Results tagged ‘ Carlos Pena ’

Tampa Bay’s Own Casey Kotchman Added to First Base Mix

 

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Zimbio 

Anyone who has attended a Rays game in the past knows that when Casey Kotchman came into town for a series, there was a line at the Visitor’s dugout. Former teammates, Kotchman Baseball School students, coaches and even friends have been known to surround the dugout rails for a moment with the former Seminole High School star before Rays games. Now the Rays dugout might be feeling that pressure as the Tampa Bay area product is coming home to play for his hometown Rays.

The addition of Kotchman today to a $ 750,000 minor league contract with incentives could become another fine tooled feather in the cap of Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman as he pieces together another contending ball club. It instantly fills a need for the Rays, plus provides another ounce of proven ability to a club most thought was going to roll over and die for a few seasons.

The signing of Kotchman shows the Rays value ability as well as staying within the limits of their thin pocketbook, and might be another off-the-radar pick-up by the frugal Friedman. Bringing in local star Kotchman could also have a clear double-edged sword effect on the Rays roster this Spring.

In one clear instance, this move will automatically raise the level of corner infield talent and ability at the First Base bag and provide a great measure of not only healthy, but needed competition between Kotchman and Dan Johnson this Spring. On paper, this signing might look a bit one-sided with Kotchman winning by a landslide the defensive side of the overall 1B equation, but as we already well know, the mind of Rays Manager Joe Maddon doesn’t always follow common baseball logic.

Kotchman has appeared at First Base 581 times in his MLB career with Los Angeles/Anaheim, Atlanta, Boston and Seattle. Johnson has only manned the First Base bag only 21 games total in his Rays career.

You automatically see Kotchman as a key defensive replacement for departed past Gold Glover Carlos Pena. Even though Kotchman, who sports a .998 lifetime fielding percentage including only one error in 116 games for the Seattle Mariners during the 2010 season, it isn’t as clear cut on the offensive side of the numbers.

With both Rays First Baseman taking their swings from the left-side of the Batter’s Box ( same as Pena), the ultimate winner of this Spring battle might come down to a few more intricate pieces of either players arsenal such as OPS, RISP. And possibly strikeouts. All First Baseman indications prior to the signing of Kotchman seemed to be focused on a Ben Zobrist and Johnson platoon, but the addition of the sure handed glove of Kotchman might actually provide a bit of outfield controversy this Spring.

The Rays Brian trust must have a plan in mind prior to this signing, and possibly a platoon action could be configured also with Kotchman and Johnson in mind. Looking at their offensive numbers, Kotchman has not produced as fluidly as he did from 2006-2007 when he was with the Angels.

Then again, Kotchman has been kind of pigeon-holed offensively over the past few years in platoon action while with the Mariners, Red Sox and Braves. If Kotchman can prove that his .219 average and 75 points fall off his slugging percentage was a fluke, he could see significant starts at First Base for the Rays. Kotchman actually on paper looks a bit like Pena in that when he gets into a solid rhythm at the plate, he can turn on the magic.

I still think it is Johnson’s spot to lose. The Rays have kept Johnson close to them for a few years for some reason that defies some of our own logic. Possibly the Rays have the gut feeling that with extended playing time and at bats, he can return to his pre-2007 offensive numbers he held while a member of the Oakland A’s. Back then, Johnson hit 42 Home Runs in 3 season and produced 162 walks.

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BleacherReport

I want to wax poetic here and think that Johnson’s 2008 Home Run against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon was the greatest HR in Rays history, but some think it was the right guy at the right time only. Personally I would love to see Johnson get an extended 2011 try at first for the Rays, but considering his batting average against right-handed pitchers hovers below .200, but Kotchman only get a slim lead based on his own .239 average against righties.

An interesting tidbit is that Kotchman went 1 for 10 (.100) on turf in 2010 while Johnson only went 13 for 63 (.206). But if you look at a factor like On-Base Percentages, Johnson has a slight leg-up on Kotchman .343 to .280. It might just come down to something as simple as run production and game day match-ups to decide who out of this pair might get the nightly starting nod.

With runners in scoring position, Kotchman sits closer to .300 against both left-handers and right-handers while Johnson sits under .200 against right-handers. The numbers tend to bunch both of them close into a possible platoon situation with Maddon again possibly tinkering with his line-up nightly to get the slight edge. It might ultimately come down to plate discipline. Johnson’s posted a 25-to-27 walk to strikeout ratio while Kotchman leaned more towards the strikeout 35-to-57 in 2010.

By no means does the signing of Kotchman signal the end of the Johnson idea at First Base for the Rays. It just muddles the waters a bit and provides each player with a dynamic where they have to produce to get a shot at manning the bag full-time. But each player seems even in regards to right-handed pitching, so neither has a solid chance to cement their name on the line-up just based on which side the pitcher lines up on the mound.

2011 has been a year of surprises so far for the Rays. The addition today of Kotchman has to be viewed as a positive move by the franchise to give the Rays more depth and defensive ability going into Spring Training. Going into the February 20th report date for all players to the Rays Spring Training Camp, I am going to give a slight edge to Kotchman at First Base. I still think it is Johnson’s to lose, but I got to support and root for the hometown guy…Sorry D J.

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?

 

 

Rays Put Out Trade “Feelers” on Bartlett


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Since Free Agent Shortstop Juan Uribe decided to accept the Los Angeles Dodgers offer a few days ago, now the spot light is centered directly on Tampa Bay Rays middle infielder Jason Bartlett who might have priced himself out of the Rays fold. Bartlett is entering his last phase of arbitration this off season and could command up to $ 5 million dollars through arbitration.


The shortstop is still a viable defender and might have just had a down year in 2010, but his upward salary scale is definitely making him more than expendable to the cost efficient Rays. And with Uribe now off the books, during the upcoming Winter meetings I am expecting Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman to be a popular man with at least four teams searching for a shortstop option.

The teams considered at least mildly interested in Bartlett include the newly crowned World Champion San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles. Three of the four make perfect sense to also get Bartlett out of the American League where he would only post a 3-game problem at the least when the Cardinals and Rays square off in an InterLeague match-up at Tropicana Field July 1-3,2011.

The most interesting possible trade scenario might be if the Rays decide to trade with their American League East divisional partner, the Baltimore Orioles. Considering that the Orioles still have Julio Lugo, also an ex-Rays shortstop on their current roster, it could make for an interesting 17 game home and away seasonal series in 2011. With that in mind, it also makes the Orioles the most unlikely of candidates for the Rays to consider a trade for Bartlett, but Friedman has been known to shock a few people before, even among the Rays faithful.

So with these few teams in mind, let’s take a look within their respective rosters and see just who might be able to be considered off all four teams as potential trade pieces with the Rays for Bartlett. With Uribe off the boards, Bartlett is probably at his highest possible trade value at this point, and if the Rays do pull some sort of delay or freeze any trade discussions past the Winter Meetings, the Rays could have overstayed the marketplace and would have to trade Bartlett for less value in return.

Baltimore Orioles:

I am going to embark on the possible trade candidates with the Orioles in mind with two of the most logical players, but also one that might end up looking more like a potential arbitration salary swap than a true upgrade in talent and moderate salary. Luke Scott has been within the Rays crosshairs for a few seasons as a potential offensive weapon. Scott is entering his third chance at salary arbitration this Winter, and could demand even more than Bartlett’s $ 5 million dollar prospective 2011 salary price tag.

But you can not argue with a .281 batting average with 27 HR and 71 RBI’s after you saw your best offensive weapon (Carlos Pena) go on the open market this Winter. It is imperative that the Rays find an adequate replacement for Pena to protect Evan Longoria in the Rays batting order. Scott also has the ability to hit for average along with power, which might be a great combination that could influence the Rays decision.

Considering that Scott might have peaked at the right time in 2010 by having a monster August hitting for a .314 average with 9 HR and 20 RBI, he might gain some serious looks by the Rays. His OPS (.898) and Slugging Percentage ( .535) suggest that he might be the bat the Rays missed in 2010 in the Designated Hitter spot. Scott also was the AL Player of the Week (July 25) and posted a 11-game hitting streak during the 2010 season. Scott might not seem like a value in trade for Bartlett, but it would help the team solidify a position (DH) that has plagued the Rays line-up for at least two seasons.

A second potential trade candidate has been mentioned a few times before in regard to Bartlett. Pitcher David Hernandez has only a $ 402,000 salary in 2010, and might just be the type of pitcher the Rays could effectively carry in their Bullpen for several seasons before he becomes too expensive for the team to carry.
Hernandez posted an 8-8 record in 2010,which might not seem impressive, but once the Orioles took him out of the starting rotation where he went 1-5 with a 5.31 ERA in 8 starts, he quickly adapted to a relief role.

Hernandez then went on to post a 7-3 record with a 3.16 ERA along with 2 saves as a Oriole reliever. The fact that Hernandez could be an effective part of the Rays Bullpen either as a middle inning reliever or as a inning eater should intrigue the Rays to more than just kick the tires on Hernandez. Sure he might have only, logged 33 total relief appearances in his career, but Hernandez has the fire and desire to succeed. That fact is truly demonstrated in his ability to go at least 5-6 innings in 7 of his 8 starts in 2010 for the Orioles.

San Francisco Giants:

Considering the Uribe left the World Champions for a new home in Chavez Ravine, the G-men will be looking quickly for an alternative with some relief pitching as the main bait. Javier Lopez, who the Giants got in a trade in late July from the Pittsburgh Pirates is a 4-time arbitration eligible player this Winter. Even with his fourth try at the arbitration game, his prospective arbitration amount should be considerably less than Rays Free agent RP Grant Balfour. Lopez earned a total salary of $ 775,000 in 2010 and could be a possible middle inning replacement if the Aussie refuses the Rays arbitration offer.

But as a left-handed option, Lopez brings a lot of great ability and stamina to the table. Lopez went 4-2 this season with a 2.34 ERA in both locales, but his numbers quickly dropped once he was sent to the West Coast. He posted a 1.42 ERA in 27 games with the Giants after leaving behind a 2.79 ERA in 50 games with the Pirates. But his main selling point to the Rays might be his ability to get out left-handed hitters as a viable replacement for another Rays Free Agent, Randy Choate.

Lopez held NL batters to a .163 opponent’s batting average, which was the lowest mark posted by a National League LHP since he joined the Giants. Even more impressive is the fact Lopez held left-handers to a .68 batting average. Another plus for the Rays would be the fact Lopez limited his opposition to a .190 average with RISP and induced 7 GIDP opportunities during that span.

San Diego Padres:

With the Padres sending two great young potential relievers to the Florida Marlins earlier this Winter for outfielder Cameron Maybin, they seem to be a bit bare in the cabinet in relievers unless something drastic or inventive can be arranged in a possible trade with the Rays. Sure you would love to see the Padres offer up closer Heath Bell, who is up for arbitration for the third time, straight up for Bartlett, but that possibility might just not be in the framework. But a guy like Bell could ease a huge chunk of the Rays problems with their Bullpen if they knew a guy who was 6-1 with a 1.93 ERA with 47 saves was to come in and take over for Free Agent Rafael Soriano.

But the real life scenario of the Padres sending Bell to the Rays would be more of a potential salary swap since Bell could also garner over a $5 million 2011 salary through arbitration. But again, it would cement close a huge Rays hole in the back end of the Bullpen? A more realistic trade option might be left-hand reliever Joe Thatcher who would still be under team control for a few seasons. Consider the southpaw posted a 0.51 ERA over his last 39 outings could make the Rays salivate knowing they could receive a quality LHP option in return for Bartlett.

Pushing Thatcher more into the spotlight is the fact he struck out 41 batter over his last 56 relief appearances, plus had only 19.7 percent of his inherited runners score on him this past season. Considering Thatcher went to the mound with 66 inherited runners and less than 20 percent scored is a huge plus compared to some of the Rays totals last season. But even if Thatcher did have 59 scoreless innings in 2010, he was used mostly as a left-handed specialist facing 1 batter in 33 of his 63 outings. But still a 0.00 ERA against right-handed hitters over 17 innings of work with 17 strikeouts provides a nice exclamation point as to Thatcher’s value to the Rays Bullpen.

St. Louis Cardinals:

The last team I will visit is the Cardinals. Sure they have ex-Rays RP Trever Miller under a good contract for 2011 ($ 2million), but I think the Cardinals would like to keep their leftie who posted 15 holds and had the fifth best NL mark in regards to inherited runners in 2010. But there are two young right-hand options that I think could be interesting to the Rays. First is a young RP Mitchell Boggs who is not arbitration eligible this Winter and made MLB minimum salary in 2010.

Boggs appeared in 61 games for the Cardinals in 2010 and came away with 44 scoreless outings. Combine that with his ability that he went extended innings in 11 of appearances, you get a little endurance to go with your stability. Boggs also retired 42 of his 61 first batters he faced last season, but also has left-handers handcuff him to a 5.23 ERA. This points to a positive upside as the young reliever (26 years old) can grow into a solid part of the Rays Bullpen for many years.

But the guy who really has my eye as a potential trade piece from the Cardinals is right-hand reliever Jason Motte. He converted 2 of his 3 save opportunities during 2010 when Ryan Franklin went down in 2010. The fact this young gun is not even arbitration eligible yet but ranked 13 holds for the Cards in2010 speaks to their commitment to using the young pitcher . After a short rehab assignment following a right shoulder injury, Motte did not allow a run in his next 10 appearances. His 54 strikeouts in 2010 pushed him to a 9/3 K/ 9IP clip that is impressive for such a young reliever.

Combine that with the fact Motte held right-handed hitters to a .198 batting average with 39 strikeouts shows that he can get hitters out from both sides of the plate. At one point in 2010, Motte retired 32 straight hitters and never surrendered more than 2 runs during an appearance. Another nice stat is that Motte worked better off one days rest ( 0.57 ERA/ 16 appearances) than with two days off (.079 ERA/ 12 appearances). But both stats show that Motte is beginning to provide secure and stabile relief ability, which could benefit the Rays for an extended time out of their depleted Bullpen.

 

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Bartlett is going to be traded at some point in 2010. Now is the time when his inherent value might be at its peak and other teams might be willing to trade for the arbitration eligible shortstop. As the season grows closer, his value will go down and the return will also suffer. At this point with more than a few teams looking for middle infield options, Bartlett’s stock is on the rise. Friedman will be diligent, but hopefully he will not be so cautious as to not entertain a reasonable offer for any young reliever or hitting option. Hopefully by the end of the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Florida, the Rays will have found a good locale for Bartlett for Spring 2011.

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 

 

 

Carlos Pena Open to Returning to the Rays


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I still remember the Friday afternoon in the Spring of 2007 when I got a voicemail from someone within the Tampa Bay Rays front office that Carlos Pena was originally going to sign a minor league deal to play for the Rays. Still remember the sudden rush of excitement I had bubbling within me that a guy with such awesome offensive and defensive potential was going to be positioned at First Base for this Rays team.


The Rays staffer who left the message on my phone played with Pena in the Summer Cape Cod League and knew firsthand Pena’s ability to bring strong and confident leadership qualities to this team along with the graceful power hidden within his maple bats. This Rays staffer had played beside Pena at second base and had seen for himself the uncanny grace of Pena’s defensive magic and the confidence and charm Pena emulates and could bring to a young Rays team both on and off the field.

So here we are 4 years later and Pena has seen his stock rise from a minor league player to potentially receiving the largest contract of his career this Winter. Even with his name now removed from the Rays 40-man roster as a Free Agent, Pena holds a deep love and affection for his old team. Pena’s impending actions this Winter must now speak louder than his eloquent words if he even remotely has a chance to again report to Port Charlotte, Florida on February16, 2011. Many times during the Rays 2010 season, with his impending Free Agency on the horizon, Pena spoke loud and clear of his want to stay with the Rays.

But it might come at a huge price. Pena is a sought after Free Agent that will have more than a few teams digging into his 2007-2010 Rays stats and videos to see if he can again raise that same level of magic both on and off the field with their teams. And with an vocal agent like Scott Boras, you can easily define that even attempting to facilitate Pena’s services for 2011 will come with a very stiff price tag.

Pena commanded the Rays top salary last season at $ 10.5 million salary and could command a increase in salary this Winter for the 2011 season. By itself, his possible salary level might sink his ultimate chances to reunite with his Rays teammates this Spring. It is curious as to why a player like Pena who can demand up to $ 10 million again for 2011 would be so publicly campaigning this past week in the local media to get another shot with the Rays when his salary might be unobtainable by the payroll stingy Rays?

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Pena knows the fiscal limitations of the Rays for 2011. And even with the fact Pena was very vocal during 2010 of possibly giving the Rays organization a “home” discount to retain his services, can the price be whittled down to be considered by the Rays? But even if Pena was to lower his 2010 salary to around the $7 million mark, would it be a bargain for the Rays? That kind of salary might still be on the upper cusp of what could be affordable by the Rays, but is it too low for Pena to consider?


Not to mention that if you sliced Pena’s 2010 salary in half it would only reach the projected upcoming arbitration salary mark of Rays starter Matt Garza, who is projected to gain a projected $ 5.25 million salary this Winter. Can you justify a larger salary amount closer to that $ 7 million mark being considered by the Rays and by Pena based on Pena’s long and devoted community service history and popularity with the Rays Republic.

Can you put a viable salary price on Pena’s unique personal charm and his grace both in public and with the media in showcasing himself as a role model and devoted member of this Tampa Bay community. Personally I think Pena has done more for the image of this Rays team and franchise than anyone else in the team’s short history, but can you put a price on that spirit and chemistry? Tampa Bay is the second largest Hispanic community in Florida and would retaining a popular icon like Pena be applauded by that community with increased ticket and merchandise revenues?

 
 
Off the field Pena is a giant supporter of the “Rays Way” and a shining beacon of inspiration and dedication to the youth of Tampa Bay that hard work and believing in your abilities can get you to the Major League level. Is it fair to even consider putting a price on such action when they were done from the heart. Pena is a past Rays reciprient of the Roberto Clemente Award for his involvement off the turf and grass of Tropicana Field.

Retaining someone of Pena’s stature in the community will be difficult, but can be achieved with the many young and talented players coming up through the Rays farm system. But can any of them command the respect and admiration of Pena with his poetic gestures to the Rays fans during the season, or his mystic that makes him loved by men and women alike in this community. I am not going to debate the trials and tribulation of his offensive makes on the Rays, but salute the drive and determination Pena has instilled upon the Rays fabric. You can sit here and debate his offensive and defensive skills for days and still not have a clear indication of his entire net worth to this Rays franchise without looking at his voice off the field.

Some players make vocal signals to the team’s fans as a gesture of saying “Goodbye” knowing that their future with the franchise is not in their hands. In this endeavor with Pena, it might be his willingness to accept less in salary to stay with a team he respects and admires above all others. The bonds of Pena within the Rays is deep and rooted, but it is his turn to show his willingness to want to stay here. A possible low salary with offensive incentives might be the key to enticing the Rays to continue their ongoing relationship with Pena.

 

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Right now I can not truly imagine a Spring without the likes of Pena strolling the sidelines or laughing in the dugout with his Rays teammates. I always thought he was more retainable this off season than outfielder Carl Crawford or even reliever Joaquin Benoit. For some reason, Pena has personified the Rays player for me since the first time I saw him on the fence line during the 2008 Spring Training signing a taco and then watching a fan eat it as a good luck omen.

Players like Pena leave an invisible mark on fans that always stays with us and makes us cheer or even clap for them years after they are gone. It has not sunk in yet that Pena will not possibly be there this Spring. That 2011 might be the first season without his smiling face and GQ fashions in the Rays clubhouse. Pena has already made his vocal admiration and want to stay here for 2011 known to all of us. Now it is time for Pena to back his up his many words and find a way to remain a Ray. I hope it can get done because I still feel Pena has a lot to offer this community.

Rays Need to Fill their Clubhouse Void

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rays Bullpen is On the Clock

 

 

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


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

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

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

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

 

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


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

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

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


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

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


 

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


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

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

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


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

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

 

What is Your Favorite 2010 Rays Moment?

 


 

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


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

 

April 6th

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

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

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


 

 April 17th

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


 

May 2nd 

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


 

June 8th

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



 

June 19th

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


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

 

July 26th

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


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

 

August 1st

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


 

August 10th

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


 

August 28th

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


 

September 13th

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

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


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

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


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

 

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

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


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

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

 
 
 
 
 

Second Time was Just as Sweet!

 
 

 

You could feel the moment beginning to pulsate within the Teflon roof of Tropicana Field. It was the top of the ninth inning with Tampa Bay Rays closer Rafael Soriano heading to the hill. With the sound of the sledgehammer hitting pure steel, your heartbeat synched solely with that one loud clang for several moments before someone shook you and you were forced back into this realm of reality.


 

 

Rays starter David Price had done his job for eight solid innings, and now the Rays All Time saves leader was not out there to collect another save, but to be one with a moment that will be in Rays fan’s minds for a long, long time. Soriano did not have to be inserted into the game with a 5-0 score and no chance of a save opportunity, but somehow, it just seemed right that the guy who anchored the backend of the Rays success this year should get a front row seat to the celebration carnage.


 

 

And even before Home Plate Umpire Joe West got a chance to throw a vocal note to the final pitch thrown by Soriano past Baltimore Orioles hitter Adam Jones, the Rays dugout and Bullpen were half way to the pitcher’s mound. Celebration was in full force in St. Petersburg that night with veterans like Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford taking special moments to collect all the sights and sounds of this cherished event.


 

 

With a scheduled Team meeting at the pitcher’s mound, the entire team collected and embraced, high-fives all around brought the evening to its ultimate climax, but there was a second act yet to be played out upon the turf of Tropicana Field. As the Rays employees were herded into their own special corral just to the west of Home Plate to be a part of the celebration, the first bottle of champagne was open by Rays First Base Coach George Hendricks who then made sure Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who was being interviewed in full view of the entire stadium at the time, got the first taste of the bubbly.


 

 

Sweet nectar of the God’s streamed down Maddon’s fresh new Rays playoff cap and upon his Carolina Blue plaid lettered T-shirt to commemorate the moment. Just as quickly, players began to filter out of the Rays clubhouse holding their own bottles of Domaine ste Michelle champagne looking to celebrate and salute a moment 161 games in the making. B J Upton and Crawford were the first to rise to the top of the Rays dugout and spray the home crowd while others looked for family members or friends to celebrate this historic Rays moment.


 

 

 

Then slowly, but surely, the team made its triumphant march down the First Base sidelines with bottles in hand spraying the crowd and offering a few swigs to those special fans and friends assembled to bring a final end to the first primary goal of this Rays team. I took my usual photo space down by the Rays Bullpen secondary clubhouse entrance and began to shoot the impending celebration stampede heading my way. I had to put down my camera as player after player came by and let me have a small slice of that moment with them.


 

 

Willy Aybar immediately doused me with champagne right after I congratulated Upton and Grant Balfour and then I saw the biggest smile on the faces of both Evan Longoria and David Price who earlier that day were going through some personal damage control after some unusual comments by the pair.

 

 

I yelled at Longoria that “this was the first of five celebrations” and he looked at me and said” I truly believe that.” Price then shook my hand and I told him I was proud of his actions today and every day he has been here.


 

 

Suddenly, the players sea seemed to part for a moment and one of my oldest baseball friends on the team presented me with a ¾ full bottle of champagne and quickly he disappeared in the exuberant posse. I quickly took a long and deep swig of that nectar and immediately passed it to a friend who took her own dose of delightful bubbly and I thrust the bottle to the air. A few players saw this and also cheered and pointed to me as I took in this second celebration, and immediately remembered just how far this team had come in 2010.


 

 

How only one National Media guru had predicted the Rays to be in the post season at all, and a shot at getting the divine prize of another American League East title was still sitting on the mantle waiting for the Rays to claim it for themselves. That celebration will have to wait until Kansas City, but tonight we were toasting to the success and the finalization of putting the Red Sox out of our rearview mirrors knowing that the New York Yankees were the only foe in our sights of another A L East crown.


 

 

And there was something soothing about this second time. Something that did not have me nervous or pacing like in 2008. Maybe it is the pure fact we have been here before. That we have scaled the mountain in recent times and could again hike it with the ultimate result this time…winning it all. Tonight was the symbolic starting point to that journey. A celebratory exclamation point to the 2010 season, but the Rays still have some walking to do along this dark path.


 

 

Tomorrow might be the last home game, but the team still has one more goal in mind, one giant moment yet to savor and enjoy…One more celebration before the season ends. But that is for us to ponder tomorrow, tonight is the time to celebrate, enjoy and totally let the pressures of the last few weeks pour down your body like the droplets of champagne.

 

 

Now is the time to show the emotions and the feelings that have been bottled up waiting for this glorious moment. I think it is time for me to finish this bottle of champagne and then look to the heavens knowing this is the first of five celebrations.

WWJD-What Would Jeter Do?

  
 
J Meric/Getty Images

You want to wax poetic thoughts and bring the brain into the discussion on whether New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter did the right thing by overacting the call of being hit in a recent game against the Tampa Bay Rays instead of just tossing the bat and walking to first base. But was his actions any different than a few of the events that unfold every night upon that very same diamond? And even if his actions can be viewed as deceptive and dishonest, does it really tarnish his reputation, or just become a focal point for change?

Was Jeter’s actions so appalling that the media cyclone is still at full force about it, with most people outside the New York tri-state region condemning the actions. And is this one action going to be the cornerstone of discussions about expanding replay uses, or even taking away some of the human elements of the game from the Umpire crews. Already there are calls and jeers out nightly about the umpiring of game all around the MLB, but will a video replay system really provide instant gratification and change, or will that system be cursed after it “misses” an important play or doesn’t have a definite angle to overturn a decision.

But how was Jeter’s actions at the plate so much different than the phantom tag of a base runner, or a wide slide of the foot on the pivot for a double play? Why is it that a perfect professional acting job is being pushed to such a high level and cause for immediate action? It is actually really simple. People love to bring people down from their ivory towers.


Our society lives for getting the dirt and the low down dirty truth on people who have success in our World. That is why shows like “Access Hollywood”, Inside Edition” , “TMZ” and “Entertainment Tonight” get such high ratings at the 7-8 pm time frame. The average Joe or Jane get a small internal thrill out of seeing people with success being pulled down a level or two, and this is especially no different with sports figures. If Joe Schmoe had done what Mel Gibson has been portrayed to have done, would anyone outside his immediate family and friends even care?

If this had happened with Chicago White Sox catcher A J Pierzenski during a game it would be pegged as “A J being A J” and would be a story for about an hour. But this was the Captain of the 2009 World Champion Yankees who pulled of the ruse of the day. And for that reason, Jeter has been dragged through the coals and burned in effigy by some outside of the American League bubble.


All for doing what every player might have done in the same situation. Why do you think most hitters do not move their feet during breaking pitches? There is a probability that the ball will hit their toes and they get a free pass.

If a rookie on the Kansas City Royals or even San Diego Padres had attempted the same deceptive practice, it might have not even been broadcasted in the highlights more than twice outside of their local team marketplace. Because it was performed by an icon of truth, justice and the Yankee way, the teardown process started even before the Yankee Trainer examined Jeter near the Yankees batting circle.

But the video showed a smile on Jeter’s face which immediately started the Jeter demolition program on his character by what had just transpired on the field. That simple little upward smirking on his lips might have been the epic moment of ignition for the fire storm that is still raging in some circles. But the question still lingers, what did Jeter do differently than any of our own Tampa Bay Rays players would have done?

If Carlos Pena or Evan Longoria had a ball bounce off the knob of their bat and the Home Plate Umpire wanted to give them a base, do you think they would argue and complain they wanted to stand in the box? Even the best form of sportsmanship can sometimes border on trying to upstage the Umpire, which will get you basically earmarked for a while. If Jeter had turned to the Umpire and said it hit his bat after the Umpire had signaled for Jeter to take a walk….would a later inning retaliation from behind the plate have happened?

Gamesmanship and sportsmanship is a double edged sword that can get you undivided attention and unwanted fury thrust at you for a play that is genuinely considered routine by MLB players. I remember watching the movie “Eight Men Out” when they thought the “fix was in”, and both sportswriters kept a different scorecard and marked the plays they thought were “deceptive” or misplayed by the 1919 White Sox. I think if you kept a scorecard even today and marked down any close call or controversial play, you might have at least a half dozen by the end of the game.

Baseball is a human game. It is decided and played by humans with limited interruptions for review. And that is perfect for me. I personally do not have a problem with what Jeter did because I played Collegiate baseball, and I would have taken the base too. It is a bit sad that the episode has gotten so big now that it will not filter out of our consciousness for a few weeks.

But it is a subtle reminder that sometimes things are not as they appear during a game, and slight of hand or foot could produce multiple calls or situations. Some people live by the premise that “it is not cheating unless you get caught”. Well, in Jeter’s case it is all there in a small sampling video produced by the camera’s eye. Gamesmanship or just playing the game by its own rules, that is case before each of us right now. The best part of it is that it did not have a final piece in the games decision, but it did provide a lead for the Yankees.


In the end, you have to go back to that old Yankee saying I heard a few years back that mimicked a religious phrasing. WWJD…..What Would Jeter Do? In this case, we saw what Jeter would do. Now it is time for you to decide if you believe his actions warrant a change, a revocation or even just be considered a part of the fabric of the game. Honestly, I think most of us might have done the same, but that would be admitting we are human.

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