We all know that the holiday season’s spirit is centered around the fact of giving and sharing with our fellow-man. No matter your religious affiliation or the exact calendar date to commemorate your joyous celebrations, every team within the MLB wants to bring about a joyous cornucopia of unexpected presents to their faithful fans base, hopefully adding a few well placed good tidings and joy as we are now under 50 days until Pitchers and Catchers officially report to Spring Training.
With all of the recent unwrapping of surprising player signings and a surplus of some tremendous talent that has some MLB rosters bursting at the seams like Santa’s red jacket, a team like the Tampa Bay Rays could very easily come a-caroling in the waning moments of the holiday with bushels of prospects and MLB ready personnel with hopes of possibly adding a few additional player ornaments to their own tree before the blessed holiday season comes to an end.
Whether it be by trade, free agency or even minor league deal with a Spring Invite, this is the perfect time for the Rays to get in the giving mood, and possibly get some glad tidings in return who could be instrumental pieces of the Rays own game plan as they head into the Spring of 2013. With that in mind, I’m going to pop on my Rays Santa elves cap and throw out a few names that I would pen onto my “Wish List” going into the final holiday moments.
We all know the Rays have been eagerly searching and awaiting the perfect additions to their team to the Designated Hitter position, and possibly a right-handed First Baseman who could platoon with newly signed James Looney to provide a bit more stability and flexibility to the Rays past offensive woes. With that in mind, here are a few names I have penned on my own list to Santa Sternberg hoping he will pass these on to his dedicated Master Elf, Andrew Friedman.
I was a bit perplexed the Rays have not entertained a trade towards their expansion brothers the Arizona Diamondbacks in regards to outfielder Jason Kubel. I had Kubel higher on my list of potential targets heading into this time of the season than Justin Upton, especially since Kubel could be brought into the Rays fold with mirror salaries of $ 7.5 million expected over the next 2 seasons.
Sure Kubel played mostly a corner (LF) outfield position in 2012, but he does have ample experience as a Designated Hitter in the American League after his tenure with the Minnesota Twins and his salary is within the Rays general range for DH candidates who can also play an outfield position during the InterLeague schedule. What might make the D-Backs an ample trading partner is the fact the Rays have a few pieces both in experienced MLB infielders and budding pitching prospects who could make this deal happen fast with the recent addition of OF Cody Ross to the Arizona ranks.
The only Grinch factor in Kubel is the fact he is a left-handed bat, but that should not hinder the Rays in trying to acquire a talented bat who knows how to play duo roles for his team.
That is just once possible present the Rays could possibly foster before the 25th day of December, and there are even a few I have penciled in from my second favorite squad, the Seattle Mariners who could also be great additions to the Rays fold. Some say the Rays were unwise to have traded John Jaso to the M’s when they had a few questions as to their catching corps. Jaso is only one of the Three Wise Men aka Emerald City edition I have picked as potential trade offerings the Rays could get for some well-placed sprigs of Frankincense Myrrh and possibly a few Gold shekels.
Along with Jaso I would include 1B/DH Justin Smoak and the aptly named C/DH Jesus Montero who all 3 have become a bit expendable with the recent Seattle addition of 1B/DH Kendrys Morales and return of prodigal favorite Raul Ibanez. This overflow of potential First Baseman and Designated Hitter candidates make any of the 3 possible shining stars for the Rays to pluck out of the night sky possibly for not a lot of the aforementioned spices and metal. Jaso might be a long shot to return, but the possibility of a switch hitting DH/1B like Smoak or even an additional catching option and DH like Montero should have the Rays quickly on the phone inquiring about these 2 Wise choices for their current lineup holes.
With the Rays recent signing of Roberto Hernandez to an incentive laced contract for either starting or relief duty, I feel he might either be a rotation fit or an ample candidate for the Rays now vacant long-relief spot with the trade of the team’s 2012 incumbent Wade Davis to the Royals. Even with the Rays young stable of budding relievers at the Triple-A level, it might be a prudent move to acquire or sign an experienced relief pitcher until the Rays youngsters show they are up to the task.
Right now with the duo of Kameron Loe, Jon Rauch and Jason Frasor all still out in the cold as free agents, possibly could come at a low-cost for the Rays as well as add some extra veteran experience and ability to the Rays Bullpen as right-handed relief options. With the Rays overflowing with leftie options with Jake McGee, Cesar Ramos and possibly Alex Torres, the left side of the relief corps might have stability for at least the next few years (barring injury).
Loe would be the younger relief candidate at 31, with Rauch (34) and Frasor (35) and both having previous closer experience that sometimes is vital for a team to overcome even the slightest of late inning setbacks in the American League East. And wouldn’t it be wild if the Rays signed Rauch and added Jeff Niemann as their long reliever. The team could have the “Twins Towers of Terror” with each rising above the 6 foot 9 inches.
But that is what is great about the holiday season, some times you get completely surprised, and other times you can find just what you need under the tree to fulfill your dreams and needs. These are just a few of the viable options still out there or being put up on display as we begin the final push of the holiday season. My only real question now is are the Rays still seeking the right gifts, and are these teams brimming with overflowing roster in the holiday mood to give more than they receive?
I remember back in the Fall of 1987, I had a brief thought about becoming a baseball scout. I wanted to be on the amateur side of the scouting fence, possibly being the guy to pluck a unforeseen gem out of the treks through the back roads of my assigned region, getting that grand and ultimate joy of watching as a player I signed and watched finally got the chance to toe the rubber or scratched his spot in an MLB Batter’s Box for the first time.
I dreamed back than of possibly finding a rare player like former Tampa Bay Rays RP Travis Phelps who was drafted in the 89th Round of the 1999 MLB Draft and made his journey from unknown to making his MLB Bullpen debut back on April 19, 2001 against the Boston Red Sox and throwing 2 scoreless innings to begin your MLB career . Phelps will forever be a trivia question in bars and baseball contests as the lowest drafted player ever to make it to the MLB ranks. But what a exhilarating thing it must have been for the then D-Rays scout sitting in the stands at obscure Crowder College in Neosho, Missouri and possibly hearing the sound that made you know Phelps had the stuff to be in the big leagues.
The event that brought me again back to daydreaming and wondering if I should of gone down that path was watching my copy of the film, “Trouble With the Curve”. Sure the movie might have done more romancing of the position than is its stark reality, but who in their right mind wouldn’t love the chance to find a future MLB guy possibly playing unseen in a clay field with only a few pairs of eyes gathering his potential, then watching him ascend someday to playing on a MLB diamond.
Sure scouting is a lot harder than waking up a little later in the day, watching potentially hundreds of baseball games, tackling mountains of written reports, data and on-line statistics that swirl the mind in hundreds of directions until those faithful last moments each June that concludes with the annual MLB Draft. Who would want to stretch their baseball evaluation skills to the limit and place all your chips, possibly going ultimately with your gut instincts to decipher and begin the journey towards someone’s life dream.
I truly wanted to hit the trail of becoming a scout hard back in 1987 with a suitcase, duffel bag of equipment and possibly a Juggs gun and begin my education and potential trek to finding my own baseball treasure. I was anxious to begin my own scouting paper trail and take that untampered guttural instinct that is fundamental to the life’s blood of a amateur scout while seeking out talent anywhere and everywhere. I was truly anxious and excited for the adventure of hitting multiple high school or college baseball games and smell that pine tar and see the faces of kids and young adults just starting get a true whiff of their budding potential and chasing their ultimate dream of playing round ball professionally.
I had that dream of possibly sending in a scouting report of a player like Phelps who might have fell off the MLB radar, or played in such a obscure diamond who’s potential was limitless with the right training and guidance. I wanted to get that phone call advising me to change someone’s life by having them sign on the dotted line, potentially changing their life path.
I wanted to be able to sit in the bleached wood stands or under the aluminum overhang of a small ballpark and pick apart a player’s game from hitting, throwing, or any of the other 3 skills most people associate with greatness on the clay and grass fields of the major leagues, plus dig in and see if they also had the courage, determination and confidence to survive the farm system trail on their way to pulling on that MLB jersey. I wanted to see firsthand if they had the tools to handle defeat, pressure and were open-minded and personable with a team aspect fundamental in their baseball makeup.
I wanted to be that guy in the trenches, not an advance scout or a professional level scout who checked in and evaluated talent already plucked and cleaned off by others. I wanted to be like the aging Gus Lobel in “Trouble With the Curve” who could hear the potential of greatness in the crack of the bat, or the solid and resounding thump of a pitch hitting the glove. Maybe I dreamed of potentially changing someone’s life path by seeing beyond the reality of their present family situations and show them another path and chance to provide and bring a positive outcome to their lives.
I really wanted at that time in my life to find a raw talent like Phelps who would one day become a significant piece of my team’s puzzle ascending through the farm system until he finally reached “the Show”. I had the budding aspiration back then of wanting to finding that player who just lite you up inside because of their potential and heart for the game on the deepest level.
It would have been grand to pursue such a task, with the risks and potential for failure being higher than the distant pleasures of potential success. I still wish I had done it because I know I had the internal fortitude and want to be successful. I wasn’t afraid of the hard life and sacrifices that accompanied this line of work. Instead I put my dream of pursuing a scouting career to bed in October 1987 after a phone call.
Maybe being a scout was not in my life’s grand plan, but I do give myself the chance to day dream about scouting as I watch the film wondering if I could of found that special player and then watch as he made his MLB debut. In that I envy the film life of Lobel, but also cherish the decision I made to stay within the embrace of the game as a fan…or maybe a lifetime “scout-in-training”.
Depending on where you might live on this big blue marble, the number “12” might have a completely different meaning. Most people who take the easy road and say it is a unit of measure, with 12 doughnuts or other items making a dozen. Other would probably be starting to feel the coolness of the approaching holiday season and immediately start humming the “12 Days of Christmas”. In Tampa Bay, if you are a member of the Rays Republic, 12-12-12 can only mean one thing……3 times the Boggs.
Wade Anthony Boggs is a hometown Tampa Bay product who did his thing in Boston, New York before finally coming home and being a part of the first rendering of the Tampa Bay franchise. Currently over right-center outfield seats on the blue back wall of Tropicana Field sit the number “12” emblazoned on that wall to commemorate the only Rays player ever to see his jersey number retired from the Rays uniform ranks.
One section over and below his enshrined uniform number are the two yellow colored seats in the outfield that also mark the Rays first franchise HR hit by Boggs in the bottom of the 6th inning during the then DevilRays inaugural game on March 31, 1998. A second seat just a few rows up is also where is 3,000th hit, a Home Run landed putting him squarely in the record books at the time as 1 of only 2 MLB player ever to see his 3,000 hit ascend into the crowd for a round-tripper (NYY Derek Jeter did it also for his 3,000th on 6/9/2009).
Sure Boggs may have only played 2 seasons (1/9th of his career) in the Rays uniform and retired after a knee injury in 1999, before pulling on the Rays uniform one last season as their Hitting Coach. Most would view the Rays deciding to retire his number being based more on his past accolades than his Rays tenure, but here was a guy who played at Tampa Plant HS (1976 grad), and still lives in the Tampa Palms section of Tampa, Florida who gave an early generation of young baseball fans someone to idolize and admire as much for his past as his game preparation.
In the spirit of 12-12-12, maybe I should post 12 interesting facts about Boggs you might not have known:
1) Boggs actually played in the longest game in professional baseball history back with the Red Sox Triple-A squad Pawtucket in 1981 that lasted 33 innings and over 8 hours and 25 minutes. Cal Ripken Jr then a SS for the Rochester Red Wings and another Baseball Hall of Fame member also played in this endurance contest.
2) Boggs ranked 95th in 1999 in The Sporting News list of 100 Greatest Baseball Players and was a nominee for the Major League Baseball All Century Team.
3) Did you know Boggs was 121 plate appearances short of the required 502 at bats needed to possibly secure a 1982 American League Batting title during his rookie season ( hit.349). Boggs made sure to secure his first title the following season (1983).
4) Did you know Boggs was a member of the 1986 Red Sox squad that saw their World Series title hopes trickle down towards left field against the New York Mets. Boggs did get redemption in 1996 as a member of the New York Yankees when they hoisted their first World Series title in 18 years.
5) Everyone remembers Boggs jumping on the back of that NYPD mounted police saddle after Game 6 of that series, and strolling around the Yankee Stadium turf proclaiming who was #1 while on horseback, but did you know Boggs was weary of horses before his famous jaunt.
6) Boggs also had a pretty good knuckleball that he used 15 times (plus 1 fastball) in shutout inning back in a 1997 game against the Anaheim Angels when he wore pinstripes.
7) Boggs was voted the 5th Most Superstitious Athletes by Men’s Fitness magazine.
8) Boggs once owned a fish camp called “Finway” up off 301 South in Hawthorne, Florida
9) Boggs would take the same route into the dugout basically running from Third to Home Plate and the end of every defensive inning. Boggs drew the Hebrew word “Chai” meaning “life” into the batter’s box before each at bat, which was interesting since Boggs was not Jewish.
10)Every day Boggs took 117 ground balls, took BP at exactly 5:17, and ran pre-game sprints at 7:17. Boggs during his Rays career used to tap his bat head on the shin of his son Brett who was a Rays Bat Boy at the time.
11)Boggs once ventured into the WWF where he did a vignette with WWE icon Mr. Perfect in which Mr. Perfect played baseball. He remained friends with the wrestler and in 2007 Boggs inducted the late Mr. Perfect into the WWE Hall of Fame. Boggs recounted a hunting accident once with Perfect when he carried Boggs after he cut his leg badly on some barbed wire.
12) Everyone knows Boggs did a guest appearance in the “Bar Wars” episode of Cheers where he was sent by a rival bar as an apology, but the Cheers regulars thought he was a fake Boggs. He also appeared in a 2011 episode of Psych entitled “Dead Man’s Cruveball”.
Wade Boggs might not have amassed a long and storied career as a Ray, but he is still and will always be the only man who will have ever won the team’s # 12 jersey. Bogg’s played for 3 different teams during his 18 season career each time sporting his trademark number. If you put them all together doesn’t it spell out 12-12-12?
I kind of expected the starting pitching market to go ballistic after that certain right-hander who hates Tropicana Field became the newest millionaire in Tinseltown. What kind of got me scratching my head a bit was the Kansas City Royals were willing to trade uber prospect and 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Wil Meyer straight up for Rays SP James Shields, but the Rays shuddered and turn that deal down without hesitation.
Starting to see a weird pattern forming for the Rays that they seem to finalize their deals right before the “Witching Hour”. Sure it has only been two times recently, but patterns seem to start that way. In the end the deal actually benefits both teams, one immediately and the other with possibly one piece playing a role in 2013, and a few others possibly a bit down the road. Sure the Royals got two definite pieces that could be immediately popped into their 2013 rotation in Shields and Wade Davis, and depending on who is the invisible “Player to be Named Later” who will come from the Rays current 40-man roster, they could get an additional piece to their 2013 25-man Opening Day roster.
We all knew this was coming, Shields has been as hot a commodity as any pitcher with his 2 years with a Club Option before he hits the Free Agent market for the first time in his career. This cleared a huge chunk of change for the Rays, possibly to be used to find a top-tier DH or right-handed First Baseman. Without knowing the identity of the PTBNL at this moment, the Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman got a nice holiday nest egg of around $13+ million dollars to possibly entice and persuade a power addition to the team’s roster before Spring Training. Shields even tossed out as nice little nugget that he would be willing to look into a contract extension possibly giving the Royals some additional years of “Big Game” on the hill for the Royals.
I currently do not understand how some of the Royals fans come to the conclusion the KC squad got the raw end of this deal. Sure they will have to pony up that $13 million, but they got two key components who can anchor spots in their rotation for 2 seasons as their own youngsters get more experience and training at the minor league level without subjecting them to the rigors and fast learning curve of MLB life.
I personal feeling is the PTBNL is going to either come from the Rays over stacked catching or infield slot currently on their 40-man roster. If I had to make an educated guess as to who this might be, I’m picking SS Reid Brignac who will be out of minor league option after the Spring of 2013, and with the added depth on the Rays roster of recent trade pick-up SS Yunel Escobar, the addition of veteran INF Mike Fontenot, Sean Rodriguez and the potential tag-team 2B duo of Ryan Roberts and Ben Zobrist, Reid seems to be the current odd-man out even with a banging Spring.
The citizen of Royals-ville forget this trade actually make a few clever openings in the Rays rotation that could be filled from the pool of players like veteran Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb and possibly Chris Archer. It instantly rids the Rays of two starters and possibly an extra body in either the overcrowded catching corps or middle infield. This by itself is a clear “win-win” for the Rays front office to send two players with “team friendly” contracts to another team and clear a huge amount of payroll that can be allocated for current huge holes in the Rays offensive machine.
And do not forget the Rays got Baseball America’s 2012 Minor League Player of the Year OF Wil Meyers who turns 22 today (12/10). How soon we forget about former Rays who won this award like Carl Crawford (1999) or Rocco Baldelli (2000) who made quite a good impression at the MLB level for the Rays. Another tempting nugget to chew on is the fact Meyers is now the first player ever to win the Minor League Player of the Year award and was traded before he even made his MLB debut with his old squad.
Getting a player like Meyer who is still developing was a huge thing for the Rays as their yearly payroll stifles their creative juices to the point they have to make trades like this to get viable and young talent under their control for years to come. Now I hope Rays fans do not get too anxious and think Meyers will start the season with the Rays. Reality is the team will possibly use some of their farm system pieces with minor league options to fill in until the team can bring up Meyers without having to award him a year of MLB service time. Still, if injuries in the outfield hit the Rays early, Meyers could be in the Trop by late May, early June at the earliest.
Sure the addition of prospect hurlers RHP Jake Odorizzi (has the stuff to possibly make the team as a temporary RP), LHP Mike Montgomery and 3B Patrick Leonard gives the Rays some needed replacements and added personnel within the farm system who one day could be playing in St. Petersburg,Florida alongside Meyers. This trade not only has the potential to help the Rays possibly as soon as 2013 with Meyers, but it gives the franchise some credible arms to work in the upper echelon of the Rays farm system and get better before their own MLB debuts possibly in 2014-2015.
Sure the subtraction of Davis means the Rays will have to find a long-inning specialist, but that could easily be the pitcher who loses out on the Rays fifth rotation slot, but it could also be someone like LHP Alex Torres, RHP Dane Del La Rosa or possibly even Southpaw Jake McGee.
The trade opens a widening world of possibilities to the formulation of the Rays 2013 25-man roster. The subtraction of Shields and Davis will be sorely missed, but it also give some of the Rays young arms a chance to rise to the occasion, just like Shields did when he shocked the Rays staff when he made his debut and got a no-decision against the Baltimore Orioles on May 31, 2006.
Because both these teams are on the bottom end of the fiscal reality of baseball, these kinds of trades are the lifeblood of the organizations.
Taking high dollar veterans and turning them for prospects or players who could play at the MLB level is the way they can stay competitive and right up there with the AL high spenders. In the end, this trade had wins posted on both sides of the leader board.
The Rays got to shuffle off two experienced pitchers and another piece to be added to the Royals side of the equation soon (PTBNL) who should can help the Royals immediately, while the Rays got a few future pieces of their pitching puzzle and a player who could shine for them for the next 6-odd seasons in their outfield mix. No matter how you slice it, both sides should be commended on this deal that helped both clubs immediately both in personnel and the financial realm…..Sorry, but to me that is a classic “win-win” for both front offices.
The Tampa Bay Rays starting pitching situation is beginning to emulate the spinning of a casino Roulette wheel. Sure it is a gamble on both ends of this spectrum, but the Rays have the advantage here as the spinning of the wheel with any of their MLB or even minor league hurlers’ names anointed on the spinning circle could bring them rewards, financial stability or provide an end to a future problem scenario.
And right now the Rays have more than a few suitors watching the spinning wheel wondering if their trade wagers either catch the Rays attention or if they only get a fleeting glance as the team takes in all of the MLB barters trying to find the one that brings the team the personnel windfall this franchise will need in 2013 or beyond to be competitive. As the dizzying wheel keeps gaining momentum and speed, you have to wonder if there are members of the MLB’s brass who will throw down the right coinage on the Rays felt and come away with a treasured piece, or go away empty-handed, wondering if they short-changed their opportunity to gain pitching riches.
I hate to tell everyone around the Rays Republic, but that always present fear of having a huge threshold of starting pitching talent and no where to put them is firmly on display on the Rays gaming table, but do not fret, just like Las Vegas, the Rays front office has the odds in their favor. Now is the time of the off season where we will truly see if anyone in the MLB is anxious to throw down a few much needed trinkets or prospects to entice a deal with the Rays and take a prized piece from the team;s staring pitching coffers.
This is the reality of the combined effort of the Rays over recent years of stockpiling such starting talent that one day the noise would be deafening as these hurlers begin to pound on and finally break through the Rays farm system ceiling on their journey to the major league level. Also at this time comes the stark realization and ramifications of the Rays current starters hitting their groove at the highest level and other MLB teams seeing that maturity and seeing their future potential rise even higher as their fiscal presence begins to put strain on the Rays fabric, almost to the point of breaking.
I truly think we will see one, and possibly two pieces of the Rays starting staff traded before the end of July 2013 Trade deadline. This would be beneficial to the Rays by releasing some of that vented pressure both financially and physically so another cog of the Rays expanding pitching machine can take their place at the MLB level. But this current epidemic is this is not a 1-year situation in the release of a bit of this compounded pressure.
Over the next 3-4 seasons we could see an additional 2 or 3 more Rays starters possibly exhaled from the Rays balloon, finally bringing about a bit more room within the organization for the next generation of Rays pitchers to find their own grooves and one day be the focal points of another Rays purge as they block the way for another wave of Rays prospects on their trail of MLB glory possibly by 2017-2018.
On the expanded roulette wheel right now there are at least 3 current Rays names on the tips of MLB tongues that could find themselves wearing a different teams garb sooner than they realize. James Shields might be the guy everyone is pointing to right now, but Jeremy Hellickson and David Price also have to feel a bit of extra pressure and uncertainty as the financial reality comes over the horizon they are either too expensive to sign to extensions, or their management teams will be uber difficult to perform such an endeavor.
Shields right now is at his pitching zenith, possessing the tools and talent needed to push a team higher in the win column while also having at least 2 years of contract (Club options) stability. Hellickson, who has a rising resume that includes a 2011 AL Rookie of the Year award and a recent co-recipient of an AL Gold Glove is quickly approaching his arbitration years, and with an agent (Scott Boras) who detests team friendly contract extensions, Hellboy finds his own name on the lips of MLB suitors. But there is also a golden delight also on the table, but will cost someone dearly to wander into the gambling arena for his services.
After winning the 2012 AL Cy Young Award, Price possibly sealed his fate with the Rays not based on the fact he will not sign an extension, but his proposed $9.5 million arbitration figure for 2013 already is pushing at the Rays top financial ceiling with another arbitration venture on the horizon following the 2013 season that could possibly push his 1-year salary towards a mark of $11 million plus. But he is the “golden Goose”, who will be pried from the Rays only for some of the best talent, possibly bringing in a unimaginable player bounty to further build upon the Rays player foundation.
Sure you could also include the “Silent Assassins”, also known as Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis into this scenario with no problems, but I think the Rays can use both of them in relief or even fill-in roles over the next 2 seasons, but their own futures might have some unscripted conclusions especially around the Trade Deadline as the Rays look to add or subtract bodies for a post season scramble. Seems odd that a team would even think of jettisoning pitching talent, especially talent of Shields, Price and Hellboy’s caliber, but sometimes it is just time to cut ties, find additional solutions, or just conclude the end is finally here for their Rays stay.
As a betting man, I see Hellickson and Shields having the most MLB eyes gazing upon them at this moment, but just as easily if the right pieces get thrust into the eyesight of the Rays, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer or even Matt Moore could also find themselves armed with new contact numbers, plane tickets and be jettisoned towards another locale. That is the true reality here, even if these guys are paramount to the Rays rise in the coming MLB seasons, their Rays existence can never be completely balanced on the Rays always swaying teeter-todder as priorities change almost as quickly.
Rays starters name will be whispered and talked aloud by other MLB General Managers over the coming weeks with some extending offers, trade scenarios and possibly giving the Rays front office cause to pull the trigger and send one or possibly 2 starters away by the opening of the major league camp in February. As the Rays again begin another journey of that shiny steel ball into the wooden circular wheel the Rays are betting heavily on the fact a few MLB spenders with deep prospect and talent pockets will belly up to the Rays ever-spinning roulette wheel hoping to come away as winners.
Wonder which one of the Rays pitcher’s jersey numbers will have the highest stack of coins?
He was a Tampa Bay Rays player I truly thought had figured out his role and was about to ascend into stardom. Posting positive seasonal marks over the last 2 years, I felt he had approached the point of becoming more than Sean Rodriguez, he would be anointed with the nickname S-Rod, for he seemed to have everything going for him heading into the Rays 2012 season.
But even with the joyous noise of the Rays and Rodriguez today avoiding the arbitration process by agreeing on a 2013 salary of $1 million, the million dollar question still stands as to if S-Rod will be with the team on April 2,2013 when the Rays have their official Opening Day at Tropicana Field against the Baltimore Orioles. Will Rodriguez again prove himself in the Spring, or will he somehow again find holes in his bat and watch his field play dissolve into missed opportunities that could send him again into the Triple-A penalty box, possibly bringing a unfortunate end to his Rays fairy tale existence.
I mean I for one did not, could not of seen the debacle that was Rodriguez’s 2012 season coming because ever since his arrival he has shaken off injuries, sting ray barbs and slumps before without any downward spiral to his career. Ever since his arrival into the Rays system as a player to be named later in the Scott Kazmir deal, Rodriguez had seen his talents and abilities rise like a Tampa Bay high tide. Adapting to every position the team penciled his name into from 3rd option catcher to outfielder and finally a significant cog in the Rays infield alignment.
The Rays 2012 season was suppose to be Rodriguez’s MLB coming out party with him entrenched as the Rays Opening Day shortstop with plenty of rainbows and pixey dust on the horizon finally for him. But as quickly as he could pick up a grounder and underhanded it for the start of a routine double play, Rodriguez saw his season take on more twists and turns than an episode of “American Horror Story”. Who in their right mind could have seen or predicted the beginning of the slippery slope that Rodriguez had to endure in 2012 with finally accumulated with him spending time at Triple-A Durham.
But Rodriguez has always seemed to have a lucky star, a brightness to him that seemed to take his troubles and whisk them away with ease, but 2012 definitely brought about numerous questions, and a shortness on possible answers as to if he would again reign supreme at the major league level. Still through all this tossing and turning of fortunes throughout the 2012 Rays season, Rodriguez somehow remained “rubberized” and bounced back from his demotion and subsequent fight with a locker in Durham to again grace a Rays jersey in September when the Rays roster expanded.
Who would of guessed the same guy who appeared in 112 games (87 starts) for the Rays have to endure such hills and valley throughout the season. I mean this is the same guy who hit .248 over his first 42 games in 2012, then went into a unforeseen tailspin that saw him hit .185 in his 70 games after May 22nd. Was this the same guy who was a huge catalyst when Evan Longoria went down by pushing out a .300 average with 3 HR and 9 RBI over his first 22 games in May, including 11 starts at Longo’s Third Base slot.
Maybe the pressure and added momentum to be “the guy” during the injury absence of Longoria stifled Rodriguez a bit, but who would of guessed that from May 23rd to August 7th when Longoria returned, Rodriguez would be mired only hitting .164 with 35 K’s in 53 contests. When Longo returned to the Rays lineup, Rodriguez had a short period where he hit .300 from August 7-20th, but it was too little too late and he found himself optioned to Durham when the Rays activated DH Luke Scott from the 15-Day DL.
You would have thought Rodriguez would dig deep into himself and bring out a thirst and hunger to get back to the MLB level ASAP, but after playing in only 2 games for the Bulls, Rodriguez and a Durham locker had some issues. Rodriguez only went 3-6 with a HR and 2 doubles in his short stint with the Bulls, and when rosters expanded, he was immediately put on the 15-day DL and appeared in only 6 games over the rest of the Rays 2012 campaign. Rodriguez had somehow during his 2012 season struggles lost his luster against southpaw hitters as he watched his career .260 average against left-hander produce a 2012 total of only .228 with no homers.
But Rodriguez’s 2012 struggles did not only happen at the plate, for the first time in his career, Rodriguez committed 2 errors in 2 consecutive games (Sept 17-18th) after his reinstatement from the disabled list becoming the first AL player with multiple errors in consecutive games since Detroit Tiger Carlos Guillen back in 2006. Even the thrill of his 10-game hitting streak from May 2-12th could not dilute the pure fact question marks were beginning to surround Rodriguez and his tenure with the Rays.
So I guess the true million dollar question is not if 2012 is going to be an isolated event or the beginning of a trend, but more if the usual up-beat and positive personality and mindset of Rodriguez will return this Spring making him again someone to watch closely in those pivotal Spring games as he again solidify s his Rays foothold on the Port Charlotte, Florida clay infield. If Spring 2012 is an indicator, Rodriguez will again try to lay claim to an infield spot, possibly making the Rays again think long and hard about their shortstop position.
Right now there are meandering questions surrounding Rodriguez and his upcoming plans in Spring 2013 of turning his 2012 negatives into immediate positives and shine again in any and every capacity for the team. With his salary now out of the way, it could also clear the way for the team to possibly use him as filler for a trade, or if the Rays front office still has high hopes and knows his 2012 was a unfortunate blip on his career radar, Rodriguez should again climb out of this hole and be better for the adventure.
Seriously, if Rodriguez again shows not only the fans, but his teammates and the team’s front office his head and heart are again aligned perfectly with “the Rays Way”, the all the proverbial mini-Raymonds will somehow again line up in a row on the chalk lines as Rodriguez again shows his renewed vigor, vitality, brilliance and resilience that could erase every one of those current swirling million question marks surrounding him and his Rays future.
I am hearing some pretty sweet music from friends who follow the Los Angeles Dodgers on the Tampa Bay Rays recent signing of veteran James Loney. Some have proclaimed Loney a shining MLB gem that gathered some unusual dust, rust and lost a bit of his luster in 2012, but easily could easily show up to Port Charlotte, Florida this February polished, glimmering and shining like a diamond in the rough for the Rays.
Immediately some will see the signing of Loney as a logistical offensive and defensive addition in the ever-changing Rays roster fabric. I mean the guy has maintained a career .282 average and is just 105 hits from the “1,000 hit” plateau, but this signing has as much to do with on-the-field Rays movements as it does up the tunnel and behind those double clubhouse white doors. Loney is a leader, and that should take some of the command burden off the shoulders of Evan Longoria, James Shields and David Price. I am one of those who firmly believes you can never have too many positive vibes flowing in a clubhouse
We all know without reservation that Loney brings with him a nifty glove (career .944 Fielding Percentage), an immediate improvement to the Rays anemic offense situation (108 hits in 2013 between Boston and LA), but his energetic aura will help most in filling the void left when certain members did not return to the Rays. With Carlos Pena and B J Upton gone, the team had a void in their team leadership, and Loney definitely fills that void to overflowing. I some might forget with all the changes over the last few years with Dodger personnel, Loney has appeared in 752 games since 2008 for the Dodgers which would in retrospect rank Loney in a solid 4th place All-Time for the Rays with Carl Crawford (1,235), BJ Upton (966)and Aubrey Huff (799).
Loney does come into St. Petersburg with a lifetime batting average of .282, there is hesitation for me to strike up the bandwagon and greet him with open arms. Some will say Loney might finally be feeling his MLB age as he saw his batting average free fall from healthy .288 in 2011 with some power (12 HR) to an All-Time low in 2012 of .254 in 114 games with the Dodgers before his trade to the Boston Red Sox where Loney produced a .230 average with 2 HR and 8 RBI in the season’s final 30 games. Still, that average is way superior of Carlos Pena’s .197 batting average in 2012.
We have to remember the Rays did not sign the 2008-2010 version of Loney who averaged almost 90 RBI and 12 HR during that trifecta of seasons, this is an aging veteran who has the ability to make this team more cohesive and not be a negative addition to their roster. Loney never developed that huge power stroke most people forecasted in his early seasons, and in Tropicana Field he does find a friendly 322 foot mark down the Right field line that might spark a few extra HRs in 2013.
Hidden deep below those compelling anemic 2012 stats is a few speckles of a glimmering gem that could help the Rays a lot in 2013. Loney hit for a .294/.351/.441 line against right-handed pitching while also grading out as one of MLB’s best defenders at first base over the last 3 seasons. Considering the Rays signed Loney to a 1-year $2 million dollar deal with a chance to amass another $1 million in incentive bonuses, the deal is not a financial killer to the Rays if Loney doesn’t become the needed weapon for the team.
Sometimes MLB players have a “glitch” season during their MLB journey. Let’s hope 2012 was Loney’s only venture away from his usual productive bat and he again proves to have a vacuum cleaner glove down the Rays First Baseline. If Loney does find some of his past luster, the $3 million dollars the Rays invested into Loney could possibly once again produce a “Comeback Player of the Year”, and a few games more into the post season fun. Glimmer on Loney, Glimmer on!
Back in March 2010 the Tampa Bay Rays signed a former Cuban National Team member who I truly felt might be the heir apparent to the Rays 1-bag spot. When Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman inked 1B/OF Leslie Anderson to a 4-year, $ 3.75 million dollar deal, I truly thought the Rays had found an International baseball candidate who had the pedigree to one day man the First Base bag for the Rays. The signing of Anderson came out of nowhere as most people thought the Rays were focused on signing Anderson’s Cuban National team member Jose Julio Ruiz.
Sure back in the Spring of 2011, Anderson came into the Rays farm system fold possibly needing some primping and adjustment to the speed and pace of the American version of baseball with both the minor and major league game, having unique nuances and idiosyncracies. And with the Rays huge and gaping hole at First Base this off-season, I thought we might at least hear Anderson’s name as a possible option, but there has been only silence concerning Anderson.
With Carlos Pena slipping in and out of his slumps in 2012, I thought the Rays would at least entertain a “Anderson sighting” this past September, but instead he finished out his season at the Rays Triple-A team, the Durham Bulls and was done for the season. I’m curious if Anderson is still in the good graces of the Rays, or if for some reason there is another reason for him not even getting a head-nod when the Rays had their opening at First Base this off-season.
I automatically had to tilt my head a bit and wonder if there might be an offensive problem with Anderson that would merit the Rays possibly keeping his name firmly in the darkness. Instead I found Anderson currently sporting a .306 average with Navegantes del Magallanes of the Liga Venezuelian Beisbol Profesional this Winter. Add to this the fact Anderson was selected as an All-Star twice in 2012 while at Durham, both as a mid-season selection and a post-season All-star.
Sure you can say this was 2 seasons after MiLB.com selected Anderson as an Organization All-Star as he spent time with Double-A Montgomery and Durham, but he was also selected as a Arizona Fall League Rising Star back in November 2010. I then had to really scratch my noggin a bit after seeing that Anderson hit .309 during the Bulls 2012 season and showed power (14 HR) and netted 200 bases during the season in 116 while manning the First Base bag for the Bulls.
Seems almost anyone else showing a bit of power along with a nice average above the .300 mark might have at least gotten a longer look this past September possibly manning the 1B bag as Pena was trying to find his groove again. I mean all Anderson did was finished with the 3rd highest average in the International League along with placing 13th in OBP (.355), but 5 of the player ahead of him in this stat are former MLB players.
I had to think possibly Anderson might be a defensive liability since his bat seemed to have some steam on it, but again I was left wondering why this guy has not at least gotten an invite to the Rays MLB camp in any of his previous Springs to at least get a chance to see if he can groove a curveball or defend the line with clarity against a higher caliber of player. Looking at Anderson’s fielding stats for 2012 he had 276 chances in the field and only made ONE error, and that was during 1 of his 50 games playing in the Bull’s outfield.
only spent 50 games at First Base in 2012 for the Bulls, having 184 chances to make an error and kept his record unblemished and also through in 12 assists and 15 double plays for good measures. I think a better example of his defense might be his 5 errors committed in 500 chances in 63 games at First Base in 2011 for the Bulls. Over his short stint in the Rays farm system Anderson has maintained a .989 Fielding Percentage with only 14 career errors, and 7 of those were committed the last 2 seasons.
Not sure what Anderson has to do to make the Rays think he is a logical choice or even a fill-in positional player who can man the First Base bag and possibly also play a corner outfield spot in the major leagues. I am truly hoping when the Rays officially announce their Spring Training Invites, Anderson finally get his chance to turn a few heads and show he could be the answer not only for the Rays 2013 First Base void, but also for 2014.
I mean it is not like the Rays have to make some huge financial investment to give Anderson a chance, he is still under contract and even if the Rays did extend his contract a few seasons, he should be the primary in-house player to fill any void or injury.
I mean by his batting average, we know the guy can hit, and with his stellar defensive numbers maybe it is time for the Rays to give Anderson some rope and see if he can not only impress, but possibly lasso himself a Rays roster spot this Spring. I think he has not only paid his minor league dues, but has shown he has the talent, ability and talents needed to man the First Base bag for this team.
People in Tampa Bay are going to have to anoint a new scapegoat in the Trop. for 2013 because their old target, BJ Upton train is heading to Hotlanta. We already knew the odds of Upton returning to the Tampa Bay Rays were slimmer than his waist size, but now armed with a 5-year $75 million dollar lunch pail, Upton will be meandering along with his family up I-75 a tad to the N L east contender.
All that stands in the way of Upton securing his treasure is passing a Brave’s physical exam, but we all know that is a formality as Upton was in the best shape of his career at the end of 2012, and possibly knowing his payday was on the horizon, might have tweaked himself a bit to excite just such a ample and multi-year deal.
It is kind of sad that some will be left with the image of Upton possibly not being a team player, someone who might actually understand the word “lolly gagging”, and lastly that his concentration on game day has been mistaken for indifference. Ask anyone within the confines of the Rays clubhouse and they will tell you how much this guy has matured since the 2007 days when veteran Cliff Floyd mentored the oldest of the MLB Upton clan.
Even before he stepped foot again in the Trop. after his first venture into the majors at 17, people held Upton’s past and associations with others against him, even as far back as his DUI in North Carolina and as a member of the Terrible trio from Durham along with ex-Rays malcontents Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes. I seriously think that he had a black mark against him that so many would not/could not shake off him that he was doomed to be either loved or hated during his Rays tenure.
I do not want this to seem like a conspiracy theory, but it was almost like Upton didn’t have a chance with some fans in St. Pete even though he created “Upton’s Bunch” to help local south side St. Peterburg kids, or that he held his charity events to help organizations. Even after his positive on-field and off-field affirmations, Upton still heard the murmurs and cackles from the fan base about his long stride looking like he was moving at half speed.
Some even had the audacity to mock his Center field play as mediocre when considering Upton was projected as a speedy, well-tooled infielder and offered to test the CF waters as a challenge to his talents, in my opinion Upton nailed the transition, possibly transforming into one of the best Center fielder to ever grace a Rays uniform.
Upton’s game day demeanor also struck a chord with a segment of the Trop. crowd as he would become a bit quieter and sometimes over transfixed on game day that Upton made unthinkable mental errors both in the field and on the base paths with regularity erasing possible scoring opportunities because of him taking his eye off a slick pitcher or a catcher with a rocket arm. Suddenly he was badgered as being aloof on the field when in reality he was too concentrated on the small things and some major mistakes reared their ugly heads.
Upton even gave more fuel to the crowd’s smoldering embers when he would give long glares and a bit of sass to the home Plate Umpires, possibly branding himself with the guys in blue as someone you can get rattled with a borderline call or be caught wide-eyed with his bat on his shoulder with a hard breaking slider. Upton didn’t help himself with his batting swing mechanics and his prolific high strikeout totals every season.
Upton played in 966 Rays contests and leaves St. Petersburg with 8 seasons as a Rays that included 118 HR, 447 RBI, 232 stolen bases, a lifetime .255 average. But the stats so many will remember are his 69 times caught stealing, his 1,020 K’s and a total of 58 errors. Missing from even those facts was the shoulder pains, nagging hamstring and ankle injuries he played through for the sake of his squad. People have loved to downplay his outfield skill level, but out of his 71 career fielding errors, only 24 came when he was stationed in the outfield. Over the past 2 MLB seasons Upton has had back-to-back 3 error seasons proving his skill set has not only improved, but he is a capable Center fielder.
One of the things that personally rattled me coming from the fan base was the fact they all thought Upton was not “in-tune” or a leader in the Rays clubhouse. I guess they all have somehow forgotten Carl Crawford’s tussle with Pat Burrell in the Rays locker room when Burrell questioned Upton’s team commitment. For another player to want to physically as well as verbally stand up for you even in the clubhouse setting shows he had his team’s respect and confidence.
Personally I have known Upton since his first venture into the MLB a long time ago. He was a bit shorter, weighted maybe 160 pounds then soaking wet. Through his 8 seasons with the Rays I have seen him grow taller, confident and show the traits needed to not only be a leader, but also someone who can lead by example. I will miss Upton. Always made sure when I saw him to ask how his Dad and Mom were and he would cock a smile and a head nod.
It has been fun watching Upton mature on the field and off the field as a dad himself. I can sometimes shrug off a player leaving by using and analogy “it is all part of the game”, but with Upton it is different. I think he was wise to refuse the Rays offer of $13.3 million to stay another year. Even though some will say his new vista is just an 8-hour drive up I-75 from his old Trop. home, Upton needed a change of scenery, to re-energize his career and himself. Upton needed to go away to finally be missed…… by all of us.
I wasn’t surprised at the fact the Tampa Bay Rays wanted to get their perennial All-Star candidate Evan Longoria signed for as long as humanly possible. Here is a player who openly wants to be in a Rays uniform until his possible retirement date. That and of itself makes me respect Longo more and more as the years pass.
And the Rays did not have to go about this evolution this season, they could of waited until the Winter of 2014 to possibly go about just this sort of extension, but in it Longoria has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt why he will be here longer than Jeremy Hellickson, Desmond Jennings and even David Price. Longoria is the face of the Rays. He has taken to that mantel since 2008, and every season either you love him or want him to stay longer.
It is kind of amazing that this exceptional Rays financial commitment was made by both parties in an era where your Rays tenure is vastly connected to your upcoming or predicted fiscal numbers. Old # 3 has shown again he can be the defensive master possibly now robbing himself of a few million, but having the solidarity and stability of a possible entire career in one MLB jersey. Sure the timing of this move could have been more towards a future date, but this action fully vests both parties interest in securing a top tier player who is becoming an MLB icon and will be the face of Tampa Bay for many more seasons.
It might seem a bit weird that Longo, who already had a hugely attractive team friendly contract extension he signed not 2 years ago would make such a solid career movement at least until the Rays Club Options were on the horizon. The extension firmly shows where Long’s heart is, and where he wants to play out his career. Even though today’s extension could/will net Longo $136 million through the 2022 MLB slate, this was a personal show by Longoria that he is behind the “Rays Way” and wants to be a keystone of this team yearly battles for the American League East title.
Mixing together the previous extension that still owes Longo about $36 million through 2016, the current contract will net him $100 million from 2017-2022. This deal also negates the Rays Club Options originally on the books for 2014-2016 and might end up being one of the best bargains in baseball if Longoria stays healthy and sees his game mature both on the field and at the plate.
Considering Longoria inked his first Rays extension just 6 contests into his rookie season, the Rays solid defensive and offensive weapon will not see his salary hit the 8-figure mark until 2015 when he will make $11 million and $11.5 million for 2016. The Rays also tagged on a nice Club Option for 2023 just in case Longoria still has his feet underneath him, possibly as a Rays DH at that point in his career. When Longo hit the $11 million mark in 2016, when he will turn 31 on October 7th, about the time of the year the Rays would be trying to get back to the World Series (fingers crossed).
You have to think by that 2022 MLB season Longoria will have secured all or most of the Rays defensive and offensive records, along with the “Graybeard” title that is bestowed upon the longest tenured player in club history. By 2023, Longoria will be around 38 years of age. On paper the contract looks like a no-brainer complete with a signed,sealed and delivered commitment by one of the Rays flagship players. Everyone seems to win in this deal from the Rays front office, to the Rays charity, the Rays Baseball Foundation to kids who are beginning to idolize Longoria for his play and community involvement. This contract looks like a sure fire “win-win” barring anything or anything derailing Longoria.
If all goes according to his plan, Longoria just might get that elusive gift of playing for one team in his entire career. I wish him luck, health and most of all longevity to fulfill that dream. And making some primo bank during the stretch does hurt either. Way to go Longo!