Results tagged ‘ B J Upton ’

Toby Hall’s (Surprise) Retirement Party

It was suppose to be a pairing party in advance of the 2012 Toby Hall and Friends Celebrity Golf Classic. It was suppose to be one of those meet and greet opportunities for the duffers to meet other members of their foursome, and also celebrate another awesome tournament. That was the plan Toby Hall had in his mind before he entered the Courtside Grille last night.

Instead it became an impromptu Retirement Party complete with the obligatory pine wooden rocking chair that party invitees were asked to sign and give their well wishes to Hall as he embarks on other adventures in his post MLB life like watching his kids grow up, and devote more time to his charity and other worthwhile endeavors. It was an event I did not want to miss.

There were people coming out of the proverbial woodwork for this honor like former Rays owner Vince Namoli who looked very relaxed and had even lost a few pounds. Former Rays Pitching Coach Chuck Hernandez came to the event as well as former Rays Bullpen Coach Glenn Ezell and current Bullpen Catcher/Enforcer Scott Cursi. The showing of support from former players on a night usually reserved for the menial task of assigning pairings was a complete success.

 In the crowd was also former Rays OF Randy Winn, Toronto Blue Jays Pitcher/ Rays Bat boy Jesse Litsch, hurler Boof Bonser and Tampa Bay Bucs Defensive Back Ronde Barber. On the screens around the bar played a photo montage of Hall’s days both at Triple-A Durham, Tampa Bay and his stint with the White Sox. Food was plentiful, drinks were flowing and the room held a great vibe of well wishes and a few well placed cards and present for Hall and his family.

As the pairing were being announced, it was immediately noticeable that this season’s tournament had a few extra Rays names being bellowed out like P David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, SS Reid Brignac, CF B J Upton, RF Matt Joyce along with Rays farm Coach Ozzie Timmons, Jason Michaels and the always entertaining Gregg Zaun. Former Rays RP Trever Miller, Dan Wheeler Andy Sonnanstine, Rays Coaches Tom Foley and George Hendricks plus that strapping young lad, FSN Florida/Rays traveling ambassador of good times Todd Kalas. The event seems to have exploded this season with the addition of several Rays player who will be first time attendees this year. The show of great support for Hall and his main charity, the Miracle League should make this the best tournament turnout and fundraising in the Toby Hall Foundation’s history.

It was a great time to show our admiration and respect for a player who gave his all for the Rays, and is still considered the best to ever squat behind the plate. Hall may be leaving the game a bit earlier than he expected, or wanted, but his foundation, his children and his wife will be more devoted attention. If Hall takes to his retirement that way he called games and hit at the plate, then he will again be hitting for the fences. Go get ‘em Toby!

Hoping There is One More Trade on the Back Burner

The Tampa Bay Rays have sent out the vibe that they are basically done “shopping” and will just add a few stray parts to their Spring Invite list thus possibly closing the door to any movements before the team’s current player report to Port Charlotte, Florida in mid-February. I’m not buying this for nano second.

Maybe it is a gut feeling or possibly a bit too much Chipotle Tabasco sauce, but this team is never done trading up or passing up a deal that could eliminate payroll or provide a bit more stability to security within their roster. And with the Rays having to add a $1.25 million dollar cherry on top of their recent Carlos Pena sundae, this team will be more than n eager to take a call from a certain GM in the Nation’s Capitol, possibly bringing a two-fold relief effort.

Of course I’m talking about Mike Rizzo, the General Manager of the Washington Nationals who has been poking and prodding B J Upton like a prized Angus beef cow for the last few years. Now that the Rays are possibly nearing the bursting point in their budget bubble, the right deal with the Nats for the right player (s) could happen quickly and also relieve some of that payroll pressure instantly giving the team actually a bit of payola if they want to bring in a right-handed bench bat with some of the pressure relieving cash.

Of course I’m talking about the Rays possibly finally sending B J Upton to the Nationals which would relieve $ 7.6 million off the Rays payroll in one swift move, adding the Nats would be bold enough to send SS Danny Espinosa to the Rays as the “other part of the bargain”. Believe me, Espinosa can hit and field and is making the MLB minimum and has not even breached the arbitration process.

With one firm “Yuuuup”, the Rays could plug their question mark at shortstop, bring some cash back into the fold to entice a right-handed bat and still tuck enough away for a possible late July movement if the Rays need additional firepower. It would also eliminate the ticking clock above Upton’s head immediately, give him a clean break to go basically “back home”, closer to his Northern Virgina roots and play in front of friends and family on a more opportunistic basis. Last but not least, it will make the Rays CF transition happen in a timely manner, giving heir apparent Desmond Jennings possibly the reigns to the spot.

It could facilitate a move by Matt Joyce to Leftfield or keep the status quo in Rightfield with Ben Zobrist and Joyce flip-flopping depending on the opposing pitching match ups like in 2011. The movement of Upton to another greener pasture could also give a golden opportunity to both Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer to grab a hold of a Outfield flux and prove their worth to Maddon and his staff this Spring, possibly getting them to more time on the field. On the surface it looks like a win-win for everyone.

Even more interesting is the fact if the Rays did trade for Espinosa, it would bring into effect another “6 degrees of Longo connection” onto the Rays roster. You see, Espinosa like current Rays RP pitcher Cesar Ramos is also a ex-alum of Long Beach State University. Add that to the fact Espinosa can stroke the ball for power ( 21 HR, .735 OPS) and has speed (17 SB, 33 doubles), he could be a nice asset to offset the current short stop power deficiency.

Add plus to it all is that Espinosa will not reach the salary arbitration process until 2014, possibly being the stopgap defender up the middle the Rays could bank on until Huk-Ju Lee gets his feet wet at the MLB level. Espinosa also would have great trade value at the Trade Deadline this season if Reid Brignac rebounds and get off to a torrid start, or finally takes ownership of the Rays SS position.

It all looks enticing, but as we all know, the Rays do not ask my opinion on salary or team concept only if I want a large or medium Dr. Pepper at the concession stand. Still, I like this deal more for the possible immediate values and trade kickbacks this could have towards the Rays putting a team on the field that could suffice those nasty 2011 offensive sand traps.

I know this whole enchilada trade concept is more fantasy than reality, but the Rays have done thing before on the spur of the moment and they have paid some gritty dividends. I know possibly sending a veteran player and a guy who can be an offensive spark plug and defensive bright spot is a gamble, but it is one I would love to see more for the fact I would love to get a quality player in-house before the end of 2012 and possibly see Upton take a long walk and the Rays standing there empty-handed.

If this whole thing is just a dream sequence, please do not wake me until February 18th, I want to believe in its fruition for just a little bit longer.

Are The Rays Currently in Ghost Protocol Mode?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could Tim Beckham Face a Position Change This Spring?

They were supposed to be the heirs apparent to the Tampa Bay Rays revolving door situation at shortstop. Each saw their 1st Round selections in their season’s MLB Draft as the enthusiastic stamp of approval by the Rays that their style of baseball had a place under the Tropicana Field roof, and that their rise through the Rays farm system would finally accumulate with them manning the 6-hole for this team for years to come. One saw his future and position changed upon his arrival into the MLB, the toehr could be going down that same familiar path soon for the Rays.

Funny how the early farm system years and expectations of B J Upton and Tim Beckham mirrored each other with such eerie similarities and the promise of them becoming the Rays sure-fire solution on the right-side of the infield. Upton was the first to take the venture, and Beckham soon might find himself at that same crossroads Upton faced, possibly never getting a chance to show his potential at shortstop.

But it is actually good that Upton has taken the journey and could be a beneficial listening post for Beckham as he too might encounter a roadblock in his escalation towards the MLB level. Upton has become an outspoken clubhouse voice, and has grown into the role as mentor and responsible MLB member as he has become secure with his career position change. This talk could come as soon as the Spring of 2012 with Beckham seeing his stock as a Rays top prospect plummet to the # 13 slot this off season. Beckham, like Upton has the skills and tools to be a major leaguer, it just might not be at the position he envisioned on his MLB Draft day back in the Summer of 2008.

Upton finally made it to the MLB level, but not for his shortstop skills. He was being considered a plug-in alternative around the infield when he was first called-up, manning the Second Base position, then taking his shot at the Hot Corner as Evan Longoria was taking his bumps and lumps in the Rays minor league system. Something happened to Upton as he matured as a SS prspect through the Rays system, he suddenly became erratic with his throws, his footwork was being questioned, and his once abundant confidence as a future MLB SS began to fade. But Upton came to a crossroads, with a positional change firmly blocking his path to the shortstop spot.

I somehow feel the same fate just on the horizon for Beckham. It is not that Beckham like Upton could not man the position, but there is another hot prospect who might have taken the thunder from them, and thrust his name further up the potential depth chart. Beckham did start to show some of the fundamental breakdowns that Upton faced at Triple-A Durham before his MLB rise, but Beckham has also worked tirelessly to correct, manipulate and strive to again have his name whispered as a MLB level shortstop.

With Baseball America tapping Rays current Double-A SS prospect Hak-Ju Lee as the Rays infield prospect, you have to wonder if the Rays scouting department is turning their head towards Lee as the heir apparent and possibly having Beckham do the infield shuffle himself. 2012 could be a great indicator of if the Rays think Beckham is the right guy for the 6-slot, or someone to man the slot until Lee shows he is ready, willing and able to be that everyday middle-of-the infield commando.

I truly think it might be a blessing in disguise for Beckham to shift his role across the Second Base bag and take the ball from a different angle. It might even be career changing. I watched Beckham hit last Spring and he reminded me of a budding Rickey Weeks. You remember him, the guy the Rays passed up for SP Dewon Brazelton back in 2001. Beckham has that raw talent and bat speed that made some drool about Weeks, plus Beckham is still growing.

Beckham might be currently be the invisible man in regards to the SS position, but he will get his chance this Spring to make the Rays reconsider, possibly making himself a go-to utility guy who could learn on the job while working with long-time Rays Coach Tom Foley on his fundamentals or positioning. But the reality is that Beckham may only stand at that SS position a handful of time when he finally gets to the MLB level, and even then it might be until Lee is ready.

Still, a shift across the diamond, possibly being a heir apparent to the 2B spot could end up being the thing that takes Beckham to the next level. The current supply of MLB superstars that man the 4-spot are aging, and a shift to that position might actually help his reputation and future aspirations within the MLB. With some saying Ben Zobrist will slide over to the First Base bag in the next few years for good, the 2B slot could be wide open.

Upton came up to the MLB with hopes and dreams of manning the 6-spot for 10 seasons, but finally found a home deeper in the slot back by the Rays sunburst in Centerfield. It was a great move by the team and Upton to slide him into the outfield, and even without an All-Star selection to his credit, Upton is one of the fastest and best defender in that position.

Beckham might have to make his own decision possibly this Spring as to his future with the Rays, and a slide vertically could benefit not only him, but the Rays as he could be a critical pivot man for Lee in the double-play format. Beckham could win a chance at a utility role with an outstanding Spring, but the reality is he might be Durham bound again, possibly even switching to the other side of the bag for the Bulls in preparation for the switch-a-roo.

No matter if this pans out, or if my vision is just as blind as some behind the plate, Beckham’s future role with this team might depend on his flexibility and mental toughness possibly learning a new position and becoming a huge cog in the Rays future infield. Hmmm, I think I said the same about Upton not so long ago, and that position switch has turned out pretty well for the Rays.

Were You The One?

Recently columnist John Romano of the “St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times” wrote an editorial stating the Tampa Bay Rays possibly could be one bat away from reaching the last series again in late October. Some have chuckled at this notion while others have taken his conjecture with a grain of salt, possibly whisking the sodium chloride over their left shoulder for luck just in case he is right.

I know Romano’s main premise is encircling the Rays need for one consistent weapon that empowers this team and acts as their point man during struggles and setbacks. A player of stature and confidence that evokes fear in other team’s, possibly with good reason. Names like Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and even former Ray Carlos Pena quickly come into my mind, but will the price for their services be more than the Rays can muster? Will they quickly be termed “not the one’s”.

Could it be possible my own ideals are more far-fetched than Romano’s? Maybe I am insane to think the entire 25-man roster can transform into one cohesive and consistent unit that nightly can get the job done. For 2 MLB seasons we have seen this Rays club get battered and beaten early in contests and somehow get back off the turf and watch as a Rays du Jour hits the plate or mound and deliver the final death-blow to an opponent. Maybe it is time for this team collectively to take a giant leap of faith in regard to reaching the individual zenith.

Maybe it is as simple as each member of the Rays 25-man roster to take their own game to their next level, to bring about a rude awakening of the slumbering weapons already harnessed within the Rays arsenal. Maybe Rays Manager Joe Maddon should adopt a “Were You the ONE Today?” mantra for his 2012 squad. Possibly that is why this mantra speaks to me in such a way. A total unit is only as strong as its pieces, and this Rays squad has shown in the past it can play with anyone on any given night and post a “L” up on their side of the scoreboard. Did you forget, the Rays did beat the eventual World Series winners in their InterLeague series at the Trop, and outscored them 16-9

Because the Rays payroll is already hovering over $50 million mark for 2012, is there realistically room enough under their ceiling for another impact bat? Considering the potential power and hitting on this team, when all their cow-nosed Rays line up in a row and consistency rules the day, this team is a run scoring machine. The current 2012 roster has the talent, the potential and the ability to combine and prove sometimes the unit as a whole is better than the “one”.

Over the past few seasons we have seen players like Cliff Floyd who showed so many on this team how to be clubhouse leaders and professionals but did not translate that on the field with authority. We saw the Trop termites seemingly destroy “Pat the Bat”, and saw pieces of the puzzles like Brad Hawpe, and Hank Blalock post high hopes, but quickly that balloon burst and again this team was as square one. The “one” big bat concept has not evolved here, possibly doomed to fail from its onset.

But over that same period of time, the Rays Top 5 have produced some impressive numbers and have grown on and off the field. Young players like Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson have shown the 5 can expand into even larger omnipresent spectacle possibly becoming a shimmering 25-point star. We have seen shining bursts of the talent and power from players like Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, B J Upton plus pitchers David Price and James Shields as they have all shed brilliant light upon the Trop.

Maybe this is insanity speaking, but these five points of the Rays star need to shine brighter in 2012. The great thing about elevating your game is it becomes infectious to your team. Each player on the Rays roster wants to be the “one” on a daily basis. Could it really be as simple as combined pitching energies and offensive forces combining to add up to one win, one defining moment, one potentially moment of clarity for this team?  If this 2012 Rays team can harness that and mold it into a consistent vessel of power, then the sky is the limit for this team in 2012.

Pondering the Rays Pending Tender Decisions

This is one of those times that Major League Baseball players who are within the salary arbitration process either dread or look forward to with glee. It is the time that their clubs either shower them with confidence and acknowledgment Spring. The Tampa Bay Rays are no different, they will have to decide within the next 24 hour period who is worthy, and who has put on a Rays jersey for the last time.

You might think the process is easy, but with 6 players et to enter the arbitration pressure cooker in this 2011 off-season, I truly think only half of this group which includes LHP David Price, CF B J Upton, RP Joel Peralta, RP/SP Andy Sonnanstine, SP Jeff Niemann and former closer J P Howell can rest easy.

Two of this group could be non-tendered on Monday, while a third could possibly be tendered with a quick resolve to trade them before the arbitration process unfolds this Spring. Only Peralta seems on completely sturdy ground with an impressive 2011 campaign, and an estimated $ 2 million arbitration salary. A great set-up man like Peralta would easily set the Rays back possibly double what Peralta could get in arbitration, and that makes him a safe bet to be with the team this Spring.

Instantly members of the Rays Republic will be scratching their heads wondering if I had taken a hallucinogenic or have lost my friggin’ mind because I did not include the Rays ace, Price in this category. I would think the team is already in closed-door discussions with Price and his agent possibly trying ti iron out an extension, or possibly a viable financial situation that would keep both Price and the Rays smiling beyond his arbitration years.

Price has always been a “team-oriented” player, and if he and the Rays can come together on an extension, then we could see Price blossom in a Rays jersey for a long time. If not, some team would unload their farm system for a guy who is still evolving and is a left-hander. With an estimated $ 7.8 million salary for casted via arbitration for Price, without some sort of unilateral agreement between himself and the Rays, his future will become cloudy within the next 2 seasons, which would be a shame for both sides.

B J Upton is another guy who could easily vault past the $ 7.5 million hurdle with estimates ranging from $7.4-7.6 million for the Rays versatile CF. Upton is one of two players currently in the Rays arbitration process who could see himself being offered arbitration, and possibly be dealt before the team reports to Spring Training in Port Charlotte, Florida in mid-February. Still, Upton has the unique distinction of being “affordable” by Center fielder’s price points, but with several emerging candidates, including Sam Fuld or Desmond Jennings already bursting through on the MLB level, Upton has to feel he is not on stable footing.

The other player who could have pulled on a Rays uniform for the last time is RHP Jeff Niemann. Even though Niemann could only cost an affordable $ 3.1 million through arbitration, the Rays have a budding stable of pitching ponies behind the Tall Texan, and his health concerns and in juries over the past two seasons could make him an instant trade candidate and the least likely player to still be with the team this Spring.

Even though the other “silent assassin”, Wade David is also being mentioned in trades chatter, Davis has an extended contract with the Rays already in hand and that makes his situation more stable compared to Niemann. The Rays could still offer arbitration to Niemann knowing they will also explore trade situations and possibly use his salary arbitration as a key point in their trade talks, maybe even including a minor league prospect or money to another team to take Niemann.

So far on the arbitration forefront we have seen a “sure thing” and another arbitration eligible player who can be included in that category, but who might become expensive in the next 2 years. Also we have explored 2 players who might be on the top shelf of trade chatter, and who could even with salary arbitration attached to them be dealt even before their Spring hearings. Also to consider either of these 2 players could also be involved in a sign and trade situation giving their new squad a bit of financial relief, Niemann seems to be the one definite player on the cusp, but he has value on the trade front, so arbitration might be in the cards on Monday for Niemann.

There are still two player who might have pulled on their Rays uniforms for the last time, and it hurts me that both are baseball friends of mine. Both of these guys have sweat bullets for the team and been “company men” for the Rays enduring heartaches, surgeries and even unexpected trips away from the Rays that might have secured their destiny.

Andy Sonnanstine has done everything ever asked of him by the Rays, but with most of the 2011 season in “arbitration purgatory” with the Triple-A Durham Bulls, Sonny might be an easy candidate for the Rays to non-tender. This is a guy who has been comical, serious and multi-dimensional his entire Rays career, but with the current young guns pushing the ceiling for a shot in the majors, Sonny might be expendable. Even his affordable $1.1 million arbitration estimate might be more than the Rays would be willing to fork over for middle-of-the-road starter/reliever with the huge surplus of young talent on the cusp of being MLB ready.

This pains me, but LHP J P Howell took a huge step backwards in 2011, and that could cost him more than money. Sure he was trying to get back into the seasonal flow coming back into the Rays Bullpen towards the middle of the season, but his numbers and velocity took a tumble even with his mechanics at times plaguing his performance. His favor is an affordable $ 1.4 million estimate for his arbitration, and that could possibly push him over the hump and get an arbitration offer from the team.

But you have to consider Howell has stiff competition this Spring with fellow southpaws’ Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos again manning the hill for the Rays. It might come down to the intangibles like leadership, potential and if Howell can regain his velocity and trickery in 2012. You have to think an entire off-season to prep and regain his command and composure would benefit Howell, but could it be too late to impress the Rays brass that he will come back stronger in 2012.

I would love to see all 6 eligible players get a chance to go through the arbitration process for the Rays this Spring, but the numbers might not support such a move. With an early estimated $ 52.1 million payroll for 2012 with arbitration eligible figures included, that poses a 27 percent raise in the Rays payroll projections, and possibly 11 players topping the $1 million salary mark for 2012, any of these 6 arbitration eligible players could be gone to further lower the projected payroll before a single free agent to signed.

This is a critical year for the Rays with the Boston Red Sox’s recent contemplation of staying under the luxury tax threshold in 2012, and the possible addition of a second American League Wild Card spot anticipated, and all financial decisions on Monday could play into the Rays final position come the end of September. The arbitration process has a way of being cruel or kind depending on your position at the end of the day, but it is a viable way for teams to keep themselves solvent and reduce personnel during the off-season.

Peralta, Price and Upton should be on terra firma on Monday while Sonnanstine and Howell might be chin-deep in a puddle of quicksand without any rope or long branches to save them. Still, the one player who might be in the most vicarious position might be the 6′ 9” Niemann. He has the ability but not the sustained health for the Rays to confidently say without a hint of remorse he should get an arbitration hearing. Niemann will certainly get a hearing, but it might be a precursor to his eventual trade from the Rays.

No matter what happens on Monday, these 6 players have brought instances of joy and memorable events to all of us in the Rays Republic and I hope not matter what the outcome they know they will always be Rays in our eyes. Thank goodness the Rays do not have upwards of 10+ arbitration decisions that teams like the San Francisco Giants (13), Oakland Athletics (10),  San Diego Padres (11) and Red Sox (10) on Monday. Those arbitration decisions could dissect half of their roster in one day. Talk about a stressful day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

One Word Describes the 2011 Rays…Determined.

I was sitting somewhere last night and someone asked me one word that would describe the Tampa Bay Rays 2011 season. Instantly the thesaurus and dictionary capillaries went into overdrive. Images and events seems to transcend into my mind, clicks, bells and even a foghorn going off silently in my head until the one word seemed to shine bright…almost angelic to the forefront.

That word is determined.

That just seemed to fit this young crew of Rays this season. Baseball experts projected them fighting possibly for the third slot in the American League East, but rarely a soul found the courage to pronounce them “Wild Card” darlings. Rays Manager Joe Maddon instilled the mantra “Find Another Way” deep into their collective psyches to show that the road to success this season would be determined by their own want and aspirations.

When the Rays announced their 2011 Most Valuable Player during their last home stand, you could have effectively split the trophy into 25 parts for each night it seemed a new hero, a determined athlete who wanted to celebrate not postulate came to the rescue of this Rays squad. From the Rays starters to the Bullpen, From First Base to the Right field corner this team was a determined unit, with each player having their shares of defining roles in this season.

It was simple inspirational to me to see the eternal youth of Johnny Damon steals bases, turn singles into extra base hits, show a excited and zestful leadership that turned the volume up on this team. Even guys like Sean Rodriguez, Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer and Alex Cobb made impressions, showed their potential and raised the bar throughout this season. From veteran to rookie, this team seemed happy and content with passing the cap every night for someone else to lead the way to victory.

The confidence and the character displayed by the Rays rotation seemed to cement this mentality. They always pitched as if no lead was safe and minimal runs were needed. Even when their offense sputtered and shook, the Rays hurlers stepped up their game, produced amazing results and tried to make the bridge between starter and Bullpen one built on success not teeter-tottering towards the abyss. Always determined, the Rays all posted more than 10 wins, and Rays records seemed destined to fall nightly.

Even with Evan Longoria fighting injury and inconsistency, this team found other ways to produce, induce and collect runs, hits and amazing plays. I always think it shows the true spirit and merits of a team when their key figure has a bad night, or series and the guys around him rally and pull together to produce outstanding results. Sure Longo might have lost a few National followers with his down season, but locally, we saw his heart, his character tested and the end result was a determined athlete wanting to again get to that high level of expectation.

From the All-Star break on, Longoria found his rhythm, found his groove and along with the rest of the Rays, found a way to bypass the expectations and the naysayers to celebrate Mumm’s style. B J Upton has taken a lot of strife and ridicule over the past few years for his base running gaffs and his seemingly lack of hustle, but this season he showed his bat still has the goods, and his defense is up there with anyone in the Major Leagues.

When the going got tough, Upton stepped up his game determined to make more than a few broadcasters whisper, make more than a few teams fear his bat, his speed and his skill in the field. He might not have had an All Star season, but Upton did have a season worth remembering. His stats might not glow bright into the night, but his timely strokes and impressive defense kept the Rays in games when most fans around the ballpark thought the Rays would flounder. Upton became a clubhouse leader, even if the rest of the stadium didn’t know it.

The essence of this 2011 Rays team was based purely on determination. Every game they seemed to be the underdog, and they pulled out magic. On the road they stepped up their game to historical heights, almost seeming like they were possessed on the road while bedeviled at home. When their home record finally reached the .500 mark, they began to watch it also soar as high as their post season aspirations.

The 2011 edition of the Rays is firmly in the books, their legacy is bound not by their win and loss record, but by the feats and accolades of determination, spirit and never giving in to the temptation of failure. Truly the word “determined” fits this team like a glove from the exploits of Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach to the mystical magic of Matt Moore this Rays squad might have started their own simplistic dynasty built on the sole virtues of eluding defeat, embrace success and showing determination can be the virtue that rewards those willing to sacrifice, strive for the brass ring, and willing to endure.

Maybe the 2012 Webster’s Dictionary will include the 2011 Rays Team Photo…..seems only fitting.

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!



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