Results tagged ‘ Alex Cobb ’

More Answers than Questions (Thank Goodness) This Rays Offseason


At the precise moment on Friday night as the St. Louis Cardinal’s barrage of champagne corks began their ascent towards the heavens, 29 other Major League Baseball franchises heard only the undeniable audible signal that announced the beginning of their own rebuilding and tweaking process. These MLB clubs did not watch in awe and admiration as Cardinal fans and players took their ceremonial baths in bubbly, that precise moment beckoned each and every club to begin to unveil and move towards their own dreams of celebrating in November, 2012.

As the city’s faithful began their dancing beneath that mighty arch, baseball vistas from Seattle to Miami began their own quests to become the club’s to do that same celebratory display in November, 2012. With the first cork came the realization that the 2011 MLB season is in the books, and 2012 is there for the taking.

This morning as the Sunburns off last night’s celebration haze, the Cardinal faithful are rushing to outlets throughout their city for their World Series title mementos while the rest of the MLB is sprinting to possibly gain a sizable lead in retaining, replacing or reconstructing their squads to have the same experience in 2012. The off season folder have been plucked from their secretive hiding places and already things are in the works both behind the scenes and in plain view. The off season for everyone in Major League Baseball has officially begun.

Here in Tampa Bay, the Rays should have an pretty abbreviated laundry list compared to their 2011 off season “wish list”. Still a few additional key components have to be found, possibly tweaked or invited to re-sign with the young club to give the Rays that same competitive fire and drive that send them from bystanders to Wild Card darlings. Key decisions have to be made about certain rotation members tenures with the team. Certain arbitration-eligible players may find themselves without a team, and a few unexpected free agents might get an Spring Training invite to become a part of the Rays 2012 nucleus.

Already there is both optimism and pessimistic waves and valleys growing within the Rays Republic. Should the Rays offer another contract to DH Johnny Damon with possibly a $7 guaranteed payday plus the same attendance bonuses? Or should the club enlist the outside help of another high priced bat-slinger to bring a bit of intimidation and power to the Rays universe?

Will a few slots open up in the Rays rotation, or will pitchers like Matt Moore and the “Alex” duo of Cobb and Torres be shipped back to the minor until mid-May to stammer their arbitration clocks? The Rays scouting system and front office is bound to have to endure more than a handful of stressful and thought provoking skull sessions to decide if the Tall Texan (Jeff Neimann) or WD-40 (Wade Davis) have better talent and potential than the pitching trifecta punching their way through the thin glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the St. Petersburg clubhouse.

Will the Rays catching corps rebound with authority both at the plate and behind it with John Jaso possibly showing the same power and ability that made him a Rays darling in 2010, or will a bevy of Rays farm hand backstops like Jose Lobaton, Robinson “Honeynut” Chirinos, Nevin Ashley or the powerful bat of Stephen Vogt make Jaso possibly a Rays “dead man walking?

The glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the clubhouse in St. Petersburg could be broken by several players of these players and more this coming Spring. Could veteran C Kelly Shoppach’s September and post season heroics gain him another shot behind the plate with the Rays, or will the Rays decline his 2012 club option? I have a feeling one of these catchers will not be with the Rays come the mid-February report date.

Then there will be an endless bevy of flowcharts and statistical evaluations and scouting critiques to decide if Reid Brignac is the heir apparent at shortstop, or if infield journeyman Sean Rodriguez will be given a chance to unseat Brignac who was the Rays 2011 Opening Day SS. Some have said S-Rod gives the team more power and a consistent bat in the line-up whereas Brignac might have the deeper range and potential coming into Spring Training 2012. With a hot Rays SS prospect like Hak-Ju Lee and INF Tim Beckham still pushing their way up the Rays farm ladder, the current shaky foundation of Brignac will open discussions towards possibly having Rodriguez get more time in the 6-slot with the future only a phone call away in Durham come late season.

Then there is the biggest hot spot of them all, who will man the First Base bag for the Rays in 2012? Most might think current 1B Casey Kotchman will get a nice bump in pay from his $ 750,000 2011 salary to re-sign with the Rays, but that is pure speculation until the contract is sign, sealed and delivered. Even with First Base power behemoths like Pujols, Fielder and possibly Votto dangling on the lines, the Rays will not have a salary deviations to land a high priced acquisition, and Kotchman could be a bargain both in his defense and in his renewed vigor at the plate.

Possibly we will see the end of the “Sonny” era with the Rays. Andy Sonnanstine spent most of 2011 in Triple-A, and being arbitration-eligible again in 2012, might have worn the Rays colors for the last time. RP J P Howell also will enter the fray again, possibly also with the Rays on the fence to his ability to rebound from his surgery and again be the needed force in the Rays Bullpen. The Rays for once seem set at “leftie specialist” as both Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos should end any discussions of the Rays needing another hurler in that category.

Kyle Farnsworth seems destined to again shore up the back end of the Rays Bullpen with a $ 3.3 million 2012 club option on the books. But could the late season elbow stiffness possibly have the Rays a bit anxious of a possible Deja Vu circa 2008 “Percival” scenario? More Bullpen concern might be to see if Joel Peralta might like to remain a Ray, possibly with a extended 2-year deal.

From top to bottom, all 40 of the Rays current roster members will undergo a evaluation soon. With free agents making visits to the Rays complex, and some packing their gloves for other vistas, this Rays off season has begun. Fortunately there are more answers than questions this season, but that will not hinder Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and his staff as they find ample offense and suitable replacements for a few departing Rays. The 2011 season is officially in the record books, now comes the real fun for Friedman and his staff to bring the brilliance.

One Word Describes the 2011 Rays…Determined.

I was sitting somewhere last night and someone asked me one word that would describe the Tampa Bay Rays 2011 season. Instantly the thesaurus and dictionary capillaries went into overdrive. Images and events seems to transcend into my mind, clicks, bells and even a foghorn going off silently in my head until the one word seemed to shine bright…almost angelic to the forefront.

That word is determined.

That just seemed to fit this young crew of Rays this season. Baseball experts projected them fighting possibly for the third slot in the American League East, but rarely a soul found the courage to pronounce them “Wild Card” darlings. Rays Manager Joe Maddon instilled the mantra “Find Another Way” deep into their collective psyches to show that the road to success this season would be determined by their own want and aspirations.

When the Rays announced their 2011 Most Valuable Player during their last home stand, you could have effectively split the trophy into 25 parts for each night it seemed a new hero, a determined athlete who wanted to celebrate not postulate came to the rescue of this Rays squad. From the Rays starters to the Bullpen, From First Base to the Right field corner this team was a determined unit, with each player having their shares of defining roles in this season.

It was simple inspirational to me to see the eternal youth of Johnny Damon steals bases, turn singles into extra base hits, show a excited and zestful leadership that turned the volume up on this team. Even guys like Sean Rodriguez, Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer and Alex Cobb made impressions, showed their potential and raised the bar throughout this season. From veteran to rookie, this team seemed happy and content with passing the cap every night for someone else to lead the way to victory.

The confidence and the character displayed by the Rays rotation seemed to cement this mentality. They always pitched as if no lead was safe and minimal runs were needed. Even when their offense sputtered and shook, the Rays hurlers stepped up their game, produced amazing results and tried to make the bridge between starter and Bullpen one built on success not teeter-tottering towards the abyss. Always determined, the Rays all posted more than 10 wins, and Rays records seemed destined to fall nightly.

Even with Evan Longoria fighting injury and inconsistency, this team found other ways to produce, induce and collect runs, hits and amazing plays. I always think it shows the true spirit and merits of a team when their key figure has a bad night, or series and the guys around him rally and pull together to produce outstanding results. Sure Longo might have lost a few National followers with his down season, but locally, we saw his heart, his character tested and the end result was a determined athlete wanting to again get to that high level of expectation.

From the All-Star break on, Longoria found his rhythm, found his groove and along with the rest of the Rays, found a way to bypass the expectations and the naysayers to celebrate Mumm’s style. B J Upton has taken a lot of strife and ridicule over the past few years for his base running gaffs and his seemingly lack of hustle, but this season he showed his bat still has the goods, and his defense is up there with anyone in the Major Leagues.

When the going got tough, Upton stepped up his game determined to make more than a few broadcasters whisper, make more than a few teams fear his bat, his speed and his skill in the field. He might not have had an All Star season, but Upton did have a season worth remembering. His stats might not glow bright into the night, but his timely strokes and impressive defense kept the Rays in games when most fans around the ballpark thought the Rays would flounder. Upton became a clubhouse leader, even if the rest of the stadium didn’t know it.

The essence of this 2011 Rays team was based purely on determination. Every game they seemed to be the underdog, and they pulled out magic. On the road they stepped up their game to historical heights, almost seeming like they were possessed on the road while bedeviled at home. When their home record finally reached the .500 mark, they began to watch it also soar as high as their post season aspirations.

The 2011 edition of the Rays is firmly in the books, their legacy is bound not by their win and loss record, but by the feats and accolades of determination, spirit and never giving in to the temptation of failure. Truly the word “determined” fits this team like a glove from the exploits of Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach to the mystical magic of Matt Moore this Rays squad might have started their own simplistic dynasty built on the sole virtues of eluding defeat, embrace success and showing determination can be the virtue that rewards those willing to sacrifice, strive for the brass ring, and willing to endure.

Maybe the 2012 Webster’s Dictionary will include the 2011 Rays Team Photo…..seems only fitting.

Re-casting Possible for the Rays “Young Guns”?

It always amazes me when people make posters like this. It is creative, very well thought out in the ways of design, but the content sometimes makes a lot to be desired. It is not that I do not consider the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers that this artist selected for his poster to not be “Young Guns”, I just think a couple of pitchers who also made an 2011 appearance missed the photo cut.

Gazing at the poster several images of 2011 came rushing back to me, which several being possible final curtain calls for a few Rays. Some showed their magic in 2011, while some may have shown a bit of a bad slide, possibly signing their own visas for exit from the Rays universe. Still it is wild that this one photo to the right was presented on the first day Rays pitchers’ and catchers reported in Port Charlotte, Florida, and one person presented on the poster was not even among those assembled.

Rays phenom Matt Moore did not even report until the Rays minor league player’s strolled into the Southwest Florida community, but won a spot on the poster. It would be futile to not consider this southpaw a future staple in the Rays rotation, possibly making his next appearance after May 2012. Still it shows the defining depth and promise of the Rays hurlers that a guy not even selected for a Major League Spring Invite makes such a prominent figure on the poster.

But there is something that is bothering me about this poster. Something that today might not seem relevant, but could make the whole idea of the poster moot possibly even before the 2012 Spring thaw. I consider the duo of “Alex’s”, Torres and Cobb to have a prominent place in the Rays plans coming into 2012, possibly making their Opening Day debuts this season for the Rays.

That immediately raises the question on who I truly think might be airbrushed off this poster, possibly wearing different colors as the mid-February date approaches. The first pitcher that might get a new MLB address for 2012 could be right-hander Jeff Niemann. It is nothing personal, Niemann has shown great signs of brilliance on the mound, it is just that his risk factors in regard to injury setbacks and his up and down productivity make him a suitable pitcher to find another home for 2012.

Some people might be amazed that the “Tall Texan” has made 83 career starts for the Rays, but most of us are transfixed on his last 2011 start, in Fenway Park where Niemann was matched up against Red Sox hurler Jon Lester and Neumann posted up his 11th victory of the season. Niemann posted a 8-2 record on the road this season in his 12 starts, pushing him into the top 5 road records in the major leagues, including winning 8 of his last 9 road decisions.

Usually that kind of pitcher would not even be on the cusp of trade chatter, but the Rays have a bevy of pitchers trying to break through the barrier between the Triple-A Durham Bulls and a place on the Rays 25-man roster. 2012 might be the season where the Rays get significantly younger, and Niemann may only be the first to mosey into the Florida sunset. Niemann has had a good enough career and 2011 season to possibly get the Rays an up-grade in a few needed areas for 2012. I would put him at the top of the Rays list of available players come the Hot Stove season, and a pitcher more than a few teams covet.

The second member of the Rays current “Young Guns” who might need to worry is also Niemann’s hunting and fishing buddy Wade Davis. Even though he might have signed a salary respectable contract before the 2011 season, that could be a great tasty morsel to a struggling team with limited payroll looking for a viable starter with MLB experience. I guess I put Davis on this list because I consider the two “Alex’s” to have more up-side for the Rays in the near future than Davis, this is not about his present record or his injury in 2011.

Still, Davis is another Rays pitcher who has some valuable MLB abilities and could come at a respectable trade cost to another team. Worst thing here is that Davis would be a marked man in 2012 no matter what in reality. With the firm possibility that Moore will spend at least a few months in Durham before possibly making another visit to the Rays roster, Davis looks like a man firmly on unstable ground with no lifeline within reaching distance.

Even after posting a 8 inning, 2-hit start against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 25th, Davis might not have done enough to have teams kicking his tires this offseason. Davis won his last 7 starts of the season at Tropicana Field plus Davis posted double digit win totals over his first 2 Rays seasons, but it might not be enough to let WD-40 squeak by with a 2012 spot in the rotation. Davis may be in the same row boat as Niemann right now with financial numbers and the possibility of younger starters beating on the Rays doors being the catalyst for a trade, not his abilities.

Most would think I would have selected James Shields as one of the “poster boys” to be in the most jeopardy for 2012. If you thought that, you would not be totally wrong. Shields will possibly be dealt by the Rays, but it seems more logical for him to be separated from this team by the end of July, not this off season. With Moore, Torres and Cobb all having limited game experience, having a starting trio of David Price, Shields and Jeremy Hellickson to start 2012 makes the Rays an instant contender.

Shields 2012 salary would be a huge reason for his departure, but he also showed this season he has the drive and ability to still be a top flight pitcher and a value commodity for the Rays to start 2012. By the end of July, with free agency possibly on the horizon, the Rays might be more likely to trade Shields while his value is high to a contender outside the American League.

The poster is another reminder of the deep and promising rotation the Rays should be able to push up against their Major League Baseball adversaries for the next 5-8 years. Every one of these pitchers have the abilities and the skills to dominate and take a win from the clutches of any team, at any time. It is a rare and unique thing for the Rays to have such depth, but it is also a tragedy that some of their pitchers may ultimately experience their career peaks not wearing a Rays uniform.

If You Don’t Believe Now, Better Check Your Pulse



Words would just ruin the moment. Here is a photo essay of complied photos from the great AP photographers Mike Carlson / Chris O’Meara and Getty Images Photog  J. Meric  on the field and deep within the bowels of Tropicana Field  tonight. 




 

Last, but not least, the Home Run trot that began the celebration!



Cobb’s Honesty and Rays Diligence Could Save More Than His Career.

It is so easy for a pitcher to rule numbness and “tingles” throughout their arm as just the offshoot symptoms of a “dead arm” syndrome. His team could also push off the discomfort and pain towards that same side of the coin, and just let a pitcher works his way out of the situation. But I want to take the time to commend both the Rays Medical Staff and Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his crew  in their swift and concise decision making process concerning rookie pitcher Alex Cobb.

 Cobb is a budding, talented young pitcher who could have easily tried to hide his condition on Saturday night in fear of losing his place in the rotation, or possibly again being demoted back to the minors. Cobb could have taken the path of deception and the condition could have escalated or gotten worse until damage was irreversible and either surgery or shutting him down for the season was the only solution. In this case, honesty might have been the perfect course of action, and saved more than just his pitching career.

Some could say the play during the game where he had to come over and cover First Base on a bunt single by the A’s Coco Crisp could have been the precursor to this aliment coming to the surface. A blunt motion or force upon his right arm could have jarred the symptoms, or possibly brought to light a potential hazard in waiting. But that is just conjecture until the final medical reports ate filed.

Sure we might not know the extent or cause of Cobb’s arm numbness or sensations yet, but if the Rays learned anything from the Rocco Baldelli situation, it is to take nothing for granted. Sometimes a simple diagnosis would be the perfect solution, but the problem could still be there hiding, waiting for another chance to spring up and cause more havoc for Cobb in the future. By being concise and precise, the Rays could eliminate mirror image symptoms that occur within our own bodies.

But this story has a double dose of goodness to it too. Cobb by revealing the “numbness” in his arm to the Rays Head Trainer  Ron Porterfield and Maddon, it put into motion an immediate plan to try and decipher the symptoms and get conclusive answers towards solving Cobb’s discomfort. Cobb trusted the Rays medical machine to help eliminate this tingling sensation and not put off either time or progression to solving the body mystery.

Because it is Cobb’s pitching hand, the Rays took swift and detailed actions to protect one of their budding pitching gems. Cobb never looked like he could establish a consistent rhythm on the mound on Saturday night, and possibly the “needles and pins” sensation might have shown up early in the night. Not going to blame the numbness, but unless Cobb was tipping off his fastball, the Oakland A’s just seemed to fest on it Saturday night.

Still, it was great to see Cobb say something before the matter could have escalated towards a potentially long term injury. Huge praise seriously has to go towards the Rays Medical staff for their due diligence and process of eliminating and evaluating towards finding a cause or effect of the problem.

Pitchers have a limited shelf life normally in baseball. Good news came swiftly after  Porterfield sent Cobb to a local hospital for some more detailed blood tests.  Soon afterwards it was learned that Cobb did not have  a possible blood clot in his arm, which could have been a immediate cause of the numbness. There might be a battery of medical tests in Cobb’s future, but possibly this honest gesture might just be life saving.

Even thought the Rays have put Cobb on the DL, this move could prolong and help discover a possible aliment that is beginning to develop within Cobb. The result could be many more wins, and a long career. It is still amazing to be the torque and pounds per square inch a pitcher puts on his joints and muscles nightly throwing in Major League Baseball.

Injuries happen in a sport where a pitcher throws so much torque and pressure on their pitching arms nightly. By Cobb being upfront and telling the Rays about his discomfort, it might have been a precursor to more Rays wins, and a longer career. Sometime each of us hide small aliments or nicks and pain from our employers, hoping they will just simply go away.

Cobb was in tune with his body’ enough to know something did not add up, and asked for help before it could of escalated or become a more complex problem. It is a great example of a player trusting his gut, and a team listening and help solve a potential setback. Kudos again to Cobb and the Rays staff for both doing the right thing. Hopefully this is just something minor, but if it is not, then it could save more than just Cobb’s career…it could save his life.  

Your Day at the Trop To Drop 140-Characters

So how excited is the Rays Republic heading into the Tampa Bay Rays first Tweet Up? I would say as excited as a walk-off homer, complete game shutout and hitting for the cycle. Who wouldn’t be excited about sitting just beyond the shoulder of Rays Bullpen legends Scott Cursi and Bobby Ramos.

We could have a possible dancing brown bear moment, or maybe even a Kyle Farnsworth sighting. Seriously, it has been a great thing that the Rays front office and their marketing department embrace the social media phenomenon and provide a chance for the Rays Republic to possible hi the Worldwide trending board with such an effort.

That is where I am predicting this event will fall in the ranks of the Tweet Nation. Even if we just hold that sacred spot for a minute, the work, hustle and bustle would be a complete success. So that is a goal within our reach, one we can touch or type, to provide a Rays moment Worldwide. I love the sound of that personally.

We know @RaysRepubilc, the Rays official word smiths of the social media universe, will be providing interesting incentive, prizes and possible inclusion of witty banter posted during the event. Did you know the creative brainiacs behind @RaysRepublic now have over 100,000 Twitter followers? Who knows, maybe we can even get a up close and personal moment with the @RaysRepublic crew, a picture would be perfect (hint, hint).

I have heard that each person buying a special Tweet Up ticket will not only enjoy the company of other 140- character Rays fans, but will have the chance to sit in the exclusive Papa John’s Bullpen Cafe nestled just beyond the Rightfield line a stone throw away from the Rays Bullpen. Heck, it is just a soda cup away from my own old roosting spot.

Being offered even before the event in Twitter contests by @RaysRepublic will be a chance to win tickets to the event, a chance to throw out that night’s Ceremonial First Pitch that, plus a unique chance to hand the Rays line-up card to the Umpires before the game. Of course the crafty minds within the Rays Promotions department are not done there.

Also on tap is a chance to be the personal (game day) assistant of Emmy award winning  CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) who like the @RaysRepublic crew sports more than 100,00 followers. Another special treat at this game will be hearing Rovell perform the National Anthem, plus have a chance to view his tweets as he moves about Tropicana Field.

The ticket package is still being finalized, but you can go to www.raysbaseball.com for updates and hopefully a official announcement and begin of ticket packages for this unique Rays Twitter experience. Who knows, you might have a chance to sit by the spirited and spunky @Lovebees, or maybe even meet the Rays twins @TBRaysTwins, or possibly get a glimpse of the lovely@Sportschix1.

Seriously now, the Rays are sporting a impressive Twitter collection of MLB player based accounts with the likes of @DAVIDprice14, @Evan3Longoria, @BJUpton2, @SamFuld5, @TheZobrists , @ShopHouse10 plus @Acobb53, @TheRuggianos, and @d_jennings15. The Rays even have a Bullpen presence with @ceez_27, @robdelaney55  and @CheckwitEck tweeting out of the Bullpen (not during games).

Even the medical staff is Twitter bound. Rays Strength and Conditioning guru Kevin Barr has a Twitter home, @TheBBRcom. You can even follow Rays In-Game host Rusty at @RustyKath if you need post game banter. Rays Manager Joe Maddon can also be found making sporadic quips, and witty banter from @RaysJoeMaddon. Last, but never least, Rays post and pre-game savant Rich Herrera can be found @richatthetrop

Going to be a wild and exciting night where the Rays Republic far and wide can contribute and expand the Rays Way all over the World. And added bonus is tweeters who use the hashtag #RaysTweetUp will get a chance to have their tweet posted on the Rays jumbotron during the contest. How’s that for expanded media! Also heard a few whispers that each ticket holder might have future bragging rights with a special edition T-shirt just for holders of a Rays Tweet Up ticket.

Purchase your Rays 2011 TweetUp tickets at this link (Special code word is TWEET) which will also entitle you to a personalized Rays TweetUp T-shirt, some light food and beverages while you relax and tweet from the Pappa John’s Bullpen Cafe, plus a special invite to a post-game Q and A session with Guest Darrell Rovell on the Social Media ( If he survives the scavenger hunt).

I already know you can count me in for the event, plus will have the laptop primed and ready to go before the game, and ( hopefully) well after the final pitch. Personally I am hoping to get some time with the fellow Rays Twitter Nation and talk, chat and maybe even watch the Rays take on the Toronto Blue Jays who also sport their own legion of MLB Twitter foes.

Hope to see you there (I will be sitting by Bobby and Scott)…..or just tweet me @TheRaysRenegade. I will come see you…I promise.


Intriguing Assortment of Rays Choices for Trade Deadline Shoppers

Always a great guessing game trying to decipher correctly the needs, wants and desire of any of the 29 other MLB squads for anyone on the Tampa Bay Rays roster. Sure there might be a few GM’s just coming by doing some future window shopping or prod and nudge a bit of the merchandise, but is there really any top shelf Rays that will exit before the end of the Trade Deadline?

Can’t be easy time span for a player either with a large contract or even a “ walk” season under their belt until the clock strikes midnight on August 1st. Sure even then deals can still be hashed out, but the large majority of the transactions will be at least attempted in the next few working days. But even the best deal can be stricken down by the might pen of the M L B Commissioner Bud Selig if it seems unfair or has too much cash considerations.

So who among the 25 currently rostered Rays players do you think will garner the most attention? Who do you feel will be showcased now for departure in the off season? There are plenty of options, including a few that could either make or break the Rays post season surge. Then again, if the Rays do go into a tailspin over the next few series( Kansas City/Oakland/Toronto), they could instead purge before the last moments in July?

Even the Great Kreskin would have a difficult time trying to summarize some of the gossip and whispers currently doing the rounds in the MLB circle. With the emergence of SP Alex Cobb and Rays Manager Joe Maddon staying with a 6-man rotation. Could this be a precursor to a starter leaving town?

James Shields has reconstructed his delivery and career to a point some teams are eager to get a guy who can push out innings and provide strikeouts. Shields might have de-valued himself a tad during his recent 4-game tailspin.  With a team friendly $ 7 million dollar salary for 2012, Shields is still affordable and could be in the plastic bubble until this time in 2012.

Do the Rays instead sell high on SP Jeff Niemann while he is on his own hot streak? The Tall Texan might not garner a top tier return, but a few teams do have veterans who might walk after this season, and if they fit into the Rays mold….Niemann could be on a flight by August 1st.

With that in mind, why not put SP/RP Andy Sonnanstine on the top shelf to see who wanders by for a long look. Sonny has all the qualities a good team needs with MLB experience, stability and is a solid “company man”. He can be used in a variety of ways, and his tenure with the Rays might be on unstable ground with the emergence of Cobb and others pushing hard to break through the Triple-A ceiling to the majors. Sonny, like Niemann will not collect a bevy of returns, but his shelf life with the Rays might be getting near its expiration point.

Cesar Ramos is a southpaw, and with the Rays currently having 3 in their Bullpen, excess might not be the keys to the Rays Bullpen success. He might bring in a better haul than Sonny, but knowing the Rays and their love of the crafty lefties, he might stick. Still, the Rays would not offer up fellow relievers Jake McGee or J P Howell unless the return was something they could not refuse.

That brings us to the Rays field players. A few names possibly jump out at you, but one that I truly think is “off limits” is First Baseman Casey Kotchman. The job he has done since he cemented himself at First has been incredible. With only 1 error this season, Kotchman might be tied to this Rays team soon for the next 3 years. I have heard a few whispers in the hallways.

In the infield, with the thoughts also swirling that SS Reid Brignac is taking backward steps, this effectively closes any possible discussions on Elliot Johnson or Sean Rodriguez. Their stability will be needed now more than ever, and cutting loose even one of the pair would be disastrous unless an infield MLB caliber upgrade is received.

With the recent injuries surrounding the catching position, it might be a hidden blessing for C Kelly Shoppach. Still, the Rays could deal the often offensively maligned backstop for prospects, or maybe even a little cash. The market is not seeking Shoppach with gusto, but a back-up with experience heading into the stressful last months of the season and beyond can be a blessing to a young team.

That leaves the outfield has one of the biggest question marks with at least 4 possible Rays players getting a few glances and maybe trade discussions. Still think Desmond Jennings is here to be looked at by not only the Rays, but by 29 other teams. I really think the Rays have a lot of questions about Jennings, and he could be traded for the right package.

You might have thought I would thrust B J Upton in the top spot for trade discussion, but I truly think the Rays will keep Upton until the end of the 2011 season, then listen intently to offers. Upton might not be the most attentive player on the bases, but he plays solid defense and has trimmed his swing a bit to be more productive. Who in their right mind thought he would get over 15 Hrs in 2011?

Still, with the Washington Nationals eager for Upton, and with names like INF Ian Desmond or RP Drew Storen being put on the end of the pole, the Rays could bite and fill a future hole in their team with young replacements who are starting to show their MLB potentials. Still it is a long shot these names are included with Upton’s’. Then again, Friedman can deliver brilliance with Bull-hockey pucks.

The guy who might garner the most outfield attention doesn’t actually play there on a daily basis. Johnny Damon could bring a nice haul in return from a team on the cusp of contention, or wanting to stay hard in the race until the end. But is he worth the gamble of leaving with the type of offense and ability to help charge up this team with a single swing?

You can’t buy that kind of massive production on and off the field this time of year. But if the Rays are truly in a mood to upgrade now, Damon might be the perfect carrot to dangle in front of the MLB herd. There is another player who has emerged to a point his status might be at its zenith, and a downward spiral is definitely in the cards.

I think the world of the abilities and freestyle aerial moves of Sam Fuld, but I also know MLB is treating him more like a novelty act right now than a budding star or long producing commodity. Here is another Rays player who might be at the peak of his trade value right now. Combine his on-field heroics with his solid base running and you get a nice threat either off the bench or in the field heading into the post season.

There is still the possibilities the Rays just bluff and stay with their current format, but the more realistic approach is someone will go, changes will be made. Upton should be planted in CF until the off season, Shields even though he turns 30 in December is a great anchor for this Rays rotation.

That being said, Sonny and Niemann could be on the “watch list” and be the two pitchers most likely to exit stage left. Shoppach could still be dealt even with the Rays catching corp down to their bare knuckles. This is one part of the Rays farm system that seems loaded for bear, and could endure a spell without remorse.

Jennings is the Rays top field prospect, and I have a sneaking feeling his up-coming promotion to “The Show” has a hidden agenda. Exposing Jennings to MLB caliber pitching with 10 days left could persuade someone to take a risk or gamble on a guy who might not be considered the best outfielder even on his Triple-A squad. But if the Rays do keep Jennings, Upton better look over his shoulder later in the season.

Fuld might be safe, but if his average goes South along with his “Legend”, his time and days will be numbered. Damon is the best Rays commodity right now and might be plucked. But Friedman will not trade him for a “rental” player or even a marginal player or prospects. When you have a guy who is putting up consistent numbers like Damon, the price tag has a few zeros in it, even for the short term.

This is the time of the year where guessing, predictions and even off-the-cuff remarks come with a glance from the baseball world. Teams want to chuck, acquire and sometimes streamline for different reasons. The only reasons any of these players might be plucked off the Rays roster is if this team truly thinks they have the horses for a playoff run.

Upgrading by trading would be the only reason right now the Rays would open their doors for change. 

Yankees Ruined My “Tales of Two Alex’s” Saga

You knew somehow it was going to happen. You knew the tale of the two Alex’s would Somehow somewhere rear its mysterious wonder sometime during this New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays series. I was praying the moment I saw the second Alex warming up in the Bullpen that the proverbial Joker would not ruin this storybook ending.

Most of us in the Rays Republic have grown accustom to the odd and sometimes mystic ways of Rays Manager Joe Maddon. We no longer question in advance the madness or insanity because of his overall check mark firmly entrench on the Winning side of the odds ledger. But during this Nationally televised contest his pair of mirror image Aces were beaten by a Jack of all trades (Nick Swisher). I could see Rick Sutcliffe doing his voodoo trance of death from my Rightfield seat.

It was the story of one Alex (Cobb) who fought through a flaw of tipping off his pitches during his M L B debut in a spot start against the Los Angels Angels at Tropicana Field to posting a 2-0 record on 5 starts this season for the home club. Cobb performed superbly in the contest putting his own spin on thew game, keeping the New York Yankees basically in check with his pitch selection leaving the ballgame in line for a “W” after posting a 4-2 cushion for his Bullpen.

t looks almost like a certain thing Cobb would post to an impressive 3-0 record. Some how the usually solid and aggressive Rays Bullpen issued 5 walks and saw their usual rock of Gibraltar, closer Kyle Farnsworth crumble. Farnsy has now surrendered 5 free passes in his last 5 appearances, which included his 3rd blown save on Monday night.

Then suddenly the second bookend Alex (Torres) who was making his M L B debut got a chance to leave a impression not only on Maddon, but on the assembled Rays crowd. Scouts had been more than vocal that Torres might not be ready for his shot, but the Rays took the gamble on their pair of Alexs’ on this night.

When Torres took the hill during the top of the 9th inning, he looked confident, polished, possibly having something to prove not only to himself and his team, but to his new pinstriped adversaries. Torres threw 44 pitches on the night, the first 7 to lead-off hitter Curtis Granderson, a hitter who is not an easy task even for a veteran. Torres did get Granderson to a 3-2 count before Granderson fouled off the next 2 offering. Then Granderson delivered with a single to Center.

Next up power hitter Mark Teixera. Another guy who with one swing could change the outcome of the game and send the Rays Republic home wondering “What if”. Torres seemed more poised, controlled as he got Teixera to strikeout swinging on 5 offerings. Suddenly maybe Alex #2 had some M L B moxy.

Torres never worried about Granderson, and he quickly stole second, moving himself 90 feet from scoring to put the pressure on the Rays. Mariano Rivera was now up and throwing over Torres right shoulder, he glanced down the foul line then threw a nice breaking pitch to Robinson Cano that he grounded to second for an easy second out. Suddenly it looked like Torres had a reliever’s mindset.

Maddon then sent in the signal to Intentionally walk Nick Swisher with Granderson 60 feet from home plate. Runners on the corners with 2 outs. Andrew Jones then saw only 5 pitches before he walked to first loading the bases with pinstripes, hyping the pressure and room for error into the red.

Martin came to the plate with the intention of ruining Torres debut. It was nothing personal, it was the way the game is played. He took the first offering from Torres and heard the deep bellow of Home Plate Umpire Ed Hickox as the ball nipped the corner. Then Martin saw 2 straight balls in the same area, but this time outside the zone, but always hoping not to hear another called strike from Hickox.

Torres gained some ground on Martin getting him to a 2-2 strike count before the momentum quickly turned in Martin’s favor. 2 of Torre’s next 3 pitches missed their mark. Bringing in Granderson from Third, posting a 5-4 lead for the Yankees.

Immediately a lot of heads went down in the assembled crowd. Somehow we all knew the result. We all collectively knew that the gamble by Maddon had been called, dealt with and the cards were in the Visitor’s favor.

Even Torres seemed to give in a little as the next hitter Brent Gardner got off to a quick 3-0 count before Torres reached down and fought back to a 3-2 count before Gardner hit a roller to Longoria for the final out of the inning.

Almost instantly the second guessing in the stands began as people questioned the Intentional walk to Swisher, but even as people bickered and threw their arms up in wonder, the Rays never seemed to get over that half of an inning, getting contact on all three at bats in their half of the inning, but going down 1-2-3 to end the night.

Suddenly Torres was being labeled in the stands as the “second coming of Jorge Sosa”. Or that he reminded some of former Rays RP/SP victor Zambrano who had a World of potential and velocity, but his control was all over the place. Both of these resemblances were unfair, but had a hint of merit.

That night Torres was informed he was going back to Triple-A Durham, but even with a perfect night his stay up with the Rays might have been short lived. You know the Rays sent Torres back to Durham with a “To Do” list of things to work on, things to get right, and progression might have us see him again in September.

Both of the Alex’s were total opposites on this night. Beside Cobb being a right-hander and Torres a leftie, that is were their similarities ended, even on Monday night. When the 9th inning began and Torres was popping the mitt with his warm-up pitches.

I wanted the storyline, the “Tale of the Two Alex’s” to have a glorious ending. A way to celebrate this rookie invasion that has been so successful for the Rays, but Swisher, a Jack of all trades had his own fairy tale ending in the works.

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