Results tagged ‘ Andrew Friedman ’

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?

With First Chapter Scribed, Shield’s 2012 Rays Journey Begins

I completely love how Tampa Bay Rays starter James Shields had more than a few people surrounding the Rays Republic worried about “if” the Rays would pick-up his hefty 2012 club option. You heard the voices from both sides of the equation that Shields might be possibly “let go” or continue his tenure with the team after Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg’s well publicized rant about costs, attendance and another possible decrease in their proposed 2012 payroll.

Ever since the Rays got shoved out of the 2012 playoffs, any roster decisions seemed to again be bound by the usual Rays CIA-style cloak. Shields own continuous existence with the Rays at that point seemed steeped in a ever flowing stream of mystery and innuendo. As Shields packed for the off season and his migration to his Las Vegas off season home, he never knew for sure if this was his last moment in the Rays clubhouse.

Some wondered if Shield’s 2011 “comeback” was genuine or enough to boost the Rays confidence enough to guarantee that their Rays “greybeard” would again grace a Tampa Bay uniform. Skeptics thought another year like 2011 was not within Shields make-up, while other hope his transformation woulds help lead this team as long as the Rays felt Shields was a positive influence and fiscally feasible.

Even after possibly posting the best turnaround season for a pitcher in Rays history, you could not confidently bet the farm on Shield’s chances, or if the Rays would abruptly break their long-standing ties with Shields. Some hedged the facts that Shields could again fall into the folly with a breakdown like his 2010 campaign. Doubters still filled the Rays tank, possibly splashing fact after fact as to the percentages of Shield again faltering instead of soaring upward.

But with the Rays decision, that train of thought, for now, as firmly left the station. The idea of Shields anxiously pacing and sitting by the phone is over. The Rays did indeed decide Shields was worth his $ 7.5 million club option. So the first chapter of this Rays tale is in the book, but there could be plenty more set to be written even before the Rays mid-February report date for Pitchers and Catchers. There could be nothing to report, or there could possibly be an upcoming surprise and unexpected twist.

Just because the Rays exercised their 2012 club option on Shields, that doesn’t guarantee or even posture that he will be with the team for the entire 2012 season. This could be just the first step in a cloak and dagger Rays resolution with Shields. There will be a few key points in 2012 where Shields future could be as fragile as glass or sturdy as the steel reinforced cables holding the Trop’s roof taut. Even before the news left my ears that Shields had been retained, a recent rumors danced into my mind with visions of intrigue and speculation.

Not even 2 hours South of Tampa Bay new Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen would love a secondary punch like Shields in his 2012 rotation. Guillen knows first-hand of the ability of Shields to command respect on the mound, of his embracing of foster children’s charities and his strive for greatness every 5 days on the hill.

Shields is the kind of pitcher that would have the back of the Marlins current ace Josh Johnson and be a nice transition between Johnson and Anibel Sanchez making a great 1-2-3 fish attack. Plus the National League East is another hotbed of competitive baseball and with Shield’s past resume in the American League East, he would be a godsend for that team.

The Marlins would definitely dangle their estranged outfield prospect Logan Morrison as bait for Shields. The power starved Rays offense could be bolstered by Morrison, but it opens another can of prospective worms as to who in the Rays outfield would see more limited time with such a move. I am glad I am not Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman because I might take a deeper look into that scenario.

Still $ 7.5 million is a lot in the Rays economic environment. That amount by itself would have paid for Johnny Damon and possibly two of the Rays rookie salaries in 2011. I wonder if this rumor has any true foundation, but then again the Marlins might do anything to rid themselves of what a player their own front office made an ridiculous and spiteful example of in 2011.

Another option open to the Rays would be to hold on tight to Shields until near the end of Spring Training in 2012 and decide if their young prospects like SP Alexander Torres, Alex Cobb or even Matt Moore can pull the same pitching weight as Shields, then make a trade before Opening Day. This is rather unlikely, but the Rays have done a few trades and acquiring of talent even when the ink on the 25-man roster was starting to dry.

The most realistic option might be for the team to hold onto Shields until that dreaded last ticking of the Trade Deadline in July with the Rays picking up a few pieces or prospects in exchange for the last 60 days of Shields services in 2012. You can bet the entire season teams will keep a sharp lookout on Shield’s stats and development.

Shield’s could be a key component of this Rays rotation in 2012, or use as a bargaining chip to obtain another key piece to the formulation of the Rays 2012 roster. No matter what happens, Shields has been a inspirational Rays leader and a member of this team who has bled Carolina blue with a passion.

With the Rays picking up Shield’s 2012 option some within the Rays Republic feel Shields will be here for the entire season, while other feel he is already no borrowed time. But Shield’s now has the security of knowing he is wanted by the Rays, but not to the exact extent of that “want”. Let’s hope Shields can at least get to the dog days of Summer before we again have to bring this subject up. I think he has earned that.

More Answers than Questions (Thank Goodness) This Rays Offseason


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could a Forced Payroll Ruin the Competitive Rays?

You know Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, Rays President Matt Silverman and Vice-President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman are anxiously awaiting the end to the 2011 post season. Possibly even before the fizzle leaves the last champagne bottle, and the last tinsel of ticker tape hits the pavement, there could be an announcement by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig about baseball’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Unlike the NFL and NBA, MLB and the MLBPA have been working themselves into a fever trying to get their own deal finalize, in place and ready to implement as soon as the curtain is drawn on the 2011 Fall Classic. For some clubs around the MLB, this upcoming announcement could be met with both joy and sadness as elements of the overall agreement are opened to the public. Some teams could face hardships, other revisions of their anointed Winter of 2011 scenarios, but all will eagerly be awaiting the final draft of the document.

Even with all this positive energy surrounding some of the preliminary items already leaked to the public, there could be a potential dark side to the new CBA, one that could instantly help or hinder the Rays 2012 season blueprint. Potentially there have been talk of a minimal salary or “competitive balance” ceiling that every club will have to maintain within the season, possibly setting into motion 180 degree changes or implementations of a different roster formulation.

Not only will some of the smaller market clubs feel some pain, but it could stifle the first few weeks of free agency as teams readjust their expectations, circumvent their initial plans in place, and possibly even abandon some potential deals currently in the works behind the scenes.

Ever since MLB Commissioner Bud Selig spanked the Florida/Miami Marlins both verbally and in writing for their blatant funneling of luxury tax funds from the upper echelon MLB teams, there have been more than whispers about a reverse luxury tax, possibly taking money from clubs that do not do their due diligence to stay competitive or hide the money for another rainy payroll day. Teams like the Marlins, Rays, Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates fit this bill with payroll all coming in under $ 60 million dollars.

Amazingly the Marlins  led that small segment of the lower echelon of the MLB salary ladder with over $ 57 million in player salaries, while the Rays ($ 42.1 million) and Pirates ($ 42.04 million) were not the bargain basement dwellers when it comes to their club’s 2011 payroll. That honor ( if you call it that) went to the Royals who had a 2011 club payroll of just under $ 40 million.

Interesting enough, the Chicago Cubs ($ 134 million), Los Angeles Angels ($ 141.7 million), New York Mets ($142.7 million), Boston Red Sox ($163.8 million), Philadelphia Phillies ($165.9 million), and of course the New York Yankees ($ 207 million) all had the payrolls and revenues to have individually paid the salaries of all 3 of the MLB’s bottom 3 all by themselves. Some say that with the new CBA there will be a salary revolution, and teams from Tampa Bay north to Cleveland and west to San Diego will feel the fiscal vibrations first.

Winter payroll prep and roster plans are already formulated and signed, sealed and delivered for most of the MLB, but for clubs near the bottom of the fiscal food chain, the CBA announcement could be their blessing or curse for their preconceived forecasts for their roster makeup for the Spring of 2012.

If MLB does impose a mandatory $65 million dollar payroll bottom end for their franchises, this could both hurt or help the Rays. It would force a rethinking of the overall progress of the franchise as they reload as a competitive unit. With a slew of rookies and second years players possibly dotting the roster again in 2012, their collective salaries would be minimal compared to the high dollar salary of wily veterans or potential free agents. Sternberg has hinted in previous interviews that the low intake of revenues by the Rays during the 2011 season would be felt in the team’s player personnel makeup.

If MLB mandates a set bottom for payroll for the Rays would it help the likes of Johnny Damon or Casey Kotchman in getting a longer tenure with the Rays, or could it open avenues for the Rays to circumvent the system a hair and offer long-term deals to David Price, Matt Joyce and possibly B J Upton to put their 2012 mandated dollars to work without a huge influx of new personnel or expectations? If the Rays did fund a payroll of $65 million, would it have to take funds from other sections of the team like their development and scouting, or possibly from their promotional budget?

When Selig begins to speak at the microphone about the new CBA, the Rays Republic should be eager to read behind the words. MLB is set to transform into a new generation, and teams staying near the bottom rung of the MLB salary ladder could greatly be effected by the new agreement, and it provisions and expectations.

But right now the conversation might seem moot. Trite because the writing is not in front of us, the proverbial pen has not left the paper and things could change dramatically before the final document is sent to the printer. A salary cap might seem like a blessing to some within the Rays Republic to make Sternberg and his crew bring in vital cogs to the Rays machine for 2012, potentially circumventing our own farm system and clogging up the lanes again to the Major Leagues for so many of the Rays budding players.

I hope I am worrying about nothing, that a salary cap will not even be broached and voiced by Selig or the MLBPA. Then again, Selig’s 2012 rants towards the Marlins shows that MLB wants the bottom rung to move up farther away from the ooze of the muck. Problem is, will that cause a baseball evolution or slice into an already streamlined Rays payroll forecast for 2012….I can already hear the darkened clouds rumbling.

Relax Rays Republic, Friedman Already has the Best Job in Baseball

You’ve got to admit the job of being the Tampa Bay Rays Vice-President of Baseball Operations has to be one of the most challenging jobs within Major League Baseball. Your job requirements could change as drastically as the Florida weather, and even the most mundane situation could get blown out of proportions.

Is there any other  M L B GM position where you have to possess the patience of Job while doing your own daily battle with due diligence to keep both your player and payroll bubble from bursting…daily. Friedman’s obvious gift for multi-tasking might be the key to his game plan where he can constantly juggle his priorities and requirements with precision, while having to balance both wise and frugal prospects on a simultaneous basis keeping harmony within the Rays cohesive environment.

All the above completed, Friedman can check-off his daily “Honey-Do” list before throwing on his other important “ cap”, where he basically becomes a quasi-carnival soothsayer selling a dose of the magic that embodies the Rays dreamscape to a prospective free agent. Seems like an insurmountable bags of tricks to keep in harmony without dropping a single aspect, but Friedman handles each task like he has been doing it for 25-odd seasons.

I really do not blame the Rays boy wonder for checking out other  M L B landscapes, possibly kicking the tires on a few other General Manager vacancies. Sometimes the best job motivator is the chance to see that your present job is a cakewalk compared to another positions. Plus he does have a few waking moments before the final out of the World Series, and again back to the off-season rind of making the Rays competitive again for 2012 in that dastardly AL East competitive jungle.

On the surface all of the 29 other GM posts look inviting, but you never know what might be hidden just beyond the public’s view , hidden behind their logo or field façade. With teams in ownership renovations like Friedman’s hometown Houston Astros, there is bound to be temptation, possibly be some fantasy visions of building your hometown team into another stellar farm system behemoth and then watching as that franchise returns to newfound glory on your watch.

You have to let Friedman do the window shopping, gain some more outside ideas, possibly turning his own position into a more powerful weapon against his  M L B foes. Best motivation is an employee knowing he can grow and influence within his job while gaining and obtaining respect among his own business community. Friedman has done that and more during his short tenure with the Rays.

I feel that Friedman is as valuable a commodity to this franchise’s current and future success as David Price or Evan Longoria. Friedman (an ex-baseball player) might not hit Home Runs or finesse a slider over the plate, but his off-the-field performances out of the sight line of most fans has put his name solidly into the top echelon among M L B GM’s.

If Friedman ever went on the free market with an open and honest intention of leaving the Rays, it would become a M L B free-for-all. What team would not possibly shake their own tree bare and offer the moon to Friedman?

I definitely do not see any danger in Friedman’s recent “dinner date” with Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno. The Head Halo doesn’t seem to be fashioned from the same Carolina blue cloth as Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg. Moreno seems more like the type who would be looking over Friedman’s shoulder, possibly shouting his personnel intention with gusto, pushing that envelope to be a “on-hands” owner instead of letting his capable leader take the reins with in interaction. That by itself should be enough to stave off Friedman.

But there is something that might make some worry among the Rays Republic. The apparent yearly “open agreement” or contract between Friedman and Sternberg could be viewed as a quick release valve if Friedman wanted a quick departure from the Rays fold. Friedman has been on basically a free agent one-year revolving contract agreement since day 1, possibly earning more than we even imagine to run this franchise like a well oiled machine.

Are the Rays GM rewards enough to keep Friedman satisfied, or will he eventually bolt for greener pastures in the future? What could be the tipping point that would send Friedman salivating towards another adventure, much like Raymond stalking a Kayem hot dog? There have been hints, but no real solid evidence that Sternberg might have a future spot in his ownership group for Friedman. That his escalating “retirement fund/401-K” may actually be a future small plot of ownership in this franchise Friedman has sweated bullets for, and seen pop post season celebratory champagne bottle while toeing the fine line of a shoestring budget.

Could that prize dangled in front of him be the motivation that keeps him here…or finally be the motivating factor that sends him packing?

As a former financial wizard, the Rays job is the optimal position to show your fiscal versatility as well as your salesmanship savvy by bartering against your M L B peers and coming up with deals that accent the positives. Friedman is considered by so many around baseball to be the keystone to the Rays quick rise to success, and their not so distant future. You wonder why Sternberg doesn’t lock up his top non-rostered prize with a long-term deal, or a vocal acknowledgment of Friedman’s extended involvement with the club.

Honestly, Friedman possibly has his VP position until he no longer wants it. He has banked enough clout and prestige not only with the Rays organization, but with M L B to possibly be the top choice for any and every future GM opening for the next generation.

Seeing Friedman going on dinner dates with other owners produces a bit of Rays Republic stress, but it also might empower Friedman to solidify within himself he has the perfect job, with a franchise that respects and admires his tools and his artful ways of doing things. Plus he has the bonus of having an owner who is open to change, stays out-of-the-way and let’s Friedman keep producing those stellar results. Why would he go anywhere else?

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



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




 

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



I am Betting on the Wild Card Factor

Now that the Tampa Bay Rays have let it be known to the entire baseball world that they want to be “Club C” in a possible 1-game playoff “winner, winner chicken dinner” type format, will there be more Rays surprises before the beginning of the Wednesday night season finale game at Tropicana Field?

Could this team pull their own unforeseen “Wild Card” from their pitching deck of cards for a potential American League Wild Card determining game set for Friday, September 30th at Tropicana Field? Problem is, will the Rays pick a staff “Ace” or go with another card hoping for a little Rays good fortune. 

If the Rays have a gut feeling that they might be in line to use their previously announced “Club C” option of facing the winner of the game against Red Sox and the Angels, would the Rays go outside their usual comfort zone and play a hunch, possibly scratching Rays southpaw David Price from his last start of the season, giving the ball instead to top prospect SP Matt Moore.

This scenario could easily play out if the Rays think they will be facing a one contest game of baseball roulette to decide if they are post season “worthy”. If it plays out even closely that the Rays would have a playoff game on Friday night in Tropicana Field, wouldn’t you want an Ace on the hill who can give you that win?

Some have said that fellow Rays starter/Ace James Shields could come back on 4-days rest and provide an a possible “Ace in the hole” sequence for the Rays for that Friday contest, but then you lose Shields in the American League Divisional Series until possibly Tuesday, October 4th which could line up to be Game 3 of the ALDS and a Rays home contest.

If Price pitched on Wednesday and the team did not seal their fate that night, Price would possibly not pitch again until Game 3 of the ALDS if you go by the present schedule on MLB.com. Seems like the Rays might be doing some midnight oil researching the possible match-ups of each of these two pitchers against their ALDS hosts either the Detroit Tigers or the Texas Rangers. Kind of hoping for a Rangers versus Rays re-match…We have some unfinished business to conclude from 2010 .

If Price is the starter of a AL Wild Card determining game on Friday night, he would essentially be lost until Game 4 or 5 realistically for the ALDS. But if Price pitched in the possible Friday AL Wild Card determining game, it would make Shields the heir apparent ALDS Game 1 starter, plus a possible second start in Game 4 or 5. The Rays might just have to play the odds, rub a few rabbits feet, possibly get Price’s palm read somewhere.

Or the Rays could pull one of the bravest moves of 2011 and end up giving the ball to Moore in a Friday deciding game of the Rays fate for the post season. Immediately people might think this is crazy, but Moore is definitely throwing the ball better than Rays starters Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis right now, so it might be a more statistically dominant suggestion over Shields or Price.

Not trying to throw the Rays young prospect into the fire here, but if you need dominant pitching and a guy who neither the Red Sox or Angels have scouted with a huge amount of game film, Moore might be a nice monkey wrench to throw into the works.

That also would free up Shields to be the ALDS Game 1 starter, with a potential for another ALDS start in Game 3. Then you might have Price come back as a potential ALDS Game 2 starter if the MLB schedule changes enough for Game 2 to be moved to Monday, October 3, and also be on the hill (if needed) for a deciding Game 5 in Detroit.

Here is where it gets tricky and you almost want to be in on the wave length conversation between the ears of Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. But some thing are easily apparent, and should make trying to decipher Friedman’s brain waves a non-brainer (sorry Andrew).

When you consider Rays AL Rookie of the Year candidate Jeremy Hellickson is a better option than Davis or Niemann in Game 2 or 3, that could lead to an odd scenario of the Rays 4th starter even getting a chance to throw considering the travel days schedule, or if the Rays are in a “must win” situation.

For some reason Moore’s name keeps flashing within my mind as the key “Wild Card” to the Wild Card. If the team uses him on the mound for the Wednesday night regular season finale, it places possibly David Price as the potential Friday night starter. If Price starts on Friday, it would push him towards the back end of the pitching probabilities for the ALDS.

If you put all the cards on the table, look at them realistically for a moment, Moore should be the Friday night starter if the Rays have a 1-game last ditch shot at the post season. That way the Rays would have Shields on the hill for Game 1 of the ALDS, either Price ( even on 4 days rest) or Hellickson for Game 2 in Detroit.

But then again, this all could become moot if the Rays run the table winning both of their remaining contests and the Red Sox stumble against in Baltimore, or Texas eliminates the Angels threat. I still think the double nickel (55) will be the Wild Card factor, I’m betting on it.

The August “Whack-A-Mole” Experience

I love the smell in the morning of the August Trade Waiver drama. It is simply surprising to see who get through this seasonal “Whack-A -Mole” fandango without a single waiver claim, and those who find themselves popped on the noggin being smacked back to the reality of possibly leaving their present squad.

It sometimes seem to work exactly like that classic kid’s arcade game. Every MLB team has their own mallet that they can either whack or smack their collective desired player (mole) square on the head and try and claim them. But the wild part is their present team can pull them back down into the safety of their own 25-man roster and back off the waiver wire with not a hint of their real intentions.

It is clear arcade gamesmanship at it best. The first action of a team posting it player upon the waiver wire is exactly like the mole poking his head out of the hole. Up for all 29 other MLB head honchos to see and possibly mangle for their own team. But here is where it gets really interesting, the team that posts the player has all the advantages, not the person manning the heavy mallet.

You would think it would be the opposite, but then you would be sorely wrong. Even thought it might be a nice therapeutic action to pop a veteran or budding MLB player on the head, he could without warning be pulled back, offered safety again without his claiming club getting a viable chance to claim their prize. Not even a slew of tickets would emerge from the machine, sometimes this game is all or nothing.

That is where the real gamesmanship comes into play. Sure you could smack the daylights out of a player like Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields when his head pops out of the machine, but the Rays front office could be also baiting you for a Winter discussion and pull Shields back into the comfort of the Rays fold. Suddenly you are left holding the bloody mallet with all to see you covet Shields.

Most of the time this scenario is the end result. Teams place the heads of their viable commodities firmly in the game to see who wants to take a whack at acquiring them, or has more than a passing interest. Some like Rays OF/DH Johnny Damon got completely through the game without a single thump upon the noggin, but still there might be a hidden want for his services.

It is almost like a visual game where others see what you are craving, wanting to thump into submission and take back to your roster as a prize. Interesting enough, even if you land one hard and heavy upon the exposed head of Shield’s, the Rays can pull him back to safety and he is no longer an exposed asset for the rest of the MLB to smash and dash.

Shields is not the only Rays player to be pulled back into his team’s safe haven with at least one square hit to his cap region. The Rays Republic have even seen their closer Kyle Farnsworth get a firm planting upon his frontal lobe, but the Rays pulled him back to the comfort of the Bullpen. B J Upton has been the latest Ray to receive a compound headache and a possible plane ticket out of Tampa Bay.

The Rays can either discuss a trade possibility, or pull Upton back into the Rays confines safe until at least the Winter Hot Stove season. The Upton talks or balks will be interesting. It will showcase either that Upton is a viable part of the Rays current post season march, or Desmond Jennings or Sam Fuld have started to erase the “Upton factor” from the Rays game plan.

More intriguing is the firm possibility that Upton was claimed by an American League team that has a good relationship via the trade with Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and could facilitate an Upton move with a few healthy and young and budding MLB relief options in their present fold. Should be a few interesting days until either the Rays pull Upton back to the safe confines, or send him to possibly play with the seagulls nightly up at a vista on the Great Lakes.

During this waiver period the Rays will pop out many of the Rays rostered minions hoping to find the right suitor, trade situation and possibly a future piece of the Rays always unfolding puzzle. This is not a game about “likes” or “dislikes”, it is still about a game where the person with the most toys win. And to win in this business, some times you got to whack a few moles. 

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