Results tagged ‘ Carl Crawford ’

Time for Upton to “Put Up or Shut Up”

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Chris O’Meara/AP

We have been waiting since 2004 for the true potential to show its face boldly and proudly in Tampa Bay. Several times in the last few seasons we have seen it show its face, but somehow slink back into darkness like it has never existed. I have been one of his biggest cheerleaders since Tampa Bay Rays B J Upton came back up to the Major League level in 2004. I have seen him go from the Rays future at shortstop that season to one of the most promising centerfielders in the game, but the whole package has never stayed with him for an extended period.

But this season the gloves are off. I am not going to drag him through the mud or even tarnish him at all. I am going to let him do that himself now. As of Monday, January 17,2011 when Upton became the highest salaried player on the Rays squad, it is time for his “game” to “put up, or shut up”. This is the last grasp at the straw, the last Fandango, the long stretch for that elusive brass ring. When you give the Rays Republic 4.85 million reasons to call you out, you have to respond.

There is nothing I would love to see more than Upton to have a career season where he posts the type of numbers we have been salivating for since he first came up for good in 2006. But that season we saw that Upton was not our shortstop of the future as he played his final 16 games EVER at the position. Suddenly he was a thrust into the “hot corner” for 13 contests, and made his first journey into the Rays outfield.

But his outfield test lasted only one game in that 2006 season. Upton spent his field time from 2005-2007 basically bouncing around the infield from Third Base to Second Base looking for a solid “home” before the Rays put him into centerfield where a certain mystical magic began to materializes before our eyes.

On Opening Day in 2007 when the Rays put Upton in centerfield to start the season, it was a second coming for him. It was a chance for Upton to get a reprisal, a rebirth, a solid chance of redemption so he could reinvent himself with the Rays. To finally bridge that ever expanding gap between his potential and ability by providing superior defense to go along with his rocket arm.

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Steve Nesius/AP

On that day, Upton’s game both on the field and at the plate seemed to mesh into one, finally Upton showed everyone the player we always knew he could be. Sure the rust and the uncertainty in the vast expanses of Centerfield reared its ugly head, but all in all, it was like a hot dog meeting a bun for the first time….it looked like a perfect fit.

Suddenly at that point in 2007 it seemed that Upton was the real deal. People were becoming excited about Upton’s transformation. During 2007 we all witnessed the first blossom of Upton’s hitting potential as he slugged 24 Home Runs, 25 doubles and posted a .300 batting average. Upton’s game had finally collectively assembled itself and he was living up to all his past hype.

In between 2007 season and today something derailed within Upton. Some say his past shoulder injury has given him back hitting habits or stances. That his propensity for strikeouts ( averaging over 130 for 4 seasons) has shown his hitting game to either be too passive or overly aggressive. In addition, his power seemed to be pushed into the darkness again as Upton has only hit a combined 38 Home Runs, including 18 in 2010.

Upton did however unleash another weapon from his arsenal as he elevated his stolen base totals from 22 in 2007 to over 40 stolen bases or more over the past three seasons. It seemed he was coming out of his shell on the base paths, but still had trouble getting there.

But now for Upton, there can not be no more excuses. As the highest paid member of the Rays roster, his bat will be called upon nightly to ignite scoring chances, produce runs and become the offensive weapon we have all collectively been waiting for since 2007. There is no more time for excuses or apprehension, the team will need every hit, every stolen base and every ounce of ability within Upton to succeed. The pressure is on, and hopefully he can adapt and pull his weight, or he will be gone by the end of July.

That is a hard statement for me to make, but it is realistic. If Upton struggles in 2011, not only could he lose his Centerfield perch, his spot in the line-up, he could lose the right to wear those Rays colors. When you begin to make the type of money Upton has over the past two seasons, things are expected of you. Great things. This team, with its limited fiscal resources can not hang onto a bad investment for long, or it could cripple the overall plan of the Rays front office. Upton is not the only player to be firmly placed on the hot seat this season, but he is the only that will be pushed, prodded and poked to live up to his potential, or be gone.

With players in the minor leagues knocking at the door for a chance at this level, it is truly put up or shut up time for Upton in 2011. Upton doesn’t have to be a Carl Crawford clone, but he has to push his game to the next level both in the field and at the plate to lead this team either from the lead-off spot, or deeper in the line-up.

Upton has matured a lot since the first time I met him at 17 years of age when he first got a chance to put on a Rays uniform. His community and charity persona has escalated and proved he cares and is proud of his accomplishments. It is time for his bat to talk the same talk. To provide stellar moments of glory for both himself and his rebuilding team.

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Chris O’Meara/AP

No longer can Upton keep his game semi hidden by the darkness, it now needs to explode loud and proud into the glowing Florida sunlight. I have personally witnessed Upton’s game expand explosively from A to M, but now he needs to take the next step and thrust it to Z. If he doesn’t, if he can’t, then it is finally time for myself and the Rays to look for another solution.

12 Rays players have departed the Rays since the ALDS loss to the Texas Rangers. But if Upton doesn’t provide that spark, that needed push in the Rays offensive machine, then I am willing to forego the teary goodbye. It is that final moment to either put up or shut up. Hopefully we can hear Upton’s voice screaming to the heavens because right now this is his team. He needs to either lead or get out of the way… for good.

2010 Was Definitely a Rays “Kumba” Moment

 

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Common.Wikepedia.com Photo files 

 

It has been my custom over the last few years to attach a word, phrase, or commonplace item as a keynote to what the ending year has envisioned to me. This year I am again incorporating my yearly ride with the Tampa Bay Rays by my side into this year end resolution. 2010 was a spectacular 365 day odyssey that somehow closely resembles the Kumba multi-inversion rollercoaster located just 25 miles from my front door within the oddly placed fauna of Busch Gardens in the urban jungle of Tampa Florida.

It really has been that kind of wham, bam thank you Ma’am year for Tampa Bay. One that has taken all of us, including the Rays, on moments of Mt Kilimanjaro-type highs, to the unexpected desolate lows of Death Valley, California while we all scream incisively through the zero G rolls and inverted loops to bear witness of the year’s gut wrenching end result. Hearing the collective loud thumping cadence of our heartbeats within this 32-passenger rail car as the rollercoaster finally finishes off as an unfocused blur.

The 2010 ride started out so serene and calm as we welcomed back 1B/3B Dan Johnson after a short Japanese baseball trek and saw the Rays signed their first European prospect LHP Stepan Havlicek (no relation to the Celtic legend). The impending illusion of a smooth and possibly uneventful ride seemed ease our minds as our car first left the ride station.

We became entranced and hypnotized by the soothing clicking sound of the car as another tremendous Rays Fan Fest came and went where we sadly got to see local Rays resident and Baseball Hall of Famer Robin Roberts for one last time. We all marveled at the Rays Jumbotron at Fan Fest watching the antics of Rays Radioman Rich Herrera and legendary eater Joey Chestnut boast about their hotdog eating skills while systematically standing in line to pursue the autographs of our Rays heroes.

All the while the clicking of track kept us somehow distracted, and played into the final menagerie of peril that was to soon take our breath away. The March signing of RP Joaquin Benoit to a minor league deal made us all giddy with anticipation and hopes of new found glory for Benoit. Suddenly our car took an unexpected 90 degree left turn out of our comfort zone when this Spring we saw LHP J P Howell suffer a bout of shoulder soreness that would start him on his own unanticipated rollercoaster ride during 2010.

With Howell’s injury only thought to keep him out until May, we began our 143-foot lift hill that would eventually send us rapidly screaming at full G force through the highs and lows of the 2010 season. After an incredible Grapefruit season where the Rays finally saw the emerging stars of SS Reid Brignac and 2B/utility man Sean Rodriguez shine bright, our car quickly headed into the Kumba’s signature pre-drop element.

Quickly the Rays season began to take a few twists and turns brought on by a sudden 135-foot drop to our left with the early season struggles of Designated Hitter Pat Burrell and escalated into a 114-foot vertical loop that intensely thrilled us as the team got out to a late April record of 17-5 before the Rays encountered their first diving loop and subsequent first extreme low point of the season.

It all started as the ride entered its initial diving loop segment with the team firmly clutching their pink bats and uniform ribbons when on Mother’s Day (May 9,2010) their coaster ride entered its first Zero-G roll brought on by the Perfect Game thrown by Oakland A’s LHP Dallas Braden that put lumps in our throats and stole our breath from us. But this was only the Rays first venture into a systematic tail spin as more unexpected plots twists were creeping our the horizon for the Rays.

The team then seemed to hit a rough patch as they spent a short spell on a smooth stretch of track before finally entering a much feared Cobra roll on June 25,2010 that saw former Rays RHP Edwin Jackson toss a No-Hitter against the Rays in the comfy confines of Tropicana Field. The result sent us again flipping upside down for the second time this season before we were able to enter a mid-course brake run at the All Star break . It was then that we saw Rays starter David Price become the first Rays pitcher to ever start an All Star game. At the midway point of our coaster ride the Rays end the first half with the Major League’s second best record (54-34) trailing only our division rivals, the New York Yankees.


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Just as the ride was beginning to obtain some sort of normalcy, the Rays and the coaster again began a accelerating fall off the brake run through a series of interlocking corkscrew twists that heightened with a renewed Rays excitement by a No-Hitter tossed at Tropicana Field by Rays starter Matt Garza, and accented by the Grand Slam of another Matt (Joyce) to put the game finally out of reach and into the Rays record books.

Gut twisting and wrenching wins then somehow became the norm as the Rays unexpectedly ran into a 5-game losing streak (their only losing streak above 3 games in ’10) at the entry point of their first corkscrew twist. During this negative twist of misfortune during back-to-back Rays versus Blue Jays games from August 7-8th that saw normally secure starter James Shields surrender 6 Home Runs one day, then saw the Rays have to rely on Evan Longoria hitting a dying quail single through the 1B-2B hole with two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning to stave the Rays from becoming the first team to have 3 No-hitter thrown against them within a years’ time.

As Rays Kumba car entered the darkened tunnel after their latest close encounter in Toronto, the Rays again got back on the winning track and eventually approached the end of the season with a playoff berth in their grasp, and a possible American League East title just beyond their fingertips. As the ride entered its final braking run, the Rays faced a 1 game ultimate gut check presented to them to possibly secure another AL East banner for the rafters of Tropicana Field.

In classic rollercoaster form, the Rays took their final game of 2010 against the Kansas City Royals in extra innings and added to the climax and crescendo of that last right hand turn by being greeted by multitudes of Fans at St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport upon their arrival again in Tampa Bay before the ride began is last motions towards a ultimate disembark at the rail station.

Their quick exit in the ALDS just showed how accelerated their post season ride in 2010 could be extinguished. Lost in the final equation were a few special Rays moments that only further illustrated just how exciting and thrilling 2010 was for the Rays.

The 2010 Rays team ended up with 96 wins that season, only one “W” away from eclipsing their club win mark set in 2008. It was amazing for a Rays team that many baseball prognosticators did not even envision even a playoff berth for the squad back in April. We saw the maturation and confident emergence of a Rays starting 5 rotation that missed a team goal of 1,000+ inning season by its 5 starters by less than 46-odd innings. Then saw Longoria pick up his second consecutive Gold Glove while Carl Crawford finally got the Golden Glove that has eluded him.

Even with all the eventual ups and down, in and outs of their 2010 season, the Rays sent all of us on a cascading water flume ride of unexpected emotions and thrills as the team finally exit the railcars for the last time in 2010. We then had to say goodbye to 9 Free Agents, almost as many non-tender arbitration eligible Rays as the team began their foundational framework for another future glorious coaster ride.

Not knowing if it was a bead of cooling sweat from the fearsome ride, or a trickle of an unexpected tear set in motion by the thoughts of losing Rays stalwarts like Carlos Pena, Crawford, Benoit, Randy Choate, Dan Wheeler, Rafael Soriano and Grant Balfour. I am stricken with a unforeseen bout of silence as I might have been witness to the last ride of a 4-year journey that started in 2007, and will end at the stroke of midnight tonight. I had been an up-close and personal participant in the formulation of a winning culture by the Rays in our short existence. I want to stand in line again for another chance at having my breath taken away on another future glorious trip.

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 At midnight the clicking of Kumba will be heard in the background as I wander towards another Rays odyssey. The rise and fall of this franchise definitely mimics the twists and turns of a well maintained rollercoaster that is always pushing the limits of both gravity and the breaking points of humanity before tumbling down towards a sense of reality.

Thank you Rays for this years journey. Thank you for the “firsts”, the “lasts” and the 81 straight tickets to ride as I took my seat in Tropicana Field this year and each time It left me simply breathless and aching for more. Some call this season the end of a Rays era, I think it is the beginning of a tradition of celebrating the “Rays Way” and buckling every New Years Eve for another ride of our collective Rays lives. Now where is that SheiKra coaster located again?

 

 

Give Credit Where Credit is Due !

 

 
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For some reason one recent Tampa Bay advertisement just doesn’t seem to have a right or clear cut answer for itself. For what ever side of the AL East fence you lay your loyalties, no matter how you seem to slice it, dice it or julienne the argument, this one isn’t going to be that simple. For whichever direction your common sense take you in the departure of Carl Crawford from Tampa Bay, somehow the whole ball of wax just seems to ultimately come back full circle again and again with no clear compromise.

The swirling bi-polar gambit of emotions seem to be taking me from the highs of adulation to the brink of suddenly swirling down through the circling drain towards an ebb tide of constantly churning polar opinions that makes you dizzy by wanting to simultaneously applaud and bang your hands in utter frustration at the same time. Two great minds of thought both good and evil somehow occupying the same brain matter without a sign of mental implosion……yet.

When the idea of a Crawford “TY” note was first mentioned a few weeks ago, the idea in the local fish wrap to give homage to Crawford, it had great merit. I can say I stood behind it 100 % when it was first introduced by a certain Tampa Bay Rays website. The idea was to celebrate the career of Crawford with a hearty send off of “Thank You” from website sponsors and accrued donations sent in to purchase a full page advertisement.
What bothers me here after the scandalous decision of Crawford to go to our bitter rivals, the Boston Red Sox is the fact this one Rays based website took reader donations and contributions to place this ad in the Tampa Bay Times (TBT) Friday publication, then made sure to add their own special footprint to the whole adventure on a Getty Images photo without giving proper credit to the initial photographer.
I used to also do this all the time, but since January 2009 after reading a response by Ted Fleming, a devoted journalist and Rays fan who writes on Examiner.com. Fleming wrote a great comment about photo credits and copyright infringements, and I decided at that moment to always try and add a simple photographers’ credit to all photos not taken directly by me. How many people outside of the Getty Images photo corps know that photographer Dillip Vishwanat took this photo on July 13, 2009? I guess a few more know now.
Here is something Flemming also referenced from from Mark A. Fisher who wrote an article called “Copyright in the Digital Age“. Fisher states the following with photo copyrights/ fair use:
American copyright law has long offered the copyright-infringement defense of “fair use”. One problem with fair use is that it is a defense against infringement, not a right. Additionally, it has been duly noted that outlets such as the Associated Press, Getty and others have copyright ownership for everything that is distributed by them in print and/or photos.

When it is impracticable to obtain permission, use of copyrighted material should be avoided unless the doctrine of fair use would clearly apply to the situation. The Copyright Office can neither determine if a certain use may be
considered fair nor advise on possible copyright violations“.
There is a gray area there that is being more and more define and being transformed into plain black and white every day by the large photo agencies, like Getty Images and AP. I guess more than a few of us have tried to right-click a photo during the 2010 MLB season from AP and found out quickly that they were not able to save the photo to their hard drive. It is their photo, they paid its creator for the priviledge to isolate that photo to their customers, and for you to not duplicate or reproduce without permission.
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Since I began to take my own Rays game day and events (concerts) photos I have a new found level of respect for the guys in the MLB camera wells. I am not trying to condemn the rival Rays website, just trying to nudge them a bit and hopefully enlighten them (and others) to the plain fact that the photographer should get that recognition for their great work. If a Rays fan takes a great shot, I make sure to give them a photo credit…It just seems right.
I know this Rays website took one on the chin today after Drew Fairservice over at Walkoff Walk toasted them a nice shade of caramel with:
Maybe, just maybe, if you squint your eyes just cynically enough, this looks like it might be more about DRB than Carl Crawford“.
I do see a glint of self promotion here or the ad might never have gotten off the ground. But did you have to make it so blatantly obvious to even someone without a pair of bi-focal lenses that you paid for the ad. I might have been inclined to throw the words “Rays Republic” up there, or possibly just a “Thank You” on the green facade of the outfield wall.
Most of all, I would have been sure to have somehow personally made or photo shopped the name of Vishwanat and Getty Images NA somewhere on that ad, or below the picture to just throw props to the guy who captured the amazing photo.

By the way, I made sure to give a photo credit on the same Carl Crawford’s original All Star game photo back in 2009. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well today, a photo credit would have kept me from writing my own thousand words. I stand up and applaud the intent, then shake my finger at the conclusion. Please everyone, give credit where credit is due…..That gets you the respect of everyone.

 

 

 

Say It Ain’t So Carl!

 

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 Bill Koustroun/AP

Why is it that last night I had to have this mind numbing but incredibly visual dream where I was transformed back 2 scores into the image of a young boy standing on the stoop outside of Carl Crawford’s downtown St. Petersburg condo just waiting anxiously for him to appear into the crisp cold December morning air.

Why is it that in this poetically surreal dream, the moment my eyes catch a glimpse of Crawford strolling towards a waiting car, all that seemed to come out of my mouth was a paraphrase of the classic line voiced towards “Shoeless” Joe Jackson as he stepped out of the Cook County Courthouse back in 1919.

Why is it at this very moment this the encompassing sounds of that dream or nightmare somehow still echoes vibrantly within my eardrums. Pounding out those classic words back and forth, upwards and downwards seeming to fill every conceivable crevice and alcove within my heart and soul and masking me shudder with despair.

Say it ain’t so Carl. Tell me now that you did it for your young son’s future. That he will never have to go through the trials and tribulations you experienced as a young child in worn down sections of Houston, Texas. Tell me this contract is your life long aspiration of prosperity for your family built upon the sweat and punishment of you playing on an artificial field that you despised, but endured knowing that the final payment would be that you and your family enter into a realm of security and stability you often dreamed of as a teen.

Say it ain’t so Carl I understood when Rhode Island native Rocco Baldelli signed with these same Red Sox knowing his lifetime dream of wearing the red Boston jersey and playing upon the wet grass at Fenway Park. For this was the team that Rocco idolized as a child, wishing wanting and hoping to get a chance to achieve that dream before he hung his cleats up for the last time. Maybe that is why this is so difficult for me Carl.

 


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Chris O’Meara/AP

 

Say it ain’t so Carl that you have now traded your sunburst and blue uniforms for the grays and reds of a mortal enemy of your former team and that some will brand you a traitor or worse before the pain subsides and booing of the crowd for you at Tropicana Field falls into silence. Tell me how I am suppose to explain this to my teenage daughter who is an avid young Rays fan who idolized you for much of her life and still sees baseball as a game and not as a cold hearted business.

 

Say it ain’t so Carl that I have to now have to somehow turn away when you come to bat at least 8 times a year in Tropicana Field and somehow remove the moments and memories that you helped create with this Rays team. How do I stop the seeping wound within my chest that bled true blue for you, and defended you in every argument or unfortunate moment. Am I going to shake your hand this Spring and honestly be able to look you in the eyes?

Say it ain’t So Carl that the money made you take that bloated contract that will diminish your overall defensive reputation by playing in a position where you have to learn the angles and idiosyncrasies of a huge green wall that will take away your inherent speed and closing ability that got you that first Golden Glove in 2010. That by playing in that park, with that monstrosity just over your turned shoulder will make you a better player and get the chance to possess another Gold Glove.

Say it ain’t so Carl that you expect to be greeted with open arms today by the city of Boston with visions of stolen bases dancing through your head. That by working in tandem with new teammate Jacoby Ellsbury you want to annilate the old stolen base record by a duo in the American League. That somehow you see this Boston club as the team to beat, much like you have the Rays for the last 5 odd seasons. That somehow all the negatives you heard so close to your heart about this same Boston franchise mysteriously vanished from your mind and you welcome the “new beginning”.

 

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Unknown Photographer 

Say it ain’t so Carl that I have to somehow endure your physical existence in a possible 126 Red Sox versus Rays contests over that 7 span without cursing or wish ill will or injury to you. That with time this transgression will leave my mind and I will find some sort of vital peace a Franciscan monk must partake in accepting what I can not change, and having the wisdom to know the difference.

What you are asking me to do here Carl is go against my long standing judgment and set in stone opinions and accept you as a rival American League East player without any epic animosity or derogatory heckling. Right now, what you might ask of me Carl can not be fathomed as my heart and soul are awash in a sea of churning disillusion and astonishment. It will take some time for me to adequately embrace and digest this change.

Hopefully before the end of your 7 year sentence, I mean contract, I can again envision you for what you truly are Carl. A great player that once provided endless streams of memories and moments for myself and the Rays Republic and holding the fantasy that this was all an illusion and tomorrow you will still be a free agent.

I accepted within myself that you were gone from the Rays fold forever back in April 2010. It has taken me 8 months to filter, digest and acknowledge this, and last night’s adventure will take even more time.


At least today I can still achieve a small sheepish smile upon my bewildered face for the plain fact that at the end of this huge Red Sox contract you could have possibly played in as many games as a member of the Red Sox as you did wearing the Rays colors. Even with all those future depressing game moments with you wearing the enemy’s cloth,  I know that one day in the future you will wear the Tampa Bay Rays cap once again. Possibly upon the bronze plaque you hoist at your Baseball Hall of Fame introduction.

I do not wish injury or pain upon you Carl, just want you to “Say it ain’t so!”.

Rays Have 9 Arbitration Decisions on the Horizon

 

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Should be an interesting 24 hours for the Tampa Bay Rays front office. With 9 pending arbitration decisions to be made during this tedious 24 hour period, it could ultimately show the Rays poker hand. The arbitration list set for immediate discussion by those in the Rays boardroom comprises 6 relief pitchers, 2 former All Stars, and a offensive player picked up off waivers in 2010. Tomorrow’s final decisions at the conclusion of the deadline will show a distinctive and resolute signal by the Rays head honchos of whether any of the nine have any possible future with the Rays.

There is one member of that nine under consideration that doesn’t have to worry at all about an arbitration bid. You can bet with some certainty that former Rays reliever Joaquin Benoit will get an arbitration offer. Benoit, the surprise of the 2010 Rays season will definitely be offered arbitration since Benoit has already signed, sealed and delivered in a 3 year $ 16 million dollar contract with the Detroit Tigers. With the Rays arbitration offer and a sure decline by Benoit, the Rays can then pocket a compensation pick between the first round of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft for their Detroit bound Type B Free Agent .

But from that one secure arbitration point, it becomes more of a interesting gamble for the Rays to consider offering arbitration to their other Type-A players who might just take the arbitration offer and force the Rays hands to trade them or face some difficult financial decisions considering the Rays will cut their 2011 payroll nearly in half to around $40-59 million dollar range. But does it really seem in their past character that Carl Crawford or Rafael Soriano would accept such an arbitration offer to rejoin the Rays knowing that multi millions are lying out there waiting for their services outside Tampa Bay? Hopefully the dice do not come up “snake eyes” in this situation.

A more possible arbitration offer could be extended to Rays reliever Grant Balfour after another sub 4.00 ERA year with the Rays. This also might not be a “given” knowing the facts that the Rays are searching high and low for low cost Bullpen bodies to replace 2010 members like Balfour, Soriano and Benoit. Balfour seems like one of the two possible Rays arbitration offers ( in my opinion) that might be accepted. Then again, recently Balfour’s name has been mentioned as a top tier relief option that could hit the unrestricted market full bore on Tuesday if he is declined arbitration.

The Rays again have issued their usual code of silence that is not letting out a single whisper or hint as to their final decision or possible direction in terms of these arbitration issues. But the thought of a possible arbitration offer to Choate might actually provide an adequate Rays insurance policy in the event Rays reliever J P Howell has some sort of delay in his return in 2011 from his shoulder surgery. That could instantly open the door wide for Choate or another Free Agent southpaw to join the Rays roster with an eye on a possible departure during the Trade Deadline. Roll the dice again and hope for “Boxcars”.

That leads us to 4 former Rays players who have played their last games in a Rays uniform unless a drastic change of heart by the team. Brad Hawpe, who was picked up by the Rays after his release by the Colorado Rockies, and reliever Chad Qualls, who was traded to the Rays by the Arizona Diamondbacks at the Trade Deadline should be two players who do not get even a thought of arbitration by the Rays. Both had seasons to forget, and did not instill any sense of confidence in their abilities to continue with the Rays for 2011.

Qualls in particular did not seem to embrace his change of scenery and in the end almost duplicated his high dubious ERA that he maintained with the D-backs before his trade. Most people might point to his recent success near the end of 2010 and the postseason as reasons to keep Qualls, but the end result is there are dozens of reliever out there who can get ground ball outs with less extra baggage and worry than Qualls. A 5.57 ERA in a limited amount of appearances does not bode well to promoting confidence or providing an assurance of a relief reprieve.

Hawpe never seemed to get into a solid Rays groove once he came up in August mostly getting chances as a pinch hitter or the Rays Designated Hitter role. Not showing positives and embracing the DH spot might of brought an instant kiss of death for Hawpe. His .179 batting average in 15 games with the Rays did not instill any other emotions of enthusiasm or hope that he could be a possible solution to the DH problem for 2011. Hawpe was brought in to test run for a possible arbitration decision this Winter at DH for the Rays.

Instead it seems that Hawpe just folded his hand and left the table early.

That leaves two former Rays members who the Rays front office might be posturing or hoping that by not offering them arbitration, the Rays can still continue possible future contract discussions in good faith with both parties and their agents. Some people might doubt the importance of Dan Wheeler to the Rays Bullpen in 2010, but I actually think he was the veteran glue that kept the Bullpen together. He might have not had the glowing stats of Soriano or Benoit, but Wheeler again was a constant asset to the Rays appearing in 64 games, the same amount of game appearances as Soriano.

There might have been 4 million little reasons ( his 2011 club option figure) that could have easily factored into the Rays deciding to decline his option for 2011. With Howell also up again for salary arbitration this Winter, it is possible that the Rays did not want to spend around $ 10 million plus just for three pieces of their 2011 Bullpen. The aspect of offering Wheeler arbitration could blow up in the Rays faces considering he posted his third straight season of 60+ appearances, and ended the season with 6 scoreless appearances. Always a gamble to offer someone arbitration as their stock is climbing.

That leaves one more soul that the Rays will not offer arbitration, but hope that he will eventually offer a bit of a “hometown discount”, possibly cutting his 2010 salary up by 25 percent to make him again affordable to the Rays for 2011. Carlos Pena has been very vocal and more than adamant about returning to the Rays again in 2011. The Rays definitely can not discount the loss of offense and defense by the omission of Pena from their roster, but also can not afford another $ 10.5 million salary in 2011 for their former All Star First Baseman. The two parties must somehow find a suitable compromise.

 


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Adding up the accolades of the past few seasons of winning a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger and also a spot on the 2009 All Star squad, Pena has made any part of an arbitration offer moot. Even with a sub-par 2010 season Pena is still one of the most prolific Home Runs hitters over the last four seasons since he came to the Rays. With every negative element like his large strikeout totals (158) or low batting average (.196), Pena can basically cancel those lowly feats out with his team high RBI (84) and HR (28) totals. His .325 OBP and 87 walks in 2010 also provides a key element that Pena still has a keen eye at the plate at times.
Rolling the dice and trying to play the odds is always pretty precarious at this stage of the season. The Rays like so many other teams have to make a detailed and solid decision within the next 24 hours as to their 9 arbitration eligible free agents, and their possible continued role with the team in 2011. Possible decision concerning Balfour and Choate might be made even tougher with a fine core of eligible free agents relievers also possibly hitting the books tomorrow after the arbitration deadline.

As of right now, the only sure decision by the Rays is a arbitration offer to Benoit that will net the Rays another pick in the 2011 MLB Draft. The other eight decisions will have to be weighed with possible risks and counter balances to either extend an offer or possibly slamming the door shut to further free agent discussions. Will the Rays put their money firmly on the hopes that Crawford, Soriano will decline arbitration, thus netting the Rays additional draft picks when they do eventually sign with another team? Or could it all suddenly backfire and the duo accept arbitration and handcuff the Rays to finding a suitor for the duo before their arbitration hearings?

Calculated risks will be made in the next 24 hours. Some of the Rays decisions will effect not only their payroll for 2011, but possibly bring about some emotional responses from the Rays Republic, but in the end the Rays have to use their gut instincts in their final decisions. This is the part of the season where the guys in the suits in the front offices around the league make their respective reputations every year. They might not be the most popular decision, but consider the overall fiscal health of their proposed next season’s roster. No matter if it is cards, dice or even arbitration offers. Playing the odds right now are never a sure thing.
 
My Rays Arbitration predictions:

 

Joaquin Benoit                  Yes

Carl Crawford                    Yes

Rafael Soriano                  Yes

Grant Balfour                    Yes

Randy Choate                   Yes

Chad Qualls                       No

Brad Hawpe                       No

Dan Wheeler                     Yes

Carlos Pena                       No 

 

 

Rays Need to Fill their Clubhouse Void

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rays Bullpen is On the Clock

 

 

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


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

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

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

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

 

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


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

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

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


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

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


 

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


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

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

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


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

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

 

Did Peter Gammon’s Do an Irish Jig on Crawford’s Reputation

 

 

More and more it seems that every time Baseball commentator and long time Red Sox lover Peter Gammons has opened his trap lately, I have lost another inch or two of respect for the Baseball writing icon. Sure Gammons is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he has a closet full of writing and reporting awards, but recently to me Gammons has become more of a blowhard than an accurate and reliable baseball source.

For many seasons, he has been the loud and proud voice of the Boston Red Sox, and an opinionated thorn in the side of all Tampa Bay Rays fans. But that is what your opposition’s media malcontents are suppose to do…Stir the pot and get the natives a bit restless within the Rays Republic. And Gammon does that side of his job with expertise and committment bar none.


And Gammons has been active this past season to point his bony fingers towards the Rays troubles and bubbling cauldron of concerns as his beloved Red Sox struggled to climb the standings and lay siege on the Rays for a American League East postseason spot. This is the same Red Sox mouthpiece who in 2010 threw out the rumors and ramblings that the Rays were going to move to the Northeast, possibly to Connecticut, then to New Jersey the next week. All throughout 2010, Gammons has done his job poking at the Rays beehive and getting all the Rays republic in attack mode.

And you have to give a guy credit for saying something as outlandish as proposing that the Rays fans listen more to the New York Yankee broadcasts than their own Rays game on television during the season, even when the Rays were constantly in the top 5 spots within Major League Baseball in overall regional viewers in 2010.  

It also seems that in the last year, Gammons has not let a little thing like facts get in the way of a good story. But this time I definitely think his doctors need to maybe do an emergency CAT scan or even check his medication’s side effects, because his recent faux pas might cause his own beloved Red Sox a change to even discuss a contract with Rays Free Agent leftfielder Carl Crawford. This time, the rue might have gone beyond reality and into the obsurd realm.

I can still remember on several occasions this season in interviews where Gammons has considered Crawford the best leftfielder in baseball. More than once those words have swirled off Gammon’s silver tongue and made their way into the airwaves or in news print.
 It was if Gammon’s was beginning a long distance relationship with the thought of Crawford possibly suiting up in a Red Sox jersey and taking balls off the Green Monster full-time in 2011.

Gammons even recently went on Red Sox flagship station WEEI and did an interview last week where he said the Red Sox ownership was going to go full bore after Crawford this off season. I can honestly see that happening, but as a central media figure for Red Sox Nation, then why would Gammons do a 180 degree turn and vote Crawford as the 7th best Leftfielder for a prestigious fielding award? 


Not forgotten here is the fact that Crawford has either won or placed second in this same category for the Fielding Bible Award since 2006, and was looking for his fourth straight trophy this season. Sure I do not condemn Gammons for possibly pushing Crawford below the top spot, but why in the World would a supposed superior baseball mind put Crawford under the likes of Cardinal Matt Holliday (3rd) or even Pirates rookie outfielder Jose Tabata (5th) ?

 

Has Gammon’s medications possibly done some form of dementia or oozed into his thought process? Could this be an indirect mind play game by the Red Sox booster to throw a shadow upon the true abilities of Crawford to hopefully draw down the going price for Crawford to under a ceiling of a $ 100 million contract now?

Seriously, Gammon’s actions have to have a secondary reasoning, and in this case, it might have just slammed the door on Crawford considering a Boston uniform for 2011. How Can Crawford even remotely consider a spot on a team within his own old division that had one of their biggest figure heads disrespect his defensive abilities in print by putting Tiger outfield journeyman Ryan Rayburn (4th) above him in his rankings of the top 10 leftiflders in baseball?


But Gammons was not the only baseball figurehead to push Crawford’s chances for a fourth straight award into the dustbin. But could Gammons have also done some unexpected collateral damage by awakening a sentiment for the Yankees to by-pass Crawford with their own current leftfielder Brent Gardner garnishing the 2010 Fielding Bible Award for leftfield.

Gardner received all first or second place votes to post himself 10 points ahead of Crawford, but it really wasn’t even that close. Third place vote-getter Tabata got 62 points or 33 points less than Gardner in his first Fielding Bible chance. Could Gammons have effectively multi-tasked his demotion of Crawford’s defensive ranking to take him off the Yankees 2011 “Wish List” ?


Gammon’s is a smart and  very calculating individual, and it will be interesting to hear his latest rhetoric on why Crawford is not in his top 3 leftfielders in baseball after singing his praises for so long this season. Some will say that Gammon’s brain injuries or even mental status might well come into question with this recent blatant show of utter disrespect towards Crawford. But even with a steel trap mind like Gammons, the trap can end up catching you in its teeth instead of your true victim. 

 

Others around baseball  will see Gammon’s wild comments as a cat and mouse game started early by Gammon’s to downplay the defensive and offensive skills of Crawford and possibly bring his salary demands within the guidelines of team’s like the Red Sox. Sure it will take a multi-year huge contract to land one of the biggest fish of the MLB Winter Free Agent markets. But at what price will Gammon’s ploy end up costing Crawford’s old American League East rival. Will the apparent gamble be worth it all in the end? 


Could the vaulting of Gardner to the top of the Leftfield pile by such MLB royalty as Gammons and statistics guru Bill James (who voted Crawford as his 5th best leftfielder) possibly push Crawford towards thinking more about teams like the Detroit Tigers or Los Angeles Angels in stead of staying in the AL East? Or could it turn his mind towards the National League and a team like the Washington Nationals or even Los Angeles Dodgers? 

Today signals the first day of the beginning of the Winter garage sale when the MLB’s top brass will start actively considering their options for 2011. There is no doubt Crawford will make more money in 2011 than ever in his career. The question now is just how much will this apparent ploy by Gammons cost Crawford in the long run? Plus did Gammon’s ploy effectively start a campaign within the Pinstripe Populous to keep Gardner entrenched in leftfield for 2011?

It is going to fun sitting back and watching to see if the rest of the baseball world think Gammon’s is either a genius, or speaking with a foot firmly planted in his own big mouth.  Maybe I am dreaming more of Gammons planting his left foot a little further down into a hidden location and wiggling like mad, but that is just me.
 

Did Shields Throw his Last Pitch for the Rays?

 

 

Sometimes we have to do things we do not like in life. Sometimes the idealisms and good things we have collectively done in our lives really do only amount to a hill of beans. With baseball becoming more of a business and streamlined industry every season, sometimes even the good guys can lose out because of one inconsistent season. There is one member of the Tampa Bay Rays who might have a interesting Winter, and possibly be venturing into another clubhouse this Spring.


We are not talking about Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, or even Joaquin Benoit. Even though he is a pitcher, his worth to this Rays team can be measured in many variations, but also his 2010 statistics show a decline not witnessed before in his short Rays career. With talent like Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson and the rest of the Rays farmhands knocking at the Rays backdoor, James Shields might find himself the odd man out by the end of the Winter.

This is the time you start to hoist up a starter like Shields and see who take long glances or inquires deeply on his tenure with the Rays. This is the time you take small meetings and discuss the future without or without the Rays Opening Day starter for the last three seasons. Just because you were a vital cog on Opening Day three years straight doesn’t mean you are invincible or “off limits”. Rays team tenure doesn’t really mean that much on this young squad, it only means you have been here a while.

 

It doesn’t matter in the long run that Shields was the 2009 and 2010 Roberto Clemente recipient for the Rays, or that you designed your own T-shirt as a Rays fan giveaway. It doesn’t matter that you are the oldest member of one of the youngest rotations in the Major Leagues. In the end it just comes down to if you still have enough value to possible get the Rays some of the pieces needed to formulate another winning line-up or Bullpen.


Shields has the past stats and the veteran leadership to command a good piece from a competitor in return for his services, and being signed already to a pretty low cost contract considering his experience, his value will ultimately be set by the top tier veterans who hit the Free Agent market. But with the earmarking of Shields even being considered as trade bait comes the reality that he might also be viewed as a questionable commodity considering his uncharacteristic sub par 2010 season.

Simply put, could Shields have already peaked as a pitcher and we are suddenly seeing his decent from the top tier of pitchers, or is he just not making adequate adjustments during the game that have seen his seasonal ERA climb from 3.56 in 2008 to balloon towards a 5.18 ERA fort his season. No one will question the heart of Shields as he ventured past the 200+ inning mark for the fourth straight season, but could it have come with a cost this season for Shields. Could his pitches have finally been charted and projected so well that now they seem routine or forced to the plate?

977.2 innings over a career is an incredible feat that so many other MLB quality pitchers’ wish they could count on their resume’. Combine that with a franchise high 56 victories and winning the Rays only World Series game, plus an added distinction of winning the Rays first playoff game (2008 ALDS Game 1), and you get a resume’ few can argue with around the Major Leagues. But even with those lofty accomplishments firmly within his grasp. Shields has also has some moment in 2010 that we all wish we could somehow forget.

What Rays Republic member can forget that Shields, as the eldest member at 28 in the Rays rotation gave us a few times where we all openly gasped at his lack of control at critical times this season. Currently Shield sis riding a 5-game losing streak all the way back to his September 4th loss in Baltimore 8-4 to the Orioles. Lost among that losing streak is the positives that Shield’s 853 innings pitched since 2007 is the 3rd most in the American League behind only starters’ Mariners Felix Hernandez (879.1) and Tigers Justin Verlander (867.0).

Even though Shields only missed the Rays strikeout lead by one single K to fellow starter David Price in 2010, Shields had 5 games of 10 or more strikeouts this season, a career high. Shields strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.67 was the fourth best in the American League , but punctuated hard on his record was his 15 total losses, which also was a career high. Accenting this downward trend further is the fact Shields gave up 34 Home Runs, first in the American League and led the Major Leagues 128 runs allowed and 117 earned runs allowed while surrendering 246 hits, which tied him for the MLB lead with Chicago pitcher Mark Buehrle.

And odd point to Shield’s rollercoaster 2010 season, he was on the hill as the Rays starter for Oakland Athletic starter Dallas Braden’s perfect game on May 9th in Oakland, California. Shields last victory was August 29,2010 in Fenway Park against the Red Sox. Combine that with the fact Shields only logged 7-plus innings twice in his final 18 starts and you see a reason to wonder about the once solid Rays stalwart.

The last time Shield threw for 7-plus innings was his start against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field when he went exactly 7 innings and picked up the win in the Rays 8-6 victory. Shields left that contest with a 7-3 lead. For some reason Shields has gotten more predictable on the mound for the Rays. His change-up is still his mystery pitch, but with him starting to overload his throwing of it in key situations, hitters are beginning to adjust and wait on the slower pitch.

Even in fastball counts Shields has been relying more on his change-up to get him an advantage, but has instead just gotten a fresh ball from the Home Plate Umpire. Because of this, it makes Shields expendable for the first time in his MLB career. Even with one of the best change-ups in the Majors, Shields might have to re-evaluate the pitch in the off season and tweak it a bit to bring himself back to game form for 2011.

With his team friendly contract of several one-year options ( $ 4.25 million in 2011) there is the flexibility for another team to try Shields on for size without a long term commitment. With the Rays also seeing two of their other starters begin to reach past the million dollar mark in salary in 2011, it makes him more expendable because of salary than for his 6 Home Runs allowed to the Toronto Blue Jays in 4 innings of work back on August 7,2010. Funnier still is that Shields only gave up one more Home Run in his other 6 starts in August.

Maybe it is time the Rays break their ties with one of their senior members of their pitching staff. Possibly a change in scenery will do wonders to Shields refining his crispness on his pitches and finding another team that will value his devouring of innings. Right now With Hellickson and possibly Matt Moore sitting at the Rays backdoor looking for a spot and a chance to perform at this level, it puts a target squarely between Shields shoulder blades.

 

Suddenly it will be more about future potential than past accolades for Shields. More on the focus of the Rays upcoming 2011 business model than on his T-shirt endeavors. It will center squarely on whether it is time to cut ties with Shields, or try and ride his coattails for one last time hoping for a meteoric rise rather than a star fizzling out.


Shields is still a valued commodity around Major League Baseball that needs to be dealt to induce Rays farm talent a honest chance to rise to his once great level. It might just come down to the black and white on the page instead of the color and personality Shields brings to the Rays. Possibly we saw Shields exit his last Rays game during the ALCS never to wear the Rays sunburst again

Was Burrell just plain Evil as a Rays Doppelganger?

 


 

There was growing Tampa Bay Rays rumor floating in the Rays clubhouse prior to the 2010 season that Rays All Star outfielder Carl Crawford would not even entertain an idea of a contract extension because of this one player. In 2009, the tension grew and grew between these two leaders in the Rays clubhouse until finally a confrontation between the two exploded and Crawford had to be restrained by Rays starting pitcher James Shields.


Crawford’s adversary had taken a cheap shot at his friend and teammate B J Upton after a contest, and somehow pushed Crawford beyond his boiling point. Immediately a thickening line was drawn in the sand nonverbally that if the Rays valued Crawford, that this one individual had to go. Increasing rants and raves outside the locker room began to point towards this lone figure and provide a mountain of blame because of his decrease in productivity and leadership to this young budding squad.

More and more the sediment became apparent in the stands that member of the Rays Republic has seen their tempers growing thin with his antics and his chatter . That his mown rhetoric of playing in the field fueling his motivation fell upon increasingly deafened ears as the divide began to grow deeper between himself and the Rays fans. Finally on May 14, 2010 after he went 0-4 in a 4-3 loss against the Seattle Mariners at home in Tropicana Field, the door closed quickly on his time in a Rays uniform.

On that Friday night in May when he hit a long fly ball out to Ichiro Suzuki in the bottom of the ninth inning, it would be his last time putting on a Rays uniform. After that night, the evil doppelganger that was Pat “The Bat” Burrell was laid to rest by the Rays. The next morning the Rays front office officially designated Burrell for assignment, but he was not even in the Rays clubhouse.

Burrell had already heard the news and was adjusting for another shot somewhere else. He would have to endure a 10 day storm of criticism and negative innuendo before finally weathering the storm and searching for his next opportunity. He had hit a paltry .202 during that short span with the Rays, but he still knew he could play the game if he could find an employer who would listen to his plea and give him an opportunity.

 

Burrell had been crying to the heavens before his release to the Rays staff that he needed to ” get into the flow of the game” by playing in the field with an occasional Designated Hitter relief spot. That playing everyday in the green grass(turf) got him into a positive flow and environment where he produced instead of sitting on a bench expected to rise to the occasion 4 or 5 times a game. He needed a consistent game flow, not one predicated by InterLeague games and Spring Training starts only in the outfield.


So were we all fools not to heed Burrell’s logic? Did he really know the essence of his hitting stemmed from his getting some time in the fresh air and outfield, or was it just a ruse? Considering the pure fact that Burrell seemed to suffocate within his new restrictions as a DH in the American League, did that predicate his departure again for the National League and a chance to again force a team to insert him into an outfield situation?

Was Burrell’s pleas and wants to play in the outfield met by deafened ears within the Rays system and not even thought of as an alternative to getting his fires churning before the Rays designated him? Here the ideas are speculation, but the proof is in the pudding. Burrell suddenly seemed to excel again once his tootsies touched the green grass/turf of the outfield.

 

Burrell had to shed the evil doppelganger persona and renew his NL allegiance by signing with the San Francisco Giants for the rest of the 2010 season for the league minimum salary. The Rays were still on the hook for a bulk of his $ 9 million salary, but they now had no ties or bonds to the enhanced positive spirit and exuberated talents now showcased by Burrell during the reminder of 2010.


His evil doppelganger never reared its ugly side in San Francisco, instead a more centered and reliable bat spilled out of the rejuvenated Burrell. Before May 14,2010 ( 24 games) Burrell had compiled a .202 batting average with 2 HR and 13 RBI. In tune with the evil doppelganger, Burrell had struck out 28 times in only 84 plate appearances. Simple nasty numbers considering his high salary and the demand for consistent performance from his DH position.

Upon his return to the Major Leagues with the Giants in 2010, Burrell went on to play in 96 games for the G-men posting 18 HR and 58 RBIs and boosting his OPS to a .872 mark. His strikeout totals were still high (77 in 289 at bats), but Burrell quickly quadrupled his walk totals and provided a much needed offensive piece of power for the Giants. Burrell even felt a rejuvenation in his play in the field playing 87 games in the Giant’s outfield and collecting only 2 errors. A total of 632 innings in the outfield and only two small errors. By comparison, the Rays right fielder Matt Joyce played in 63 games for a total of 472 innings and had 3 errors.

Simply put, Burrell might have been right about his fielding help accentuate his hitting. Maybe if both the Rays staff and the fans given him a chance to play in the field occasionally, it might have worked to the satisfaction of both parties and given Burrell a renewed energy and vitality at the plate. Of course this is purely speculation because in hindsight, who knows what Burrell could of done if Burrell was included in the platoon mix in Rightfield for the Rays.

 

The cycle has now seemed to have turned 180 degree for Burrell with a level of success and another trip to the post season firmly within his grasp. Burrell is having the time of his life renewed by the pressure and stress caused in trying to win a National League pennant for his new club against his old squad, the Philadelphia Phillies. Funny how ironic it is now that the Rays signed Burrell as a offensive weapon in their arsenal for the next time the Rays could have faced the Phillies in a playoff situation.


Crawford has now boxed up his equipment and gone home for the season, possibly never to wear a Rays uniform again. The Rays never seemed to have gotten a level of consistent power or hitting from their DH even after Burrell’s departure. Ironic again that the Rays might have finally cut their ties with Burrell thinking he was not the piece that would get them to their final goals in 2010. Now Burrell is preparing for a trip home to San Francisco with the series tied 1-all and a chance to again be anointed as a godsend late addition to the Giants than as a possible evil Rays doppelganger.

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