Results tagged ‘ Carlos Pena ’

Time For The Rays To Act Like Contenders, Not Morgue Meat

I think I just threw up a little in my mouth. Guess that is the only way to describe the scene that played out in front of me and the rest of the Nation after the fifth inning today. There is no other team that I hate seeing the Tampa Bay Rays lose to than this Boston bunch. And losing 2 out of the first 2 to begin the 2012 seasonal series, that just makes my stomach turn, burn and totally feeling like imploding.

I am not going to call anyone out for this loss because it has been 30 minutes and I am suppose to focus on the next day’s game now, but there is still some residue on my shoes and it doesn’t smell like roses. I tried to drum up the confidence game yesterday in my post by stating we have these types of losses during a long 162-game season, but against a divisional foe, the loss hurts double in my heart and in the standings. Worst part of it all is that this game seemed well in hand, then the mighty hand of something purely evil and nasty plucked the stingers off the Rays one-by-one until it seems our eyes glazed over from disbelief.

These types of losing streaks can be endured, but not when it gives glee and happiness to fan base that truly wishes and prays that the Rays choke on their pride and emphatically drown in their own tears. The scene on the Fenway grass today after the 5th inning seemed more likely to be one played out on a sappy medical drama where the patient comes into the facility in perfect health, has a great prognosis then somehow a severed jugular burst forward and instantly we were in a life or death struggle with no angels in the wings to pluck us from the obvious. The Rays right now look more like morgue meat than contenders, and that has to change…stat!

I so want that last sentence to be untrue, but there are fragments and obscure pieces missing that would make this whole enchilada complete. Some members of the pitching staff seem so at ease and “ in the flow”, while others seem to be going through the proverbial motions and not delivering up quality or quantity yet this season. It is frustrating when you have seen and felt the possibilities of this 2012 Rays team, then they stumble, fumble and look more like a pre-2007 Rays squad.

But here is where we do our work as fans. It is our job right now to keep the faith, push our chests out and take the insults and sharp criticism of this team’s downward turns and stand firm, stand erect, and above all stand united. For if even one of us falters in our belief and hope for this team, the dam could spring a leak and that will lead to a river of deplorable chaos and false propaganda with a Bulls Eye painted on each member of this team.

As the Rays unite as a team, solid in their goals, commitment and belief in themselves as individuals and a collective team, we must also stay the course, throw up the encouraging even in the face of the disenchanting truth. It is time to either bail out the boat and know survival is in sight or look in the distance for the school of media sharks awaiting any wobble or bob from this team and their potential.

El Presidente’ Again Has Our Hearts

He is one of the most beloved player to ever strapped on a Rays uniform. Beloved as much for the deeds and efforts he displays on the field as those done within the Tampa Bay community. Maybe it seems fitting with the 2012 Republican National Convention coming to Tampa this Summer, El Presidente aka Carlos Pena could easily run for President and could easily win everywhere but possibly within the 5 boroughs of New York today.

Can anyone else remember a Rays moment when we ever gave 5 standing ovations, and not just to a single player. You read that right, 5 times Pena heard the 30,000+ wedged into the tilted cap of the Trop call for him, cheer for him, wanting him to hear and acknowledge their spirited roar. Pena not only took a “curtain call” after his memorable grand salami off New York Yankee starter CC Sabathia. But who would of expected his final action on this day would not only returned the favor, but burst out a resounding and almost fantasy storyline to the already volume of stories that is the “Legend of ‘Los”.

There will be some in the Yankee fan-dom that will say Pena just “ bent into a few bad pitches”, but those same white spheres came from anointed Yankee legendary figures. Pena’s grand slam off Sabathia was the first one ever given up to a left-hander in his long career. Mariano Rivera who might be canonized and made a NYC saint someday was going for save # 604 before Pena deposited the deep shot to Left-Centerfield that sent this stadium into a frenzy akin to Game 162.

Not a single Yankee fan will ever acknowledge this but the insane sound of the ball off Pena’s bat yesterday sent New York Yankee hearts sinking while a whole stadium instantly again fell back in love with him, almost like he never took a 180 day vacation to Chi-town.

After the game Pena “ did his dance” during the Rays 15-minute celebration phase of their 30-minutes and move on “Rays Way” pattern, but something tells me this showcase, this performance that enlightened showed why the Rays Republic has always. Wilder still this was only the 1st act of an 162 act play. I swear it could not have been scripted any better (even by Disney) or played out with any more emotional tugs and pulls during the contest then without warning, Pena simply reached back into all of our hearts and started it beating akin to his own unique rhythm.

It seemed ironic that the same day we hoisted a banner to the rafters showing our pride for 2011 magic, Pena reminded us of what seemed missing last season. Somehow with 2 mighty swings yesterday Pena choreographed the Rays dugout back into his old Salsa groove. From Home Plate to the far reaches of the TBT Deck, on this Opening Day triumphant moment not lost in the excitement was the re-discovery of why we love El Presidente’. May his reign be supreme and his subjects filled with joy. Welcome back ‘Los.

E-10, Photographer Throw High and Wide on Rays Spring Photos

If the recent Tampa Bay Rays Team Spring photos is any indication, I am starting to think the Tampa Bay Rays 2012 season is going to be more back to the basic, nothing flashy or disrupting to the status quo of the “Rays Way”. Maybe I was anticipating a re-visit or renewal of the grandeur and glamor of the Rays 2010 Spring Team photos that took my breath away, and made you wanted to see more of them.

2010 Evan Longoria Photo

If the 2012 Team Spring photos are any indication, this season is going to be a bare bones, nose to the grindstone, no huge frills and spills kind of season…not that this is a bad thing, maybe I set my expectations too high this season. But then again, it is Spring and hope has to grow eternal and unbridled.

Sure the 41 photos recently uploaded to the Zimbio webpage by photographer Jonathan Ferrey had some unusual and classic poses within their compositions, but somehow a large glove-full of the Rays possible 2012 roster personnel missed their camera time with the Zimbio photog. At least we know Rays 3B Evan Longoria got a few extra shots. Maybe dating a Playmate does have some photo advantages, but a total of 13 individual photos? Longo is one of the cornerstones of this team’s offensive and defensive foundations, but so many other cogs of the machine are missing, lost their possible chance in this annual Rays ritual of Spring.

Jeff Salazar

Sure C Mark Thomas and OF Jeff Salazar who are both Rays Spring Training invitees got their respective mugs/poses on a photo, but missing were a huge slice of the Rays other core players like starter Wade Davis, Rays Bullpen members JP Howell, Brandon Gomes, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, and newcomers Burke Badenhop and Josh Lueke.  Is it even imaginable that each and every one of these players somehow missed the vocal call for photos? Am I the only one who feels it is purely insane that 2011 American League Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson would have, could have somehow missed his 2012 photo chance, or was it a captive selection of players designated by the Zimbio photographer?

I have not even begun to scratch the surface of the possible MLB bolo report put out since the “Legend” Sam Fuld, infielders Jeff Keppinger, Ben Zobrist, and Eliot Johnson must have mis-placed their “memos” possibly on their photo chance. Even more disappointing is that Carlos Pena somehow missed the photo cut…Really?

Want another firm kick in the proverbial teeth, the only catcher featured in the photo shoot was Jose Molina, and that was only for 1 photo. Heck even Reid Brignac got more photos than Molina, and he is not guaranteed a starting slot. I know there is a growing army of female Rays followers who would love to see a recent photo of Robinson “Honey Nut” Chirinos or even Jose Lobaton, but they will have to drive to the Charlotte Sports Park and take their own this Spring.

Maybe I got used to the flash and glamor set forth by those 2010 photos that had every single member of the Rays squad, including the Coaching staff in some sort of pose or hitting posture with the added sun flare somewhere within the photo framing. Maybe I was expecting something grand, a statement by the Rays this season as they start their 15th season.

But there were some positives in this set of photos of the 2012 Rays. We got to actually see what top Rays prospect Hak-Ju Lee will look like in a Rays uniform. We already know Lee can dance, and his bat has some magic in it, but seeing him in the Rays whites definitely makes you eager and hoping for the Rays future shortstop to make some additional magic happen during his minor league season so we can see him in that uniform possibly in September.

Maybe I am nitpicking here a bit, but I have come to expect more, especially after that grand and fabulous 2009 Spring photo package. Heck, even Rays skipper Joe Maddon had a possible glamor shot in 2009 that to this day might be one of the best photos of the Rays newly extended Manager.

I possibly wanted something again to “pop” off the screen of my computer, wished for another set of dynamic photos taken that would get my blood pumping, the sweat beading around my cap and the Rays Republic making photo copies of the team photos for signatures in the future. Not sure if any of these Rays Spring photos will be seen on the sidelines before games in 2012. Certainly doubt it (shudder).

Rays Fan Fest Autograph Times

I promised a few of you I would post the Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest autograph participants and their relative time online as soon as humanly possibly. Well, they came out earlier today and of course I was in the middle of working for a living. So without further ado, here is the tentative autograph time for the Rays players to sign at this years Fan Fest.

Do not forget, if you want to participate in the Exclusive Signing Opportunity ($200-500), you have until midnight tonight to make your purchase for this special event away from the usual hustle and bustle of Fan Fest.

Table 1 Table 2 Table 3 Table 4 Table 5
10:30 – 11:30 a.m. Ryan Reid Tim Beckham Jeff Keppinger Ricky Orta Kyle Farnsworth
11:30 – 12:30 p.m. Brandon Guyer Burke Badenhop Robinson Chirinos Brandon Gomes Matt Mangini
12:30 – 1:15 p.m. J.P. Howell Matt Joyce Wade Davis Sean Rodriguez Jose Molina
1:15 – 1:45 p.m. Evan Longoria Don Zimmer Jeremy Hellickson (open) (open)
1:45 – 2:30 p.m. Chris Archer Carlos Peña Desmond Jennings Alex Cobb Matt Moore
2:30 – 3 p.m. B.J. Upton (open) (open) James Shields David Price
3. – 4 p.m. Luke Scott Fernando Rodney Cesar Ramos Jose Lobaton Josh Lueke
4. – 4:45 p.m. (open) Nevin Ashley Romulo Sanchez Stephen Vogt Craig Albernaz
** Schedule subject to change

Hoping There is One More Trade on the Back Burner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Step for Pena……the Twitterverse?

Since Carlos Pena left the Tampa Bay Rays, a lot has changed both within the Rays clubhouse and with their team personality. Some might not even remember anymore the 2008 MLB blog penned by Pena as the Rays embraced and embarked on their maiden voyage into the Major League Baseball post-season. It showed a well-educated and articulate side of Pena most never knew until he spoke in videos, or in public to groups.

Under the roof of Tropicana Field Pena again blossomed, became a MLB icon whether he was arching his back connecting with a pitch down the center of the plate, or showing his cat-like reflexes that have earned him the status of one of the better defensive First Baseman in the MLB. Some say Pena found his second chance in Tampa Bay and became an instant fan favorite as much for his on-field efforts as for his oratory and charity works off the turf.

In less than a season, the Rays have also evolved without the leadership of Pena as another level of leaders emerged as Pena patrolled the First Baseline on the Northsde of Chi-town in 2011. The Rays collectively have become a team that is not obsessed but social media savvy, almost to the point of TMI at times.

And this is a fan interactive realm that Pena might not have encountered in his short Cubs tenure, but one he will quickly find encircles the personality of his old squad. Still, I wonder how long it will take before his teammates, or even Pena’s ex-Cape Cod teammate on the Rays 4th floor get him thrust into the social media frenzy.

From Rays farm hands Mikie Mathook ( @MikieMahtook8 ) or Stephen Vogt ( @SVogt1229 ) to the ever popular Rays feeds of David Price ( @DAVIDprice14 ) and Evan Longoria ( @Evan3Longoria ), the Rays have become socially savvy and frequent participant in the Twitterverse. I know the college educated and articulate Pena would be another great component of the online media feast for the Rays Republic, but finding the right handle or screen name might be a bit more difficult than we all imagine for the stylish Pena.

Just for giggles, I am going to take a gander at some of the more universally related “Pena persona’s” and see if those name or alias are currently available on the Twitterverse, or taken way before Pena’s first venture into its social realms. I will first post the more common screen names that could be associated with Pena, then move onto possible more obscure possibilities. 

@CarlosPena23 Unfortunately the most universal name that Pena could use is already associated with “Maximilian”, but this name might just be a shell since the author of this screen name has never issued a single Tweet, and is only following 1 person at this time. Sad, this could have been a perfect format for Pena’s Rays splash into the social media pool.

@TheCarlosPena It is unfortunate that Pena also shares the same complete celebrity name with another well-loved and respected Latin personality who won the second season of Latin American Idol. Just like his baseball counterpart, the singing Pena is known for his modesty and charisma. Who knows, maybe the singer will someday grace the Trop’s stage as a Rays/Hess Express Concert Series as we all will bask in double the Pena charm that evening.

@Car_Los23 At least we have an athletic-minded “Carlos” on this screen name. He is (Juan) Carlos Zaragoza (Murillo) who is a Mexican footballer currently playing for Club Leon in the Liga de Asenso. It might be a dummy Twitter site for this “Carlos” since it has only 3 followers and 3 Tweets since it’s inception. Pity, this name could have gone well with Pena, but such is media life.

@ILoveCarlosPena Heck, this screen name would have been perfect for Pena’s adorable other half, his wife Pamela. Unfortunately it is also the “love-fest homage” screen name for the band Big Time Rush fan Ashley.

Maybe I should venture more towards screen names that might be associated with Pena’s old nicknames, possibly bringing up some name attached to him during his Rays tenure that could evolve into a possible Rays Twitter home for Pena. Then again, we might encounter the same obstacles and detours previously seen when trying to get Pena just the right persona for his Twitter and Rays Republic social media moment.

@ElPresidente I had hopes this name would be unused and available, but it is another name that somehow is being underused and not developed to its full potential. Not sure who or what UAT is, but it has the regal “El Presidente” within its kingdom. This account is currently Following 37 Twitter accounts and has a robust 66 Followers even though it’s author has never submitted a single Tweets since its inception.

@ElPresidente23 I decided to try to see since El Presidente was taken if possibly just attaching Pena’s past Rays jersey number would get me a positive result. Unfortunately, this name too already has been taken and is active in the Twitterverse. It is attached to Peter Nixon, who is an active Twitter disciple who has thrust out over 3,127 Tweets and is following 645 other account and has 328 Followers of his own.

@Los23 This is another nickname that has evolved to a point where Rays fans automatically think “Pena” when it is voiced, written or otherwise communicated. As is our luck today, this screen name is also attached to 2 people with a bit of difference in their “Los” persona’s. One is Carlos Vargas (@Los23), who if you read his Tweets has a mellow kind of homey vibe, much like Carlos. The other does not have a human named attached to it, but @342Krazy who follows only 1 other Twitter persona much be a Rays front office covert ops….It makes sense (just kidding).

@ElGato Most people associate this MLB nickname with Andres Galarraga who was known as the “Big Cat” also during his MLB career from 1985-2004. An interesting side note is that Galarraga, like Pena also calls Orlando, Florida his home. But this account is actually the Twitter presence for Eye TV which is the world’s leading TV recording software and TV tuner solutions for the Mac computer.

As we can see, the usual names that Pena could incorporate his online social persona have either been taken, or are active accounts with some sort of back history that might be dangerous for Pena to cross paths with followers of the present account holders. That would only lead to possibly there being a new Pena persona hatched, or another nickname used to possible develop Pena’s Rays social presence. I have a few suggestions, with one being the best of both worlds for Pena, currently open for his use on Twitter, possibly as soon as he starts his account.

@ElGatodelCrimen This Twitter name might be more tongue-in-cheek than Pena would want for himself, but it is a nickname some put upon him during his Rays days as a bit of an homage to former Rays 1B Fred McGriff who was known as the “Crime Dog”. The name translates into “The Crime Cat”, possibly playing on McGriff’s persona, but with the added flair of Pena’s feline movements while covering the bag. This is not my favorite option, but it could be a nice way for Pena to remain secluded but also relevant among the unique Twitterverse.

@23CarlosPena This is my favorite Twitter name for Pena. I hope he wants to retain the jersey number 23, and if he did, this name would work to not only separate himself from the “other Carlos Pena’s”, it would make his name synonymous with his Rays persona as well as being his personal account to update us on great things in his of-the-field life. Truly this screen name could embrace and include everything we all have love, respected and admired of Pena since he first stepped outside the Rays Spring clubhouse wearing that symbolic number.

I truly hope Pena does take to the social media format just like so many of his team mates did in 2011. It is another way for both the MLB fans and the Rays Republic to see these guys more as humans than just as physical cogs in the Rays baseball machine. Pena has great passion and respect for the game and this community, his Rays presence speaking to that point and showing us another side of himself will make even his harshest critic embrace his Tweets and await anxiously for his next writ of wit.

PS My own Twitter name has been changed to @TheRaysRenegade after Twitter would not give me access to my original screen name after someone hacked into my account. I would appreciate and consider if it privilege if you “follow” me on my new name.  I also have the @TheRaysRenegade account scrolling on the sidebar of my blog again.

Were You The One?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filling the First Base Hole is Crucial for Success


It is no secret among anyone in Major League Baseball right now that the Tampa Bay Rays are in need of a First Baseman. Be it from a trade, a free agent or maybe even a budding star caught between a rock and a potential All-Star, the Rays will find their man, but at what price?

Heck just for conversation and a few giggles, can Andy Sonnanstine play First Base? Seriously I am not applying Sonny name to the 1B fodder list, it is just he has done everything else for the Rays, plus he will finally get a gig where he can hit daily.

You can immediately take names like Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Jorge Posada and Derrek Lee out of the think tank mostly because of the fear it would cause instantly to the Rays payroll situation. Even past Rays familiar names like Russell Branyan, Eric Hinske, Brad Hawpe, Jorge Cantu, Adam Kennedy, and Carlos Pena might give each of us a wonder if they can again be monster at the plate and huge pillows in the field, but their tenures have come and gone for this team.

Dan Johnson, the Rays 2011 Opening Day starter refused a assignment and is also within the free agent wading pool. His exploits, especially in the latter weeks of the season have made him a folk hero in Tampa Bay, but his dismal early season slump in 2011 made in more than expendable. Johnson has unfortunately had a yo-yo existence with the Rays from his plucking off the waiver wire, to a year in Japan courtesy of the Rays, to being a part of this team by proxy in Triple-A Durham then emerging with memorable Home Runs and spontaneous eruptions of power. If only he could get that power spurt to last 180 days during the regular season.

Interesting name do pop out at you from the list of potential young free agents like the powerful ex-Yankee Juan Miranda. The former Cuban baseball star signed a reasonable $2 million contract with the Yankees in 2006, and like former team Cuba team mate and current Rays farm hand Leslie Anderson, Miranda has not shown the verbosity yet to possibly warrant more than a casual look by the Rays. That and a limited MLB experience which mired Miranda with a .226 career average, this might take him out of any Rays consideration.

 Michael Cuddyer might be an interesting name to associate with the Rays in their 1B quest, but his Type A status, which could cost the Rays draft pick might be a huge stop sign to any advancement towards his name. We all know how the Rays value their draft picks, and accumulate them like canned goods to weather any impending payroll storm. I actually would love to see what Cuddyer would do with his photographic talents if given a few extra months of Trop photography….but that is not a reason to sign him (bummer).

There might be a few young tradeable names to ponder for the Rays, but then again it might come down to the “want “ list by the other franchise, possibly killing the deal in the initial chatter phase. If the Miami Marlins do indeed get Price or King Albert to guard their First Base bag, it will be interesting to see how the team positions Gaby Sanchez for relocation. With the Marlins pretty set with at least 3 starters on the books, there is room for rotation adjustments and improvement, but would someone like Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann or an Rays prospect on the cusp plus a young catcher like Jose Lobaton or Nevin Ashley be enough to land the powerful Marlin?

Or could the dangling of Cincinnati Reds young hitter Yonder Alonso be the morsel that tempts the Rays into digging into their roster and farm system possibly bringing Alonso to Tampa Bay where he will have a free range position in front of him unlike in Cincy where Joey Votto is cemented at 1B for the immediate future. The problem with Alonso is not his value, but the deal it would take to possibly separate him from his Reds jersey and into a Rays uniform.

Would Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman be willing to possibly delete SP James Shields from his roster even before Spring Training, or can be package a deal possibly including some middle infield talent, plus a budding pitcher and possibly another player to get this deal done and put a solid body with a few years of flexibility at the corner position for the Rays? Alonso might be a power upgrade over the Rays 2011 First Base corps, but will he be the fielding gem the Rays need to keep their defensive fielding advantage intact?

Even though other First Baseman names out there like Lyle Overbay and Jason Giambi might tweak a bit of Rays interest as potential platoon members, their salaries definitely might be out of the Rays comfort zone, immediately dissecting their name from the 1B Carousel.

In my honest opinion, I am still hopeful the Rays can plug in Rays 2011 First Baseman Casey Kotchman as a exclamation point into this pondering question. Still there are questions within this easy solution to the Rays First Base dilemma. Kotchman’s biggest stumbling block to him possibly getting a multi-year deal might be his ponderance for low power numbers. Still, if the guy can get the needed hits, place himself up near .300 and produce scoring opportunities and drive in runs, does that vault him over a guy who might hit 20+ HR and have a average glove?

This decision on the immediate horizon for the Rays has to have their direct and undivided attention. This current opening that the Rays need to fill this off season is the keystone of their defensive alignment. Get the right glove and bat into this slot, and the Rays could see their offense suddenly pull a Rasputin and emerge from their slumber with their lumber. Whatever happens, this one move will send immediate signals on the way the Rays want to do business in 2012.

Sure you would love to possibly see someone like Cantu come back, or possibly entertain a Pena reunion, but those scenarios might not be in the compromised deck of cards the Rays have for 2012. Possibly a Alonso or Sanchez could fall into the Rays hands, but at what cost, and is Rays pitching really such a high point that losing a Shields, Davis or even a emerging Cobb or Torres not produce a few shock waves?

This one movement by the Rays front office this Winter will be watched closely by the Rays Republic because First Base is just that critical a spot for the Rays, and only a solid corner man will fit nicely with the square peg shape of First Base.

Who’s On First?

I was entranced the first time I saw the comedic team of Abbott and Costello perform this routine on our family television console one Sunday afternoon. I was mesmerized by the ingenious wordplay by the duo to the point of repeating it so often the following week in school I got a isolated seat in the library by myself to perfect my comedic nuance.

That same hilarious routine comes to mind so vividly for me now with the Tampa Bay Rays current conundrum at their first bag position. Scanning the players listed on the Rays current 40-man roster, it is quickly evident that none of them has seen ample time at First Base to breathe any confidence that the team has answer so far in their quest for a secure and reliable player on the first base corner.

Last season’s inspiration Casey Kotchman is a free agent, possibly speaking in confidence with the Rays, but also entertaining other offers, situation and pondering his own 2012 M L B existence. You would have thought it a no-brainier to try and sign “The Magic of Kotch” to a multi-year contract, but so far the homegrown baseball prospect has been mute and silent on any transactions.

Dan Johnson, the Rays 2011 Opening Day First Baseman refused his re-assignment to the minor league and has set his sights on other M L B venues as a possible home for 2012. There is still a hint of a Rays reunion, but that would come at a significant salary reduction again for Johnson who seemed lost early on in the 2012 season before coming back and putting some late September magic onto his resume.

Leslie Anderson, the Cuban baseball reject at First Base played with a bit more consistency for the Triple-A Durham Bulls in 2012, but is his advancement been enough to warrant more than a Spring Training invite and a outside chance of securing a roster spot. This is a position on this team that is in dire transition, a black hole that has to be filled first, then the other cogs will fall into place.

For the Rays defensive existence relies on a solid guy with a ever expanding spider web glove at this spot. He makes Evan Longoria look better, converts the ill-thought out throws of Reid Brignac, and is the key end point of any double play consideration. This position has to be the Rays priority one this off season, or 2012 will be a step backwards akin to the 2009 season.

Where is that definite piece of the puzzle the Rays have found in the past with great 1B names like Fred McGriff, Travis Lee, Tino Martinez and even Carlos Pena. This team can not feasibly afford the bevy of current First Basemen seeking salaries for 2012. The Albert Pujols and Price Fielders’ of the MLB will not accept a price slashing Rays payment slip as their productive years reach their summit.

Even a established young player like current Cincinnati Red First Baseman Joey Votto might come with a price the Rays would balk at paying for a productive bat with ample defensive skills. Some say a run at Votto will cost them at least a duo of pitching prospects and possible a catcher. But in this regard the Rays do have a quickly approaching pitching surplus problem, but is possibly taking on Votto’s 9.5 million dollar contract could possibly eat into a huge chunk of the Rays other “wish list” this off season.

Then there is the attractive but expensive option of the Rays flirting with the possibility of bringing on ex-Yankee C/1B Jose Posada as a short term solution with an eye on his trade deadline value and bat being a easy positive for the Rays. Posada is actually the only Yankee since Bernie Williams I could respect and see as a member of the Rays.

Posada is a true competitor, and walked a thin line in the Bronx in 2012 knowing his diminished skill behind the plate, plus a multi millionaire in front of him (Mark Texiera) prohibited him from getting more than a sampling of his skills at First Base last season. The only huge bind in this logic is the fact Posada made $ 13.1 million, or 1/3rd of the Rays 2011 total payroll. This fact by itself might eliminate
Posada’s name immediately considering the Rays will possibly be slicing even a bit more off their payroll to begin 2012 with an eye on a late July addition if they are within sight of a Wild Card or better post season berth.

The Rays in-house options currently within their farm system besides Anderson is limited to Double-A Montgomery Biscuit duo Henry Wrigley and Matt Sweeney. The problem here is both have not ventured past that Double-A plateau yet, and their addition besides a possible Spring invite would be suggestive at best. The Rays have a deep farm system but not currently at this vital cog in their defensive machine. The answer might be an internal transition for the Rays to save money plus utilize their current players sequencing them into roles that build upon Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s 2011 mantra of “Find Another Way”.

Should the Rays implore current diamond journeyman Ben Zobrist or even Sean Rodriguez or Elliot Johnson to do a bit of off season prep at First Base. Possibly getting reps and game action in a Winter League, or maybe sending them to an isolated camp site to work on it in private and then introduce their transition as a “team united” surprise come Spring?

The following few weeks should be interesting as the Hot Stove season begins to simmer and choices begin to be eliminated from the First Base list. This is a key off season position for the Rays to secure an ample and reliable player who can be a catalyst for this young team. Be it a young player or possibly a grizzly vet, this first base bag has to have solidarity and consistency both in their defense and their bat to be a great addition to this team.

Pujols is not an option, Prince would not get the royal treatment in Tampa Bay. Votto might be established enough to warrant the player fodder needed for a trade, but will the Rays commit a huge chunk to solidify one position? Anderson, Wrigley and Sweeney might not be viable options, but could be future consideration, possibly in 2013 or 2014.

If the Rays want to save their funds for other player options, then a Zobrist, Johnson transformation might be in line with the Rays fiscal reality. Zobrist will make $ 4.5 million plus a possible $500,000 assignment bonus. His rising salaries will institute him into new roles, or define him in 2012. Johnson will be a meager salary option, but with his limited time at this side of the diamond, is it worth the gamble and possible implosion?

I still remember watching Bud Abbott clutching his baseball cap in his mouth in utter confusion and dismay at the swirling names of the players on the field during that routine, but it all comes down to that ultimate question still pondered by the Rays this off season, “Who’s on First?”

Dynamic Duo Make Their Rays Debut

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Got to admit to all of the Rays Republic, in the beginning I had a few doubts and even reservations about a Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez duo signing. Maybe it was the aspect that they have been associated with the 2004 Red Sox “Cast of Idiots“, or maybe I was afraid they might not be able to “Cowboy Up!” one last time.

After witnessing the magic and pure adrenaline rush permeating through that Tampa Bay Rays Press Conference media room, my doubts and worry suddenly melted off like Ramirez’s pounds during his workouts in Arizona. From the moment their agent Scott Boras led them into the room until Rays Vice President of Communications Rick Vaughn yelled “Is that all?” This was a glorious ride to see in person.

I was not suppose to be in this room nestled near the darkness with my little camera, but the entire Rays office was poised at noon today to see the next chapter unfold and I tagged along for the ride. From the media buzz to the clicking of camera’s and live video feed both locally and from MLB, this quickly became a love fest, not just for Tampa Bay, but for the two men seated in the middle of the large table.

Instantly you knew both guys were on the same page, had the same intentions and wanted to the guys to help usher in a repeat American League East title. Like Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein so eloquently said recently, “The demise of the Rays is greatly exaggerated.” I am not climbing the flagpole just yet, or marching fully to that beat of triumph again, but this duo instantly make me hunger for that chance.

Both said the right things too. Ramirez flexed his right arm to show his muscle when asked if he was “fit” ,and Damon said insistently this was not the “last chapter” of his baseball career. Instantly the void that grew immense when former clubhouse guru Carlos Pena vacated for Chi-town became smaller. Suddenly I could see the Rays clubhouse leader ship not come from one speaker, but act in stereo with their actions and observations going to make this team competitive every game.

Suddenly I remembered why I hated these two so much. Their competitive nature just seems to ooze from their confidence levels, and that used to scare the death out of me. But there were comments from both that instantly brought me back to why they were signed, Damon called the Rays his “Dream Team” or Ramirez saying while putting on his number 24 Rays jersey that he ” looks good in white“.

Integrity, confidence and ability all joined hands in that room today. Manny was his usual joking self, but did not shy away from questions on if “Manny might be Manny” in Tampa Bay, but a guy who has hit almost .300 lifetime in this dome knows what is expected of him. Possibly Manny even threw out a nugget for the Rays to consider in 2011 that he thinks he can play “five more years”. Not making any predictions, but if Manny is right he has already made his money….maybe a Tampa Bay discount knowing this team can compete might be in the future.

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 The love fest we saw between these two today was incredible. You can tell they are more than happy to be playing with each other again, and the respect level is very high between them. Several times during the Press Conference I expected both to rise and do an Ari Gold (Entourage) “hug out“. Not since Baseball Hall of Fame member Wade Boggs and HOF hopeful Fred McGriff put on a Rays uniform have I been excited about such a veteran duo. Some in the assembled crowd made predictions of a possible 70 Home Runs between the pair while other were optimistic of a great meshing of the duo with the young Rays corps.I left that room running for my laptop in the car wanting to write this. Eager to let this feeling flow from me today of this incredible moment. Some say defining moments in a franchise’s history never reveal themselves until later, but today the moment just felt perfectly right for a half hour. So the signings are official, the jerseys have pressed their backs for the first time and the media got to shake their verbal hands with Damon and Ramirez. For some reason the comment from Ramirez to Damon of “You play 100 games, I’ll play 62” (referring to LF) is still ringing in my ears…in a good way. 

I snuck in to see this magical moment mush like a kid who sneaks under the canvas at the circus. I expected to see a sideshow event. Once that propped both of them up in a definite light. What I got was two men who had extreme confidence and respect for each other pass compliment after compliment not just to themselves, but to the young team they will embrace in 2011.

I really do hope that Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce and the rest of the Rays budding hitter pick the brains of these two baseball icons. I hope the competitive nature and confidence level showed by Damon and Ramirez today fills that Rays Spring Training clubhouse. But most of all I am just glad I got to see the magic happen….firsthand.

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