Results tagged ‘ Andrew Friedman ’

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?

Moore’s Extention Provides Some Fiscal Stability for Rays

Finally the Tampa Bay Rays have done something positive in the team-oriented arena besides sending Double-J John Jaso to the Emerald City this off-season. The fact the Rays again signed, sealed and delivered another one of their meteoric rising stars by securing the services of southpaw pitcher Matt Moore until possibly 2019.

The deal might seem a bit minuscule compared to the recent quarter of a billion shelled out for new heavenly Angel 1B Albert Pujols, but it gives Moore a bit of financial stability, but also a huge jolt of confidence the team is behind him 100 percent. Sometimes a small financial boost and stable foundation can do more for a pitcher’s confidence than a new pitching grip.

Then again the Rays have become more comfortable over the last few years to giving their rising stars a chance to firm up not only their bank accounts, but give the team a stability in salary escalation that can be monitored with clarity. Some would say the deal Moore made with the Rays will have both sides smiles for a long, long time.

Kind of funny to me that Moore had to think about this deal for a second: “I had to basically make up my mind, was it worth it. I feel like the risk is being shared on both ends and I’m happy where we are.”

Moore is just the latest in an increasing line of Rays budding stars like James Shields, Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria and Wade Davis to see the team approach them and construct a package that suits both sides of the equation with fairness and stability. According to ESPN, Moore’s contract will be the highest guaranteed dollars and potential earning for a pitcher who has less than 2 years MLB service time.

Moore vaulted past Oakland SP Brett Anderson and Rays rotation mates Shields and Davis who all signed their own exclusive contract extensions after their first full MLB season. That is itself bodes well of the strong opinion and scouting confidence the Rays have in their budding star that he will surpass his 2011 excitement, possibly pushing out someone in the Rays current starting rotation.

The deal also puts the idea of the Rays habitually watching Moore’s MLB service time clock tick away before they can either bring him up to avoid quickening his salary arbitration clock. The deal is definitely a “win-win” on both sides of the coin.

Moore gets a solid $1 million in salary until after 2015, then Moore will begin an ascending odd-numbered salary climb of $3 million (2015). $5 million (2016) and a possible $7 million salary in 2017 when the Rays will begin a 3-year club option phase where the club can decide on his last 3 contract years at a combined $ 26.5 million with a huge buyout of $2.5 million in 2017.

Consider for a moment the magnitude of this contract offer of $39.75 million over 8 MLB seasons. That is just under $2.5 million off the team’s 2011 payroll of $42,171,308. That is a clear and concise affirmation of the Rays commitment to their young left-hander. Oh, let’s not forget, Moore even pocketed a clean $500,000 signing bonus prior to the Press Conference.

Moore might be the first in an expanding list of players within the Rays fold who might have a chance over the next few years to invest their skills long-term with the team and have a nice financial windfall to back their further Rays commitment.

I wonder if Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations has Jeremy Hellickson and his agent as his next new speed-dial number, I know I would.

I Like Ike

Saw an interesting little blip pop up on my laptop screen today that the New York Mets are taking the aggressive road during the current Major League Baseball Winter Meetings in Dallas, Texas and are willing to throw all their cards on the table and see who from within the MLB crew will wheel and deal with them with their basic roster open for discussion.

The Mets have already secured a sizable investment in their reliever corps, and now are setting their sights towards a few other weaknesses going into the cold off-season. With the new ownership basically opening the doors for a MLB-sized garage sale, I wonder just how marked up the price would be for the Tampa Bay Rays to possible pick a particular name off that roster and secure a possible 2012 answer for one of their own glaring weak spots.

There is one name that just keeps flashing brightly at me from among the Mets roster. He is a player who interests me a lot, and who has shown some bright spots in his early MLB career and could possibly grow into the 1B slot for the Rays for several years instead of the team bartering and buying into short-term solutions at the position. An interesting sidebar to this is that current Mets First Baseball Ike (Issac) Davis was initially drafted by the Rays back in the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft in the 19th Round.

Davis ended up spurning the Rays and enrolled at Arizona State University. That might have been a very wise decision career-wise for Davis as his number grew and his offensive power-stroke emerged and he elevated his game enough to be picked with the 18th pick of the First Round during the 2008 MLB Draft by the Mets. Another intriguing sidebar is that Davis is the son of former MLB P Ron Davis who played in the league for 11 seasons. The pair became the 197th Father-Son combo to both play MLB caliber baseball.

Some might discount my desire for Friedman to possibly discuss Davis as “wishful thinking”, but I think the Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and his covert ops scouting deployment squad should take a few moments with baseball gang from Flushing , NY crew swirl a few players names ( possibly SP Jeff Niemann or C Jose Lobaton) to see just how much the Mets are truly dangling their players to the masses.

Then again, the Mets might be a bit “trade shy” of the Rays since the pain still lingers a bit with some of the front office staff about the Kazmir-Zambrano trade fiasco. But that should be water under the George Washington bridge by now, and if the Rays collect a few interesting names both from their MLB or farm system, the Mets could use them as clear fodder to go after another player of their choosing. Heck, why not possibly investigate who the Mets have on their radar and the Rays, Mets and a third-party come up with a solution that will give everyone a Cheshire cat grin.

Davis has the admiration of his teammates, especially former Mets, no Marlins SS Jose Reyes. Tell me this is not the kind of glowing testimonial that would not have you knocking on the Met’s hotel room door asking about Davis “ People talk about hit hitting, but he is one of the best defensive First Baseman you will ever see for a player his age”. That quote alone should perk up Friedman’s ears towards at least investigating Davis.

Davis did not have a great 2011 due to a lingering ankle injury he sustained back on May 10th when he rolled his ankle during a routine pop-up near the pitching mound. Davis gutted out the injury off-the-field doing rehab and working to try to bring the ankle back into playing strength before the end of the 2011 season. Still, the defensive-minded 1B posted some pretty impressive offensive numbers for his second MLB season.

In 139 at bats in 36 games, Davis had a .304 Batting Average, a OPS of .925 and hit 7 Home Runs and 25 Rb I’s. Some say the injury might have prevented the former 2004 High School All-American from posting a breakout season. Davis is ripe on the MLB vine right now, and the Rays should pluck him before someone else comes in and takes him away.

Davis has the defensive skills, the budding offensive power and is a humble and down-to-earth player that quickly became a Met’s fan favorite. All three of these facts fit perfectly into the Rays list of trading for potential players, and with Davis set to make possibly under $500,000 for the season, he fits the fiscal ramifications of being pursued by the club.

Problem with this is simply what is Davis worth on the Rays scale? Is he worth a small cache of minor leaguer’s and a MLB caliber player. Would the Mets possibly take Niemann or Wade Davis plus maybe another Rays pitching farm hands like Alex Torres or Nick Barnese with a kicker of one of the Rays budding catching prospect from Lo baton to Nevin Ashley.

I personally would call the Mets, possibly for at least a sit-down, possible discussion on the true availability of Davis, and if he is on the table, strike while the iron is hot this Hot Stove season. The Rays could bag a young maturing First Baseman who they can financially control for a period of time, plus plug a huge gap on the left side of their infield with a player who could have All-Star potential. Then again, who knows, maybe Friedman has already ventured into this garage sale, taken his notes and is awaiting a moment to make his move…..plus Davis’s trademark # 29 is available….better get Westy on the Batphone.

Would the Rays Entertain a Possible Man-Dam Reunion for 2012?

Last off season we became intrigued by the possibility that two men could hold the fortunes of the Tampa Bay Rays within their veterans hands. One provided a bit of stability to a offense that sometimes tumble, tumbled and fell upon it’s face, the other was a gamble, but not a costly one. Each player had their pros and cons for their addition to this young squad, and each blazed their own path for the season early, one falling from grace while the other was quickly embraced by the Rays Republic.

When Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez emerged for their 2011 Press Conference within the confines of Tropicana Field, the sky seemed the limit for these two aging gladiators of the AL East wars. Both brought a huge chunk of veteran promise towards eradicating and eliminating the offensive woes of this young Rays squad.

The Spring came and went with each providing moments that quickly gathered energy and excitement, with each accomplishment building more confidence within the Rays Republic as to their inclusion on the Rays roster. In the end, it was the stability and leadership of Damon, and the perplexity of “Manny being Manny” that played out their parts and determined each of their roles.

So here we are almost a year later and again both of their free agent names are producing a intriguing hum along the Coconut Telegraph as a potential Rays duo once again. But I have to ask this in advance this time, will the rubber hit the road with either of them in 2012, or could this be a possible “Pat the Bat” moment in waiting?

We all know each player has offensive merits, and their liabilities are well documented, but if the price is comparable to their 2011 salaries, could this be the momentum to include them again in the Rays fold? To what extent do we believe the sincerity of Ramirez, and do we believe Damon’s “youthful” 2011 campaign will play out miraculously again, or fall flat on its face. When veterans are brought in there are risk, but do the risks outweigh the stats when winning has to be archived to stay the course or ramp up wins in 2012?

Damon has hinted he would love to again don the Rays Carolina blue unis and stay within his home state for another Rays tour. But even within Damon’s statement there is a dark looming cloud that could not only wreck such a reunion, but could deflate it instantly. Even in the enthusiastic language displayed by Damon in his want for a return into the Rays fold, his hint of a possible migration to Houston has to bring up some interesting question marks.

Why would Damon want to glide into Minute Maid Park possibly for the 2012 season when that team will be entering it last tour of duty as a National League franchise. Because of Damon’s obvious defensive skill depreciation as a fielder, his optimistic attitude in possibly joining the Houston club at this juncture seems a bit odd. This same oratory would make more sense in the 2012 off season as the Houston club re-evaluates and re-tools for their own migration into the AL West.

Doesn’t it seem more apt and par for the course that Damon would return to the Rays for 2012 with a possibly of a small raise in pay and the same attendance incentives. This kind of move would give Damon a chance to start the 2012 season in Tampa Bay, then if the Rays show a talent/ win digression , he could be a solid Trade Deadline addition for the Maestros emerging as an early candidate for their 2013 Designated Hitter slot. You also have to ask yourself if Damon knows a piece of information or move we are not privy to, or if it is just pure conjecture on his part at this moment.

The double talk of Damon eventually showing his cards to both locales would seem moot to some, but the underlying questions is why is Damon showing his cards so early, and why even mention Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman’s name at all, especially since there is a slim chance of him leaving the Rays and going “home” to Houston. Damon is a smart guy, maybe he is playing the odds in both directions even though it could cost him a bit at the bargaining table in the end.

Then there is Ramirez. A guy who can drive you batty with his bat and dialog as well as his off-the-field distractions. We all know of his transgressions early in the 2011 season, and it is not worth time mentioning it past this sentence. Still, his domestic situation brings about its own red flags, and possibly makes his name quickly disappear from the Rays “Wish List” this off season, even at a huge discount.

Even though Ramirez has paid his supposed penances by removing himself from baseball for the entire 2011 season, will MLB mandate a 50-game sentence still before he can even step upon a MLB diamond. It might be a bit of time before the MLB honchos and the MLBPA sort out his options, eliminating him from the Rays equation by proxy.

I was not upset or even a bit surprised by the announcement of Ramirez’s suspension in 2011, but it still cuts deep into the Rays Republic’s aching heart when this past April, as the Rays floundered at the bottom of the AL East, Manny had to vacate the clubhouse bringing an unneeded and warranted distraction that could of cost the Rays more than just a dismal April.

Because Ramirez was not lighting up the Rays scoreboard or providing moments of clarity or brilliance at the time of his “reveal”, he was able to fade away basically because we let him. But could a Manny return be in the works possibly with Ramirez again giving a bargain basement price so he can again elevate his game and possibly bargaining chip as a trade piece come late July bringing the Rays an addition that could get them again into the October promised land.

I guess the answer all depends on your own opinions as to the ultimate worth of these two players, and if the risk is work the possible rewards, or keeping them out of the hands of divisional foes. These two names might not be heard loudly among the MLB Winter Meeting hallways in Dallas this week, but their presence even outside the comfort level of teams within their division will merit as least a glance in their direction.

So should the Rays even listen to a Manny conversation this off season, or just watch as he aligns himself possibly with the Baltimore Orioles or maybe even the New York Yankees and become a thorn in the Rays rise once again. You almost wish the Rays had the payroll of New York or the Boston Red Sox just so we can take him out of the American League East equation in every aspect. Problem is, if Manny comes back to the AL East in 2012, what penalty will MLB propose, or will he possibly be welcomed back with open arms having stayed away from the game for almost a year.

When Damon and Manny emerged for that Press Conference the room grew suddenly silent. There was an aire of dramatic change of realistic hopes of veterans of this caliber embracing this young team and their quest for another trip deep into the playoffs. Manny had to buy a ticket to see those games, Damon got a front row seat to watch this team mature before his eyes. Both took extremely different paths in 2011, but could a possible 2012 reunion or resolution tour be warranted?

Filling the First Base Hole is Crucial for Success


It is no secret among anyone in Major League Baseball right now that the Tampa Bay Rays are in need of a First Baseman. Be it from a trade, a free agent or maybe even a budding star caught between a rock and a potential All-Star, the Rays will find their man, but at what price?

Heck just for conversation and a few giggles, can Andy Sonnanstine play First Base? Seriously I am not applying Sonny name to the 1B fodder list, it is just he has done everything else for the Rays, plus he will finally get a gig where he can hit daily.

You can immediately take names like Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Jorge Posada and Derrek Lee out of the think tank mostly because of the fear it would cause instantly to the Rays payroll situation. Even past Rays familiar names like Russell Branyan, Eric Hinske, Brad Hawpe, Jorge Cantu, Adam Kennedy, and Carlos Pena might give each of us a wonder if they can again be monster at the plate and huge pillows in the field, but their tenures have come and gone for this team.

Dan Johnson, the Rays 2011 Opening Day starter refused a assignment and is also within the free agent wading pool. His exploits, especially in the latter weeks of the season have made him a folk hero in Tampa Bay, but his dismal early season slump in 2011 made in more than expendable. Johnson has unfortunately had a yo-yo existence with the Rays from his plucking off the waiver wire, to a year in Japan courtesy of the Rays, to being a part of this team by proxy in Triple-A Durham then emerging with memorable Home Runs and spontaneous eruptions of power. If only he could get that power spurt to last 180 days during the regular season.

Interesting name do pop out at you from the list of potential young free agents like the powerful ex-Yankee Juan Miranda. The former Cuban baseball star signed a reasonable $2 million contract with the Yankees in 2006, and like former team Cuba team mate and current Rays farm hand Leslie Anderson, Miranda has not shown the verbosity yet to possibly warrant more than a casual look by the Rays. That and a limited MLB experience which mired Miranda with a .226 career average, this might take him out of any Rays consideration.

 Michael Cuddyer might be an interesting name to associate with the Rays in their 1B quest, but his Type A status, which could cost the Rays draft pick might be a huge stop sign to any advancement towards his name. We all know how the Rays value their draft picks, and accumulate them like canned goods to weather any impending payroll storm. I actually would love to see what Cuddyer would do with his photographic talents if given a few extra months of Trop photography….but that is not a reason to sign him (bummer).

There might be a few young tradeable names to ponder for the Rays, but then again it might come down to the “want “ list by the other franchise, possibly killing the deal in the initial chatter phase. If the Miami Marlins do indeed get Price or King Albert to guard their First Base bag, it will be interesting to see how the team positions Gaby Sanchez for relocation. With the Marlins pretty set with at least 3 starters on the books, there is room for rotation adjustments and improvement, but would someone like Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann or an Rays prospect on the cusp plus a young catcher like Jose Lobaton or Nevin Ashley be enough to land the powerful Marlin?

Or could the dangling of Cincinnati Reds young hitter Yonder Alonso be the morsel that tempts the Rays into digging into their roster and farm system possibly bringing Alonso to Tampa Bay where he will have a free range position in front of him unlike in Cincy where Joey Votto is cemented at 1B for the immediate future. The problem with Alonso is not his value, but the deal it would take to possibly separate him from his Reds jersey and into a Rays uniform.

Would Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman be willing to possibly delete SP James Shields from his roster even before Spring Training, or can be package a deal possibly including some middle infield talent, plus a budding pitcher and possibly another player to get this deal done and put a solid body with a few years of flexibility at the corner position for the Rays? Alonso might be a power upgrade over the Rays 2011 First Base corps, but will he be the fielding gem the Rays need to keep their defensive fielding advantage intact?

Even though other First Baseman names out there like Lyle Overbay and Jason Giambi might tweak a bit of Rays interest as potential platoon members, their salaries definitely might be out of the Rays comfort zone, immediately dissecting their name from the 1B Carousel.

In my honest opinion, I am still hopeful the Rays can plug in Rays 2011 First Baseman Casey Kotchman as a exclamation point into this pondering question. Still there are questions within this easy solution to the Rays First Base dilemma. Kotchman’s biggest stumbling block to him possibly getting a multi-year deal might be his ponderance for low power numbers. Still, if the guy can get the needed hits, place himself up near .300 and produce scoring opportunities and drive in runs, does that vault him over a guy who might hit 20+ HR and have a average glove?

This decision on the immediate horizon for the Rays has to have their direct and undivided attention. This current opening that the Rays need to fill this off season is the keystone of their defensive alignment. Get the right glove and bat into this slot, and the Rays could see their offense suddenly pull a Rasputin and emerge from their slumber with their lumber. Whatever happens, this one move will send immediate signals on the way the Rays want to do business in 2012.

Sure you would love to possibly see someone like Cantu come back, or possibly entertain a Pena reunion, but those scenarios might not be in the compromised deck of cards the Rays have for 2012. Possibly a Alonso or Sanchez could fall into the Rays hands, but at what cost, and is Rays pitching really such a high point that losing a Shields, Davis or even a emerging Cobb or Torres not produce a few shock waves?

This one movement by the Rays front office this Winter will be watched closely by the Rays Republic because First Base is just that critical a spot for the Rays, and only a solid corner man will fit nicely with the square peg shape of First Base.

Molina Light,a Possible Backstop Libation for the 2012 Rays

When I first heard we were possibly getting a member of the famed Molina trifecta of catching. Instantly my mind was a-flutter with who of the trio of Molina’s had been caught in the Rays net. I knew instantly it could not be Yadier. For the youngest Molina was probably still basking in the underdog afterglow after securing the improbable 2011 World Series Championship.

My mind quickly shifted gears 180 degrees wondering if my old baseball friend Bengie was eager to help his old Halos Bench Coach and current Rays Manager Joe Maddon strengthen up his pitching staff and young catchers. I was thrust back into our own Rays Republic reality when I heard Bengie is loving his time away from the game watching his kids grow up, and possibly hinting of a return of his own to the diamond, but not as a player.

 With the two bookend Molinas accounted for as non-factors for the 2012 Rays roster, it left only the middle brother and a bit of a mid-line offensive minded Molina. Neither of the potential choice cuts of the Molina clan where heading to Tampa Bay. Instead we might be getting the robust yet refined Molina Light.

Granted Jose Benjamin Molina Matta has his own set of World Series rings the first garnered in 2002 when he backed up older bro Bengie with the Halos, then again in 2009 as a member of the New York Yankees. This middle-of-the-road Molina had a bit of history in his baseball resume after becoming the last MLB player to hit a Home Run in the original Yankee Stadium.

After that game the baseball savvy Molina took to quoting famous Bronx icon Babe Ruth who in his last public speech at the original Yankee Stadium said, “I was glad to have hit the first home run in this park. God knows who will hit the last”. Now that is paying the ultimate homage to a man who’s offensive swagger was said to have built the original Yankee Stadium.

 I am sorry if the “Molina Light” might seem a bit harsh, but it is unfortunately realistic. If you had a choice of any of the trio, even the retired Bengie would get your honest vote over the former Toronto Blue Jay backstop. Sure Jose is the tallest of the Molina catching foundation standing a robust 6 foot 2 inches, but his career total of 24 Home Runs, 430 hits and a lifetime .241 average begs you to consider him “light” with the lumber.

In his favor is his uncanny ability to get the most out of his pitchers, especially young staffs. I was impressed over the past 2 MLB seasons when Molina was handed a merry-go-round of pitchers to become familiar with, some with experience, both most still just raw talents. He sculpted that young staff, refined a few of their weaknesses and used their advantages night in and night out to steal critical wins from opponents. I shudder to think what that staff would of accomplished had there not been the injuries and setbacks.

With the Rays possibly having maybe 2-3 starting pitchers coming into Spring Training 2012 with less than 2 full MLB seasons of work, maybe the 1 year deal for Molina with a club option kicker might end up being more than the Rays usual modus operandi of a solid veteran presence to act as a mentor to work with and teach the Rays young crew of backstops, plus add another layer of fine tuned seasoning to guys like young pitchers Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Torres and Alex Cobb.

The Rays would be however experiencing Deja Vu by bringing in another veteran catcher who has a skilled and solid defensive style, which firmly fits the Rays mold, but Molina has seen his offensive numbers decline since 2010, and that gives me a huge reason for concern. Still signing Molina for a 1-year deal with a club option for 2013 could end up being both financially feasible and a future insurance policy in the event John Jaso or Jose Lobaton can not grow and escalate to take this Rays pitching staff to a higher level.

Jose Molina might not be my favorite Molina, but I respect his past present and future work ethic and his undying courage to sit another season behind the plate and get battered night after night by bats, balls and thundering base runners. In that regard he is a solid choice, and along with his skill at slicing and dicing the pitching game plan into a lean, mean strikeout machine, he could be a welcome and solid addition for 2012.

In retrospect, the Rays are a better team with any Molina behind the plate be it Bengie, Yadier or Jose. Who knows, if Dioner Navarro can have a breakout season and be an All-Star, maybe the Rays are just the place for another Molina brother to make his mark.

Will Price’s Venture into Arbitration Facilitate a Rays Countermeasure?

Southpaw starting pitcher David Price easily can be considered the most important cog to retain in the Tampa Bay Rays surging competitive machine. His potential is limited only by his own tinkering and shifting in his pitching grips. His confidence and abilities might have taken a direct hit in 2011, but his first season as a Rays “ace” definitely showed he has huge potential and “up-side” to grow into the role and Price is eager to embrace these challenges.

As his abilities have grown, so will his seasonal salary, with Price garnering a sustainable $1.25 million for 2011, Price definitely will see his bank account expand in the coming seasons. Some people among the Rays Republic were shocked when Price opted out of his original 6-year $8.5 million dollar payday recently with the Rays. After achieving Super Two status this past season, Price was in a position to not throw a curveball into the Rays 2012 plans, but possibly offer a bit of salary stability if the Rays would talk about an extended foundation in the Rays fold. Price was set to earn $ 1.5 million for 2012, plus garner the last deferred installment payment of his $ 5.6 million signing bonus from his original Rays contract signed on August 15, 2007.

Some have said publicly that Price executing his right to refuse his 2012 option of $ 2.433 million was a formality, possibly a venue for the Rays and Price to discuss another deal for the long haul. But his decision to exercise his right to refuse his option might put a few of the Rays “wishes” for offensive help on the back burner for a bit possibly putting handcuffs on the Rays front office from getting that needed offensive firepower to stay competitive.

Then again, the move by Price could be a calculated risk with Price knowing he could bring a sense of salary stability with an extended deal instead of the financial darkness that always overshadows the arbitration process. The Rays currently have club control over Price until 2015. But with Price’s decline of his 2012 set salary, his suspected 2012 salary jumps tremendously from the $ 2.4 million figure to between $ 7-8 million dollars just for 2012.

Price could go instantly this off-season from a true Rays payroll value to potentially being the top dog (sorry Astro) within the Rays salary hierarchy. This off-season both Price and arbitration eligible CF B J Upton could both possibly take between $14-16 million of the Rays payroll between themselves. That is why a long-term understanding between the Rays and Price should be on the table this Winter.

Price’s decision definitely puts the Rays front office behind the 8-ball this Winter to either sign Price to a team friendly extension, or face the reality that his escalating arbitration salaries after 2012 might make Price more of a liability financially as his abilities escalate upwards. You wonder if the Rays will stand by patiently watching as Price’s salary escalates yearly finally seeing the Rays faced with another Scott Kazmir or Carl Crawford situation as his worth exceeds the Rays fiscal abilities.

This move by Price could transition into a finely packaged extended stay with the Rays for the southpaw, or be the first indicator of his own exit visa being stamped with a potential 2015 date. possibly shipped out before that expiration date. Rays payrolls for the next few seasons might not venture even close to the previous high of $72+ million dollar threshold back in 2008.

SP Jame Shields has a bevy of club option salaries of $ 9 million ($1.5 million buy-out) for 2013 and $ 12 million for 2014 on the immediate horizon, and these high dollar figures will make him instantly expendable as early as July 2012. Current Rays offensive spark plug 3B Evan Longoria will see his 2011 salary double from $ 2 million to $4.5 million in 2012 with club options on the horizon that balloon to $7.5 million (2014) to $11.5 million in 2016. Even 2B/OF Ben Zobrist will see his coffers increase from $4.5 million in 2012 to a possible $ 7.5+ million club option in 2015. Suddenly this Rays cohesive core has an impending high salary expiration date.

This whole Price situation can go a multitude of directions. The two sides could sit down, iron out an extended stay with the club with team friendly terms. Or the Rays could venture into the unknown void of the arbitration process that will surely see Price’s value escalate skyward on a yearly basis until Price is a high dollar risk and an instant trade commodity.

This fiscal nightmare has been on the horizon for some time. With extended deals signed prior by Zobrist, Shields,Longoria and last season with SP Wade Davis. The Rays financial nightmare scenario might have been set into motion by Price’s option out of his low-ball 2012 salary. Other members of the Rays young core will soon reach salary arbitration for the first time and financial decisions will have to be made as to the breaking point nears for this Rays expanding young nucleus.

That is the fiscal reality of the Rays. They are a franchise that is currently treading water in a deepening financial MLB ocean as salaries push them under and they gasp for needed financial relief. There is the potential for salvation, or the realistic drowning financially of this franchise. Either way, the Rays player movements this Winter will definitely define their direction and their commitment towards their young core. Within the next few years with a few budding stars pushed out by their impending financial burdens, not their talents.

The final rendering of their movements with Price will either send out shock tremors, or sighs of relief. Price is the keystone to this movement. The first to walk through this fragile threshold, and he will definitely not be the last. Price is wandering into the impending darkness not knowing his final destination, but hopefully the Rays will illuminate the path with their trademark sunburst and make the whole journey pleasant for both sides. Price is betting his Rays future on it.

Angels Tried to Pull a Maddon Kayfabe Move on Us

How ironic and funny is it that a region like Tampa Bay that boasts one of the largest community of off season home of carnival and circus operators in the country (Gibsonton, Florida) almost missed the entire reverse zabi-da with a side twist fiasco repatriated by those dastardly Angels? Maybe the rest of Major League Baseball truly see us all within the Rays Republic as the perfect rubes or Jabroni’s as we ventured again to believe what is in front of our eyes as 100 percent accurate instead of questioning sideways motives, or poking our noses deeper into situations to gather the honest truth.

I am beginning to think the Rays Republic (myself included) possibly could truly be so innocent and virginal to the perpetual dark-sided dealing that live within the M L B code that we all completely missed the indicators or slight-of-hand trickery that should have directed our diverted attentions to the real reason for the dinner date between Los Angels Angels of Anaheim owner Arturo Moreno and Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. WE truly missed the real ballyhoo objective, and could have potentially lost a great asset to the Rays past success

We somehow became more mesmerized by the thought of Friedman departing than to see the behind the scenes workings of another plot of deceptive move to take a important cog of the Rays winning machine. I can admit freely I never even imagined questioning that dinner date as more than a friendly gesture of Moreno wanting to see if Friedman would/could entertain a move to join his little band of West Coast gypsy’s and run his Halo’s operation.

What we all missed was the precision puppet string work being done with pure finesse and accuracy as the Angels used Friedman’s dinner as a deceptive tool while the Angels went after their original target with vigor and vitality. Who could have rightfully imagined that the California dining adventure between Friedman and Moreno was actually the ending movement of an apparent smokescreen by the Angels after they were turned away after seeking permission to talk to current Rays Manager Joe Maddon for their GM vacancy.

Sure the Angels did it the right way in contacting Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg and “asking” in advance for permission to speak with Merlot Joe, but the Angels were informed the Rays skipper was happy and content in his present role. Still the Rays usual Def con 6 level of media black-outs left all of us in the dark until some of the whole enchilada began to unfold outside the Rays grip on the situation.

All the while we in the Rays Republic were anxious about a possible Friedman escape and we entirely missed all the signals and signs that the Angel coveted Maddon. Even though Maddon still has a year on his Rays current contract, the team would have been compensated for their cerebral conductor of the Rays Way possibly with players, prospects and maybe even a future MLB draft selection, but that is all moot now as Merlot Joe is still part of the Tampa Bay franchise.

There was even a highly placed rumor of a nice salary bump, possibly a doubling of his current Rays salary if Maddon had entertained the Angels advances , but Joe instead biked away from the chance proving once again he truly does bleed Rays blue now.

The artful dodger gamesmanship by the Angels just goes to show even in the deceptive world of baseball, the intended target is not always the wanted one on the radar. Somewhere Rays supporter Brian Knobs and John Ceno could be sitting around today talking Carny about how the Angels almost “froze the tip”, had the Rays Republic paying close and continued attention while a different pitch was being presented just out of their eyesight…

Guess from now on I am going to think about some of the chatter and talking coming out of MLB with two trains of thought…the truth and the swerving end-around angle that would benefit those just out of our sight lines. So maybe the off season workings of baseball have “heels”, “workers” and produce a ballyhoo of hidden expectations and side moves. Maybe I am not a well versed smark, but who knew that baseball had so much Carny motives running around within it?

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