Results tagged ‘ Ben Zobrist ’

Peering Into My Rays 2015 Looking Glass-Position Players

2015

 

Well, Dandy Don has sung and the large but svelte woman in that Viking cap has vocally acknowledged the Tampa Bay Rays have lost that final grasp on any chance at an October date with destiny. So the chase is now over, but a few games still remain.

Over the next 2 weeks I think we will see a few slices of what might and could happen this winter in regards to our hometown Rays.

th3JODA4XGWe already know we will not see any fashion of a  $80 million payroll in 2015, but the Rays have a lot of pieces to consider this winter, some expendable, and some they have to keep at all costs. Might be a interesting winter as the Rays have a chance to push out another cycle of truly young pitching talent, might dangle a few names on their hook, and possibly be seeking a consistent power bat that could awaken an offense that rises and falls more than the tides in Tampa Bay.

From behind the plate to down the First Base line in the Bullpen, the Rays have some important work to do to not only up their offensive firepower, but also to shore up a reliever corps that did not have that secure level of consistency we have grown accustom to here.

I truly suspect the Rays will not only dangle but seek out a possible trade partner to take on veteran backstop Jose Molina’s 2015 salary. With the solid emergence of Curt Casali behind the dish in 2014, it makes Molina not only an extra body behind the plate, but a large salary that could be used to possibly secure a power bat for the Rays lineup.

thAWBZUW96In Casali’s favor right now is that he is showing great command of the Rays pitching corps and currently hold the best catcher’s ERA of 2.0 in the majors. He has caught Alex Cobb 6 times this season and sports a 1.09 ERA with Cobbster on the hill, including framing pitches during Cobb’s recent no-hitter adventure.

I think Ryan Hanigan is on solid ground, but people in Cincinnati probably thought the same before the 2013 offseason. Helping his cause for 2015 is definitely his current .306 average in 11 starts since coming back off the DL on August 26th.

Now in regards to the Rays infield. It would seem that 3 of the 4 slots are already occupied by players who should be rubber stamped in as starters for 2015.  Sure anything can happen, but these 3 players also have contracts inked with the team, some long-term, some with quicker expiration dates.

James Loney seems secure at First Base especially since he signed that 3-year #21 million contract in 2014 and should man the Rays 1B bag possibly until someone on the way up in the Rays farm system pushes him off it.  But also making Loney an easy name to pencil in is his superb bat skills and being great at GTMI (Get The Man In). Heading into Sunday’s contest Loney has 66 RBIs, second only to Evan Longoria.

thEFVI841BDo not be surprised if the Rays possibly show Sean Rodriguez a bit more at First Base in 2015. There is no guarantee the Rays will keep S-Rod, but he has been one of the most consistent pieces of the Rays utility corps right alongside Ben Zobrist.

Speaking of Zorilla, could this offseason be the first one where the Rays ask Zobrist to possibly take a few more turns at First as a possible fill-in should the team not re-sign Rodriguez? We all know Rays Manager Joe Maddon is S-Rod’s biggest supporter, but his salary is climbing and with less dollars in the till, could Rodriguez be one of the Rays biggest question marks going into the winter.

Third Base is all Evan Longoria’s until health or just plain age ripe him off the hot corner. People forget Longo is itching close to that big 3-0 that sometimes robs a player of agility and quickness needed to prevent screamers down the line. I do not see 2015 as the season Father Time begins to creep up on Longoria, but if he does we could possible see Tim Beckham or Logan Forsythe as guys to pencil in with spot starts.

th2I88KN6BLongoria did have what many consider a sub-par season in 2014, but he still leads the team in most offensive categories and is still the Rays Clubhouse figurehead, and that will not change for some time. His tear in offense since the All-Star break might just be to him finally finding that mechanics groove we have been waiting for all this season.

Shortstop is also a spot that seems secure, but has also been a spot of ups and downs in 2014. Now I like the spirited play of Yunel Escobar, but I think a healthy Hak-Ju Lee could press Escobar with a outstanding spring. You know subconsciously the Rays Front Office would love this kind of competition considering one would command a MLB minimal salary (Lee), and the other $5 million.

You might wonder why the Rays did not bring up Lee or Beckham in September or after Durham finished their postseason run. Both have 2 minor league options left and if neither fights nor gains a 25-man roster slot in 2015, that gives the Rays some flexibility to hold onto them at least in Durham.

thNYXYJESCSecond Base might again be a “insert here” space in the Rays infield. With names like Nick Franklin, Forsythe, Lee and Beckham possibly fighting for a chance to line up at 2B, this might be one of the most contested spots during the spring of 2015.

Sure you could put Zobrist firmly in black ink in this spot, but I think Maddon still loves to tinker and place Zobrist and his many gloves wherever he sees a possible weakness. I truly think we will see Zobrist either swapping gloves a lot again in 2015, or he will be gone. I think a lot depends on the Rays evaluation of what they could obtain via a winter trade for Zorilla while he still has ample value to a team looking for a players who has a command of his offensive and defensive skills.

The Rays might end up coming out of 2015 spring training with their youngest outfield trio since their inception. I have an odd feeling this might be the other place where competition will be strong and possibly we see a name or possibly 2 change uniforms in direct response to possible 2015 salary as opposed to their overall value to the team.

thNOJJ6HYGOutfielders Matt Joyce and possibly Desmond Jennings might also see their names in print a bit more during the Rays off season. Not because they are not valued or important Rays pieces, but there is a younger crew of Rays outfielders led by Wil Myers and Kevin Keirmaier who can provide the same offense and defensive excellence at a more modest price.

The Rays also need to make a valued judgment on Brandon Guyer who doesn’t have any minor league options remaining. This whole Guyer situation might come down to a mirror image evaluation that the Rays had to make on Sam Fuld before the 2014 season. Believe me, if the Rays find value in keeping Guyer, he could definitely slot in as the team’s 4th or 5th outfield option without a problem.

I will no discuss the DH position since I think that will be a hired bat or possibly more Longoria and Zobrist in 2015 if the team can not find an adequate stick that can elevate the Rays offense.

In addition Maddon could use any variety of bench selections to insert or delete at his leisure. Designated Hitter might be a revolving door for the Rays if a valued bat is not found before the spring of 2015. 

thVSZNTP0FI have a feeling we will see a leaner and more stat-infused Rays team over the next 2 years. The Rays will again possibly show a “youth movement” as most positions will be secured by vets, but the younger corps of the team could mature into the offensive pieces the Rays lacked in 2014.

With a slimmed down payroll and some veterans nearing the cusp of free agency, the Rays might call upon their striving younger core to provide a cohesive and focused 2015 nucleus.

 

More Rays Decisions on the Horizon

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With just 20 days left in the 2014 season for the Tampa Bay Rays, you can expect an abundance of decision, changes and shifts in their usual format in regard to pitching, fielding assignments and possibly the last shuffle of players after the Durham Bulls complete their drive to try and retain the Governor’s Cup.

thYXLXH91BWe have saw one decision rear its ugly head on Tuesday as the Rays decided they would shut down starter Drew Smyly. The Rays only leftie currently in their rotation will be replaced by right-hander Nathan Karns who was to pitch on Thursday in Game 4 of the Governor’s Cup series, but will now toe the rubber for the Rays in Yankee Stadium for their last contest against the Yankee in 2014.

Even though the Rays have not been formally declared out of the post season, the shutting down of Smyly who has been a bright spot in the latter stages of the season signals the Rays looking ahead to 2015.

Now that doesn’t mean the Rays will re-invent themselves over the next 3 weeks, but the usual line-ups and match ups might go a little left and right and the Rays experiment and try out some new combos or fielding assignment to test their current corps of rostered players.

The first of these movements towards the future might be in feeling out the limitations or flexibility of Brandon Guyer. We all know Guyer has the heart and soul to play with this team, but if he shows a little more flexibility and resourceful use, possibly in Center Field, the Rays might extend their hands and provide Guyer with ample opportunity before the last contest in Cleveland.

thS5U101GFOver the next few weeks I suspect we might see a few tinkers with the lineup seeing if other players can adapt, convert and possibly excel at other spots in the 1-9 slot of the Rays lineup card. We could see a few new names attached to Third Base giving Evan Longoria a few more reps at DH.

Quite possibly we could also see if the Rays value certain player who have been established as 2015 options, or possible trade fodder this winter. One name I think you might want to watch close is the ways the Rays use Matt Joyce over the final games.

Joyce is still under team control in 2015, but I truly thought 2014 was his year to shine or submerge and quite possibly the Rays might be on that same wave length. It is kind of a pity Joyce seemed to have drawn the long straw when Wil Myers went down. I thought the team would try and expand on Joyce’s worthiness through more at bats against lefties, but instead the team went to the minor league system and have made Kevin Kiermaier a new Tampa Bay household name.

The emergence of Kiermaier might makes Joyce expendable this winter, and an affordable name for another team to scoop up at a bargain. And with the Rays possibly experimenting with different outfield setups, names like Ben Zobrist, David DeJesus and Desmond Jennings might find a few teams calling about their availability this winter too.

thC0O2Q3OAAnother decision much like Smyly is on the horizon for the Rays as starters Jake Odorizzi has thrown for 154.2 innings and Chris Archer has 173.2 innings. Taking two fixtures out of the rotation might not happen, but seeing as current Durham starters Alex Colome has only 86 innings on the book before his next Governor’s Cup start, he could be a viable option for the Rays after Durham finishes their playoff run.

But not in Colome’s favor might be the pure fact that would give the Rays 5 starters who all throw from the right side of the rubber. The Rays could go with the option of bringing up 2 different lefties after the Durham playoff run, or promote another right-hander, Merrill Kelly as he only has 114 innings on his arm this season.

If the Rays did want to go the duo lefty option, Mike Montgomery and Enny Romero both have about 126 innings on their stats this year and could possibly be an option for 1-2 starts each to finish off 2014 plus give the team a real time evaluation on if they might be MLB ready in 2015.

th7BV3QC8DInfield wise I could see the Rays possibly bring up Hak-Ju Lee or maybe even Tim Beckham and throw them in Longoria’s spot at Third and test them on being viable future options or possible add-ons to a winter trade.

Who knows, maybe Rays can bring up a Ray…Olmedo to see if he could be a piece of the depth puzzle again next season either in Triple-A or with the Rays.

Everything is just speculation until certain things fall or are decided by the Rays. With the season winding down and the team all but .01% eliminated from any contention the Rays now only fear the calendar.

As soon as the Bulls complete their post season series I truly suspect a few of these name to appear quickly on the transaction wire.

Now if only the Bulls would hurry up and win the Governor’s Cup so we can really see what the Rays are thinking……for 2015.

 

Rays Inspired World Cup Squad

 

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It is the World’s game. Only in our country does the sport heard ‘round the World take second, third or maybe not even a fifth fiddle. The globe embraces the sport of football, or as we Americans have dubbed it, Soccer.

With our own United States men soccer team showing their grit and glory by winning their first matchup against Ghana in this year’s World Cup last night, I thought it might be fun to pencil in my own Rays World Cup squad based on the current members of the Rays 25-Man roster.

Instantly most of you would wonder why a Baseball blogger would want to write and create a Soccer squad. From the age of 10 to 21 I played either as a Sweeper or on the left-side of the turf on local Men’s leagues (FSSL), on the All-South select U-17 travel teams and spent my 16th summer in Malmo, Sweden working out with that vistas reserves team.

Heck if you look over at the blog photo on right you will see a photo of me playing indoor soccer, so I have the knowledge and know what it takes to play the game.

Of course the Club Rays team’s Managers slot is already taken as you cannot discount the philosophical and game day rhetoric of Joe Maddon. Heck in a lot of ways he might even be a better communicator and guru to young minds than the current USA Manager Jurgen Kilinsman.

downloadI decided this Rays Club needs to play a 4-3-3 alignment which is 4 defenders, 3 midfielders and 3 forwards. We all know the Rays claim to fame in the last few years have been defense, so a line with a left, center, right fullbacks and a sweeper manning the gaps seems as a perfect lineup to help keep games close and with minimal scoring (hopefully).

So let’s start at the last line of defense, the goalkeeper position first. I am going to pick Ryan Hanigan as he has shown he has the ability to block balls in the dirt, move around with grace under pressure and will come out of goal and sacrifice his body for the team. Most people would think I might pick Jose Molina as a back-up, but I chose Alex Cobb as much for his leadership as for his attention to the little things and would be a great communicator back there.

That being said, my defense will also have a few wily Rays vets manning key spots, and even a few surprises to some people. My left fullback has to be someone committed to defense as well as have good sprinting speed to defend an opposing winger who is usually the fastest guy on the team with the ball.

For some reason Jake McGee fits that spot for me. He is a big body guy who should be able to keep his shoulder square to the ball and ride a winger off the ball if he wants to proceed towards the touchlines or the goal box. On the right side I’m going with a gut feeling that Yunel Escobar will be a mirror image of McGee and keep the crosses from getting to the goal mouth and has the closing speed to thwart long passes into the box.

images (4)Center fullback is a tough one. I want to get a big body in there, but more in height than in weight. For that reason I chose Grant Balfour who at 6’2” has a bit of a nasty streak, highly competitive and if he chats to the ball, that might scare a few opposing forwards from going up the middle of the pitch. As long as he keeps his back to the goal, I think the snarling Aussie should shut down any middle of the field dribbling and long range shots.

As for the sweeper position I wanted to give that slot to someone who can be both an offensive and defensive weapon. Someone who can be that 4th utility defender as well as crash up into the offensive zone for corner kicks, help take free kicks and set a few boomers toward the goal. Perfect weapon for this Rays Club squad would be Sean Rodriguez.

Now onto midfield, or the engine room of this team. We already know Evan Longoria will wear the Captain’s band and has the grit and stamina to man the center midfield slot and his ability to give out orders and command respect will have opposing defenders marking him tight, so I want my outside midfielders to have a burst of speed and great ball skills.

soccer_300x77My selection for left mid will be James Loney. I picked him as much for consistency as for his bursts of power which on free kicks or fouls way outside the box his kicks could free Longoria and the forwards to jockey for inside position on the opposing defense. My right midfielder would have to be Ben Zobrist. I do not know if Zorilla is ambidextrous on the soccer field, but if he was he would be a great fit to the usual attacking side of the field and could center passes or do flanking moves or U-runs down the line for crosses into box.

That leaves the forwards line. Here I’m going for the tall man in the box and shifty runners down the outsides or who can change directions and do crafty diagonals into the box for short chips, passes or provide ball in the air for headers.

So with me wanting to capitalize on speed, it is no secret the left wing has to be Kevin Kiermaier who seems to have a sixth sense to getting into position for the right play and who is one of those players who brings a new level of excitement to the team.

download (1)Right wing has to be another speedster as I pencil in Desmond Jennings for this slot and will call upon his quick first burst for great offensive moves and set plays. Add to the fact Jennings did play in that other brand of football, I think he will be a great target in the air for headers and taking a defender out of his position for scoring opportunities at the top of the goal box.

That only leaves the center spot. I had to go with someone here who has leadership, respect and plays on a different level at times. The obvious and clear choice for this spot was David Price.  One of the glaring reasons is his 6’6” frame can rise a good 3-4 inches above most defenders for headers and I think he has the foot skills and dexterity to pull off picture perfect passes and provide 110% throughout the contest.

Of course this Rays team will have great and skilled substitutes on the bench like Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore,  Joel Peralta, and I might add Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi to the mix as we all need a true “enforcer” on our soccer team.

images (2)I know there will be debate about my choices, but I think this squad could do some real damage on the pitch, provide some spectacular scoring chances and picture perfect goals as well as keep the score low and within reach of the Rays offensive unit.  Well it’s time for me to set the ball on the middle dot and get this Rays Club team going. Besides, you can always vent your thought at Rays Soccer Night Friday, June 20th.

What? I wasn’t going to sit on the sidelines and watch this team, I would make the perfect Referee plus I want to see this match at ground zero, not in the stands. And besides, St. Petersburg,Florida like the Rays is home to the 2-time North American Soccer League Champions, the Tampa Bay Rowdies who play on the Rays old Spring home. Florida Progress/Al Lang Field.

Now if I can just get the linesmen to keep Jonny Gomes from running onto the turf, we would be golden. 

 

Rays Photo Day Shows Both Sides of the Rays Personalities

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You never quite know what sensibilities are going to “play out” when the Tampa Bay Rays let photographers bring about their own illuminations on the team’s character, or is that characters. You only have to look back to the Feb. 25, 2010 Rays Photo Day shots where the photographer that day used the natural sunlight of Florida as sparkling and illumination points on the photos of that season squad.

2010Sure they were embarking on a new strand of light called the post season that spring and the Sun made more than a few spectacular effects in a variety of photos from that spring’s squad. Then in 2013 it seems the Rays photos were a bit more subdued than usual with some playful spots of individuality, but the photos overall seemed to illustrate a unison or harmony among the troops.

Of the 26 photos already released from the Rays 2014 Photo Day, there is again a underlying theme that clearly is visible and unique all to the Rays way of team chemistry. This spring photos show a calm, a essence of a more tranquil and centered squad of players who see that goal in the cross-hairs and calmly and professionally plan to be the team that “eats last” come November 2014.

eatslastYou see a more relaxed Papa Longoria with the Rays leadership crown solidly planted upon his head along with fellow Clubhouse General David Price presenting himself quite Zen-like in his photos awaiting the approaching Opening Day more with zeal than strife.

But then you have the other side of the Rays coin also displayed in the type of Gasparilla-infused notions and action of Rays reliever Josh Lueke both in his biting of a baseball, to juggling and possibly showing that some fun must come with all the stress of competing and delivering your goal.   

wjbjI enjoy seeing the fight and fire as well as the comedic notions that make up a M L B team. Not everyone can be serious all of the time and sometimes that moment of tongue-in-cheek humor or even dawning a gladiator’s mask can deliver more energy and fight into a group than any Knute Rockne oratory.

The Ying and Yang of this year’s released Photo Day shots also shows the ebb and flow that will ultimately exist within the Rays this year as leaders and jokers can come together tone their antics and abilities to the highest achievement levels and produce memories and events that we will speak about for years.

LLMEFrom the high points of  Longoria who with a consistent effort in 2014 should ultimately by-pass and become the sole Rays all-time leaders in such categories as HR, RBI, Extra Base Hits, doubles and Slugging Percentage before the end of 2014 to Myers who will again be called on provide the same kind of energy, production and raw unharnessed spirit that saw him take home an American League Rookie of the Year trophy, this team will rise and fall on both the chill moments and chaotic scrambles that make up a 162-game campaign.

pllbSure this is but only a 26 frame cross-section of the character and characters of that will become the heart and soul of the 2014 edition of the Rays, but if this is any indication of what we might have in store for us for a 162 game haul…..I’m ready to buckle in and take the rough with the fun for it’s almost time for the games to matter and I can’t wait for that last day in March………..But I don’t think Lueke will have to eat too many balls this year because this team looks and sounds hungry enough to push it to that last meal….and maybe have room for a champagne-infused dessert.

All photos taken by Zimbio.com photographers. They do so many other M L B teams photos each spring. Search their website for your team’s spring photos. I do have a Facebook link with the latest 26 and any additional Rays Photo Day shots I find past the submitting of this blog post.

# 20 and 14’s Roles Could Define 2014

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It’s not only odd but a bit perplexing that the numbers have added up in this order this year. # 20 and # 14 will be numbers to watch in 2014 and each could have a huge impact on just how far the Tampa Bay Rays go this season. Seems like I’m waxing a bit too poetic that these two players could be such key pieces to the Rays puzzle in 2014, but sometime reality can be both bizarre and prophetic.

jhgfdbvAt no other point in the Rays history have 2 numbers aligned in such a way that they could be considered linchpins on how the season could or should progress or ultimately regress. Rays outfielder Matt Joyce and David Price  both separately and conjoined have the talents and abilities to make magic happen upon Tropicana Field’s AstroTurf, but each also come into this spring with question marks attached to their names.

Now this is not to suggest either will go down with an injury, be traded or be the anointed saviors that could decide the 2014 season. This is to suggest that possibly the addition, subtraction meshing of these two players could decide more than just victories and defeats, but the Ray’s final pitching staff formation or outfield rotation decisions.

Questions will need to be addressed quicker rather than later. I still feel that Price is not on solid ground on if he is living in Port Charlotte, Florida in mid-February or will be calling another vista his home this spring. With Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees) and Matt Garza (Brewers) off the pitching “wish lists” around MLB, more than a few courtiers could come a-callin’ around the Rays hoping to make one last huge push for Price’s services in 2014.

That being said, could the Rays be secretly able to keep Price no matter the $14 salary weighing on their 2014 payroll, or just being coy knowing someone will offer up just the right bite and the team take it knowing they have pitching talents already in-house who could step up the ladder and perform at a higher level this season.

th70R7PW3ZIf Price were to be with the Rays come March 31st, will another clock begin a countdown to the Trade deadline, or will the team effectively ever put a “No Trade” sign on Price for the entire season no matter if they are a post season race or treading water come the end of July.  A “price-less” Rays rotation could consist of a 1-4 slots with Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and possibly Alex Colome or Jack Odorizzi manning the 5-hole.

You also have to wonder if this whole situation of Price not being on solid ground with the team showing adamant solidarity for Price staying with the team even at this point is not eating at him mentally and emotionally that he is possibly just a phone call away from leaving this team and wearing different colors from today until possibly August 1st.  Confidence plays a huge part of the prep game for a pitcher coming into the spring as they gain that fortitude, that intensity and want to succeed as Spring Training and game evolve. Could not having a solid foundation under Price possibly wreck a bit of havoc during his Rays starts in 2014, or could he essentially be counting the days until his trade in the recesses of his mind.

th20TY036CPrice’s mindset and words from today on will echo loudly as to his progress or regression this season. From a pitching standpoint, Price holds a lot of instability coming into this season. Not on his talents or abilities, but if he will possess the aggressive nature and instinct we are accustom to, or have something pull his usual game mode from him. As much as Price holds some key questions for the team’s pitching prognosis, Joyce could be at a definite crossroads as to his role both in 2014 and in the future with the Rays this season.  

How the Rays decide to use Joyce this season will definitely define his future with the team, but also could signal if his own journey might end with the Rays. Joyce definitely knows his role on the Rays in 2014 will be different than any other time in his tenure here. With Desmond Jennings retuning and the resigning of David DeJesus combined with the third addition of AL ROY Wil Meyers beginning his 2nd tour with the team, suddenly Joyce might find himself as a 4th outfielder on a team with so many variety of player options.

uytrfbIf you also factor in the option of Ben Zobrist, Jayson Nix or even newly acquired utility man Logan Forsythe into the mix, Joyce could find himself after Spring Training possibly even lower in the mix and teetering on possibly not making the final 25-man roster. But that is thinking too far ahead right now.

Honestly Joyce could see more time at the DH spot and be a relief or late inning outfielder than as a consistent figure in the outfield this year.  Joyce has been given the time to address his southpaw woes at the plate and has shown some confidence, but as of his 2013 performances against lefties has subsequently been sheltered from left-handers at all costs.

hgfdWe do not know yet if Joyce had addressed this in the off season, but hopefully the Rays will put Joyce in enough leftie-on-leftie situation to either give the team more confidence his hitting abilities against non-righties or pigeon-hole him to spot duty or trade him off knowing they have some depth in the utility roles to suffice his elimination.

2014 was going to be so key for the Rays even before the questions arose concerning #20 and #14. Hopefully they can be banded together this season as offensive and defensive strong points for the team to help the Rays go to an awesome 5th post season spot in 7 seasons.  Only time will tell just how important those two numbers will be to the Rays success.

Nix Has That Special AL East Knack

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Versatility in baseball can make you a solid career. Being able to play a multitude of position both in the infield and outfield can get you shots other players do not get. Even though INF/OF Jayson Nix has not put up substantial numbers during his trek across the MLB landscape his bag of many different gloves might just possibly keep him with the Tampa Bay Rays.

th (2)I was glancing at comments on the Rays signing of Nix to a Minor League deal which by all normal purposes has a major league invitation to Spring Training in Port Charlotte,Fl and one stuck out at me as if it was highlighted. “Smart move. Another Zobrist type except Nix has better wheels.”- MrSativa.  Certainly will not hurt Nix’s chances of staying past March that he has been exclusively in the AL East over the past 3 years with the New York Yankees (2012-13 seasons) and the Toronto Blue Jays (2011 season). Even more enticing possibly to the Rays is the simple fact that over parts of Nix’s 6 year Major league adventure he has only spent 1 season outside the American League (Colorado Rockies-2008).

Combine his versatility along with familiarity with American League pitchers and their arsenals, and you might see Nix as a possible plug-in player into a multitude of spots on Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s Chess board. You can definitely bet if Nix can secure a utility spot on the Rays 25-man roster his versatility around the diamond might be overshadowed a bit by Nix’s 19 stolen bases in 23 attempts over the last 2 seasons. Having a guy like Nix on your bench in a close game, which the Rays seem to have more than most MLB teams,  a pinch-runner like Nix can be a great weapon to have especially in the late innings or with a slow-running body nestled 60 feet from a lead.

th (8)Not to say Nix’s only asset to this team might be the fact you can plug him in almost anywhere but First Base or Catcher, but having a speed guy to replace the departed Sam Fuld, Nix would give Maddon a great option when the time might call for a swift change in the game’s flow. Of course Nix doesn’t bring a huge amount of offensive prowess to the Rays evident by his career .218 average with 37 HRs and 127 RBIs over 6 seasons.

But hidden inside that same bit of career stats is the fact over the past 2 season in which Nix has had 505 plate appearances, he has also produced his highest consecutive career batting averages (.243 and .236). If Nix can again find the power stroke he had back in 2009 with the Chicago White Sox (12 HR) or 2010 with the Cleveland Indians (13 HR), he might a bit more of an offensive pop off the bench or in a utility role.

Worst thing is, this is January and every player looks like a gem in the rough right now and could be a missing piece or nice addition. By his last 2 seasons in the Bronx, Nix has shown he can be a vital cog in the overall 162 game season as he appeared in over 74 games both seasons. That kind of stat could become a vital and substantial machine cog if someone in the infield or a corner outfield spot goes down with an injury in 2014.

th (3)So maybe MrSativa is right, Nix might be a great addition to the Rays . I mean a multi-faceted speedy player who also has ample experience playing in the toughest division in baseball can definitely be a great tool to have in your game day toolbox….Sounds kind of like the same description giving about Zobrist when he arrived in St. Petersburg. 

Welcome aboard Jayson, it’s going to be a fun year!

Bad Luck Follows the Rays on the Road

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I want to be the first to stand up and applaud new Tampa Bay Rays James Loney and Shelly Duncan for their vocal barrage from the Visitor’s dugout railing tonight as they snipped with merit at the horrific job Home Plate Umpire Marty Foster made on the last pitched ball during the Rays 5-4 loss against the Texas Rangers.

c2s_rays040913_10589862_8colBelieve me if the Rangers had any deputy powers, they should have arrested Foster for impersonating a Umpire, but I digress. Seriously though, if the Rays were to lose that game even with their hottest hitter , Ben Zobrist at the plate, it should have been a ground ball, missed swing, not a called third strike to end a highly contested game that came so far out of left field Rangers closer Joe Nathan might have been the last person on the field to notice the game was over.

You can be sure there will either be a voice mail or a nice cordial phone call to Foster from someone within the MLB hiearchy, possibly his immediate supervisor asking him if he drank a frothy beverage as the teams changed positions for the top of the 9th inning instead of guzzling a nice, cool Gatorade. And the worst thing is you can not fathom or find a suitable excuse like the usual hot and hostile Texas heat or gnats that descended from purgatory (Texas) to make the sight lines into the Texas catcher’s glove impossible.

This was purely and truthfully just a blown call that possibly seconds after it’s conclusion Foster wishes he could take back or get a proverbial “mulligan”. And these things happen during a 162 game season, but it didn’t need to happen to this Rays team who struggled back to within a run of changing the outcome and who were still nursing a TKO in their Sunday home matinee.

tampa-bay-rays-v-texas-20130408-201736-861But maybe this is the way the Rays will have to find ways to win in 2013. Possibly the high hype of their return to glory 5 years after their first surprising rise has more than a few people casting spells or making voodoo Longo dolls or Hellboy personas.  But the Rays did have chances before this moment and could of taken the fate of their resurgence out of Foster’s hands before the top of the 9th inning.

On the same day their might Tall Texan, Jeff Nieman decided to partake the knife and sideline himself for the rest of the 2013 campaign, this team needed some sign of impending good fortune and change of fortune. The problem was as in in most Texas sagas, the man in the black cap shot the Rays in the foot and took their victory off into the sunset.

Maybe we can find a way to blame the call on long-time Rays nemesis and current Rangers catcher AJ Pierzenski, he was the guy who framed that last pitch for Foster…….Nah, Foster blew the call.

Longoria Admitting his Error Shows his Leadership Maturity

One of the greatest traits a leader can have is admitting they are not perfect and just as the rest of us can make decisions that can be called into debate or discussion. Last night Tampa Bay Rays Clubhouse leader and Third Baseman Evan Longoria proved he was a leader and took responsibility for his error in his aggressive base running judgment during the Rays attempt to rally towards a possible 9th inning overtaking of their divisional foes, the Baltimore Orioles, but Longo’s gaffe might have been to try and amp up the energy for the rally, but it just as quickly put the Rays on their heels.

baltimore-orioles-v-tampa-bay-20130404-162917-201Some say it is a cardinal rule of baseball to never just watch the ball, but also have a keen visual on any base runners in front of you to keep just such a situation of coming to fruition or costing your team a must needed chance to pull out a possible victory. Depending on which school of thought you adhere towards, either Longoria was wrong by watching the ball, or was being aggressive with a possible 9th inning rally in mind. Either way, it might be up to your own interpretation, or at the very least your viewpoint and visual judgment when viewing the above video which showed both the Rays and Oriole’s broadcast crews.

If you did not see the play, it occurred in the bottom of the 9th with the Rays trailing 6-2 to Baltimore and followed a lead-off plucking of pinch-hitter Sean Rodriguez and a Ben Zobrist single to right to put two runners on the base path with no outs in the inning. Longoria then hit a ball deep to left-center field that was played off the upper portion of the wall and then the unfortunate again raised it ugly head.

009Zobrist is a calculated and safe runner. Since the ball’s path was blocked by the advancing fielders, Zobrist had to play upon the hunch it might still be caught and he would have to jettison back to first to avoid possibly being involved in a double play situation. Longoria who has that aggressive nature to his base running that has be haphazard before with at least one instance involving Zobrist in the past felt the outfielders could not make the play and was looking for a double and possible triple on the play.

This is where the error of Longo’s search for that vital punch to the Oriole’s chances took a solid uppercut to the Rays proverbial jaw. Longoria in his haste to make this a possible 2-RBI moment over ran the lead runner (Zobrist) and in that situation was immediately called out by First Base Umpire James Hoye which then had Zobrist stop his progress at Third Base and Longoria producing the first out of the inning. This did not ultimately destroy the Rays chances of securing additional runs in the inning, but it did hamper the game strategy that Rays Manager Joe Maddon could employ if there was no outs and two runners in definite scoring position.

Some will banter that the Second Base Umpire and Crew Chief John Hirschbeck should have convened a small meet with Home Plate Umpire Jim Reynolds who had a better visual vantage point as to if Longoria had passed Zobrist or if the two had been in the same area without cause for the out decision.

011If you look at the video, Longoria is strutting at quarter speed when he rounds first base possibly remembering his past base running mistake where he also passed Zobrist to produce an out in that past contest. The true angle or vantage point of the video doesn’t make it concrete in either decision’s direction, but the visual angle from behind Home Plate could have been a secondary check mark to Longo’s gaffe, or been a reason to question the play all together and have the Umpires convene for a discussion.

MLB Rule 7.08 (H), clearly states that any base runner is to be called out when he “passes a preceding runner before such runner is out”. Hirschbeck’s clarification in his decision was that this movement was akin to a runner missing a base and stated the situation “was kind of the thing you see or you don’t”. Maddon himself situated on the top step of the Rays dugout had a different point of view to the situation and possibly might have been the one person off to the side of the play besides Reynolds who could of see if Longo did in fact pass Zobrist or lagged a bit behind him as a precaution to having just this type of event unfold again for the pair.

All in all, Longoria did admit he was not running full speed and was watching the flight of the ball intensely with regard to possible extra bases, but he also did admit he did not know where “Zo was, but as soon as I saw the ball hit the ground, I took a hard step. And it seemed when I took that one hard step, I saw Zo to my left”. ”

014Some might find fault in Zobrist in this instance because he is a more careful and less flamboyant base runner who didn’t want to be a factor in losing this game due to a base running gaffe. With his Zobrist’s visual sight lines blocked by the advancing outfielders to the ball off the wall, he erred on the side of caution and in that moment could of set the wheels in motion for this gaffe, but he doing so to prolong the inning and not to be overly aggressive on a play that still could have been made by his sight angle.

In the end, it was great that Longoria did not throw anyone under the bus about the incident but took the right path and accepted the responsibility as well as showed he has grown as a leader of this club plus is willing to admit an error in judgment. Some players might have immediately pointed their finger to the runner in front of them or gone off full nuclear towards the Umpires, but Longoria used tact and accepted his plight the way a leader should and that commands a bit of respect.

But please Longo, the next time this situation comes during a game, please error on the side of caution, especially if you have a conscientious runner like Zobrist in front of you. Making this same type of mistake 3 times in your career is not a charm.

Of Course You Got to Re-Joyce About This Moment

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Boom goes the dynamite….and it couldn’t of happen to a better player. Tampa Bay Rays RF took a hanging pitch from Orioles reliever Tommy Hunter deep high and into the seats for the Rays first win of 2013 in the classic walk-off fashion.

201304032124770819669-p2What better way for the Rays faithful and the dugout to remember their first victory of the season than seeing @sweetswing20 (Joyce’s Twitter handle) doing the circle around the bases and jump into a impromptu team meeting at Home Plate. I know I’m not the only one who hopes a moment like this jump-starts a killer season for Joyce as he has been one of those guy I truly feel should have a chance to play every day…even against those nasty lefties.

201304032128773019683-p2As anyone who has followed the Rays for even the slightest amount of time, Joyce has somehow been put in bubble wrap and stuffed on the bench against most left-handers, but I think this season Rays Manager Joe Maddon needs to put Joyce in a few key slots in the lineup against capable southpaws and see if Joyce rises to the occasion or Maddon’s insight is warranted and Joyce platoon with Zobrist or any other guy Maddon feels has the advantage against lefties.

201304032133776149722-p2Maybe all Maddon needs or should do is take the blinders off and let Joyce either make his case to play against both right-handers and lefites, or be banished to platoon duty and be the key component against right-hander in left or right field. Joyce has shown before he can hit left-handers if given the chance, so maybe it is time to rely more on your capable young player than keep doing the lineup merry-go-round based on the side of the rubber a hurler uses.

Matt JoyceWednesday Joyce made a huge statement in not only securing the Rays first win, but also showing he can be the guy to get the Rays the needed offense if his name is called more often. Of course the season is young, and maybe Maddon will release the reins a bit this year and get Joyce some quality plate appearances against lefties, or he will be pigeon-holed for good not only with the Rays, but with any other team that might want to take a chance on him if the Rays ever decide they need a guy who can hit pitchers that hoist the rock from either side of the hill.

If I was Maddon, I think Joyce has proven he can get it done, but imagine what he could do if he played daily. I think a few pitching staffs would shudder at that thought.

Rays Opener Produced a Mixed Bag of Moments

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Baseball defines itself by its unscripted single plays and moments that can easily decide victory or defeat. Where the crack of the bat meeting the ball can electrify a crowd, a defensive play that illustrates brilliance can boost your confidence for success, or a misplaced pitch left flat and lifeless can become a isolating factor in the contest.

201304021221444815482-p2These moments and more showed themselves vividly on Tuesday afternoon as the Tampa Bay Rays opened their 16th Major League baseball campaign against divisional rivals, the Baltimore Orioles. The Rays were riding a 2-game home opener winning streak and with a third win in a row could get Rays Manager Joe Maddon back to the .500 mark in his Rays tenure. Instead, the Rays showed us all the ways they have improved over the Winter, but also gave us a quick dose of reality that some things still need some fine tuning to succeed in 2013.

Rays ace David Price took the hill hoping to begin another trek towards a stellar season, but some crafty hitting and patience by the O’s hitters bore into the small holes of opportunity and had Price on the ropes early in this contest. Sure Oriole’s sluggers Adam Jones and Chris Davis had great starts to the 2013 season against Price, but C Matt Wieters seemed to be the biggest nemesis to Price on this day.

201304021528557035843-p2Not only did Wieters stake Baltimore to a 2-0 lead in the 1st inning, but his 13-pitch at bat in the top of the 3rd inning that ended up as a walk, which included 8 foul balls did load the bases for a potentially bad situation, but a Davis ground ball to Yunel Escobar began a nifty double play that ended the inning without any further incident. Wieters did have a secondary effect on Price that his long plate appearance did elevate Price’s pitch count and hastened his exit from the game after 6 innings.

Jake McGee then came on in the 7th inning and made a few pitch location mistakes. Jones made the first impression with a 2-RBI to deep left center to give the Orioles the lead again at 4-3. Misfortune again reared her ugly head for McGee in the inning after he intentionally walked Wieters and David blasted a 396-foot 3-run Home Run to right and posted the eventual runs needed to secure the O’s first win of the new season. McGee just never seemed comfortable out on the mound yesterday and might have thrown 18 strikes in his 25 pitch outing, but the Baltimore hitters made his exit swift after 2/3rds of an inning.

baltimore-orioles-v-tampa-bay-20130402-125456-149Mistakes happen in ballgames, that is par for the course. A pitch that stays flat or doesn’t break away from the plate is destined to be put into play and bad things can become the immediate result. Both Price and McGee had moments of flatness in this game and it cost both of them dearly with McGee getting the loss plus posting up a ballooned 67.50 early ERA. Both pitchers will find their grooves and make amends this season, but their small mistakes on this day definitely played into the Rays breaking their home opener streaks and taking Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s career home opening day mark to 3-5.

But there were also some moments in this contest that made you not only feel good inside, but built upon the confidence that a few pieces that falters at times in 2012 have been fixed and made great starts to building confidence on the field and in the stands. All around the field yesterday there were defensive plays and great moves on the base paths that showed this team again has that attitude that no game is decided until the 27th out. That kind of mentality will pay huge dividends down the road and even in this initial loss, we saw more than a few reasons to think our defensive debacle in 2012 has been rectified.

201304021523553955827-p2Evan Longoria definitely showed he is psyched for 2013 with 2-straight impressive defensive plays in the top of the 5th inning with the second play coming with a throw on his backside at third against the speedster Jones with his throw bouncing across the turf until James Loney secured it to end the inning. Sam Fuld who replaced Matt Joyce in left also made his presence known as well as Ryan Roberts who replaced Ben Zobrist at 2B when Zorilla went to RF and SS Yunel Escobar showed brilliance on the pivot providing a crucial 6-3 double play in the top of the 3rd to stop the O’s scoring chances.

From the Rays first hit of the season, a solo Home Run by Zobrist to RF, to Desmond Jennings RBI double in the 6th inning then scoring on a Sac Fly by Zorilla. Jennings again provided some needed magic beating out an infield single to the shortstop, then stealing his first base of the season in the bottom of the 7th inning putting him in great scoring position to secure the Rays 4th run of the game on a ground ball to 2B by Fuld in the bottom of the 8th inning. These plays show great glimmers of hope the Rays offensive woes from 2012 might have also vanished over the Winter as the Rays employed both long and short ball concepts during this first contest.

baltimore-orioles-v-tampa-bay-20130402-154433-217All in all it might have been a mixed bag of results for the Rays, but the team showed the type of hustle and strive for victory you need when in the course of a season a single win or loss could decide not only your fate. I know that might seem a bit fatal thinking a single loss can be so detrimental to a team, but in this high contested AL East, especially against a division rival who wants to improve on their 90+ win totals from 2012, a single loss can put you behind the 8-ball early on in the season.

Tuesday the Rays might have come out on the losing end of it all, but there were multiple bright spots to show this team’s improvement and 161 more chances to grab back this loss and get on with the grand scheme of things this season…which is securing another ticket to play deep into October.

Do not forget, this season is the 5th anniversary of the “Miracle of Baseball”, and that 2008 Rays campaign also started off with a opening day home loss to these same Orioles ( 9-6).  And we all know how that season ended up…….Coincidence, I think not.

 

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