Results tagged ‘ Andrew Friedman ’

Could Price’s Success Turn into a Rays Windfall?

This is the time of year when every baseball fan within the Tampa Bay region is anxious. This is the moment when every single fan has the air of an expert, with plots, sidebars and commentary on the team’s direction, points of attack and their own pick list of potential new jersey names to be sewn upon the Rays Carolina Blue unis.

This is that unscripted and unabridged segment of the MLB merry-go-round adventure where even the most popular and productive of names can find themselves not only trade whispers, but packing for new horizons and opportunities. With a mire tick of the off-season clock anyone currently residing on the Rays roster or farm system can not be totally at ease or comfortable because when the bell tolls for the MLB GM Meetings, it is a loud and clear signal that the first round of touchie-feelie wheeling and dealing conversations will commence and someone Rays tenure can be vaporized with a single late night ringtone.

Even someone like Rays ace David Price who has just been announced as 1 of the 3 choices for the 2012 American League Cy Young award, but Price could just as quickly find his name penciled in on a deal worksheet or scribbled on a team’s “wish list”. This is not to say Price is going anywhere, but if the perfect deal with the right talent that could right the Rays sinking offensive ship were to materialize…. Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman might ponder it……for a moment.

Most would think it insane to even talk about Price going anywhere with his successes piling up during the last 4-odd seasons, but sometimes a player, even someone with mega-talent and rising potential can make another team so hungry to hitch their wagon to a player’s rising star they overpay and bring a bevy of goodness to someone anxiously wanting offense like the Rays.

Another odd factoid to remember is that Price has a limited and quickly evaporating fiscal shelf life as a Ray with his second arbitration salary a “gues-timate of around $ 7.5 million for 2013 which would escalate Price into the thin stratosphere of salaries for a player in his second walk down the arbitration process. That would put Price in the second slot in regards to salary only beaten by his fellow co-Ace James Shields who will bank $10.25 million for throwing the rock.

Immediately it comes to your mind the Rays would be insane to even consider trading one of their most popular and productive mainstays, but the MLB is a business and if someone is willing to part with an astronomical package…no one, not even Price is safe from at least a sitdown discussion. And we know all to well that the rest of his MLB peers have mad respect for the Rays southpaw bestowing upon Price the 2012 Player’s Choice award as the American Leagues “Outstanding Pitcher”. And these pieces of hardware that Price is amassing yearly only bring the cruel reality into the sunlight that one day Price will unfortunately price himself out of the Rays fold.

Price is only hitting the second of his 4 trips through the arbitration process and could command a salary above Shield’s $10.25 contract as early as the Spring of 2014 if he keeps moving onward and upwards fulfilling his potential. It’s a pity because Price has a chance to evolve into one of the greats, but this will not be realized wearing the Rays sunburst across his chest. Price’s Rays clock is ticking louder and louder every off-season towards the alarm finally chiming it is time for change.

I’m not forecasting, predicting or even remotely pondering Price’s departure, but the stark and undeniable truth is soon Price even with all his community upside and personality will make a trade decision a fiscal necessity. Maybe I’m being a bit too prudent, too calculated that possibly the Rays could turn Price now while his value is through the Trop’s Teflon roof and gain a top infield prospect, a few near the MLB caliber players that could fortify this Rays roster for the next 5 years with more offense, or maybe even a proven Bullpen arm to join forces with Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta to form a tight 1-2-3 late inning punch.

Some times hard decision have to be mentioned, breached and put out into the open air even if they may be considered unwarranted or mis-guided by their timing. Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann and even Wade Davis will have their names thrown out into the wind this Winter as trade pieces, trade considerations or even sent packing for financial or offensive relief.

Bringing up Price’s name here brings out the reality of the off-season that no one, not even Matt Moore who has a team friendly contract can be considered “off limits” or beyond trade rumors and whispers. Price is probably completely safe right now in the eyes of Friedman and the Rays front office. But you have to wonder, when a player is at their highest career point with them teetering on the cusp of maximum possible return on value, can you ignore the sanity of the situation.

I do not envy Friedman’s job because I would hate to be remembered as the guy who traded Price, even if it did make sense.   

Did the Rays Gamble Heavy on Their Status Quo?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Is Tatman the Missing Puzzle Piece?

Photo credit:  Fangraphs.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tale of Two Gomes

Each stood facing the other last night trying to do damage. Each was hellbent within himself to defeat the odds and place their names upon our lips of the baseball world for at least for 24 hours. In the end it was an old Tampa Bay Rays soul, current A’s LF/DH who won the cosmic interaction while his last namesake counterpart could only watch from the discomfort of the Rays dugout as Gomes #1 strolled around the bases after the eventual finally happened. One hoisted up by the universe as the victor while the other could only watch it all unfold. This is the tale of two Gomes, and by the end of the night, each would walk a different path.

Brandon and Jonny Gomes are not related, but last night both of their names were on our lips and minds for reasons that could be considered by many as polar opposites. Each confronted his namesake on the field last night trying to make their own versions of history, each wanted their name connected with a moment that would be talked about, who’s image would be plastered on television screen as the other look on in disbelief and wonder. Last night they were the “Ying and Yang” of Tampa Bay, each of their careers set to move in different directions.

We all knew as Jonny sauntered to the plate for his final appearance of the night against Rays pitching stalwart Joel Puerperal, this “Gomes” could change the playing landscape with a swing or by imposing his own brand of “throw-back era” hustle into the contest. In that moment when the ball met the bat and screamed all the way out of the park we remembered why Jonny was so beloved by us all.

His personality was simply that of a human cartoon character (in a good way), his curly shaggy hair removed for the first wave of Ray hawks, his energy and action synonymous with the energy and vibrant nature of the 2008 Rays and their “Magical Season”. He was a game-changer even back then. His emotional power rivaled his physical. His antics amused and confused us, but they were done with the right intentions. Some loved his reckless abandon while other thought it cost the team chances, you either loved him, or loved to hate him. Each had their own army of followers.

As one “Gomes” triumphed, another would in fall on his Rays sword. Brandon did not factor into the final demise of the Rays last night as he fought valiantly tossing 2 innings of shut-out baseball, but one to his 2 walks in tonight’s appearance came to his Gomes counterpart on 4 pitches, and might have set into motion some of the events that would conclude his Rays tenure, at least for now. Even before their 10th inning lead-off encounter tonight each Gomes was on a different path.

5 straight batters came to the plate and Brandon factored significantly in the innings outcome as Kila Ka`aihue bunted a ball into the air to him, Kurt Suzuki was struck by a pitch, then Daric Barton walked on 4 pitches. Suddenly Jonny stood 60 feet at Third Base with 1 out from inflicting his own sword upon Gomes. But Brandon regained some sense of composure and got Brandon Inge to strike out the n finally let someone else play as he pitched inside to Jemile Weeks and got him to tag a dribbler to teammate Carlos Pena who stepped on the bag and ended the drama.

But this outing, even thought it was triumphant in the end for Brandon set into motion some post game decisions, possibly fostered by his outlandish 7.71 ERA. That first Gomes-on-Gomes event of the evening would be their only meeting of the night as Brandon got 3 straight ground ball outs in 2 plate appearances for the Athletics as Jonny stared in from the On-Deck Circle. As Brandon walked from the mound to the dugout you have to wonder if he felt the “Gomes” energy shift towards the other dugout.

Jonny headed to the plate in the top of the 12 inning poised and focused on somehow finding a hole in Rays relief stalwart Joel Peralta’s game, hopefully pushing this contest towards a conclusion. In true Gomes fashion, with 2 strikes on him in the at bat, Jonny turned on a Peralta pitch and deposited it 354 feet into the Leftfield stands. There was an awkward moment during Jonny’s stroll around the bases a some in attendance clapped for him while others seemed perplexed as to if they should salute or Bronx cheer the effort, not knowing yet it would be the final dagger in the Rays winning streak’s heart.

In a second, one emerged as the game’s hero while the other felt more like Nero watching his city burn to the ground. Each played the game with extreme confidence, brilliant expectations, but in the end it was a mighty stroke that pounded the white sphere while the other Gomes could only watch from the confines of the Rays dugout. Who would have guessed at that moment one Gomes was set for glory, and the other destined for an extreme moon-lite car ride to the airport.

After the game Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman were nestled behind a closed door in discussions on options. Who would have guessed at that moment as one Gomes celebrated in a locker room not 50 feet from the other, his counterpart would be packing his belongings sent back to Triple-A Durham once again.

But that is the way it is with baseball. No matter if you are the hero or the goat, or just a bystander to the final blow, you never know your fate. This ended the chance of another Gomes-on-Gomes encounter in this series, but even as both pack for different destinations today, I have a feeling this will not be the last time they meet in 2012. We still have 7 more games between these two squads in 2012, so possibly this is not the end of the “ Tales of Two Gomes”………..To be Continued.

Brandon Allen Introduces Himself Again to the Rays Republic

I hope Tampa Bay Rays Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman sends Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane a over-sized fruit basket to the Vinoy next weekend. Heck, I think toss the edible fruit basket idea and Friedman should instead reserve a late night dining reservation with Beane at the uber swanky Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa when the A’s hit Tampa Bay next weekend (May 4-6th) as a “thank you” for leaving a few A’s out on the waiver wire for Friedman to pluck.

It is almost as if there is a Kevin Bacon type 6 degree of separation coincidence going on here in correlation with the Rays and A’s that is starting to bond a growing lineage of former A’s become Rays then thrusting themselves into the Major League Baseball headlines. How is it two teams seem to mesh so well swapping players that fit into their system in very unique ways and these sluggers provide moments you will not forget, or want to forget.

Don’t forget the Rays Dan Johnson was also plucked off the waiver wire by Friedman, and we all know what he ended up doing for the Rays over his inspiring short but explosive Rays tenure. Johnson might be on the South side of Chi-town now, but he will never be forgotten in these parts. Do not forget, if not for Johnson’s Home Run in the bottom of the ninth inning with 2 outs off former Rays Spring Training 2011 RP Cory Wade, the Yankees would have won Game 162, and Evan Longoria would never have hit his monster shot.

It is not that Oakland is a feeder farm for Rays up and coming players, but it sure has made an impression with the last 2 waiver wire pick-ups for this Rays franchise, with Brandon Allen becoming the latest former Athletic to provide a gasp, then a burst of uncontrollable excitement under the Trop’s tilted cap. What is it about a player leaving his yellow and green uniform on one coast, then putting on the sunburst and magical things happen for them?

The latest former A’s offering, 1B/OF Brandon Allen went so deep into Right field this afternoon with his Walk-off Home Run offering if we were in an outside setting, someone’s car would have had a very visual dent or possibly a baseball embedded in their windshield. Wild how not 7 days ago the Rays plucked this unknown to anyone outside of MC Hammer-land. Allen was another Friedman find as he was plucked off the A’s waiver wire after being deemed possibly “expendable” after First Baseman Daric Barton cam off the DL. I got a feeling Beane tried to do exactly what Friedman did in the Rule-5 Draft with Josh Hamilton not so long ago and Beane ended up getting burned to the core on the move.

Allen now joins a list of former O-town off-casts from Carlos Pena to the legendary Dan “boom boom out goes the lights” Johnson in providing not only explosive results, but doing it with style, class and a bit of panache`. Allen is already gaining a bit of cult hero status with 2 deciding moments in the last 2 games that will have every kid and possibly adult beckoning for his autograph when the Rays return home after their 3-game Texas road trip.

Here is a guy who had less than 275 total MLB plate appearances in his career for both the Arizona D-Backs and A’s, but has provided an unheard of highly combustible start with the Rays. How else do you explain a player coming to the plate only 2 times in his Rays tenure and boasting a 1.000 batting average with the Rays, a bases loaded walk for his 1st Rays RBI and today’s 2-run blast that will be played endlessly on ESPN for some time.

Not sure what the correlation between O-town and Tampa Bay is yet. Sure some might say they are the only 2 cities without a new baseball home, but for some reason former A’s do not come here for retirement, they seem to come here to play ball like no one else. Maybe Friedman should make that reservation for 3…I think Brandon Allen also deserves a little special treat considering his last 2 at bats….Just no table-side flambe`s please, Allen is simply flammable right now.

Niemann Should Claim the Rays Fifth Slot

So the Tampa Bay Rays are going to draw this drama out for one more day. Seems kind of silly since we basically know that barring a possible trade, the team will probably hoist the “Tall Texan” Jeff Niemann as their fifth starter for the regular season. His main opponent, Wade Davis has basically conceded the decision after a bad outing in his last Spring start. With Davis’s comments after his start on Sunday, you would have thought the decision was already made and he was eager to hit the Bullpen and come out swinging this season in the latter innings.

But do not think a little competitive edge did not favor Niemann since he has clearly been in this position before and has played his part staying consistent on the mound this Spring, trying to provide ammunition for name being selected for the last rotation spot. It was only a few seasons ago Niemann and Jason Hammel were in different minor league games that were to decide the fifth spot, but Hammel ended up being traded to the Colorado Rockies at the conclusion of that day’s activities, which made that Springs decision moot.

In all honesty, Niemann has done nothing this Spring to fall from grace with the Rays staff. Even his refusal of a small raise and going to salary arbitration over a measly $500,000 ( he lost) was viewed as a “business decision” and the Rays front office holds no animosity towards his Winter decision. In hindsight, the fact Niemann had the confidence and internal constitution to stand up to the Rays in arbitration. Some say arrogance can be the best gift for a pitcher.

In Niemann’s corner is the fact he has posted 3 straight 10+ wins seasons as a starter. Only former Ray Scott Kazmir can say the same. How soon we all forget Niemann started 2011 0-3 in 4 starts before he went 11-4 in 19 starts the rest of the season.  Add onto this the fact Niemann has been an amazing “road warrior” for the Rays holding a .700 winning percentage (21-9) over the last 3 years, which is second best in the majors. Suddenly you see a big hidden part of Niemann’s success for the Rays.

But could Niemann or Davis be headed elsewhere, and the current decision is being withheld as the Rays take a last chance last-minute offering for someone currently “out of country”. It is pretty common knowledge by now that the Rays covet Oakland A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki as a great addition to their backstop corp and want to bring him into their fold. Problem is, neither Niemann nor Davis really whets A’s GM Billy Beane’s whistle, but with a delayed announcement and the Athletics playing over the International Dateline in Japan, maybe the time difference is Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman’s last grasp to try to land Suzuki.

Add into the equation that fact that Rays Manager Joe Maddon has set a few parameters as to who would get the “ 5th gig”, and with Davis’s ERA sitting at an uncomfortable 4.91, barring a trade or possibly Niemann getting knocked out by a crossbeam in the Rays Clubhouse, the decision seems a bit moot.

One of Maddon’s prerequisites was “ who can help us win game early on in the season”. Not sure if either of the two pitchers have distanced themselves in this category, but if you take into consideration Maddon second criteria of “ who can be effective in the Bullpen”, then Niemann is the guy who will inherit the 5th slot. If Niemann had great reliever qualities, he would have at least had a reserved seat in the Bullpen in October, but he was not even on the Rays post season roster.

Not knocking Niemann as a reliever, but the guy tends to need more time to warm-up, and as a reliever, your time is extremely limited. Add onto that the fact Davis has already commented he would go to the Bullpen and “kick butt”. Even based on that kind of comment by Davis, you get the honest feeling that the decision has already been made in at least one player’s mind.

Maybe this is a blessing in disguise for Davis who sometimes tends to hide some of his velocity on the hill, keeping it in reserve if needed. In the Bullpen, he can let it rain strikes and bring it full-bore and I bet Niemann will be the first guy to greet him on the dugout steps.

Some will say Niemann is the more polished of the two, but he has also shown a quality of getting fatigued and injured at the most important moments over the last few seasons. Still, Niemann boasts a .639 winning percentage over the last 3 MLB seasons (min 75 starts), and that is currently 8th best in the majors and  is 27 points above Rays southpaw David Price (.612 percent). That is a considerably nice “stat” egg to have in your basket when consistency and winning are huge factors in this decision.

It was really Niemann’s position to lose this Spring. Barring an injury over the last few games or a trade out of leftfield, he owns the 5th slot in the Rays rotation. The deeper you look into consecutive good outings and subsequential winning streaks, Niemann stands head and shoulders above Davis for that last rotation spot. But then again, there are not many who stand taller on the hill than the Texan.

Could Niemann Break the Rays Arb Winning Streak?

I know most of us will never ever have to step into a mediation or arbitration hearing in our lives.  Could Tampa Bay Rays SP Jeff Niemann have just the right tidbits of information, the right stuff to finally end the Rays arbitration dominance? Weirder things have happened during the Rays existence. Could the Tall Texan  have manufactured and possibly pulled off the first major player versus management coup of 2012. A win by Niemann during this hearing would not only be historic, it would put a road sign firmly in Tampa Bay sand that the Rays dominance at the arbitration table can be defeated. But the decision lingers until Friday. So possibly for 12-18 hours we can believe he has defeated the Rays stoic forces, at least set the tone for some awesome dreams.

Even at 6’9”, Rays starter Jeff Niemann will not have the mound for intimidation as he sit in the room for his hearing. It will be one of those times when it must feel more like a taping of the old show “This Is Your Life” as both side take their turns providing key elements, interesting scenarios possibly going back and forth like a recent tennis match with volleys of well placed rhetoric and statistics to pushing the other side towards the eventual finish line as a victor. Considering the Rays management harbor an impeccable 5-0 arbitration record going into the hearing, you might consider this more a tale of David (Niemann) against Goliath (Rays) with the outcome weighed a bit towards the organization than the unusually  Tall Texan.

When I think of this kind of hearing where good and bad can be weighed, measured and you can be left wanting. I wonder if as a player entering that confined space you have that same fear and level of doubt on the surface knowing you are entering the Lion’s den and could come out alive or be a late afternoon morsel. I wonder if they set up the hotel room/suite with the mediator/arbitrator sitting at a large table in the center of the room and either party takes a couch or one of a set of tables set up for both the team at a predetermined distance to not give either the point of an advantage.

I wonder what effect it has on you as you gaze over at the Rays table and see Rays Executive V P of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, who looks more like a star-struck young adult than the right-hand trade trigger man and in-season muscle for Big Stu. We all know that underneath that boyish exterior of Friedman lies the confidence and savvy of a prizefighter. Friedman tends to hope you underestimate his power points during these hearing so he can become a debate “Dan Johnson” and turn quickly on one of your stats or comments and send your hopes and dreams crashing into the Rays Tank. I can even imagine this lip-sync moment unfolding as Friedman quips: “It’s not personal Jeff, it is business”.

What is so disheartening is that the two sides were not that far apart in their original arbitration figures. Basically Niemann was asking for a difference of an MLB Rookie’s salary. But we all know that Friedman and his band of legal eagles have their own agenda and they most certainly have their proverbial “ ducks in their row” that could easily devour and chew up even the healthiest of stats set forth by Niemann and his agent. And you know that Friedman has respect for Niemann and even if a comment or two might seem harsh or painful to hear, the underlying element here is Friedman is doing what he feels is good for the franchise and not going on the attack or blindsiding Niemann.

There are tons of good, edible stats that could set the winning plate for Niemann to get his extra arbitration cabbage, but the Rays organization is sure to point out his “down time”  and yearly bout with the D L or injuries in 2011 that could provide the eventual turning point that might cost Niemann a solid chance to become victorious.  Even if Niemann did post a “W” on TGIF-day, he might suddenly hear the same chorus of trade rumors  that instantly engulfed fellow Washington Nationals starter John Lannan after his own arbitration defeat earlier this week.

Worst thing is even as a long shot to post a win in his arbitration case, Niemann’s days as a Ray are surely numbered. I know each side came out of that hotel room today feeling “lucky”, knowing they presented a solid foundation of numbers, situations and parameters that should slide the weight their direction, but you never know. Niemann and his legal entourage could have deposited the perfect treat, one single solitary morsel of edible goodness that the arbitrator ate up and puts on the “+” side of his balance sheet that could force the decision into Niemann’s favor.

 You can bet whatever the outcome, Niemann will be intent to show the Rays he is/was worth the money, or post numbers that will make their decision this Spring incredibly hard not to keep him on the roster. But have no false illusions, this is a make or break Spring for Niemann. He has fought off fellow Rays pitchers before to take a rotation spot, but this Spring he will face his toughest competition from more than 1 hungry rookie hurler.

Niemann has been a loyal and solid contributor for this team. I hope Niemann and his agent felt great leaving the room on Thursday because that hearing will be just a warm-up for the eventual dogfight for a Rays rotation slot that Niemann will encounter once he takes the field this Spring. All eyes will be watching the Tall Texan this Spring…especially Friedman’s’. I truly hope Jeff breaks the Rays streak.


Tall Order on the Horizon for the Tall Texan

Not really sure what level of comfort Tampa Bay Rays SP Jeff Niemann has to push away a team offer of $ 2.75 million and hold out in the hope of making his change pocket jingle with his own arbitration figure of $ 3.25 million. Is the difference of a measly $ 500,000 really worth possibly alienating your own 2012 future with a team that already might be considering trading or even banishing you to the Bullpen?

Niemann definitely knows he is not honestly being considered for any of the Top 3 Rays 2012 rotation spots,possibly only penciled in as the 5th starter because the Rays will probably send rookie sensation Matt Moore to Triple-A Durham until mid-May. Not sure if even tipping the boat in a minor way is the right thing to do when you are not on a solid foundation with the franchise in terms of your overall pitching health, and a small bout of inconsistent throwing over the past 2 seasons.

Sure you cut an intimidating figure on the mound at 6’9”, but the Rays have their own bit of intimidation at their disposal going a perfect 4-0 against Rays players who dared go into the arbitrator’s chamber with them. But this shows a new level of confidence from the “Tall Texan”, and might end up being the best thing to happen to him this Spring.

But even Niemann has to admit he is not a solid “ sure thing” to make the Rays rotation in 2012. This off-season feels much like the Spring of 2009 when Niemann had to battle ex Ray SP Jason Hammel throw-for-throw during the Spring until the Rays made the decision easier by trading Hammel to the Colorado Rockies on April 5, 2009 for pitcher Aneury Rodriguez.

Seems to me that if Niemann’s arbitration years had started in 2009 or 2010 he might have more foundation to stand on his proposed arbitration figure as his win totals of 13 victories in 2009 and 12 in 2010 are a step above his 2011 total of 11 wins. But maybe Niemann and his agent are banking on the facts his 4.06 ERA was the second best final ERA of his Rays career.

Not sure what the mathematical equations or system Niemann and his agent are using to bring up a $500,000 windfall over the Rays offer, but we know it is not based on Niemann’s last start (38 pitches, 1 inning of work) or the fact Niemann was on the shelf for a total of 42 games, effectively only making 23 starts in 2011 while compiling his 11-7 record. Still, having only 5 no-decisions is a nice accomplishment, but it certainly is not worth half a million dollars.

Combined his short start with the fact Niemann’s last start on Saturday, September 24 was actually 2 days later as the Rays scratched him from his Thursday start against the New York Yankees due to soreness and you see a Niemann pattern developing. But I want to keep positive here, possibly Niemann’s 5-0 record with a 2.08 ERA in his last 6 starts against AL East teams can be the boost needed to have the arbitrator seeing eye-to-eye with the Tall Texan on his arbitration case this Spring

Or possibly Niemann and his agent will flaunt the fact that since Niemann came off the DL on June 20th, and prior to his September 24th debacle start, he posted a 10-3 record with a stellar 3.41 ERA with 88 strikeouts. Possibly the Tall Texan’s team will thrust up the almighty fact Niemann was 8-2 on the road in 2011, the second best record in the American League. Adding to his road list, Niemann had a 3,27 Era on the road to go along with winning 8 of his last 9 decisions, including a complete game 3-hit exclamation point against the Red Sox in Fenway on August 17, 2011.

Maybe Niemann’s representative will be sure to note to the arbitrator that the second member of the “silent assassin” clan went 11-1 when the Rays scored at least 3 runs, plus posted 10 or more K’s in 3 of his starts. Or maybe the proverbial cherry on top of this mound of stats might be the pure fact Niemann won 7 straight decisions from June 20-August 16th, tying his career high and the Rays club record. This is also the second time in his career Niemann has done this feat, previously posting the same results from Oct. 3,2009-June 9, 2010.

Or possibly the fact Niemann went 4-1 in his 5 starts in August 2011, which tied the Rays club record for the month plus the added bonus of his July numbers when he posted a 1.06 ERA in 5 starts setting the Rays club ERA record for any month. These numbers ranked 2nd in the MLB for July, trailing only NYY CC Sabathia and lowered Niemann’s 2011 ERA from 5.58 to 3.51 in the process. Niemann also set a career strikeout mark in 2011 when on July 29th in Seattle Niemann struck out 11 Mariners over 6.2 innings breaking his previous high of 10 K’s.

Still, going up against an organization that boasts a flawless 4-0 record against their players in arbitration begs to differ the difference of $500,000 is worth all the aggravation and possible internal damage beyond the playing field. Who knows what will happen once the doors closes this Spring, or if the Rays and Niemann can somehow reach an accord before the door firmly shuts and Niemann could become another victim of the Rays arbitration winning machine.

I’m not betting on Niemann coming out of this unscathed. No matter if he wins or loses his arbitration case, Niemann has to think he is a pitcher on a bit of a death march. Even if he doesn’t come out with an arbitration victory, Niemann could still find himself out of the Rays fold by April because of the Rays developing pitching talent, and not his overall pluses or minuses to the squad. Arbitration to me seems like a no-win situation where you go into a room fighting your boss and hoping he gains respect, admiration and sees you have that killer instinct you want from your starters. I wish Niemann luck….He is going to definitely need a Texas-sided batch of it heading into his arbitration date with the Rays.


Great Scott!

Not sure if I should send an edible fruit bouquet or an animated “thank You” card to Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations. I know some found the “Ghost Protocol” blog a bit far-fetched or even too realistic, but the pure fact is the Rays were on silent running because they did not want the rest of the AL East to know they finally got the player Friedman has asked about for the past 2 Trade Deadlines.

I honestly think the signing of Luke Scott to a one year deal with a club option for 2013 is a firm step in the positive direction of finding a Designated Hitter that can grow within the Rays fold. Sure Scott might be a bit of a late bloomer, but they said the same thing about Jonny Gomes when he was a DH, and he blossomed quite nicely after leaving for the Reds and eventually being traded to the Nationals.

Considering Scott also has a home in Florida located in De Leon Springs (Volusia county). The only thing that could possibly stand in the way of Scott taking the Rays DH role and pouncing on it is a setback from his July 2011 shoulder (torn right labrum) surgery. But all indications are that his rehab has been productive, and Scott should be ready to go in about 45-50 days at full steam and is currently in the midst of his own intense off-season workout regimen. Scott also could see some time possibly during the Inter-League portion of the 2012 schedule in the outfield if his throwing shoulder has healed sufficiently.

He seems to be the offensive weapon the Rays have been seeking for a few seasons, with Friedman always asking the Orioles about his availability come late July, and always finding the prospective package too rich for the Rays blood. But when Scott is healthy, he could be a godsend to a Rays offense that at time rolls into a hitting funk at the wrong moments. Scott has hit 23 or more home each season from 2008-2010 before he was limited to 9 HRs over his 64 games in 2011. In his best showing for the birds, Scott hit for a .284 average with 27 HR, 72 RBI and a .368 on-base percentage back in 2010.

Still, it was great the Rays could finally get Scott without having to send prospects or even MLB ready players to their divisional foes the Orioles thanks in part to them non-tendering Scott earlier in the off-season. The terms of Scott’s 2012 Rays contract are still being ironed out, but you can bet there will be plenty of room for incentives if Scott can knock the cover off the ball or deposit some nice white souvenirs into the Trop’s stands. Scott does come to the Rays with the accolades of being a top-tier offensive weapon having been selected as the Oriole’s 2010 MVO (Most Valuable Oriole). And the cherry on top of it all..He is also an avid First Baseman.

If Scott can hit anywhere close to his .500 Slugging Percentage that he has displayed in the past, he could be a nice addition and a good bit of protection for Evan Longoria. It has been a few years since Longo has had a hitter behind him who can command a pitching staff to pitch to him in fear of giving the next guy an ample chance for a run-producing at bat. Scott could be a great equalizer, especially if he gets ahead in the count and makes his rival possibly groove one in on him.

That is where Scott reminds me so much of Gomes. He has that type of power to get the bulk of the bat on the ball late and drive it towards First Avenue South with a simple twist of the wrists. That kind of consistent power display and ability has been missing with the Rays for some time. Plus with a one years deal and a 2013 club option, if the Rays and Scott do not fit together right, Scott could again be a free agent in the off-season of 2012.

Scott has a pure passion for guns and hunting, which might make him an instant friend of Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann, but he is also someone who has his opinions and is not afraid to voice it loud and proud no matter if you in his corner or not. Mark Reynolds, an old Baltimore teammate of Scott possibly has the best explanation of “Scott being Scott” :

He doesn’t hide it, he doesn’t talk behind people’s backs about anything. A lot of people have those opinions and don’t say anything. Did I think he needed to go to the Winter Meetings and say all those things” Probably not. But he’ll give you his opinion.”

So as you can see from Reynold’s comments, Scott comes with some concerns, but has generally been a positive force in the clubhouse. It is away from the playing field and his teammates that Scott has made a few less than adamant “followers”. He was a Baltimore fan favorite, being accessible and gracious to the fan base, but he did have a tendency to rub some the wrong way with his devote religious beliefs and political opinions. I think if the Rays did win the World Series in 2012, Scott might not have an instant invite to the White House.

But he has also been known to have a razor-sharp wit sometimes going above and beyond the usual lines like throwing plantain chips at a player to keep him in line. But that is another quality that is very similar to Gomes in that Scott is almost like an larger-than-life animated cartoon character in the clubhouse and vocally.

Heck, some might remember Scott ruffled a few Rays feathers in the past spouting off about former Rays hurler Matt Garza and making sure his Home Run celebrations against the Rays had a bit of an extra kick to them. So Scott might be one of those “tough love” guys, one of the people who will tell it like it is, and make you sorry you asked the question for the abrupt response to your query.

But Scott should love this region. Did you know Scott is fluent in Spanish and loves the Latin culture. That should go great with a team with plenty of Latin flair, plus a community that boasts the second largest Hispanic population in the state. In the end, the Rays got the guy they have been peering at from afar for several seasons. Scott is also a great contributor to local clinics, special events and charity events. He has the personality that can be a crowd pleaser and a seat filler not matter the event or the reason for the assembly. 

The echo of his bat meeting the ball in the trop should sound like thunder, and hopefully he will rain down a few HR showers over the course of a season. His love for all things Latin, including the language will make him likeable, respected and a quick fan favorite. I can hear the Raysvision clip now as Scott rounds the bases after hitting one into the seats. On the scene is Doctor Emmitt Brown in a clip from “Back to the Future”, and you know the line……”Great Scott!

Who knows, maybe they will use this clip……

Are The Rays Currently in Ghost Protocol Mode?

On Wall Street, the Trades and Acquisitions Department of large investment firm have the covert mentality of the CIA and other branches of International intrigue that use initials. Knowledge is power, and with that, secrecy and the movements under that umbrellas come at a premium.

So far this Winter we have heard and seen some of the clandestine targets and near misses of the Tampa Bay Rays, who operate under their own initialed powerful and might organization, the MLB, has taken the art form of gliding amongst the darkened halls with silent whispers to a new level. As we have learned in the past, the Rays have a circle of trust within its Fourth floor domain that no constants, syllable or even grown are visualized or voiced when the always alert media comes a-callin’ with trade rumors and whispers in the wind.

Some moves might be counter-moves, made to seem directed towards a general target, but suddenly change direction, showing a more devious and unimagined alternative plan. Take the recent movement by the Rays to get the services of free agent outfielder Coco Crisp. That’s right, the same Crispy critter who almost walked into a James Shields hay maker in 2008 that might have shattered Shield’s pitching hand.

Who in their right Rays mind could have seen this one coming? Of course Crisp decided he like to stay on his dock by the bay and rejected the Rays advances. We know Crisp and Shields have buried their hatchet, but have all the bad blood been drained within the Rays Republic in regards to Crisp? That, my friends is blowing in the wind now, and great fodder for Happy Hour discussions. But the outfielder chatter did not stop with the Coco one, there was another attempt, or stab at Seth Smith, and adequate fielder and hitter in his own right to possibly be a Plan B to the Crisp covert ops.

But you got to ask of there is a problem within the Rays outfield we do not see, or are we possibly looking 4-moves behind the mind right now of Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. I was content to think we might see Desmond Jennings in Right field this season trading spots with Matt Joyce who I thought made his presence known for the full-time gig, even against southpaws. I had come to terms my myself that B J Upton might wear a question mark on his uniform instead of the # 2 this season as his tenure in Rays Center field is more rental than lease with an option to buy. Was starting to think someone named Damon might have the only true answer.

The moves towards Crisp and Smith have me wondering just how much confidence the Rays have in Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer or even Justin Ruggiano to be that 4th asset in the OF puzzle…or if their own Rays existence is also under the microscope as possible trade fodder? It is almost as if I should think of 20 of the 25 names on the Rays roster not named Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Joel Peralta, Evan Longoria or Ben Zobrist are stapled to the Trop turf, but everyone else is up for discussion at some point. And now comes internal gossip the Rays might not have held onto Smith if they had signed him, but used him as more enticing bait for another morsel….How quickly the tides turn in Tampa Bay.

But that is what the Winter Hot Stove season is all about right? Making the waters boil and seeing who rises to the top of the pile and who settles to the bottom, possibly there until the late July Trade Deadline timetable. Early this Winter we had the Ivan Rodriguez, Josh Willingham, Carlos Beltran and finally an afterthought of a Anthony Rizzo acquisition spinning in our head’s before the new year. Sometimes I wish I had a mouse with a lipstick camera or a house fly with a video feed to give me something tangible and substantial to write about before it hits the general airwaves.

I’m beginning to think we need to contact the modern Sherlock Holmes I saw on BBC the other night, he sees in that altered universe realm, and can be perfectly comfortable thinking 6-8 moves ahead of the rest of us mortals. For some reason I think a MI-6 License to Kill might be easier to obtain than a Rays trade whisper. Sure there are still cracks in the Rays armor, but it is in the field personnel and not on the front office lines. Questions abound around the infield now with the Rays inquest towards trying to secure Brooks Conrad and Ryan Theriot.

I had the notion to think it might be a slip up, a showing of their cards that possibly Sean Rodriguez is penciled in at Shortstop and Second in a platoon, and Zobrist again will carry at least 5 gloves to every Rays contest. I thought for a moment I might have cracked a hidden code, possibly being 1-move ahead of the pack with the Rays inquiring about Conrad and Theriot, but their talents were to be as bit players not starters in the proposed Maddon 2012 Tour. Foiled again just when I thought I had inched forward with something of substance again left with poached egg on my grill.

But one day. Ahhh, one day someone will crack the code, bring about the wheeling and dealing to the surface, not with the realm of full disclosure, but with hints, smatterings of intel and possibly make us all giddy again about what really lies behind the Rays Carolina Blue curtains. But I am left right now with the pure facts I will never be in the Rays circle of trust, never be an intricate part of the Rays always unfolding covet machine, finally realizing with crystal clear clarity my best guesses at trades are just those…guesses.

I guess I will have to be content that the powers that be that invisibly move within the 4th Floor sanctum is hard at work making the Rays a better oiled machine. A more precise instrument to take into the 182 battles that make up an MLB season. That I can sleep better at night knowing Friedman is out there somewhere already in work mode to answer those question we have not even asked yet.  Still, the Ryan Madson rumors have me curious….I wonder if there is a motorized mouse online I can buy, or what time is it in London?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 279 other followers