Results tagged ‘ Andy Sonnanstine ’

Andrew Friedman: Reloading the Rays, Not Rebuilding.

 

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I really do not know how Tampa Bay Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman keeps doing it. For a long span of this off season it was almost as if the Rays entire front office staff closed their doors until almost January.

It was if the Rays staff wanted to sit there lurking as the MLB Free Agent market set its ceilings and cellars for positional and pitching. Then like a top of the food chain predator, Friedman awoke from his Rip Van Winkle slumber and proceeded to hand pick his replacement fruit from the still bountiful MLB player trees.

Evan as other free agents started getting plucked with vigor from the tree by other teams in haste, Friedman acted more like a customer in the produce aisle thumping the exterior of players like a ripe melon. His first move of the off season Friedman went out and signed promising ex-Nationals right-hand reliever Joel Peralta on December 17,2010 to help fill the first piece of the Rays Bullpen overhaul.

In his now classic under a cloak of secrecy Rays style, Friedman was also concluding one trade deal with the San Diego Padres to ship one of his big ticket arbitration eligible Jason Bartlett on the same day as the Peralta singing. Still lurking in the darkness was a thunderous trade of Rays starter Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs on January 8, 2011. Friedman made out like a bandit on both trades bringing back a bountiful treasure trove of both MLB quality players, plus some high caliber prospects that will help reload the Rays farm system for the next Rays reload.

The trades of his two highest dollar arbitration eligible players helped Friedman free up just over $ 10 million to pursue some big fish for other Rays glaring holes in their Bullpen, plus a big bat to protect Evan Longoria in the Rays line-up. But the Tampa Bay sun was shining bright on Friedman as two of his other arbitration eligible players Centerfielder B J Upton and reliever Andy Sonnanstine both signed one year contracts freeing up Friedman from any possible arbitration hearing duty this Spring.

Just as you thought Friedman might take a deep breath and relax for a brief moment, Friedman went out and got his intimidating back-end of the Bullpen reliever in RHP Kyle Farnsworth on January 15. Friedman then possibly made a few decoy moves in signing complimentary pieces RHP Dirk Hayhurst and 2B Daniel Mayora to minor league deals with a Spring Training Invites.

Then in Friedman style, just when you thought that the MLB cupboard was starting to become mighty bare, Friedman signs Tampa Bay native and defensive First Baseman Casey Kotchman to a minor league deal. The Kotchman deal might have been another Friedman diversion as his next deal had some around the MLB wondering if the Rays were in fact rebuilding or just simply reloading.

One day after Kotchman signed, the Rays announce their biggest off season signing of the season, a duo signing of Lf/DH Manny Ramirez and LF/DH Johnny Damon to one year contracts that are very team friendly. Ramirez and Damon’s combined salaries will cost the Rays around $ 7.25 million (not including Damon’s attendance incentives), which still is only $ 1.75 million LESS than the Rays paid Pat Burrell for his services through mid-May 2010.

If you even include Farnsworth’s $ 3 million base salary (not including games finished incentives), the three signings will sneak just under the projected off season arbitration figures of traded players Bartlett and Garza ( $ 10.5 million). Only Friedman could trade away two important cogs of the Rays roster and get so much back in return, plus prospects who will help keep the Rays payroll in check for a long time.

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But that is the magic of Friedman. Somehow he can come into a do-or-die cost-cutting scenario with only a bale of wheat or hay and come out in the end spinning a strand of thin gold into a tight ball. You have to seriously wonder just how savvy and creative Friedman was as an investment banker if he can do all of this with a significantly reduced Rays payroll (proposed ceiling between $40-50 million).

Pull up the Rays 40-man roster going into Spring Training, including their under the radar Spring Training Invites. On February 15, 2011 when Rays pitchers and catchers begin their first 2011 workouts, it will be just over 60 days since Friedman’s first signing of Peralta. Just think about the level of talent already assembled, and we still have over 10 days for Friedman to still daze and confuse us before that first workout.

Not since that first Rays blunder under Friedman’s watch when the Rays tried to sneak Josh Hamilton through the Rule 5 Draft, has Friedman toughened up and taken a firm stand that he will never be surprised like that again. Deal for deal, salary for salary, I truly think Friedman might have gotten the most money back on his entire player investments since taking the Rays reins.

Besides the tarnish of the Burrell debacle, there is nothing but shine to Friedman’s trade and Free Agent moves. Since his emergence on the MLB scene, Friedman has been simply golden. Gifted with a crack Scouting Department, piles and piles of correlated data and visuals, plus an eye for talent, Friedman has made the Rays a role model for team competing on a shoestring budget.

But do not be surprised if in the next 10 days, before February 15th if Friedman doesn’t pull another off-the-cuff deal that seemed to come out of nowhere. But then again, that is okay, Friedman is not rebuilding the Rays, he is just helping them reload

Final Photo Homage to the “Spittin’ Cobra”

 

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I really don’t know why it has taken me almost 5 months to finally posting an image homage of Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Garza’s bobblehead.

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The Rays Marketing gurus’ up in the high floors of Tropicana Field had the vision to have it in place by the time Garza took the hill for his No-Hitter on July 26th, just a day after the David Price image was removed from that same spot in Rightfield. Somehow I lost not only my focus in regards to these Garza photos, but the actual photo file until today.

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Maybe the Fathead style comedic image of Garza’s bobblehead that just seemed to keep staring at me through his morphing stages also possibly telepathically transformed my mental facilities in oatmeal after digesting a Garza neurotoxin that had me somehow postpone his 2010 bobblehead photo image transformation until today?

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Could it have been the mystical workings of the “Cobra-Chameleon” that made me hide the images and as he went through his daily metamorphosis at the hands of Rays reliever Andy Sonnanstine, the Rays budding team artist and resident practical jokester.


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Even when Sonnanstine was assigned to the Hudson Valley Renegades (love their name) for a week, the transformation were handled by passing the torch to fellow former Rays Bullpen mate, LHP Randy Choate.

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There has to be some sort of logical reasoning why I could not complete this mental mission before today. It is really not normal for a rabid Rays fan like myself, to forget something as memorable as your team’s first No-Hitter, especially at Dome sweet Dome.

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But ironically I did. Maybe all the glitter that turns to gold surrounding that harmonious July 26th performance was somehow still riding in circles within my mind to this very day.

Maybe I was simply just a emotional and mental wave of cosmic energy that intermittently got frozen in my mind and finally began to thaw and revealed the (file) path to the lost Garza treasure of photos.


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From the transformation of the simple facial hair growing daily to the final image of Garza sans I-Pod and a well placed bubble gum balloon above his cap, it was a set of images I hope I never forget again.

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And now with Garza taking his glove and being traded recently to the city that gave us Vienna beef hot dogs and deep dish pizza, maybe it is apropos that these great images of the changing Garza bobblehead are finally unveiled today.

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I will miss the “Spittin’ Cobra. His heart and fighting spirit were inspirational, and his confidence was always riding in the red zone. Garza was one of those guys who emotionally pitched like his hair was on fire and took every single pitch and hit to heart.


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So I guess this is my way today to officially say “goodbye” to the guy who always signed for the kids on Sunday after he threw on the field. Maybe this is my “thank you” to the player who attended both Gameworks events for Season Ticketholders over the last several years. Maybe this is my photo remembrance of a Rays player who can grow facial hair….unlike me.


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Or possibly it is these lasting images of Garza that I want frozen forever in my mind. Of him showing that smile, wearing those 80′s louvered sunglasses while listening to his music and getting ready to do battle on the mound.


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Maybe there was a cosmic reason his images are locked away in my mind. Maybe he is a Rays player I never wanted to forget.

 

 

 

The Dude’s 2010 Rays Wild Ride

 

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It has been a pretty wild ride for Tampa Bay Rays reliever J P Howell since the New Years shiny ball first dropped on January 1,2010. Fresh off his off season wedding nuptials and a honeymoon in the exotic locale of Bora, Bora, the Rays southpaw was experiencing a high point in his life and career after signing a $ 1.8 million salary through arbitration on January 19th for the 2010 season. Little could Howell have known that within the next 30 days, his life and baseball world would begin to resemble the Disney’s Mr. Toad Wild Ride rollercoaster.

When the Rays pitchers and catchers first came out of the clubhouse and strolled to the practice field in late February, Howell was the first Rays player to come up and chat with me at the Rays complex in Port Charlotte, Florida. He was bouncing around like the Winnie-the-Pooh cartoon character Tigger out on the outfield grass just beaming with enthusiasm and spouting the tales of his off season. We all were totally oblivious to the winding turbulent ride that Howell was about to encounter during 2010.

The southpaw first began to experience weakness and pain in his left throwing shoulder during the early workouts even before the Grapefruit (Spring Training) season began and he was subsequently would be shut down for further evaluation by the Rays medical staff. Howell even commented to the St. Petersburg Times on March 30,2010 that he “encouraged” by a recent strength test performed by the Rays medical staff on his wounded left wing. Howell was so convinced of the success of his rehabilitation that he felt he could possibly be back in the Rays Bullpen by mid-to-late May. Little did Howell know that his wild rollercoaster ride was only about to begin.

The Rays finally scheduled a simulated game session for Howell at Tropicana Field on May 17th in hopes of possibly sending Howell on a short rehab assignment in the Rays system after the game simulation before bringing back to the MLB roster. Howell suddenly stopped throwing after a total of 12 pitches. His wild adventure was about to make one of it’s darkest moments surface right in front of him. Howell immediately went straight into Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield’s room in the Rays clubhouse.

After a short examination, a Rays teammate was seen bringing Howell’s clothes to Porterfield’s trainer’s room. Before that evenings game against the Cleveland Indians, Rays Manager Joe Madden spoke to the media and told them that Howell had suffered a “setback” and that he would be re-evaluated by the Rays doctors. It was the beginning of the steep rise and then quick freefall for Howell during 2010.

The darkening prognosis was further amplified by the blinding fact that Howell, who was usually one of the most out-going and quotable Rays players mysteriously snuck out of Tropicana Field without talking with anyone. The Rays had him visit Dr. Coco Eaton, the Rays staff orthopedic physician. After an examination by Eaton, it was advised that Howell seek a second opinion from Rays Medical Director Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Alabama. Suddenly the coaster ride again began another rising ascent to the top.

Just 24 hours later the Rays announced that Dr Andrews would perform surgery on a damaged left labrum and that Howell would be lost until possibly May 2011. Suddenly one of the Rays Bullpen bright candles had been inexpertly extinguished without throwing a single pitch.

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After the announcement, Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman revealed that when the Rays first got news of the weakness in Howell shoulder, the team envisioned possibly losing him, but held out hope that Howell could have been back at some point for 2010.The surgery dashed all hopes of a return to the Rays Bullpen for Howell.

Friedman spoke to Howell before he underwent his surgery on May 23rd and Friedman stated, “Obviously he was frustrated, it was an emotional moment for him, going through this for the first time,” Friedman said. “He’s in great hands, he’s a great worker, great competitor, so I would certainly never bet against him.”


After his a short stay in Birmingham, Howell returned to the Tampa Bay area, and released a few statements through the Rays PR Department on his surgery. “I feel like I just went 12 rounds and only punched with my left hand. It feels good to be moving forward and not sitting in limbo wondering what’s wrong. Now each day is a step forward.”

I saw Howell for the first time when his wife was promoting her children’s book, “The Adventures of Dangles” at the USF-St. Petersburg campus during the Times Festival of Reading event. His hair and beard had darkened a bit as hide behind the main area wanting his wife to have her day without any distractions. We spoke for just a brief moment as he quickly told me his rehabs were going great with the Rays staff and in his sessions in Birmingham, Alabama.

Some of his time away from the game had helped him focus his family’s involvement with discoveryourpath.com, which was a charity his wife and him both enthusiastically support.
At that moment I initially had the feeling his rollercoaster ride might finally be in its final deceleration stage. But there was one more gut wrenching twist to come.

On December 1st in his pre-Winter Meeting press session, Friedman advised the Rays Republic that Howell would definitely not be starting the season with the Rays. That ended a stream of optimism that Howell could/would be back with the team by Opening Day. Friedman added that Howell was working extremely diligent during his rehabilitation, but would not be ready by April 2011. Instantly I heard the click, clicking sound of the coaster car again as it ascended to the ride’s summit.

Howell was a key component to the rebuilding process of the empty Rays Bullpen that presently only has pitchers Andy Sonnanstine and Mike Ekstrom initially returning for 2011. With this latest news of Howell missing the beginning of another season, combined with an upcoming arbitration decision by the Rays, there was a ever growing cloud of doubt suddenly hanging above Howell’s name.

When the Rays finally unveiled their plan to non-tender an arbitration offer to Howell for 2011, most immediately thought the Rays reliever was destined to not be a part of the Rays rebuilding process. Most saw the move as a cost cutting measure to insure that Howell would instead sign for less than the projected $ 2.35 million dollar arbitration amount. The pure fact that Howell openly stated that he “wanted to be a Ray” spoke volumes about move.

This was just a calculated fiscal move that guaranteed the Rays some financial give and take with Howell. The non-tender gave the Rays a loophole around a rule that limit’s the reduction of a player’s salary to 20 percent ($ 1.44 million). In the background, Howell and his agent were furiously working on a contract when the Rays made their intentions public. Suddenly the rollercoaster ride that seemed to be going downwards fast ultimately ended up taking a upward motion.

On December 13th, exactly 11 days after the Rays initial decision to non-tender Howell, it was announced that the team finalized a $ 1.1 million salary plus incentives for the 2011 season. Howell again could regain a place in the Rays Bullpen at some point in 2011.

 
The rollercoaster ride had finally emerged from its trip into the darkness and a burst of sunlight is illuminating warmth finally onto Howell. Somewhere between St. Petersburg and Birmingham you know that Howell is again doing that Tigger dance, but this time mentally to protect that shoulder until he finally pulls on his number 39 Rays jersey in Tropicana Field during the 2011 season. Can’t wait to see him.

 

Rays Sonnanstine Always Seems to Endure

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Tampa Bay Rays starter/reliever Andy Sonnanstine might not be the guy you first envisioned when you thought who might be the “last man standing” when the Rays begin their systematic Winter dissection of their 2010 bullpen. When you think of lasting elements in regards to the Rays Bullpen, honestly Sonnanstine was not the first name that crossed my mind. But he has been fighting that type of thinking his entire life as well as his professional career.


In a pre-2010 MLB season Rays Index Trade Pool contest, 3 out of 12 Rays Internet bloggers thought Sonnanstine would be the Rays top trade target during the season . I, can honestly tell you I was one of the trio who thought Sonny’s career might be outside the Rays circle of trust by this juncture of the Hot Stove season. Plenty of times I thought the Rays “sixth starter” would be dealt away to give himself a chance to again sustain a starting role instead of being pigeonholed into a long reliever role.

There are so many previously unseen twists and turns within starter/reliever/jack-of-all pitching trades Sonnanstine that you can see why he has survived to the end. Sonny is a proverbial human “onion” with so many multiple layers and talents within his overall skill set besides just throwing a round white sphere at a moderate velocity. Did you know that the Ohio native once actually worked as a pheasant hunt guide at the Hill and Dale Hunt Club in Medina, Ohio as well as being a great clay target shooter?

Then you peel away another layer of the onion to find out that the quiet Sonnanstine was also once a school janitor during his High School days.

Sonnanstine initially got on the Rays radar in another very unusual way. He originally was not a collegiate baseball player on the Rays scouting department’s radar in advance of the team picking him in the 13th Round of the 2004 MLB June Draft.

His Rays career might have never materialized if former Rays owner Vince Namoli had not witnessed Sonnanstine’s magic as the tall lanky right-hander handcuff Namiloi’s 5th ranked Norte Dame Fightin’ Irish baseball squad in a 2-1 upset in the opening round of the South Bend Regional of the NCAA Baseball Championship.


Did you know that Sonnanstine during his red-shirt Freshman year helped the Golden Flash defeat the number one ranked Georgia Tech squad sending them to their first loss of that season and posting the first win of Sonnanstine’s collegiate career. Even to this date, two of Kent State’s biggest baseball victories have Sonnanstine listed as the winning pitcher.

Recently another layer of the Sonny onion has been exposed as Sonnanstine will be inducted into the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) Hall of Fame for his play during 2002 and 2003 with Sanford Mainers. Sonny will be joined by former 2004 Rays RP Mark Malaska along with current MLB players Chris Iannetta (C, Rockies), Andre Either (OF, Dodgers), former MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent and Joe Consentino in a ceremony held on November 6, 2010 in Sanford, Maine.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved baseball,” Sonnanstine wrote in 2005 on attheyard.com, an online journal for professional baseball players. At the time, he was pitching for the Rays former Class-A affiliate, the Charleston Riverdogs. “I think I was four or so when I first picked up a baseball, and since then I’ve had a dream of becoming a Major League pitcher. Making that dream come true has been the biggest priority of my life“.


More and more you dig into the onion that is the life of this Rays player, the more interesting and intriguing experiences you seem to uncover. The fact that Sonnanstine does an off season Wii fitness program might not be too exciting or surprising to most people, but it is not the usual baseball themed regime, but a Yoga-based program to help with his overall flexibility and stamina while spending his off the field time with his faithful canine companion Murphy at his St. Pete Beach home.

We all immediately got to see a first sliver of the comedy side of Sonny’s onion during a Rays road trip in 2009 when the Rays pitcher organized a covert team wide prank on Rays rookie reliever Dale Thayer to have a little fun with Thayer’s 1970′s style facial hair. At a predetermined time during the game, the entire Rays bench and the bullpen both systematically pulled out a bushy moustache substitute and applied it to their face in homage to Thayer. It was a quick look into the creative mind of Sonny.

During the 2010 season, The Rays fans all got to collectively see more of Sonny’s inherent artistic talents as he was the main conspirator in the changing daily facades to the Rays upcoming promotional giveaway images plastered on the Tropicana Field Rightfield just beyond the Rays bullpen. His daily transformation of both the David Price and Matt Garza figures were always well received and recorded for their sheer attention to detail and overall humorous intent.

Little did most of us know that Sonnanstine actually had a bit of an MLB pedigree before the Rays drafted him out of Kent State. It seems that the Ohio natives great uncle on his mother’s side was former Cleveland Indian Third Baseman Ken Keltner who New York Yankee fans still curse as the guy who made two great defensive plays to end Joe DiMaggio’s 52-game hitting streak back on July 17,1941.

Sonnanstine also got to live a moment of Rays irony on September 1, 2010 when he was optioned because of a mysterious right foot contusion to the same short season Hudson Valley Renegades ( love it) club where he began his Rays career. The same franchise that once presented Sonny with their Pitcher of the Year award back in 2004.


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The Rays resident ping pong champion who was once referred to in the past as a “poor man’s Greg Maddux” has again defeated the odds and remains standing tall. During so many of the Rays previous seasons, the Rays right-hander has been the focus of countless trade rumors and opinions, but has always seemed to survive the cut and stay firmly planted within the Rays fold.


But the most defined peel of Sonny’s onion might be in his mental preparation and overall athletic ability that has even made Rays Manager Joe Maddon secure with a line-up card error. Back on May 17,2009 during a home start against the Cleveland Indians, an error on the game line-up card posted both Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist playing Third Base.

The mistake eliminated the Designated Hitter position from the Rays batting order and thrust Sonny into the third slot in the Rays line-up Sonnanstine rose to the occasion for his Rays teammates by going 1-for-3 with an RBI double, plus picked up the pitching win to add a double dose of misery to the Indians, who were Sonnanstine’s favorite team as a child growing up in Ohio.

Sonnanstine’s first trip in 2010 to the disabled list for a right hamstring injury threw the door wide open for the Rays to recall Rays top prospect Jeremy Hellickson to make his MLB debut against the Minnesota Twins on August 19th. Even with an injury, Sonny finds a way to help the Rays win games.

Maybe the guy who once spent his college years in a dormitory room at Kent State just beyond the statue that still bears the bullet hole from the Kent State Massacre (May, 4,1970) surely knows a thing or two about surviving, even in the Major Leagues.

Some people might be surprised to learn that Sonny is double-jointed in his right elbow, or about his in-game superstition of throwing numerous pieces of bubble gum to the masses in Section 140 of Tropicana Field during Rays home games. The recent Rays Bullpen purge is quickly turning into huge question mark for the Rays. Possibly Sonnanstine has the right stuff to remain and provide more than just an onion slice of consistency for the Rays Bullpen heading into 2011.
 
 

Rays Bullpen Undergoing Extensive “Renovations”

 

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Just when I thought I could feel a tad secure about the Tampa Bay Rays unstable Bullpen situation, Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has to drop another bombshell on the already scarred Rays Republic. With the recent revelations that even Rays stalwart reliever Grant Balfour is shunning the Rays arbitration offer, the team has quickly seem it Bullpen’s health go from unstable to critical.

With a upcoming contract tender decision today concerning Rays long reliever Lance Cormier and Rays jack-of-all-trade Andy Sonnanstine, there was bound to be another interesting twist or two before the Rays began to effectively rebuild their Bullpen and possibly contend again in 2011. But the bomb that came out of Friedman’s mouth yesterday during his pre-Winter meeting press junket might have delivered a death blow to the Rays post season aspirations for 2011.

I instantly felt like Daniel-san from “The Karate Kid” with a hearty leg sweep taking me out and sending me to the canvas. Suddenly the foundation I thought was flimsy but fixable, might just be undergoing a major overhauling. Maybe I invested too much into hoping, praying, thinking that Rays southpaw reliever J P Howell could somehow be that impending shining light we would need in the Spring of 2011 to blaze a Bullpen path.

Instantly, that foundation, that hope of some stability was swept clean, at least for the first few months of the 2011 Major League Baseball decision. Friedman had very encouraging words about Howell’s rehabilitation program since his 2010 shoulder surgery, but the only words echoing through my mind again and again was the possibility he would not be available until May or June. With just those few words it seems that a total transition of the Rays Bullpen was underway, and would Sonnanstine and Cormier be spared from the purge?

In reality, the Rays Bullpen went quickly from a slight rebuilding mode to a full blown reconstruction mode even if Sonnanstine and Cormier are brought back for 2011. Howell was thought to be some of the glue that might bond this unit tighter with his hugely optimistic attitude and energy. But with Friedman’s announcement of a possible road bump in his rehabilitation process, Howell quickly goes from a veteran cog of the Rays Bullpen 2011 machine, to an in-season inserted piece.

Suddenly the instability of the Rays Bullpen reminds me of those moving grass patches in the Florida Everglades that on the surface look like solid ground until you walk on them, then you fall through into the murky water below. Even with young arms like southpaw reliever Jake McGee and righthander Mike Ekstrom possibly returning for another Rays extended gig, Friedman made it clear that McGee would have to prove himself this Spring or possible start the season with the Triple-A Durham Bulls.

With the Rays possibly carrying 12-13 pitchers going into the 2011 season, suddenly only the starting five of James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann seems to be on any form of solid ground for now. But we have a long way to the Rays first reporting date of February 13th and anything can happen. If the Rays do consider carrying 12 pitchers’, that would mean that 7 new faces could possibly enter the Rays Spring Training complex in Port Charlotte, Florida on that date. I hope the team is stocking up on ” Hi! My Name is….” tags.
 
 

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Such a major re-configuration to the Rays late inning staff could take them immediately out of the thought process of contending during 2011 and might have damage their post season aspirations for several years. Suddenly the once solid and reliable Rays Bullpen unit is a shadow of its former self. And with the Rays farm system a bit discombobulated after 21 minor league free agents were not offered an olive branch by the parent club, more change is expected.

Going into the Winter meeting in Orlando, Florida the Rays might be going on an extended window shopping journey to see just what affordable options lie within their price range in the free agent and trade routes in regard to relief help. It could easily be considered that any trade even on the back burners would have to have at least one farm hand or MLB ready reliever to even be considered. With the Rays closer, leftie specialist and 3 key set-up pitchers possibly having played their last game wearing the Rays unis, the team might be in definite stealth “buying” mode.

It is a long way to February 13th, and the Rays could possibly entertain a multi-year offer with Balfour, or possibly have the chance to sign Wheeler to a lower salary figure than his declines $ 4 million option and retain some form of reasonable back end stability to the Rays Bullpen. Tendering 2011 contracts to Sonnanstine and Cormier could alleviate a bit of the Rays relief flux, but would only be a band-aid on the seeping wound.

With a limited payroll the Rays will have to effectively find a legitimate closer, a few set-up men and possibly a left-hand specialist. Even with the influx within the Rays Bullpen, McGee and Ekstrom will have to prove themselves to even be considered in the Rays overall relief equation this Spring. What was once a steady and reliable relief unit has quickly turned itself sideways and could be at its weakest point since Rays Manager Joe Maddon took the Rays reigns.
 
 
 

Rays Need to Fill their Clubhouse Void

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 The Tampa Bay Rays front office and my moles have gone silent. The organization seems to have again gone into their seasonal Black Ops mode when finalizing and considering their list of targets for the current 2010 Hot Stove season. But just like a hunter, the Rays have their scouting department scouring the countryside for videos and research that will point their direction towards a few of their prized prey.

And with another banner set to be raised to the rafters in April 2011, the Rays have the young talent and pitching to again cause some havoc in the American League East. But the 2010 season took a toll on the young team as they saw 5 of their top 6 2010 salary earners exit the franchise 40-man roster on Sunday morning. The team saw a combined $ 40 million in 2010 salaries instantly fall off their books which was almost 55 percent of their 2010 outgoing financial picture for Rays players.

Firmly in the Rays off season sights is a way to stop the bleeding in their Bullpen while finding a viable fiscal and physical solution to losing Carlos Pena, who was the franchise’s all-time Home Run and Walks leader. But even more important for the Rays will be to find a player who can take a firm hold of the clubhouse legacy started by Pena and embrace it with the same passion and commitment Pena held for his Rays teammates. It might be one of the most difficult finds for the Rays front office this off season.

The main problem with losing a person like Pena and his ability to command this Rays clubhouse is that you can never match up the team again with that personality and intensity type, but you look for a figure who commands the respect and can take the reins in the clubhouse without a power struggle or in fighting. That is a rare thing to find as ex-Rays slugger Pat Burrell found out in 2009 when he accosted B J Upton in the Rays locker room thinking he had the support of the team, then suddenly found out he was not in the power loop.

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This will be a delicate acquisition because the Rays need to find a player who can step into the Rays spotlight and also share it with all 25 members of the roster at the same moment. A balance of power and charm might be in order to adhere to the Rays request for another clubhouse leader. But some say that the omission of Pena in 2011 will bring out the leadership gene in Rays players like All-Stars Evan Longoria and David Price. Or the departure of Pena could smooth the way for possibly fellow starter Matt Garza to take an expanded role within the confines of the clubhouse.
 
What the Rays put on the field is extremely important in 2011. But they can not forget the guys still left here who will instantly feel a bit of a vacuum void left by the departure of Pena. This is not to underestimate the comedic misadventures and antics of Andy Sonnanstine, who can come up with awesome off-the-cuff pranks and actions, but a solid core of confidence needs to be solidified before the beginning of the 2011 season. The void in the Rays clubhouse is not huge, but to not fill it or even attempt to mend it’s gap could be disastrous for the team as the season progresses.

Maybe the Rays could set their gun sights on someone like Free Agent Jim Thome who might command a salary like Pena’s, but could provide a instant patch to their leadership and Designated Hitter hole with ease. No longer can the Rays set their sights firmly just upon possibly inviting Pena again into the Rays sanctuary. Even with Pena’s past vocally adamant wants to return to the Rays, can a financially adequate figure be reached without hindering the rest of the Rays off season secret double agent game plan.

Not only will the Rays be trying to find players to take over the missing pieces in their roster, they will be trying to glue together a few ripped apart seams in their clubhouse character. This might be more difficult than finding a guy who can hit over 30 Home Runs, or hold hitters to under a 3.00 ERA as a reliever. Physical ability is always available within the cycles of players who yearn for a shot in the Major Leagues, but sometimes character and leadership is not their game or part of their professional credo.

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The departure of Rays leadership by players like Pena, Carl Crawford and Dan Wheeler will be truly missed in the Rays clubhouse, but hopefully the Rays front office has a secret plan in the grasps of their fingertips that can rectify and eliminate this gap with clarity and confidence.

And the move to fill this leadership void might just be the biggest hole to fill this off season. One of the biggest mistakes a team can do is eliminate a team’s heart and soul and not repair it or replace it with a honest effort to bring harmony and confidence that will build from the Spring to Fall. The Rays need to bring someone else in who can “Do that dance”.
 
 
 

Rays Bullpen is On the Clock

 

 

As I look up at the big clock on the kitchen wall, I can see the second hand moving fast and it instantly reminds me that the Tampa Bay Rays only have a few more days to actively pursue their Free Agents without any outside interference. The clock seems to be ticking faster by the moment during these first five days after the World Series before the Rays Free Agents officially become fodder for the rest of the Major League General Managers and scouts.


There are more than a few players from the Rays current 5-days hold list who will probably never wear a Rays uniform again, including such highly valued names as 2010 All Stars Carl Crawford and closer Rafael Soriano. Two biggest names at their respective positions that should in all likelihood leave the Rays roster this Winter.

There are other who will also garner attention from all over the Majors after the 5-day grace period like former First Baseman and power option Carlos Pena, 2010 surprise RP Joaquin Benoit, plus relievers Grant Balfour and Randy Choate could harbor another home stadium in 2011.

But the Rays have five days, or a total of 120 hours to actively talk back and forth with their Free Agents before they are officially released to also have talks with the rest of the MLB mob. Five days really is not a long time to trade numbers back and forth and try to finalize a deal, but it is enough time for the Rays front office to make an impression on if they are actively seeking a return, or willing to watch their former players mosey on out to greener monetary pastures.

There were two more names thrown into the mix recently as the Rays decided to decline the team options on Rays reliever Dan Wheeler and utility player Willy Aybar. The move was considered a financial move to possibly save the club almost $ 2 million dollars by buying out the pair, then talking to them as a Free Agent (Wheeler), or a still arbitration eligible player (Aybar). Wheeler has expressed a desire to remain with the Rays for 2011, but it will have to be at a bit of a discount from his $ 4 million option.

 

Basically right now, the Rays Bullpen bench has been stripped almost bare with only Andy Sonnanstine, who is arbitration eligible for the first time this Winter the only player currently with any extended relief appearances. Sure there is still Mike Ekstrom and rookie southpaw Jake McGee who are still on the Rays 40-man roster, but beyond this trio, the rest of the Rays Bullpen is either heading towards the Free Agent market or already been released by the Rays (Lance Cormier). Right now the Bullpen is the biggest position of transition for the Rays this Winter.


Right now the Rays entire sixth through eighth inning options are within a few days of actively finding another pitching spot for 2011 unless the Rays decided to actively pursue any of them. In a perfect world I would love to see the Rays try and keep Benoit, Balfour, Choate and possibly Wheeler to bring some form of veteran stability to the Rays 2011 Bullpen. I would however personally hope that the Rays do not actively engage in discussion with reliever Chad Qualls who is also set to become a Free Agent soon.

Currently this drastic change within the back part of the Rays pitching game has to have more than a few fans sweating bullets, but there are loads of viable options that will soon be available to the Rays, but at a cost.

Every time you bring in a new pitcher to the Rays system there is always the possibility of them not adapting to the Rays pitching game plan and becoming a liability. That is why I am hoping the Rays at least think long and hard about the quartet of Benoit, Wheeler, Balfour and Choate before releasing them to the rest of the salivating masses in the MLB.


There is the underlying huge question mark concerning returning leftie J P Howell’s effectiveness, and the possibility that the Rays could decline him arbitration possibly this off season to set another storm into motion. Combined with Howell’s uncertainty plus the youth and inexperience of McGee, it might not be a huge leap to consider Choate as a viable option for 2011 at least until the two question marks are answered.

It might be unorthodox for the Rays to possibly carry three left-handers in their Bullpen, but would it be more of a disaster to count on the two question marks totally with only minor leaguer southpaw R J Swindle in the Rays system as a back-up plan.


 

The addition of retaining Balfour and Wheeler would give valuable experience and proven set-up power and abilities to a new Rays Bullpen. Balfour seemed to come into his mown after returning from the DL (thanks again Jim Hickey) in September to post some of his best outings of the season.
 
Balfour also seemed to have gained some extra velocity after his short mid-season rest. Of the two pitchers, Balfour might have the best Rays upside and could be the most fiscally affordable considering the Rays payroll downsizing to possibly between $ 40-60 million for 2011.


The Rays front office will have to scrape and save all over the place considering the team already have a projected payroll of about $ 15.45 million even before adding arbitration figures and considering Free Agent signings. The initial scraping of almost the entire Rays Bullpen will either be a blessing or a curse this Winter and a major discussion point by the Rays Republic until the Spring.

Can a team like the Rays that has already been considered a early favorite to head towards a post season run in 2011 sustain themselves if they purge and rebuild their Bullpen from within their farm system and the Free Agent route?

The next five days may hold a key to the Rays thinking, and their possibly plan of attack. Sure I would love to see Benoit possibly resign with the Rays and take on the closer’s role. Would be ecstatic to see Balfour and Choate become leftie-rightie bookends to extinguish scoring chances late in the game.


But the stark reality is that the Rays will be a team in late inning pitching transition this Winter. With a few left-handed question marks and only a handful of MLB experienced help currently on the Rays roster, this Winter the Rays Bullpen might be a total work in progress.

Hopefully the Rays front office will be sensible and find a nice balance between the old and new that will compliment the Rays starting rotation. This off season we might truly see just how good Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman is with his crystal ball and a desk full of statistical reports and flowcharts. Somehow the Rays need to pull that mythical rabbit out of the hat this Winter.
 

 

What is Your Favorite 2010 Rays Moment?

 


 

As I was waiting for the Tampa Bay Rays plane to arrive Sunday evening at St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport Rays game day emcee Rusty Kath was asking a few smaller Rays fans an important question for possible bobbleheads and assorted prizes. It was a simple question: “What was your biggest Rays moment in 2010?”


The question seemed so simple at first thought, but instantly there became a avalanche of special Rays moments throughout the season, including about 10 Rays moments that kept appearing again and again in my mind based on their place in the Rays scheme of things this season, and their importance to the overall Rays clinching their second American League East title in three seasons. And I guess the best place to start is in April and work our way back towards today.

 

April 6th

This was the Rays home opener against the Baltimore Orioles, and was set with pomp and circumstance normally associated with the first home game, but something felt different this year. It was not the two-colored flaming spirals in the Rays infield before the game, it was something brewing beneath the surface of this contest.

It was Carl Crawford’s eight consecutive Opening Day spot in the line-up, and possibly his last as a member of the Rays. But it was his play on the field that separated this day from any other this season.

Crawford sealed the Rays victory with a 2-run walk-off double that tore the feathers from the Orioles for a 4-3 loss. It was classic Crawford, and instantly this image came to mind as the reason I am going to miss C.C.


 

 April 17th

Was a special moment in Rays history as the day I truly began to believe that Rays closer Rafael Soriano was going to be something special in 2010. Not only did Soriano help save the Rays completion of the prior night’s suspended game, a 3-1 Rays victory. Soriano also got his second save of the day in the Rays 6-5 win in the high cap of the unexpected doubleheader . To win one game in Boston is a great thrill, to win back-to-back within 12 hours of each other is a moment to remember.


 

May 2nd 

This game evolved into a special home moment for the Rays Republic as Rays starter Wade Davis and Royals starter Zack Greinke both threw 7 scoreless innings each with Greinke only making one mistake. But that one mistake ended up being the only run scored in the ballgame when Greinke left up a fastball to Evan Longoria that he deposited in the Leftfield stands for a 1-0 Rays victory.


 

June 8th

This contest displayed the versatility of the Rays as a great offensive and pitching team as Rays starter Jeff Niemann 2-hit the Toronto Blue Jays in a 9-0 shutout of the birds at Tropicana Field. The night was highlighted by 2 Home Runs by Carlos Pena., one a Grand Slam. Niemann has his bid for a No-Hitter broken up in the top of the sixth inning by Toronto shortstop Mike McCoy.



 

June 19th

This road game during the InterLeague schedule will be remembered for a lot of reasons. First it was an away contest against the Florida Marlins in which 15,000 Marlin Air Horns tortured the Rays players eardrums for the entire contest. But it might have been the true signal that the Rays patience at the plate was beginning to return dividends as the Rays got 4 walks in the 11th inning, including 2 with the bases loaded to secure a 9-8 win.


It was also the night that saw the debut of Rays usual starter James Shields as he came in for one scoreless innings of relief and picked up the win on this night. Rays reliever Andy Sonnanstine also got his first Major League Baseball save on this especially extra noisy night (I am bringing my Marlins Air Horn to Game 1 of the ALDS tomorrow).

 

July 26th

This date will probably be set in stone by many among the Rays Republic as the most important night in Rays pitching history. On this night, Rays starter Matt Garza produced the Rays first No-Hitter against the Detroit Tigers. More amazing was the fact Garza and Detroit starter Max Scherzer were trading No-No bids until Rays slugger Matt Joyce hit a Grand Slam to provide the needed punch to seal Graza’s gem.


Garza threw 120 pitches on the night with 6 strikeouts and one lone walk to Tigers Rightfielder Brian Boesch in the second inning to eclipse the chance for a Perfect Game. The entire night Garza seemed on a different plane and was constantly bombarding the strike zone pushing 80 of his 120 pitches across the plate for strikes.

 

August 1st

This extremely exciting Sunday afternoon game against the New York Yankees where Alex Rodriguez was still hunting for his 600th career Home Run. He did not start in the contest, but came on as a pinch hitter and was struck out looking to end the 7th inning by Rays starter James Shields. It also signaled the coming drama between the Yankees and the Rays as the Rays pulled within one game of the Yankees after this 3-0 victory at Tropicana Field.


 

August 10th

During this road game start the Rays Republic got to see some of the immediate future for the Rays on the mound. Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson took the mound in this contest at Comerica Park against the Detroit Tigers and gave up a lead-off hit to Austin Jackson before he then retired 18 straight Tiger hitters enroute to his second straight Rays win. Hellickson threw 7 inning and got 7 strikeouts and the Rays countered by getting 8 runs on 9 hits, including 4 doubles, to defeat the Tigers 8-0.


 

August 28th

This game was the contest at Tropicana Field against the Boston Red Sox that saw both Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria flirt with a possible cycle in the same game. It was also the game that B J Upton hit a tying Home Run in the 8th inning, then Dan Johnson hit a walk-off Home Run that pushed the visiting Red Sox to 5 ½ games behind the Rays for the American League Wild Card. It signaled the beginning of the end for the Boston club as they never got closer than 5 ½ game again to the Rays in 2010.


 

September 13th

In this premier contest we saw two of the American League’s best left-hander going against each other to try and prop each other up as favorite for the 2010 American League Cy Young candidate. Both Yankee starter C C Sabathia and Rays starter David Price traded zeros for 8 innings each before each left the ballgame.

It wasn’t until the bottom of the 11th inning when pinch hitter Reid Brignac sent a solos shot into the Rightfield stands that either teams blinked in this 1-0 walk-off victory.


So there are 10 possible candidates for my greatest moment in Rays 2010 history. I truly think Garza’s No-Hitter is the top pitching moment of 2010, but as a team, there is still another moment I truly feel has to be added to this list.

October 3rd, might be the biggest team based moment of 2010. As a team the Rays stood solid and would not break after going down early to a 2-0 deficit. With the bases loaded, Rays reliever Chad Qualls got a well deserved double play ball that got the Rays out of the inning without further damage.


The Rays ended up scrapping together an impressive top of the 9th inning rally when pinch hitter Rocco Baldelli single to leftifield, then stole second base ( his 1st SB of 2010). Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach then put down a great ball down the Third Baseline that Royals Third Baseman Wilson Betemit misfired a throw to First Base for an error and Baldelli scampered in to score. Rafael Soriano then converted his 45th save of the season as 8 Rays pitchers combined for the 3-2 victory.

 

The win cemented the Rays clinch of the 2010 American League East title with an exclamation point needed going into the playoffs instead of question marks. The victory solidly put all discussion to bed that the Rays backed into the post season as A L Champs, plus gave the Rays Home field Advantage throughout the American League segment of the post season. 

The gutsy extra inning win completely embodies the Rays mantra of “WIN- What’s Important Now”. It also helped send the Rays homeward so they could host the Texas Rangers instead of travel straight to Minnesota to begin the American League Divisional Series tomorrow afternoon.


Those are my special Rays moments of 2010 so far. With the post season about to get into full swing in 24 hours, possibly more fantastic Rays moments could be added to this list before the Rays take their last at bats, or final place in the field in the 2010 Playoffs.

Hopefully I have 3 more champagne celebrations to cover, and a parade downtown to photograph. The time is upon us for greatness to arrive. It is time to show the rest of the country what Rays Republic fans have known all season long, it is never over against the Rays until that last Umpire’s call.

 
 
 
 
 

Could September Soreness be effecting the Rays?

 
 
Chris O’Meara/AP

“Dead arm” syndrome, “September soreness”, those are just a few of the titles of the turmoil that is beginning to get a tighter grip on the Rays rotation and Bullpen. And it could not come at a worst time. With the Rays magical number now dwindling down to “10″, this is one of the worst times for your pitching staff to be experiencing any symptoms or even effects of the long Major League Baseball season.


The Rays already saw two of their rotation mates, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann go down for a period of time this season to try and rehabilitate the aliments without a long lay-off. So far the rest and relaxation technique seemed to work some wonders with Davis, but Niemann has last a bit of his stuff in the process.

Before his soreness, Niemann was considered one of the most consistent pitchers on the Rays staff, but since his return he looks a bit bewildered and astonished at his lack of control. Since his return, it has also sometimes seemed like Niemann is shot putting the ball to the plate, or even just trying to place the ball in a quadrant instead of his usual throwing motion. Niemann has gone from a consistent member of the Rays to a question mark right now.

And that does not bode well for the Rays, who will need a fourth starter in place before the playoff begin in a few weeks. This doesn’t mean Niemann is out of the running, but if he keeps up his inconsistent starts, he might just be shut down by the Rays and possibly left off the post season first roster for the American League Divisional Series (ALDS). That would give the Rays the option of letting him rest a bit more, do some side work and possibly be activated before the team has to submit their names for the American League Championship Series(ALCS).

Rob Carr/AP

And with Davis coming out of his time on the Disabled List throwing some of the best ball of the year, he might be the beneficiary of possibly getting that fourth slot. And for all the grip and grumbling Davis has taken for not being as consistent as the Rays other four pitchers, Davis is the only qualifying pitcher among the American League rookies with double digit wins (12). Only Baltimore’s rookie Brian Matusz (122) has more strikeouts than Davis (104). For all of Davis’s possible bouts of rollercoaster outings, he has been able to maintain a pretty impressive end result under the radar.

But Davis and Niemann are the only pitchers the Rays have acknowledged are experiencing soreness, while starter Matt Garza has shown signs of definite problems on the mound, but it seems the Rays are willing to let him sort it out on the mound and not on the bench. James Shields frustrations over the past month could also be a small bout of pain caused by a bit of overwork considering he has topped 200+ innings over the past two season, and maybe his arm finally has reached his limit right now.

The lone member not to show any adverse signs of the fatigue and demand of the long season right now is David Price. He has looked consistent and actually seems to have strengthened a bit as the innings pile up this season. But the aliment can come on quickly, and are the Rays throwing the dice right now hoping that Price doesn’t hit his limit before the Rays secure their second post season berth.

To have Price excluded from the playoff roster even for one series could be disastrous. But with the team possibly having to go with their usual starting five up until possibly their last week of the season, when could the Rays rest Price?


 

And suddenly, a few members of the Rays Bullpen have also started to show a bit of signs of fatigue and dead arms of their own. Over his past two appearances Dan Wheeler, who has usually been one of the consistent cogs in the Rays late inning machine has given up Home Runs, and also contributed towards two Rays losses. Could Wheeler have hit the proverbial wall this season after being a consistent piece of the puzzle for so long.

Over the last 7 days Wheeler has appeared in 3 contests, last 1 innings and posted a 18.00 ERA. That is not the signs of a consistent set-up man, but could be an indication Wheeler is feeling some fatigue right now.


You have to also wonder if Joaquin Benoit might be about to hit his own fatigue wall. Benoit made a miraculous comeback this season after surgery to pace this Rays Bullpen along with Wheeler for so long, but could his limits also being coming soon? For most of the season his ERA stayed below the 1.00 mark, but recently it has been pushed up to the 1.46 Era mark. This is not to say he is experiencing any fatigue, and is a key component of the Rays late inning brigade. Should Benoit also maybe be used sparingly over the last 15 games, or throw caution to the wind and hope for the best?

It is admirable that Shields and Garza are trying to fight the good fight on the mound and get through this without causing strife in the Rays rotation. But could their problems on the mound actually be causing a rippling effect through the pitching staff? We know that the minute the Rays secure their post season invitation the fans will see more of Andy Sonnanstine and possibly another pitcher (probably not Jeremy Hellickson) taking a start or two to give some of the usual starters, like Price a short breather.

 

But is it worth rolling the dice right now with the health and well being of your starters to get to that magical number plateau, then sit them down for the post season? And with that in mind, if the Rays do have to go late into the last week of the season with their primary starters, could that have been effected by this plague of “September soreness” and “Dead arm” syndrome? You can’t shut them all down right now, but can a shorter leash be attached for the rest of the season, or possibly we see a quick shutdown of the usual rotation after the Yankee series?

Could the Shields Era be Coming to an End Soon in Tampa Bay?

 

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

The number 55 can be symbolic to a number of people. We all know it is in the title of the song by musician Sammy Hager, “I Can’t Drive 55!”. We all know it was the posted National speed limit designated by huge signs along the nation’s Turnpikes and Interstates for a huge portion of our lives. Some gaming enthusiasts also know the number is associated with an astute “Call of Duty” clan of seasoned perfectionists who fight their battles on television screens everywhere.


The number “55″ within the realm of the Tampa Bay Rays history books holds a very unique place, but it is also a dangerous place. Going into Monday’s night game against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, the Rays would collectively bear witness to seeing the current Rays All-Time leader in victories, and Angels Starter, Scott Kazmir battle to preserve Kazmir’s weakening hold on the Rays All-Time career mark currently set at, you guessed it…55.

Kazmir will oppse the Rays in that contest against his former Rays teammate and friend, James Shields, and with a Shields win, Kazmir will have to acknowledge another part of his short legacy with the Rays will fall. It is extremely unusual for a pair of young guns like Kazmir and Shields to be fighting for the right to hold the Rays All-Time career mark. It does seems like such a low, low number, this “55″, but the solid reality is that life as a Rays pitcher does not always have a solid foundation or expanding future.

There can be several reasons for this, but the biggest is simply that the dollar signs sometimes makes a Rays pitcher a trade commodity way before his pitching expiration date. Recently, Shields has begun to hear the increasing mumbles and ground level grumbles around the Rays ballpark that he might be nearing the ultimate end of his long reign as the Rays King atop the Rays rotation. We soon forget as Rays fans, just how fast and short the escalation of the pitching exiting process here in Tampa Bay.

For a firm illustration of past quick exodus of the Rays winning pitchers’, you only have to look at the next four slots within the Rays career victories list to see former names of Rays pitchers like Victor Zambrano (35) Esteban Yan (26), and Albie Lopez (26) to show the Rays have not held onto their pitching stars for very long. Zambrano was traded for Kazmir, but when Zambrano left the Rays, he was the team’s career leader in victories.

Funniest part is that Shields is not even the highest paid pitcher currently on the Rays roster. That designation goes to teammates Rafael Soriano ($7.25 million), Dan Wheeler ($ 3.5 million) and fellow starter Matt Garza ($3.35 million). Shields will jump to $ 4.5 million for the 2011 and be in the current Top four of the returning members of the Rays roster. That high salary by itself could become Shields downfall. Sonnanstine (29 wins) who trails Shields in the Rays active victory tour will only see his salary rise to possibly $ 1.5 million due to his first stint at salary arbitration.

 

But it might be another Rays teammate that makes Shields expendable. Garza’s estimated salary arbitration has him garnering a possible $ 5.25 million salary for 2011, and that total could send the Rays searching high and low for a team willing to take on Shield’s and his 2011 salary. In 2011, Shields could find himself just like Kazmir, on the outside looking in at the next wave of Rays pitchers who will strive to take his name off the Rays pitching mantle. Shields has also not done himself any favors recently with some of his erratic pitching, and clouds of doubt have begun to fly all around the stands as to Shield’s effectiveness.


Surely the pitcher who has logged over 200+innings over the last two years and has been one of the only Rays pitchers’ not to go down for the count on the DL will be spared from this worry. But can the Rays gamble that same level of consistent return again in 2011? On the positive side of the equation right now is two solid performances where Shields won twice, plus he logged 7+ innings for just the second time this season. Maybe Shields had a bit of a dead arm and instead of complaining he fought through it and has gone 5-2 now over his last 7 starts. The signs are there that Shields might have found his second wind in 2010 and that we should not count him out…just yet.

Still stuck firmly in the back of my mind was that horrendous day in Toronto when Shields surrendered 6 Home Runs, becoming only the third pitcher to produce this type of hurling disaster in the last 70 years. Even though Shields did push some of the blame on himself for the debacle, Shields also tossed his young catcher, John Jaso firmly under the buses’ wheels and pushed a mountain load of the blame firmly towards his catcher and his play calling. That was uncharacteristic of Shields, and might have been a defense mechanism, but it was still an ugly side of Shields the Rays had never seen surface before. If Shields felt that way on the mound on that horrendous day, why didn’t he shake off Jaso’s signs?

 
Elaine Thompson/AP

That one instance doesn’t make Shields expendable, but the rubber arm and his consistency will come to a crashing end in the future. Will the Rays take the gamble and roll the dice with Shields, or will another starter who is waiting in the Rays system like Jeremy Hellickson take his turn in the Rays merry-go-round. If the Rays moved Shields this off season, it would save up to $ 4.5 million the Rays could use to entice another offensive weapon to join the Rays for 2011. With Garza also getting a substantial pay raise through arbitration, the Rays (after Garza’s salary) could effectively only have to spend around $2.525 million for their other four possible starters (David Price, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson) in 2011.


That makes Shields very expendable, even with only the second highest starter’s salary on the team. We might be seeing the everlasting glow before the sunset of Shield’s time with the Rays. Considering Shields has already been here about 5 years, maybe his time has come for him to seek another opportunity elsewhere. Another interesting sidebar to last night’s game, Shields and Kazmir became only the second pair of former Rays Opening Day starters to meet in a Rays game.

Ironically, the first time this happened was when Kazmir met Oakland starter and former Ray Joe Kennedy back on May 5,2007 at Tropicana Field. Maybe it is time for Kazmir to pass that Rays torch to Shields and let him shine brightly before his Rays tenure begins to dim. But then again, that is what we have come to expect out of “Big Game”.
 

 

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