I imagine him more comfortable at the .25 cent slots bringing in a few dollars and making more sense of his money and movements. But still, it was good over the past week or so hearing the baited whispers and subtle glances towards Upton and Shields. Wonder how many of Friedman’s peers felt confident going into today that Friedman might part with the likes of Upton who is set to hit the Free Agent market this Winter. 

But then again, I could see Friedman playing Texas Hold-Em with a vengeance, and with the Rays on a West Coast road venture Friedman held his cards close to his vest hoping no one would venture to guess his intentions or call into question any type of bluff or stall tactic.


I felt sure Friedman might possibly throw down at least a Wade Davis baseball card towards an NL peer that might need an up-grade or stop-gap style player either in their 4 or 5 slots or in long relief. But Friedman has the luxury of knowing Davis is only gaining value, possibly with Davis becoming a prime piece of off-season gold that will be look upon with more value this Winter than at this time.

There were even cards in motion within the Rays farm system that hinted at some sort of planning or adjustments as RP Cesar Ramos was being primed and getting reps as a possible starter at Triple-A Durham. You had to have a feeling Friedman wanted to hold a distinctive wild card in his hand knowing a possible trade scenario involving a valuable and flexible southpaw would be considered a luxury heading into August and September as younger arms reach their yearly pitch counts. 

I remember reading in Dirk Hayhurst’s “Bullpen Gospels” about Ramos in the lower Padres system as a starter, so the idea is not foreign to him at all. Since I’m glancing towards the Bullpen, I truly thought Friedman might hold in his hand the cards of possibly relief pitchers Joel Peralta or Kyle Farnsworth as late inning pieces to another squad’s puzzle, possible also in the National League. But the Rays Bullpen stayed intact, possibly the best thing to happen to the Rays since Fernando Rodney’s first arrow flew deep and high into the sky.

Could Friedman have possibly mastered the art of the bluff this week by rebuffing advancements and trading cards being thrown down in his direction, Could the Rays not sending or receiving any players before the time ran out on this non-waiver Trade Deadline show contentment that in-house options are superior to the cards visible on the table, especially since Longoria and SP Jeff Niemann could be back in the dugout sooner rather than later.

No matter if Friedman was playing the game with all intentions of going through the motions, or waiting for the perfect scenario to be placed upon the felt and then plucking it with a grin and a giggle. We might never know the true story, but I do feel there were some potential MLB players trading cards picked up off that green poker table’s felt I truly thought the Rays might contemplate a bit on, or at least bluff towards plucking them for this team. 

The first player I thought the Rays might make a gentleman’s wager on was Miami Marlins 1B Gaby Sanchez who ended up becoming another valuable piece to the playoff hungry Pittsburgh Pirates. I actually thought the Rays might go “in heavy” on Sanchez as a possible 2013 replacement/younger hitting upgrade for the Carlos Pena. I thought Sanchez met the Rays criteria since he can be team controlled until possibly 2016, with his first venture into arbitration coming this Winter. Lest we forget Sanchez was a NL Rookie of the Year candidate in 2010 (finished 4th).

I also thought the Rangers picking up Geovany Soto from the Chicago Cubs recently might be a trading card piece of an evolving Texas trade hand for Shields since the Rays could definitely erase their need for a catcher with someone of Soto’s experience, especially since Soto will only be making his second trip trough arbitration this Winter, Soto’s past All-Star clout and his 2012 salary of only $ 4.3 million, he would be viewed as a solid backstop investment considering the question marks becoming larger with Robinson Chirinos and his concussion setbacks and if Jose Lobaton is a # 1 catcher or a career back-up back stop for this squad.

All that the Rays Republic is left with his wonder and maybe a little hint of want. This team has shown signs of an upwards trend against teams currently that they will battle throughout the rest of this season for a coveted American League Wild Card slot, but you have to wonder if Friedman had set down at least 1 hand in trade if the stakes and odds would have falling more into their favor.

 The Trade Deadline is one of those definite “He said, She said” types of moments where a season can be hinged or be separated by actions of standing pat. Personally, I wanted to see some down and dirty dealing via Andrew Friedman and his band of merry mongrels, but in the end we got only silence.

 Some venture to say the lack of Friedman playing any cards by the final toll of the bell at the Trade Deadline set the tone loud and clear for the Rays venture towards securing one of those coveted post-season slots. In the past the Rays have stayed muted and firm in their belief of their club’s talent and abilities and have come out smelling like roses.

Still, I would have loved to have someone like Sanchez chomping at the bit for that First Base job, or even Soto behind the dish providing offense and quality defense. Friedman decided to fold his hand, pay the dealer for his time and walk away empty-handed as the last cards were dealt today. But maybe by not making a gamble or losing in the process Friedman is way a head of the MLB pack. Only time will tell if he will be considered a winner or loser for his action with the cards.

 

Is Tatman the Missing Puzzle Piece?

Photo credit:  Fangraphs.com

On the surface most people might be scratching their noggins wonder what Tampa Bay Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman was thinking trading for another infielder. Here the Rays go again gathering up loose vital pieces from other clubs like they have previously with the likes of Will Rhymes, Jeff Keppinger and Brook Conrad.

Friedman however did buck the usual hectic Trade Deadline pattern by offering up a peace offering of a 2B Double -A prospect (Tyler Bortnick) for the services of Roberts, who will be under team control until 2015. This is usually the time of years where teams dispense or send lengthy and costly options to other vistas. It is pretty rare a player who was recently designated for assignment to let another Arizona infield player have his 40-man roster spot gets traded.

But the Rays followed their defined and articulated mindset of getting a player with some “meat on their bones” for future considerations instead of renting a body hoping they can help the Rays offense flourish. Underneath the surface, down near ground level the truth begins to appear, and it seems Friedman again possibly stole a player who could be a Rays fixture for at least 3 more seasons.

Even closer to the sand granules you will see past Roberts current .250 average and peek under the sand pile to actually see that Roberts has been on a bit of a offensive tear recently. Roberts might have been used a bit sparingly, but has hit for an impressive .438 (7-for-16) average over the last 15 days with a couple RBI and stolen bases to his credit.

Going to be interesting as Roberts makes his way to Baltimore to meet up with his new team. Might be even more interesting to see what transpires with Roberts Twitter account (@RRoberts14 ) now that he is a Ray and SP David Price has cemented his name with uniform # 14….I hear jersey # 41 has a vacancy. 

Recently we have heard the howls and hoots that Evan Longoria could soon be finally going on another rehab run, hopefully this time with no setbacks or stalls. But if anything would happen, or even with the possibility that Longoria with Luke Scott still out with back situations, and Hidecki Matsui gone into the brilliant sunset, Longo possibly could come back a bit sooner than later and man the DH slot for a bit while he gets into game shape and gets his defensive rhythm on track.

That is where possibly the addition of Roberts could bring about a few bonus points, possibly giving the Rays and Longo a DH option so the team can get his bat back into the line-up. Could Roberts be the long awaited puzzle piece that finally gets the Rays offense and defense running in unison and firing on all their cylinders? If his 2011 stats can come to life again in Tampa Bay, and his hard nosed style of play continues…..Tatman may be here for a long, long time as a Ray. 

幸福の小道 Godzilla

I truly do not know if the ever expanding legend surrounding this player has kept him on this Tampa Bay Rays roster. Some have been more than adamant that he is a shell of his former self, possibly dialing in his last breathes in Major League Baseball. I seriously do not see the reasoning or the dramatic prose of keeping Hidecki Matsui on this Rays roster.

Even last night as Rays Manager Joe Maddon closed his office door post-game in a personal discussion with his staff and front office personnel, I thought surely the fairy tale of this version of “Godzilla” might finally play out to a release or possible waiver. Not sure if the creature known as “Godzilla” has any feline traits, but definitely Matsui has evoked and used up more than 9 Rays lives in his short tenure.

I wanted Matsui to be a firm Rays building block, the keystone to a offensive revival of the Rays arsenal, but except for a few blasts more from the past than the present, Matsui has produced more blanks than lethal shots. It has now been over 3 weeks or 21 days since the “of Japan” demigod had a pair of singles going 2-for-3 against the Detroit Tigers on July 1st. Sure most will point towards Matsui only striding to the plate 15 times since that day, but with strikeouts to end two of the last 3 Rays last ditch efforts at victories, something has to give soon.

I truly want to look into Matsui’s Rays locker and find that lucky charm, that atonement symbol that has blessed him with chances after chances to provide defining moments, but has left us all wanting. In 20 plate appearances this month to today’s contest, Matsui is 2-for-15 with 7 strikeouts and has stranded 23 of 24 men who stood on base during his at bats. That statistic by itself lends the point of view that Matsui has performed beyond abysmal. I know Maddon has a huge amount of respect and admiration for Matsui, but I’m beginning to question the sanity of seeing # 56 in a Rays uniform at all.

For the Seattle series, Matsui is 0-6 and is scheduled to be again the Rays DH for today’s contest. When do we stop the madness and cut our losses, possibly calling up someone like Stephen Vogt again who definitely can hit better than Matsui’s current 1.49 batting average. Considering Matsui was brought onto this club to help with getting runners in scoring position across the plate. A .148 average in that category mixed with a lone Home Run doesn’t boast any additional confidence for me for the daily use of Matsui.

How can a opposing pitching staff be afraid of a guy who boasts a average that even Mendoza would shake his head at profusely. It seems right now that Godzilla’s fiery breathe has not only gone moot, but his been extinguished, possibly for good. Matsui started off his Rays venture impressively hitting 2 long bombs in his first few games, setting the table for good thing to come, but after that first volley of goodness, no Home Runs and only 3 RBI over his 30 games. Pressing further into the abyss we see Matsui has produced his worst year ever so far as a professional, and it only gets worse.

is not even an adequate field player or late inning replacement any longer and has proven more than a few times to seem lost and flustered out in leftfield. Matsui have only had a total of 14 chances in the outfield endeavors, but his lack of total confidence in the field has flashed upon his face as he moves toward balls in play. His last start against Boston on July 2nd, Matsui suffered a hamstring injury . Truly I think we have seen his last days as a Rays outfield accessory.

I know this is not the fairy tale ending any of us wanted for Matsui, but it might be time for the Rays to sever the cord. Matsui is not even a remote threat in the Rays offense that is currently ranked 28th in the MLB. He was brought into this Rays fold to be a defining offensive weapon, but has produced mostly blanks. Matsui was suppose to protect the bulk of the Rays line-ups, but they have done more to protect him than you can imagine. Maybe it is time to face the reality this venture turned into a horrific mis-step instead of a solid foot forward for the Rays.

After Sunday’s contest, the Rays get a day off on Monday before embarking on a 10 game road trip that will not see them back at the Trop until after the Trade Deadline, maybe cutting their losses and freeing Godzilla is in the best interest of the Rays chance at the post-season. I mean if Matsui was any other player in the Rays organization, he would have been gone long before now. Sorry Godzilla, it’s not personal, it the business of winning that drives baseball.

幸福の小道  (Happy Trails) Godzilla

Train Took Us on a Perfect Musical Trip

From the moment the Train whistle first made its echo throughout Tropicana Field, until Train lead singer Pat Monohan’s last gracious words of gratitude towards the loud assembly of Tropicana Field back-up singers who collectively started swinging and swaying right in tune with Train’s first offering, “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” and didn’t stop even as the band made their exit stage right.

I hope the Rays and their fans take it as an ultimate compliment that the band “wanted” to come back and play after a game, possibly setting the stage last night for possibly the Rays concert conductor to post them again in the future. I love it when I hear gushing compliments from the musical acts, and last night I heard the same kind of vibes I have overheard from LL Cool J and ZZ Top who also made return engagements within the Trop. this season.

And Train not only delivered with gusto last night, they might be the one band I have seen during the entire Rays Concert Series who had such a great time up on the stage performing post-game as there were miles and miles of smiles from ear-to-ear from every member of the band from the first note, to the last. That kind of excitement and good vibrations does rub off on the assembled masses, and they were noisy, singing every verse and looking like a sea of humanity from my perch in the front of the stage for the first 3 songs.

A lot of that has to be the great music that blasted out from the stage, but you can not discount for a moment the charismatic and appealing vocals of Monahan who once played in a Led Zeppelin cover band before becoming a firm grounding point and vocal reference for this band from the San Francisco bay area. From their long time classics “Drops of Jupiter”, “Meet Virgina”, “Calling All Angels” to their new found classic tunes “Marry Me”, Save Me San Francisco”, “Hey Soul Sister” and their last offering “Drive By”.

As you can tell, I am a Train fan, but I was not an adamant Train listener until their first trip through Tropicana Field back in 2010 when Monahan did an impromptu race around the Trop turf with Rays Security in pursuit to protect Pat from his overly-zealous fans. But that is another of things I found appealing from this band, spontaneous decisions based on the vibe and music, possibly ending with a stroll around the outfield.

I can bet I’m not the only one hoping to see Train again in 2 years or so because this band definitely delivers a true and hearty meal of beats and tunes with a perfect mixture of past and present from their first self-titled album “Train” back in 1998 to their latest “California 37”. Some band tend to phone in their older classics, but Monahan and crew puts on a stellar show on that small Rays stage that ultimately make you want to hear them again, possibly on the drive home just to revisit the whole fantastic experience. How many days until Train returns again to embrace us all with their music?

Here is my public access Flickr Photostream with all of the Train concerts photos

A Personal Way to Get That Sought After Autograph

What if I could give you an alternative to obtaining that cherished signature of your favorite sports figure without having to feel like a sardine in the can awaiting his arrival down by the field railing? What if I can get you virtually and digitally “hooked up” with a unique way to not only get that autograph, but be provided the additional added bonus of getting your selected photo personalized with the cherry on top of it all being a 30 second sound byte by that player?

 etter yet, what if I told you it is not only pleasantly affordable, but it can also be conveniently emailed with no tussle of fuss of having black Sharpie stains on your fingers or hand, plus the stress-free addition of not having to fight your way in or out of the assembled crowd seeking that same player’s autograph. Now Egraphs can not only make that experience pleasant, it can give you the opportunity to get a photo personalized without worry of offending the player or those seeking his autograph without the hassle of wasting your precious time and possibly being one of those missed by the player before he leaves.

This revolutionary idea in obtaining and personalizing autographs was the brain child of the Auld brothers David and Brian who also happens to be the Tampa Bay Rays Senior Vice President for Business Operations. Brian might be the “idea guy”, but it is David who once worked for technologically savvy Microsoft out in Seattle brought this concept together after hatching the idea last Summer. Also on board with the Auld brothers is former Rays player Gabe Kapler who will take on the role of Director of Business Development, and with his MLB connections should have a stream of players and MLB personnel both active and from the past phoning him for a chance at providing their own images and signatures to this expanding Egraphs universe.

Think about this for a second, you could be a huge Rays fan who live outside the 727 or 813 zip codes living anywhere, anyplace in this country or overseas and by just going through a simple application you could receive a photo personalized along with a short voice message from your favorite player. This concept can not only broadens the player and teams fan base outside the confines of Tampa Bay, it brings about the possibility of these special autographs and photos being presented as special tokens of loyal fans through the Rays Republic on a worldwide basis. Even at the recently completed All Star Game festivities in Kansas City, Missouri there was chatter and whispers about this great product, and I would not be surprised if the Egraphs roster of players doesn’t explode over the second half of this season and be a formidable personalized autograph provider by Spring Training 2013.

Interesting enough, one of the first investors in this project was Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg who knows a thing or two about investments and risks. And if you peel back the surface of this presently baseball-related autograph and photo opportunity, there is an unlimited and expansive opening of the arms to possibly include other sports from NFL, NBA or NHL as well as Hollywood stars and people in the news to become future providers of their images and signatures. And the process is really simple, heck I tried out the process today just to see how it all plays out, and it was effortless for me until I had to decide what I wanted message I might want personalized to myself or someone else.

Maybe you write a blog and might want to use it as an avatar, maybe include it as a link on your website, or maybe you want a framed 8X11 of the photo for your office or personal baseball shrine? It is all as simple as writing an email and for an offering of $50 which includes a high resolution photo which is electronically signed and personalized by the player, then emailed to your email address. This whole painless autograph process is not only affordable, it is a down right steal. 

Think of how invaluable this is not only for the fans, but for the players as they can use an I-pad device anywhere, even on the charter flight, in the clubhouse, or maybe even lounging on a Florida beach during an off-day or off-season. By simply using a stylist and voice recorder, the player can complete the request in their leisure taking away the added stress of a crowd of people with Sharpies, balls or photos waved in front of them for their signatures. I truly think this whole new way of getting autographs could bring about a serenity to the whole process and will be a great asset for both parties involved.

 Egraphs currently have around 100 players in their stable, but as other learn of the ease of this new autograph endeavor, the Egraphs list will expand as rapidly as Kapler and his (future) staff can answer the phone. Of course some people are afraid the signatures might not be original, and possibly be duplicated in some way. Well, Egraphs has devised a system where not only can the clubhouse assistant or friend of the player not sign the photographs, there is a voice recognition system to not only helps authenticate the process, but give you the satisfaction of knowing you got the autograph you desired along with a real voice message.

 Of course for an additional fee of $45, you can also get a certificate of authenticity provided with your 8X10 framed photograph that will not only be good for future generations, but gives you piece of mind and security that this is indeed an real photo and signature of your favorite player. So if you want to check out Egraphs, you can click on any of the “Egraphs” mentions in this posting, or go to this link and check it out for yourself. This new way of getting autographs is not meant to replace or remove the thrill or adventure of getting it in person, it just gives others the opportunity to also get that exciting feeling of having a genuine MLB player’s photo and signature, with a personalized both written and vocal message just for them.

That to me is simply priceless.  

First Half in the Books, Can’t Wait for Friday

Been a rough first half for the Tampa Bay Rays. Some things have gone as planned, while others have seemed to be spontaneous adjustments and hunches that either worked brilliantly or destined to be talked about, and dissected over and over again by the Rays faithful. Not once this season did Rays Manager Joe Maddon get to post the nine names he wanted on his line-up card together, the 9 names that he felt would make a difference, would bring him a consistent key to victory.

Not one line-up card in the first half carried all 9 of the Rays best players. That in itself proves something to me.  It also tells  a tale of how hard these first 86 games has been for the Rays coaching staff and Maddon to nightly present a consistent line-up card.  How frustrating  it must have been for Maddon over these first few months to consult his Medical staff before penciling in someone with clarity.  From B J Upton’s early season absence to Evan Longoria’s delayed return ( maybe mid-August), this team has been  a mire shadow of their 2011 selves.  

But with this All Star break comes a mini diversion of their 162 strife with a few days of life away from the ballpark to not only catch their breaths, but recharge and re-focus heading into their final 76 contests, I’m expecting to see some nervous energy and renewed excitement  bouncing from the roof catwalks to the outfield walls when the team again straps on their uniforms this Thursday in preparation of their second half kick-off against divisional rivals Boston.

Odd how that old Maddon mantra of “Fortune Favors the Bold” will again be in play this Friday as divisional rival Boston brings their bats and fans into the Trop. for a weekend shindig. Bold moves have been made all year-long with positional players doing a merry-go-round of nightly choices, with a few of them meriting longer looks and prolonged involvement for players who might not have made this squad if all were healthy. Still the seamstress known as Maddon has stitched some amazing embroidery so far this season with his patchwork quilt of players from Brandon Allen to Will Rhymes.

Got to hand it to the Rays skipper for keeping the positive front, going with his gut instincts and proving again and again sometimes stats do not lie about players and situations.  Only problem is Maddon will have to dig a little deeper over this final stretch, to find the pieces of the puzzle that fit each and every situation. Maddon has always preached the gospel of “Pitching sets the tone”, and it does, but when bats go silent or swing at dead air, even a brilliant pitching performance or quality start can be lost in the nightly box score. Maddon might have to listen closer to the Zim bear as he whispers into the Rays skipper’s ear.  Seize the day has to be paramount with  a hard-nosed defense again becoming the focal point of this club.

Might be kind of ironic that the group Train will perform on the Rays first night of their 10-game home festivities to begin their quest for another champagne soaked clubhouse and game dates in October. I got a nice vibe of reassurance from this squad in their final game in Cleveland on Sunday, that with all the strife, humbling injuries and peculiar results this team has had to endure over their first 86 games , the simple prospect of this team sitting just 1 game out of the American League Wild Card race is amazing.

I believe it was less than a month ago that the entire AL East was so jammed and reaching for the top spot you had to check the standing nightly to see who might be top dog.  This division currently has their entire corp of contenders at or above the .500 mark and are bunched within single digits from the top-tier to the cellar. Toronto and Boston currently are 9.5 games out of the top spot, but that could change as quickly as a 3-game win or losing streak by anyone in front of them. To put this into deeper prospective, if the Rays were to get swept in their upcoming series against Boston ( not going to happen), the Red Sox would not only jump over the Rays into third place, it could just as easily push the Rays from eyesight of the New York Yankees into the cellar.

Even with the Rays currently sporting a 45-41 record, ESPN has the Rays enthusiastically sporting a 26.8 % chance of again spilling champagne in late September.  For that to materialize, this squad has to re-mold itself into a more consistent fighting machine both on the field, and especially at the plate. Signs have been surfacing lately with Ben Zobrist rising his average up more than 50 points, Luke Scott finally getting the woodpeckers out of his bat bin, and Elliot Johnson no longer being the “secret weapon” no one knows about. Just a little more out of each of the Rays 25, and this club could be on track to again move onward and upward.

I know this Rays squad has it in them, we all saw it in their  early Walk-off victories that somehow got lost in all the clouds of frustrations both on the hill and at the plate.  When the Rays again get a few cogs of their offense back from their  injury hiatus, pieces of the overall Rays puzzle will click back in place. Matt Joyce is days away, Evan Longoria could be back by mid August, starter Jeff Niemann should begin some level of baseball activities soon, possibly being back before the roster expand in September.  This team realistically has their old magic just out of their reach right now, but it could be back sooner than we all imagine.  For now, patience is not only a virtue for this team, it is a necessity.

My Ramblings to Tweak the Home Run Derby

Everyone might remember I had some reservations on the new “Captains” format for the State Farm Home Run Derby in 2011. After thinking about it for almost a whole season, it might have some legitimate merit, but maybe it can be tweaked a bit, just like the All Star Game starter and player selection process. Hopefully today I can outline my ideas, and maybe some day M L B will take credit for it ( just kidding).

The Captain format did take the selection process out of Major League Baseball fingers, but ( to me) it seem to evolve into a collection of “buddies” or power-stroking brethren taking turns hitting a baseball more than a competition that let fans from all over, including other countries outside the United States see our budding MLB stars. 

So why not make the American League and National League Home Run leaders at the All-Star Break the Captains in the future? That would give more of a guarantee to the assembled baseball fans the best long ball hitters from both leagues will not only showcase their unique craft at the All Star classic, but also give the media and announcers a chance to further show the participants in depth, possibly making them household names in other vistas. In 2011, that would have made Toronto Blue Jay Jose Bautista and St. Louis Cardinal Lance Bergman the first 2 players selected for the Home Run Derby. Combined the pair have crushed 55 balls into the stands heading into the 2011 All-Star Break.

From there I would love to implement a  “ State Farm Home Run Derby Participant” premise and re-institute it with 8 names from each league which would be announced a weeks in advance of the Monday event and conclude on that Saturday evening to decide which 3 candidates would of stood with Bautista or Bergman in 2011 as members of both the American and National League squads.  I know I’m using 2011 as an example, but sometimes we can learn things from our past, or fail again and again by refusing to acknowledge it’s flaws.

Sure there could still be the horror of the large market teams stuffing the ballot box, but I have a solution to keep multiple players from each squad off the final selection team. To keep the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Cardinals and possibly the Dodgers from stuffing the ballot boxes, there would be no multiple players selected from the same franchise.


That ruling would have split up the 2011 pairings of Adrian Gonzalez and Ortiz, plus would have made either Rickie Weeks or Prince Fielder the Brewer selected for the Home Run Derby. This rule would have also eliminated Matt Holiday in 2011 since Bergman would have been the Cardinals representative.

Such a regulation would keep an unbalanced Home Run Derby squad that should of included players like Cincinnati Red Jay Bruce, Chicago White Sox Adam Dunn, Oakland Athletics Josh Reddick or even Oriole’s Adam Jones could of had a chance to be voted into the event.

If this system had been in place for the 2012 event, Texas Ranger Josh Hamilton and Milwaukee Brewer Ryan Braun would have been the “Captains” of the event since each lead their respective leagues in Home Runs at the break.  Heck, based on Home Run totals, the New York Yankees could of been represented by Curtis Granderson than Robinson Cano. 

Sure there are thing to be worked out, and holes to fill by players not wanting to participate, but M L B could get those “Yeahs” or “Nays” at the conclusion of the All-Star voting and hype up the Home Run Derby selection process with an entire week of plugging certain players, or maybe even trying to get a up-and coming player most of the country has not seen hit the ball like the A’s Reddick, Brewers Corey Hart or even Philadelphia Phillies Hunter Pence a chance on the big stage.

M L B made an honest effort in 2011 of trying to correct some past Home Run Derby wrongs, and they made great strides in the right direction. Now by also involving the fans in the process, we can get a more suitable and diverse selection that will have people again excited about the event. With a few slices and dices in the right spots, the State Farm Home Run Derby can come back in 2013 in the confines of  Citi Field (July 16th) in Flushing, New York for the 2013 All Star Game more lean, mean and possibly pounding ball after ball out of the long confines of that massive ballpark.

That would be a pure joy to watch.

30 Minutes to Reflect, then Onto the Second Half

By the time I end up posting this on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Rays will either be celebrating their gutsy performance over the first half, or spending 30 minutes before thoughts turn to the second half, and the chase for another spot on the post season dance card. Expectation were sky-high in April, reality and gravity brought the surreal excitement to a halt with unforeseen injuries and players beginning a Conga line into and out of Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield’s humble office. Even with a victory today in Cleveland, this 2012 Rays squad will have posted the worst record of any Rays team since their re-incarnation in November 2007 by dropping the “Devil”.

From the hamstring drama of Evan Longoria, the fainting spell that possessed Will Rhymes, to the bats that turned to sawdust, the first half of 2012 has been a test of patience, determination and faith both in the dugout and among the stands. True fans have seen this before, but it was pre-2008 when the Rays Republic had to hold their breath as long, and pray to anything and anyone for a simple single victory during some of their awful losing bouts so far this season. Do not fret little Rays campers, for the 2012 edition of Rays complete with their patchwork quilt of fielders and hodge podge of Mendoza Line hitters might not be the defensive unit of 2011, but they have the courage, confidence and vital constitution that was forged in 2008 and is still rock hard today.

That might be the Rays saving grace with their line-up changing as much as the flight board in Chicago O’Hare Airport with rehab delays, hitting slumps for the ages and a defense that looks more like a piece of Swiss Cheese. Even with all these intangibles working against them, the Rays will end the day with an identical 44-41 record as the Cleveland Indians. But hidden just out of view is the travel this team has taken lately that took them from the 4th slot in the American League East standings, to possibly the second spot by nightfall. Even with all the toils and troubles on the field, this team still is in prime choice position heading into their home-stand on Friday to make an early run at solidifying their silver medal position.

When Longoria went down, this team did not fret, did not pout. Instead they called upon new additions to the Rays fight card from Brandon Allen, Drew Sutton, Rick Thompson and finally Brooks Conrad trying to piece together a consistent order both on the field and in the batters’ box. Some pieces of this amended puzzle proved moot, and have been cut away from this team either for good, or onto the Triple-A Durham Bulls roster. Farmhands Stephen Vogt and Chris Gimenez tried to show down home production, but both faltered and again found themselves again staring at the Green Monster in Durham wondering “what if”.

Hitting has been the throne in the Rays side for most of this season as the team will enter today’s contest with a Team Batting Average of .232, which is the lowest average at this point in a season , but then again the 2011 squad entered the All Star break with a .245 average last season and went onto a post season Wild Card bid. And their last 13 games has been especially cruel to the Rays as they have been held to 4 runs or less in 11 of those games, and have hit only .193 with RISP. But hope is shining on the Rays lately as Luke Scott shrugged off his hitting slump demon with two powerful blasts in C-town, and has looked more relaxed and selective in his appearances.

That is a good thing as the Rays Designated Hitter position has looked more like the 9th slot in an National League line-up than an AL powerhouse slot. Scott and Hideki Matsui have not been able to capitalize and make opponents pitchers pay for their mistakes, which is vital for this position. Sure the Rays have been Hit by a Pitch more than anyone else in the AL (36 times), but going into today contest, the Rays are tied with Baltimore for the most K’s (679) in the American League. Possibly with Scott again finding a groove he likes, the Rays DH spot again can bring some amount of fear and power heading into the final months of the season.

Defense has been so bad early on for the Rays they currently have 71 errors with a few innings to play in today’s contest. To put this into perspective, the Rays have had 19 multi error games including today’s game and seen 22 flaws coming out of Longo-land (3B), 14 out of the 6-slot, and 11 from the pivot (2B). For this team to again climb back into the Wild Card race and have any shot of catching division leading New York Yankees, this team has to hone their throwing and again look like a impervious defensive stalwart. This is not to say this team has to be flawless, but they need to be calculated mistakes that can be erased possibly with double plays or sneaky pick-off moves, not be free run scoring opportunities for their opposition.

One part of the Rays equation though has been up to the challenge and has consistently shown they have the field players backs, even if the bats did not respond in kind. The Rays Team ERA of 3.72 (3rd best mark in club history at the break) combined with a club record 676 strikeout heading into the All Star break has been the foundation for many of the Rays 1st half victories. David Price shared the best record in the AL (11-4) and combined with Rays greybeard James Shields, they have sent 214 hitters back to the dugout via the K so far this season. Matt Moore has found his rhythm again, Hellboy is ready to wreck havoc and Cobb is primed to prove he belongs here even after SP Jeff Niemann heals.

We saw another piece of the Rays pitching future come into the spotlight and perform as Rays prospect Chris Archer became the first non-Rays raised farmhand to take the hill as a starter in the long, long time. Archer showed just how valuable he will be for this team in the coming seasons, and Alex Cobb only cemented his reputation not only at this level, but as a solid MLB pitcher.

Expectation were high in April, but even with this fall from grace the last few months, the Rays are in prime real estate to again fight to the last game for another chance to play into October. Even with all the Rays perils, they are only a few well placed wins away from the top Wild Card slot, and with the momentum of their recent win in their old nemesis Cleveland, the Rays should be pumped to against strap on the uniforms this Friday when rival Boston invade the Trop.

I’m going to take a page from Rays Manager Joe Maddon mantra book and forget this first half in 30 minutes as soon as the Rays exit the turf at Progressive field and become excited and enamored with the second half and all its possibilities. This Rays team is one that is built for the long haul. With Longoria set to possibly still be out to mid to late August, and Matt Joyce possibly missing the 10-game home stand to start the second half, again faith, a slice of good luck and possibly a few bats finding the ball could help this team until their offensive brethren again don the Rays sunburst.

30 minutes has since elapsed since my first written word, time to forget the first half and stand ready, willing and able to help this team push a few squads out of their way in the second half of the season….or die trying.

 

Could Rodney’s Arrow Pierce the All Star Game Sky?

I think it is kind of apropos that Tampa Bay Rays President Emeritus of the Rays Archery Club (RAC) Bullseye buster Fernando Rodney can possibly get his moment in the moonlight this Tuesday night and get a gladiator’s chance to make a difference in the 2012 All Star Game in Kansas City, Missouri.

Who knows, with any luck and the right stars aligning for both Rodney and fellow hurler David Price, the Rays duo might have the chance to possibly throw the first and last pitches of that celebrated game. The announced starters for the game will probably not be revealed until later this weekend, but you got to think AL Manager Ron Washington might be leaning a tad towards a southpaw starting it all off.

Even sweeter for Rodney is that pure fact he got the nod for his first All Star chance via the American League player’s ballots, so we know his AL peers not only applaud his 2012 accomplishments, they are hoping some of that bowmen’s magic hones in on the strike zone with Rodney possibly having a stellar late inning chance to bring an All Star victory and World Series Home advantage to the American League.

How amazing is it that for the 3rd consecutive season the Rays will send at least 2 hurlers to the All Star game. 2012 also marks only the second time a Rays starter and reliever have both made the same All Star team. The first time a Rays starter and closer donned All Star garb was back in 2010 during Price’s first All Star gig when he was joined by Rays closer Rafael Soriano. In all, the Rays have now sent 5 different relief pitchers to the All Star game, but Rodney might have a chance to finally have a Rays reliever be the last man standing on the hill. Sure Scott Kazmir made a relief All Star appearance, but it was out of necessity not an ordained relief effort.

How great a comeback or revitalization story will it make for the networks covering this global event that baseball gurus and pseudo-GM’s around the MLB basically all threw clumps of dirt on Rodney’s chance this season after an abysmal 2011 season in Halo-land where he posted a 3-5 record with a 4.50 ERA and just a handful (3) of saves. More than a few MLB scouts possibly thought the Rays needed an intervention taking on a guy like Rodney who only threw 32 inconsistent innings in 2011, and chalked up only 26 strikeouts. You have to honestly have to hold up a votive candle to the Rays front office again going to the dark passages, taking a chance on an aging veteran who responded by posting some Lazarus type number, showing not only resurrection of their careers, but high points in the process.

The Rays could have bypassed Rodney based solely on his inflated ERA, but the Rays saw something within him, a fire that still churned and burned and let Rodney loose to again dominate and dictate the game ending. Rodney only responded by posting 24 saves, and has a chance to eclipse the Rays pre-All Star saves record if he can get two chances in these last 4 pre-All Star break games against the Indians. Want to see how much Rodney has personally turned his game around in 2012? In 2011, Rodney entered 39 game total for the season. Going into the Thursday night contest in Cleveland, Rodney has already taken/finished 35 games for the Rays while keeping a sub 1.0 ERA ( 0.96 ERA).

Going into this point in the MLB season, only 6 other pitchers in MLB history have boasted or matched Rodney’s 2012 totals. Rodney might have to extend invitations to fellow and past relievers JJ Putz (Seattle, 2007), Jonathan Papelbon (Boston,2006), Mariano Rivera (N Y Yankees, 2004), Dan Kolb (Milwaukee, 2004), John Smoltz (Atlanta, 2003), Rob Nen (San Francisco, 1998) and Dennis Eckersley (Oakland 1980). Impressive bunch to be associated with, wonder if Rodney will pass along free memberships into the Rays Archery Club for each of them.

To further put the remarkable change of Rodney into more prospective, he has a chance to be the 8th pitcher in 8 seasons to lead the Rays in saves. Among the other Rays closers’ who have led the team in saves prior to Rodney, the list features 2 former All Stars, Soriano and Danys Baez who represented the Rays in the 2005 All Star game in Detroit. Rodney will also be the oldest first time Rays All Star at 35 years young.

Rodney has done the almost impossible by taking his career 4.9 BB/9 IP and 1.69 SO/BB ratio and turning it on its head by posting a 1.19 BB/9 IP rate and 7.6 SO/BB ration this year. Even when opposing hitter are ahead of the count against Rodney, they are hitting only .111 against him. I want to throw one more remarkable number at you in regards to Rodney. He has only allowed 1 Earned Run at Tropicana Field all season, and has an ungodly 0.40 ERA on his home turf. Even more exciting, Rodney has thrown his change-up 158 times so far with 113 strikes and opponents have swung at it 83 times and missed on 39 (46.9 % swing-and-miss ratio.

If there was ever a Rays reliever who not only could but should get his moment to let his sunburst shine and possibly bring an All Star victory to the American League, it’s Rodney.

How exciting will it be not only for the Rays Republic, but for all baseball fans if they can get a chance to see the magic of Rodney as he closes out a win, then ceremonially bring the bow-string back on his celestial bow and send an arrow skyward.

For me it is thrilling to see a rebirth of an MLB veteran like Rodney as he weave his way into the team’s fabric, posting stellar numbers that dwarf his prior MLB stats and provide a catalyst moment like his post game long bowing. Hopefully Tuesday night not only will Rodney “Shoot the Moon”, he will get the chance of a lifetime in front of millions of new admirers (and future RAC members).

All-Star Game Needs Some “Hambone”

As we get down into the final frames of the American League All-Star Game Final Vote, I want to thrust in my 2 cents worth for a guy who I think has paid his dues, and should get a chance to throw the rock in Kansas City next week. Sure I might a bit of bias since he did adorn the Rays colors for a spell in his career, but Jason Aaron (not for Hank) Hammel who stands 6 foot 6 inches definitely has had a season that set himself apart.

 Sure a lot of the American League East fans kind of lost touch with “Hambone” after his trade on the last day of competing against fellow tall dude Jeff Niemann (6’8”) for the lone spot still unoccupied in the Rays rotation. Hammel traded the Rays sunburst for the purple and black of the Rockies, going where some pitchers’ ERA go to die. But Hammel, who was out of minor league options at the time and had a total of 28 MLB games in his cap buckled down and turned his pre-trade ERA of 5.90 during his Rays tenure to a more respectable 4.57 ERA in 350+ innings including an advancement of 7.5 wins above replacement in 2009-2012, more than any starter on the Rays or rockies not named (Ubaldo) Jimenez.

 In the seasons since Hammel left the sunshine of Tampa Bay, he has started 78 contests, posted 25 victories and seen 332 hitters return to the dugout via the K. But it wasn’t until Hammel got himself a bit of a homecoming via a trade to Baltimore this season that he has again shown up on the AL east radar as a prominent hurler for the Orioles. So far in 2012, Hammel boasts a 8-4 record for the O’s along with 16 game started, a complete game, a shutout and 97 strikeouts even before the All-Star break. His 8 victories is top on the Baltimore staff at the writing of this blog, and his 3.43 ERA leads the O’s staff.

 Maybe a bit of insight into Hammel might persuade you to cast a vote for “Hambone”.

 *** Hammel has always been a firm supporter/active member of “Strikeouts For the Troops”, a charity stared by Giants P Barry Zito that donated money to troops overseas with each and every “K” posted during a start. (Got to love a guy who punches out hitters at the plate, and troops get the goods)

 *** Hammel a self-proclaimed artists actually has some of his artwork on himself in the form of a baseball with flames coming off of it with a field in the background. Hammel has also been the artists on several of his former teammates and friend’s ink inspired artwork. (No word on if any of Josh Hamilton’s tats have Hammel markings)

*** During his Freshman and Sophomore years at Treasure Coast (Oregon) Community College, Hammel donned the team mascot, the Chukar Bird during the school basketball seasons. (No wonder he liked Raymond so much. I would run seeing a 6 foot 6 inch Chukar Bird coming towards me) 

*** During his “Rays days”. Hammel, a closet budding Rockstar was beginning lessons on the acoustic guitar. Too bad he got traded, Evan Longoria could use a good guitarist on his Rays clubhouse band. ( No confirmation on if he was Rockies or O’s Clubhouse Rock Band eligible). 

***Hammel is an avid golfer, and was the reigning champion from the Rays 2008 Spring Golf Tourney and never got to adequately defend his title in 2009. (I him hit it off the tee in the Rays 2009 Tourney, the ball screamed all the way down the fairway..saw .I swear.)

*** After baseball, Hammel hopes to again hit the books and get a degree in Graphic Design. He currently has an Associates Degree.  (Good for him!)

 Seriously, I got to know Hammel pretty well during his “Rays days”, and this is the kind of guy who not only deserves this shot, but has the moxey and confidence to bring his game to the next level with this kind of National exposure. To me, that is what the All-Star game is all about, the uncovering of new talent to a nationwide audience who can also begin to watch as a player grows and becomes a solid MLB fixture.

Sure Yu Davish might have a leg-up with all the hype surrounding his signing and exposure early on this season, but Hammel is the real deal, and Hambone is just the kind of pitcher this game needs to spice up the melting pot. So you know where my votes are going…….Hambone as many times as MLB will allow me.

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