Results tagged ‘ Andrew Friedman ’

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. 

Friedman Would Be a Coveted Cubs Acquisition

Most of the Rays Republic remembers when Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Randy Winn was traded basically so the team could sign former Mariner’s Manager Lou Piniella. Could we be possibly heading towards the same scenario with Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman?

It is way to early in the Chicago Cubs General Manager outreach process to venture solely into this scenario, but it does warrant at least a peek. The Cubs did get an up front and personal shot at the cunning and creative thinking of Friedman and his construction of a trade in the 2011 Winter Matt Garza deal.

What is amazing is the perception still lies in the hearts of some on the North side of Chicago that the Cubs got the best end of that deal. Others, like the Rays Republic know that Friedman pulled another beautiful rabbit out of his hat and has already gotten a great return on his swap.

Think about it for a moment. Sure Chi-town got the ever scowling Garza and his bag of tricks, but Friedman got a newfound Legend (Fuld). Friedman only has to look at the box score of his Triple-A team, the Durham Bulls to see OF Fernando Perez, another component of the Cubs trade back in the Rays system after being released by Chicago.

People around Tampa Bay are getting a bit worried that if Friedman does take a meeting with the deep-pocketed Ricketts clan. Amazing enough he only has to sit down next to his own Senior Advisor Don Zimmer who took command in Cubs stripes to hear about the advantages and struggles he would have with such a move Northward. But don’t fret yet Rays Republic, Friedman seems to love the challenge of the Rays opportunity.

But there is also a once in a lifetime challenge of helping structure and realize another World Series title in a town that yearns, begs, pleads for another chance at glory. Knowing Friedman he would have the Cubs institute a “Goat Day” where goats got in FREE just as a humorous and innovative way to ease the burden of the long held curse of Wrigley.

You know the Rays and Friedman are going to be confronted with this situation. Even Garza, who was traded by Friedman is shouting his name to the Heavens as a key component of the Rays climb from the cellar to contenders in such a short time span.

We know the Boston Red Sox will do everything in their power to block a chance of Theo Epstein even texting the Cubs organization. With a tongue-in-cheek comment a few days ago from someone that the Cubs want to build a Red Sox Nation in the West, battle lines and formations both by the Boston fans and front office went up fast to secure any chance of a Epstein defection or seduction.

Friedman has one of the most innovative minds since Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane. The “Rays Way” has been a perfect model of how to build a competitive unit with a minimalistic budget. Friedman’s team is responsible for one of the best scouting units and farm systems in baseball. Even if Friedman isn’t submerged in the day-to-day heartbeat of this system, he gets the glowing comments by association.

How ironic would it be if Friedman did get a chance to go to the friendly ivy-lined confines of Wrigley Field. Would he be treated like a King, possibly warbling a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” from that heralded spot in the booth? Would he be given the key to the city? Possibly get a sandwich named after him at one of the area’s best bistros?  Or maybe he could get a coveted cameo in the “Ferris Bueller” remake? That is what happens to those who fall into the arms of the Cubs faithful, they feel the warmth.

What would be more of a challenge than to resurrect a team that has not won a World Series in a Century. Take a team steeped in such deep tradition and in-bred into the town’s psyche and provide a vibe, a final piece of the puzzle to finally eliminate that faithful Cub phrase, “Maybe next year”.

But do not fret Rays Republic, Friedman is only being mesmerized by the snake charmer. There is no apparent movement of feet or mind to the Chi-town skyline, but it will happen. The city will open itself to Friedman, throw on it’s Sunday best to try and persuade the Rays boy genius to take up stakes and move to this vista.

But even as the traditions and advantages of a Chicago move are flowing in his mind as soul, Friedman also knows he has a little unfinished business back here in Tampa Bay. You know he wants to be a part of the legacy of this franchise. His footprints already dot the landscape, but there is one prize still missing.

It is not a stadium deal, or even a full stadium for 25 % of the home games, it is hoisting that last trophy into the air with a franchise he helped get off life support and finally get to the threshold of that dream. Friedman has done so much here that possibly he could realistically say he has done is job and ready to move on to another project.

Many here in Tampa Bay know that one day this scenario will play out, that Friedman will leave, retire or find a new rebuilding project that he finds intriguing. But if it did materialize that Friedman is to pick up stakes and take his show on the road to Chicago, you know he will leave with a bang, possibly in one of those trademark Friedman trades to the Cubs. Hey Friedman has done more in the past with far less…It could happen.

Does the “Legend” Have a Rays Future?

I swear if I dig enough into his genealogy somewhere I will find a past circus performer hidden in the gene pool of Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Sam Fuld. There has to be a secondary reason for him flinging himself without regard to life and limb around the Major League Baseball outfield. Some call these people “kamikazes”, I just call them “one with the ball”.

Some have anointed Fuld a true life “legend”, some have seen him as a breath of fresh air in the 2011 M L B season, but no one anywhere has doubted his talent or ability to make us all wonder if he is blessed with an ALPHA ability. Some of us television zombies have possibly seen the new show “Alphas” on the SyFy Channel that deals directly with people who inhibit that extra special ability to perform a simple normal human task to the 10th degree, or pulls off something insanely difficult with ease and grace. But ultimately being an “Alpha” has its own drawbacks.

Such may be the case in the Spring of 2012 as whispers are beginning to ring louder that the Rays could keep centerfielder B J Upton through to his impending free agency date after the 2012 season.

Fuld has hit the optimal media spotlight point of his career, even before he has a daily spot to call his own. Indirectly the focus around his vertical talent and his sporadic appearances in the Rays line-up as of late could end up being his Rays downfall.

You see, the Rays already have a budding outfield prodigy named Desmond Jennings who has come out of the rookie gate like his nightly numbers at the plate will decide more than his future. Jennings may have seen the ESPN web gems and National media cooing about Fuld and felt anxious that his future spot might be gone if he did not produce now.

On the opposite side of the outfield from Jennings is rightfielder Matt Joyce who has also risen high above the early seasonal goals set by his Rays Manager Joe Maddon and is only being saddled now by Maddon’s inability to let go of his reins and let Joyce pounce and show his worth against left-handed pitching.

This squad does need a lead-off hitter and basestealer, but Jennings fills that bill right now. It needs a special player that pulls you out of your seat as you watch him hit, but Joyce fills that bill too. It might come down to one of those “mixed blessings” scenarios. Would the Rays trade Upton and his track record to go with the skill set of what Fuld could do for this team?

With these two bookends to Upton, plus the addition of Ben Zobrist as an ample and reliable 4th outfielder, Fuld’s best chance to rise again in the MLB might be to leave the Rays coop.

I really did not think the versatile 5′ 8” outfielder had a chance this Spring to compete and win a chance to play in the April 1st home opener at Tropicana Field. Then again, I did not know he secretly injected the blood of Rocky the Flying Squirrel into his body to produce so many early season defensive highlights, almost on a nightly scale. It was as if the “legend” was channeling “the little engine that could” by astounding us and making all of us believers in his abilities.

Fuld is super. Fuld is an aspiring “legend”, and Fuld might be a guy who will be constantly fighting for a job for the rest of his Rays days. Not a bad thing, but something that could ultimately drain the “Legend” of some of his magical powers and make him more of a Rays folk hero than a budding M L B career mainstay. I would hate for Fuld to go the way of former Rays OF Jason Tyner, from bobble head to oblivion in the blink of an eye.

Believe me, I am one of those who wish only the best for the often vertically prone magician, but with the prospect of Upton staying until 2012, and the double J’s, Jennings and Joyce manning the corners, Fuld may be a man without a position. And that sucks big time.

Fuld has the ability to play daily along with the support and admiration of people from 5-65. He makes each and every one of us wonder if we would do the same….defy gravity, bring in the ball and then pop back up off the ground like it was a dive into the swimming pool. That kind of play excited the crowd, makes people buy shirts and jerseys, even wear giveaway capes to bed with their name on them.

We have seen others here in Tampa Bay get the fan support, the admiration of all of us then find their place on the bench instead of the field. I felt this same way about Jonny Gomes. Here was a guy who would do anything short of a crime to get a win, an magical moment or produce a bit of history all for his team. Fuld might be smaller than Jonny, but he fits that mold to a “T”.

Fuld may never get a chance here in Tampa Bay to become a bona fide M L B or All-Star. He does however possesses that special ingredient we all find appealing and wonderful to watch. Fuld truly does channel the energy and spirit of a child when he plays.


Not worrying about the impending damage or possible injuries, but producing the out. Not trying to be a showboat, but a motivational punch in the gut to the other team’s offense. Fuld is someone every team needs, but the Rays already have an over abundance of this same type of talented individuals.

Maybe I am saying my piece now because I have grown to like the guy from speaking to him, to getting his S P P D cap at the Spring Opener in Port Charlotte and wearing it on my head in my car when coming back from San Francisco to Tampa Bay. Fuld reminds me of me as an athlete just as he reminds all of us of our youth and own bouts with vertical mortality.

Be given another chance to take that next step, to spread his wings farther and stronger with another club. It is a thought I really do not want to have in my head, but one I know is the right thing for him professionally. I truly hope the Rays find a way to bring Fuld more into the Rays future game, letting his special light shine bright.

Maybe that is why I am writing this today. In a hope that if the Rays do not see a future place for Fuld. Possibly this off season we might see the “flighted one” leave Tampa Bay for a greener pasture. 

Stay Classy Tampa Bay

Tell me another Major League Baseball team that embraces their community with such abandon and vigor that the Tampa Bay Rays do on a daily basis. It seems like almost every day now a player, Coach or even members of the Rays front office are out and about trying to make a difference in our Tampa Bay community.

From building playgrounds, to charity events, this team has always had a solid focal point towards giving back, giving of themselves, and this community has taken them also into their own arms. Other communities around MLB also get a glowing show the faith, love and respect from their athletes Tampa Bay does, I personally think it is just glowing brighter right now in Tampa Bay.

The Rays have been blessed as a franchise to have a minimum of off-the-field” distractions and behavioral problem players in their brief existence. I want to attribute it to the low key and socially class-less South code of life, but Rays Manager Joe Maddon is from blue-collar Pennsylvania and VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman is from Texas.

Still, it has been remarkable how this community embraces and give the up most levels of respect when they venture beyond the gates of Tropicana Field and head out into the Tampa Bay community. From the ever increasing band of “BJ’s Bunch” or the newly formed “Joyce’s Juniors”, young and old have embraced these players and come emblazoned with their Rays gear as a show of community solidarity.

I kind of like how the Rays players have been able to live in a bit of seclusion and security instead of the bustle and fast pace of those other regions. This is not a condemnation of large city fans like Philadelphia, Chicago or New York, it is just a different vibe down here.

It simply amazes me how the general public around Tampa Bay has not smothered or scared our Rays into hiding with idiotic banter or heckling as they serve our communities and visit with fans. I guess the fans in this region understand that these players are performing a job, and we give them space to do their work, even out in the community.

Think about it for a moment, where else in this country do you think a professional baseball player can go out with such abandon to local phone stores, supermarkets or even banks and fans do not get out of sorts, rowdy or even testy at the mire mention of someone running late, or having to leave. This region seems to get it. But then again, Tampa Bay is a mostly service-oriented community.

From Rays outfielder Sam Fuld visiting USF Diabetic Center this week visiting with kids and their families who go through the same daily struggles from type 1 Diabetics just like Fuld daily. Or seeing Matt Joyce returning to a local supermarket chain where he once bagged groceries to help the Tampa Bay chapter of Feeding America by tossing in throw after throw of food and goods into a cart like he was picking off runners at second base.

This community is lucky to have such great and budding Tampa Bay community leaders. In a time when so many people speak of and yearn for role models for our youth, this Rays team from top to bottom spawns so many choices. From James Shields and his work with foster children centers, to even the Rays wives teaming up recently for a backpack and school supplies drive to support the PACE Center for Girls.

From stem to stern, there are plenty of heroes and inspirations to go around both on this Rays roster and within their own front offices. It is one of the reasons I always open my hands to help at any Rays event possible to volunteer or support this team and their many causes. This is truly a team that “ gets it” as is open to embracing their seasonal community with open arms.

If you have ever attended an outside Rays event whether it is a autograph signing or a appearance at a hospital or McDill Air Force Base, this team is greeted with smiles, cheers and loads of positive vibes. To this day I have never heard of a Rays heckler, arrogant fan or disturbance at any of their outside charity or community events.

As a former athlete, giving back was always something I wanted to do, felt I needed to do for my community. With this Tampa Bay community embracing the players as they perform these duties and tasks, and also respecting their place in this community, the sky is the limit to the further outpouring of the Rays involvement and outside endeavors to helping those in need in our community.

Next time you go to a Rays community event, look them in the eyes and tell them “thank you”, it is that type of comment that fuels many more community efforts and events for these players. Events where we can also walk in the footsteps of role models for our own growing sons and daughters. 

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