Results tagged ‘ Casey Kotchman ’

2011 is Almost in the Books, but What a Season to Remember.

Usually around this time of the year Tampa Bay Rays blogs begin to countdown their top moments of the season. It was a historic season by many aspects. The team posted their third trip in four seasons to the October party, but also we saw so many of the Rays post their own moments of wonder and amazement it has to have all of us giddy with emotion knowing there are less than 100 days before the fun all begins again for 2012.

We saw the emergence of “the Legend”( Sam Fuld), the formulation of the “Magic of Kotch” (Casey Kotchman) movement, and also saw the further maturation of the Rays top tier players David Price and Evan Longoria. We saw Sean Rodriguez move across the diamond to the 6-hole and show why he has always been a prized reward of the Scott Kazmir trade. Desmond Jennings came up and proved once and for all he is not a “Crawford”-clone, but has his own power, style and base-stealing magic.

Matt Joyce proved he had the stuff to hit left-handers, and Ben Zobrist again show the “Zorilla” style traits we all fell in love with during the 2008-2009 campaigns. From starters to Bullpen the Rays hurlers showed promise, unexpected magical moments and the durability of the staff graybeard as James Shields merited Cy Young consideration.

2011 was suppose to be a rebuilding season, but the only rebuilding the Rays did was on their reputation and solidarity to fixate on that post-season goal and drive towards it with vigor and vitality. This season will not go down in Rays history as the most productive on paper, but the 91 wins posted by this squad were 1 better than their rivals the Boston Red Sox and produced another champagne moment within Tropicana Field.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon instilled a “Find Another Way” mantra on his troops early this Spring and several players in the Rays fold responded by showing their abilities are on par with this league even if their MLB service clocks show minimal numbers. Jennings might have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt in 2011 he should be the heir apparent to the Rays lead-off hitter the Rays for 2012. Joyce finally got the at bats to prove he can be the Rays everyday right-fielder and run producer.

All five members of the Rays 2011 posted over 10+ victories with Shields leading the field with a 16-12 record. Not only did Shields lead his young Rays comrades in “W’s”, he also topped the squad in innings pitched (249.1 innings), strikeouts (225) and ERA (2.82 ). Filling in gaps within the season the Rays saw the promise of brilliance of Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and the late season relief pitching of Alex Torres.

Pitching definitely defined so many of these great Rays moments, but the bats did not remain silent during the carnage. We saw new closer Kyle Farnsworth struggle but post a career high with 25 saves, but we also saw the season toll takes it effect on one of the most intimidating players in the game. But the Rays Bullpen which featured 3 lefties for most of the season closed down offenses with RP Joel Peralta providing his own brand of set-up brilliance as well as posting 6 saves. From inning 1 to 9 this Rays team’s pitching tried to set the tone and bring home a win on a nightly basis.

Who will forget that Home Run hit by Longo to seal the Rays post-season against the Yankees on the season’s last day in extra frames about the same time ex-Rays LF Carl Crawford missed a dying quail in Baltimore to propel the Rays into the October party.

With that singled out win on the last day of the 2011 campaign, the Rays ended up posting their only winning September ever with a 16-10 record. It also secured the squad’s third straight 90+ win season, How pale does that starting 1-8 record look now in retrospect as corks exploded within the Trop’s confines and players and fans celebrated together.

Rookies earned their Rays letters this season at an alarming rate as Moore, Brandon Gomes,Torres, Jake McGee and Jeremy Hellickson combined to bring home 8 of those 16 September victories among them, further showing the promise and prosperity that should bring about more moments of celebration and excitement in 2012 for this talented 5-some. Each of these 5 hurlers definitely earned their Rays letterman’s sweaters complete with a shaving cream pie.

But even with the emergence of the rookies, some of the Rays players saw their season as constant reminders of the ever-changing MLB environment. Pitchers J P Howell and Andy Sonnanstine began the 2012 Spring Training with high expectations and a want to show their abilities for this team. Sonny ended up in Triple-A Durham for most of the season, and Howell who came on later in the season never seemed to find the right groove or positive upward momentum. But that is the joy of the New Year, resolutions can be made, and the past is just that…past.

The 2011 season has long been put into the record books, but 2011 is slowing winding down towards it’s last tick of the clock and should be remembered as a season of true fortitude, ever-present resilience and a combined team-wide confidence stemming from the veterans to rookies that this team could win on any given night.

But still if I had to pick a moment of clarity for the Rays, a scene that showed the drive, commitment and determination of this squad it was on the 180th day of the season, in the 12th inning Longoria proved once and for all he is the man to follow on this squad even before his 31st Home Run made human contact in the right field stands. So as we begin to enter the 15th season for the Rays, Sonny has found a new home with the Cubs, Maddon has darkened his hair a few shades.

Changes are still in store for this team before they cross the Port Charlotte, Florida threshold this Spring. Some players have solidified their spots on the roster while others have the Rays scouting and Coaching staff wearing out the erasers on their pencils trying to mesh and mold this squad to take that next step. Can’t wait for that crystal ball to fall in NYC soon because that will symbolize that 2012 is squarely upon us, and the memories of 2011 are just that…fond and precious memories.

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.

Thank You Just Doesn’t Seem Enough

On the eve of the day all of us collectively gather together and pronounce our blessing and “thanks” for all the bounty and goodness life has exposed to us in our past year. Like so many other families around this Nation and Tampa Bay, my parents kept that honored tradition of everyone gathered at the table giving “thanks” a loud for the blessing and good things that had transpired over those last 365 days.

I loved those moments, but as the Rays begin to venture into their 15th year of baseball in the major leagues, I have some unfinished business. People and events that warrant not only a “ shout out”, but a significant remembrance or high-5 at this time we want to express ourselves. So, hang on, this list might be a long one.

THANK YOU to the relentless men of the original Tampa Bay Baseball group who shed tears, fought away drowsiness and endured their long path until we got our storied franchise.

THANK YOU to the cities of Seattle, Oakland, Chicago, San Francisco and even the Minneapolis/St Paul Minnesota community that were stepping-stones as the eventual Tampa Bay expansion franchise made it path through the MLB minefields. These MLB teams all brought bits and pieces of themselves to the table as the Rays fashioned their early patchwork franchise.

THANK YOU to our first owner Vince Namoli and his crew who fought the tides and battles early on in this franchise, and still do. Our Captain at the helm since 2007, Stuart Sternberg who has secured a new path, a new identity and a new reason to rejoice being a member of the Rays Republic crew.

THANK YOU to Wilson Alvarez for that first delivery to the plate on March 31, 1998. It completed the completed the mission and set into motion that events that are still unfolding, and will for a long, long time.

THANK YOU to players like Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, Dwight Gooden, Johnny Damon, Matt Joyce, and St. Pete natives Casey Kotchman and Doug Waechter who came “home” to play in the Rays colors for Tampa Bay. Each of you have left footprints in the Rays historical sands that will stand the tests of time, and always be some of our fondest memories

THANK YOU to my friends within the Rays 4th Floor from BK to DJ Kitty’s master. Each of your actions have brought together different scenarios and changes to the Rays experience from the concerts, promotional goodies to the foundations of fan-based gatherings like the “Maddon’s Maniacs”.

THANK YOU to the men who have assembled in the Rays Bullpen over the past 14 seasons who have sat, spat and even chattered with me on their journey’s to and from the Rays “second Clubhouse” under the Rays Rightfield stands. From the gum-tossing and comedic activities of Andy Sonnanstine, to the Elvis-inspired guitar styling of Rusty Meacham, I am thankful for those moments.

THANK YOU to guys like Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland and his crew who let me see things behind-the scenes as their Pepsi vendor for years. Getting to see the Rays Clubhouse as it transformed, and even letting me take a piece of it home forever.

THANK YOU to the assembled hundreds who have graced the Rays roster sporting numbers from 1 (Joey Gathright, Akinori Iwamura, Miguel Cairo, Rey Sanchez, Antonio Perez, Sean Rodriguez) to 98 (Jae Seo) for your spent energies, blood and even heartaches as this franchise went through their growing pains and ultimate defeats and celebrations. I consider you all friends for life.

THANK YOU to the fans I have met, entertained and even fought verbally with our these years. Your opinions, insights and even diverse comments have molded these posts and even gave me more than a dozen reasons to question my own logic. From Jeff McKinney, Pat and Christine Manfredo to George, Charlie and the crew up in the 300’s, if we could bottle your optimism and energy for this team, we could light up the Tampa Bay region indefinitely.

THANK YOU to the 2008 Rays team who let me grace a moment within a team photo etching myself permanently into the fabric of the greatest Rays team to date. Still hard to imagine that the Rays, in their rookie attempt in the post season fought so hard and valiantly had an element like rain play such a critical role in their first World Series.

THANK YOU to the Rays scout and player development people like Mitch Lukevics, RJ Harrison who have been linchpin in the development of so many of the Rays past, present and future stars. Their devotion and work ethic knows no bounds, and their tireless emphasis on quality has made the Rays farm system a model of player development efficiency.

HANK YOU to the people of Tampa Bay no matter if you are a long-time Season Ticket holder or someone who graces the stands only a handful of games a season. Your support is needed and appreciated from those among you in the stands, on the field and assisting you with your baseball experience. The lifeblood of this team is the interaction and reaction of the community, and our return to future games.

Giving “thanks” at this time of the year for things outside of Tropicana Field are also very important. So my last THANK YOU has to go out to Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his cooking crew of Rays Coaches, Rays staff and employees who have yearly venture out into the Tampa Bay region for Maddon’s annual “Thanks-Mas” celebration.

But I would be remiss if I did not make one more “THANK YOU”. I have to also make a huge and humble shout out to you, the readers of this blog. Since our change over in May 2011, so many of you have stayed the course and returned while others have gone away or have not returned. I “THANK” each and every one of you reading this right now for your support, your time and your comments that have made my writing better since 2007.

But then again, you can never hear the words “Thank You” enough these days.

More Answers than Questions (Thank Goodness) This Rays Offseason


At the precise moment on Friday night as the St. Louis Cardinal’s barrage of champagne corks began their ascent towards the heavens, 29 other Major League Baseball franchises heard only the undeniable audible signal that announced the beginning of their own rebuilding and tweaking process. These MLB clubs did not watch in awe and admiration as Cardinal fans and players took their ceremonial baths in bubbly, that precise moment beckoned each and every club to begin to unveil and move towards their own dreams of celebrating in November, 2012.

As the city’s faithful began their dancing beneath that mighty arch, baseball vistas from Seattle to Miami began their own quests to become the club’s to do that same celebratory display in November, 2012. With the first cork came the realization that the 2011 MLB season is in the books, and 2012 is there for the taking.

This morning as the Sunburns off last night’s celebration haze, the Cardinal faithful are rushing to outlets throughout their city for their World Series title mementos while the rest of the MLB is sprinting to possibly gain a sizable lead in retaining, replacing or reconstructing their squads to have the same experience in 2012. The off season folder have been plucked from their secretive hiding places and already things are in the works both behind the scenes and in plain view. The off season for everyone in Major League Baseball has officially begun.

Here in Tampa Bay, the Rays should have an pretty abbreviated laundry list compared to their 2011 off season “wish list”. Still a few additional key components have to be found, possibly tweaked or invited to re-sign with the young club to give the Rays that same competitive fire and drive that send them from bystanders to Wild Card darlings. Key decisions have to be made about certain rotation members tenures with the team. Certain arbitration-eligible players may find themselves without a team, and a few unexpected free agents might get an Spring Training invite to become a part of the Rays 2012 nucleus.

Already there is both optimism and pessimistic waves and valleys growing within the Rays Republic. Should the Rays offer another contract to DH Johnny Damon with possibly a $7 guaranteed payday plus the same attendance bonuses? Or should the club enlist the outside help of another high priced bat-slinger to bring a bit of intimidation and power to the Rays universe?

Will a few slots open up in the Rays rotation, or will pitchers like Matt Moore and the “Alex” duo of Cobb and Torres be shipped back to the minor until mid-May to stammer their arbitration clocks? The Rays scouting system and front office is bound to have to endure more than a handful of stressful and thought provoking skull sessions to decide if the Tall Texan (Jeff Neimann) or WD-40 (Wade Davis) have better talent and potential than the pitching trifecta punching their way through the thin glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the St. Petersburg clubhouse.

Will the Rays catching corps rebound with authority both at the plate and behind it with John Jaso possibly showing the same power and ability that made him a Rays darling in 2010, or will a bevy of Rays farm hand backstops like Jose Lobaton, Robinson “Honeynut” Chirinos, Nevin Ashley or the powerful bat of Stephen Vogt make Jaso possibly a Rays “dead man walking?

The glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the clubhouse in St. Petersburg could be broken by several players of these players and more this coming Spring. Could veteran C Kelly Shoppach’s September and post season heroics gain him another shot behind the plate with the Rays, or will the Rays decline his 2012 club option? I have a feeling one of these catchers will not be with the Rays come the mid-February report date.

Then there will be an endless bevy of flowcharts and statistical evaluations and scouting critiques to decide if Reid Brignac is the heir apparent at shortstop, or if infield journeyman Sean Rodriguez will be given a chance to unseat Brignac who was the Rays 2011 Opening Day SS. Some have said S-Rod gives the team more power and a consistent bat in the line-up whereas Brignac might have the deeper range and potential coming into Spring Training 2012. With a hot Rays SS prospect like Hak-Ju Lee and INF Tim Beckham still pushing their way up the Rays farm ladder, the current shaky foundation of Brignac will open discussions towards possibly having Rodriguez get more time in the 6-slot with the future only a phone call away in Durham come late season.

Then there is the biggest hot spot of them all, who will man the First Base bag for the Rays in 2012? Most might think current 1B Casey Kotchman will get a nice bump in pay from his $ 750,000 2011 salary to re-sign with the Rays, but that is pure speculation until the contract is sign, sealed and delivered. Even with First Base power behemoths like Pujols, Fielder and possibly Votto dangling on the lines, the Rays will not have a salary deviations to land a high priced acquisition, and Kotchman could be a bargain both in his defense and in his renewed vigor at the plate.

Possibly we will see the end of the “Sonny” era with the Rays. Andy Sonnanstine spent most of 2011 in Triple-A, and being arbitration-eligible again in 2012, might have worn the Rays colors for the last time. RP J P Howell also will enter the fray again, possibly also with the Rays on the fence to his ability to rebound from his surgery and again be the needed force in the Rays Bullpen. The Rays for once seem set at “leftie specialist” as both Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos should end any discussions of the Rays needing another hurler in that category.

Kyle Farnsworth seems destined to again shore up the back end of the Rays Bullpen with a $ 3.3 million 2012 club option on the books. But could the late season elbow stiffness possibly have the Rays a bit anxious of a possible Deja Vu circa 2008 “Percival” scenario? More Bullpen concern might be to see if Joel Peralta might like to remain a Ray, possibly with a extended 2-year deal.

From top to bottom, all 40 of the Rays current roster members will undergo a evaluation soon. With free agents making visits to the Rays complex, and some packing their gloves for other vistas, this Rays off season has begun. Fortunately there are more answers than questions this season, but that will not hinder Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and his staff as they find ample offense and suitable replacements for a few departing Rays. The 2011 season is officially in the record books, now comes the real fun for Friedman and his staff to bring the brilliance.

If You Don’t Believe Now, Better Check Your Pulse



Words would just ruin the moment. Here is a photo essay of complied photos from the great AP photographers Mike Carlson / Chris O’Meara and Getty Images Photog  J. Meric  on the field and deep within the bowels of Tropicana Field  tonight. 




 

Last, but not least, the Home Run trot that began the celebration!



Time For the Rays to Go from “Feastmode” to “Beastmode”

Was just reading a tweet by a Toronto Blue Jays players (@JoeyBats19) who used a #beastmode hashtag in his posting about his team’s victory tonight. Starting to wonder if the Jays are in “beastmode”, does that mean the Tampa Bay Rays at home are in #Feastmode? Another tasty web byte taken at the expense of the lacking Rays offensive surge at Tropicana Field.

Not sure what has happened to the Rays offense that seemed to finally awaken in their finale in Oakland and stared their series in Seattle devouring the Mariner’s pitching. Starting to really think the Rays should keep their road routine intact, even within the confines of the Trop.

After a single day of rest, relax and rejuvenate after a wishy-washy 4-6 road trip, this Rays team firmly put their foot squarely again in the bucket after tonight’s defeat and took a unhealthy slide backwards seeming to have regained their lackluster 2011 “home” form.

Funny how in odd numbered years now the Rays offense can not keep up with their pitching and defense. Not “ha-ha” funny, but funny “strange”.

Then again, how can you not think #feastmode when the Rays had bases loaded tonight with no outs, and not a single run crosses the plate. Not going to point fingers at anyone in the the Rays lineup except for their lead-off hitter rookie outfielder Desmond Jennings who gets a solid “thumbs up” for putting some solid wood on the ball and ruining a potential no-hit bid by the Jays Rickey Romero.

I think Rays Manager Joe Maddon hit it squarely on the head when he tweeted tonight post-game “From a pitchers prospective I’m sure they can’t make a mistake. Have to keep pounding on that offense door until it opens up. ”

Problem is Joe, right now one is answering but a select few, and even they can carry the whole team on their shoulders for long.

It definitely puts a huge burden on your starting pitchers and relievers when they realize every single mistake or error is magnified and that they are being held accountable for every slight error in their appearances since the offense can’t mend and heal a small mistake.

After tonight’s loss, the Rays fall to 2 games under the .500 mark at home this season. 30 home games still to go, and this team will have to dig deep if they intend to again rule the Trop. The Rays Republic was loud and proud tonight, but even their noise and encouragement could not trim the bird’s wings.

This is a team the Rays have to beat. Not just for their place in the American League East, but because they have a more solid base at this moment. But maybe the tide has turned, maybe the Trade Deadline deals by the Jays brought them that final piece of the puzzle to drown the Rays in their own tank.

A series loss to the Jays will do some considerable damage to the Rays post season dreams as the Jays could pluck the Rays out of their third place stronghold by taking this series.

Doesn’t help that the Rays hold a flimsy 5-4 seasonal series lead over the Jays heading into tomorrow night’s contest, and all 9 games this season, and 12 of the last13 between these two rivals have been decided by 1 or 2 runs.

This fact tells you immediately that any offense in this series by either squad comes at a premium in the seasonal series against these two, and the Rays currently are only scoring 3.22 runs per game in Tropicana Field in their 50 home contests. Throwing more water on the Rays offensive fire against the Jays, coming into tonight’s game, the Rays have only hit .206 against the angry Canadian birds, setting up perfectly tonight’s dismal showcase.

It was suppose to be a notch for the home team as Rays southpaw ace David Price had a 8-0 record and a 1.99 ERA lifetime against Toronto. But tonight it did not look like vintage Price as he seemed to be more stressed and pressured to produce outs than in any other start this season.

It was almost as if Price knew that if this team doesn’t buckle down soon and turn their 24-26 record at home around, there might not be any meaningful game come late September. And that is a lot of poundage to put on a young pitcher’s shoulders who doesn’t know if he can rely on his offense to basil him out of a untimely mistake.

One great thing came out of the loss tonight, finally the Rays scored a run of support for Price, but it wasn’t enough. Consider this interesting run support fact, when the Rays score 3 runs or more with Price on the hill, they have turned out a 9-2 record. When they score 2 runs or less, the Rays have failed considerably with a 0-7 mark.

I find it incredibly interesting that the Rays top two pitchers Price (2.91) and James Shields (2.23) started the night as the only Rays starters to not get at least 3 runs per game support from their offense. Even if you pitch a 1-hit shutout, or a 10-hit 1-run game, if the offense doesn’t cross the plate, it is sure to post up in the loss column.

It is almost like this team left some of their soul, some of their new confidence sitting possibly on the tarmac at Sea-Tac airport before embarking on their flight home. This team is better than this. They have the offense weapons, the ability to produce runs and hits to manifest more offense, but again a loss at home sending the masses back into the dark wondering about this squad.

Make me believe Rays. Show me I am having acute tunnel vision and not fully grasping the big picture. Please prove me wrong during this 10-game home stand. I honestly feel the 2011 season is teetering towards the abyss without positive results. Make me eat my words. Time for this Rays team to transform their own current home “feastmode” into a Rays “beastmode”. Time to devour the birds.

Intriguing Assortment of Rays Choices for Trade Deadline Shoppers

Always a great guessing game trying to decipher correctly the needs, wants and desire of any of the 29 other MLB squads for anyone on the Tampa Bay Rays roster. Sure there might be a few GM’s just coming by doing some future window shopping or prod and nudge a bit of the merchandise, but is there really any top shelf Rays that will exit before the end of the Trade Deadline?

Can’t be easy time span for a player either with a large contract or even a “ walk” season under their belt until the clock strikes midnight on August 1st. Sure even then deals can still be hashed out, but the large majority of the transactions will be at least attempted in the next few working days. But even the best deal can be stricken down by the might pen of the M L B Commissioner Bud Selig if it seems unfair or has too much cash considerations.

So who among the 25 currently rostered Rays players do you think will garner the most attention? Who do you feel will be showcased now for departure in the off season? There are plenty of options, including a few that could either make or break the Rays post season surge. Then again, if the Rays do go into a tailspin over the next few series( Kansas City/Oakland/Toronto), they could instead purge before the last moments in July?

Even the Great Kreskin would have a difficult time trying to summarize some of the gossip and whispers currently doing the rounds in the MLB circle. With the emergence of SP Alex Cobb and Rays Manager Joe Maddon staying with a 6-man rotation. Could this be a precursor to a starter leaving town?

James Shields has reconstructed his delivery and career to a point some teams are eager to get a guy who can push out innings and provide strikeouts. Shields might have de-valued himself a tad during his recent 4-game tailspin.  With a team friendly $ 7 million dollar salary for 2012, Shields is still affordable and could be in the plastic bubble until this time in 2012.

Do the Rays instead sell high on SP Jeff Niemann while he is on his own hot streak? The Tall Texan might not garner a top tier return, but a few teams do have veterans who might walk after this season, and if they fit into the Rays mold….Niemann could be on a flight by August 1st.

With that in mind, why not put SP/RP Andy Sonnanstine on the top shelf to see who wanders by for a long look. Sonny has all the qualities a good team needs with MLB experience, stability and is a solid “company man”. He can be used in a variety of ways, and his tenure with the Rays might be on unstable ground with the emergence of Cobb and others pushing hard to break through the Triple-A ceiling to the majors. Sonny, like Niemann will not collect a bevy of returns, but his shelf life with the Rays might be getting near its expiration point.

Cesar Ramos is a southpaw, and with the Rays currently having 3 in their Bullpen, excess might not be the keys to the Rays Bullpen success. He might bring in a better haul than Sonny, but knowing the Rays and their love of the crafty lefties, he might stick. Still, the Rays would not offer up fellow relievers Jake McGee or J P Howell unless the return was something they could not refuse.

That brings us to the Rays field players. A few names possibly jump out at you, but one that I truly think is “off limits” is First Baseman Casey Kotchman. The job he has done since he cemented himself at First has been incredible. With only 1 error this season, Kotchman might be tied to this Rays team soon for the next 3 years. I have heard a few whispers in the hallways.

In the infield, with the thoughts also swirling that SS Reid Brignac is taking backward steps, this effectively closes any possible discussions on Elliot Johnson or Sean Rodriguez. Their stability will be needed now more than ever, and cutting loose even one of the pair would be disastrous unless an infield MLB caliber upgrade is received.

With the recent injuries surrounding the catching position, it might be a hidden blessing for C Kelly Shoppach. Still, the Rays could deal the often offensively maligned backstop for prospects, or maybe even a little cash. The market is not seeking Shoppach with gusto, but a back-up with experience heading into the stressful last months of the season and beyond can be a blessing to a young team.

That leaves the outfield has one of the biggest question marks with at least 4 possible Rays players getting a few glances and maybe trade discussions. Still think Desmond Jennings is here to be looked at by not only the Rays, but by 29 other teams. I really think the Rays have a lot of questions about Jennings, and he could be traded for the right package.

You might have thought I would thrust B J Upton in the top spot for trade discussion, but I truly think the Rays will keep Upton until the end of the 2011 season, then listen intently to offers. Upton might not be the most attentive player on the bases, but he plays solid defense and has trimmed his swing a bit to be more productive. Who in their right mind thought he would get over 15 Hrs in 2011?

Still, with the Washington Nationals eager for Upton, and with names like INF Ian Desmond or RP Drew Storen being put on the end of the pole, the Rays could bite and fill a future hole in their team with young replacements who are starting to show their MLB potentials. Still it is a long shot these names are included with Upton’s’. Then again, Friedman can deliver brilliance with Bull-hockey pucks.

The guy who might garner the most outfield attention doesn’t actually play there on a daily basis. Johnny Damon could bring a nice haul in return from a team on the cusp of contention, or wanting to stay hard in the race until the end. But is he worth the gamble of leaving with the type of offense and ability to help charge up this team with a single swing?

You can’t buy that kind of massive production on and off the field this time of year. But if the Rays are truly in a mood to upgrade now, Damon might be the perfect carrot to dangle in front of the MLB herd. There is another player who has emerged to a point his status might be at its zenith, and a downward spiral is definitely in the cards.

I think the world of the abilities and freestyle aerial moves of Sam Fuld, but I also know MLB is treating him more like a novelty act right now than a budding star or long producing commodity. Here is another Rays player who might be at the peak of his trade value right now. Combine his on-field heroics with his solid base running and you get a nice threat either off the bench or in the field heading into the post season.

There is still the possibilities the Rays just bluff and stay with their current format, but the more realistic approach is someone will go, changes will be made. Upton should be planted in CF until the off season, Shields even though he turns 30 in December is a great anchor for this Rays rotation.

That being said, Sonny and Niemann could be on the “watch list” and be the two pitchers most likely to exit stage left. Shoppach could still be dealt even with the Rays catching corp down to their bare knuckles. This is one part of the Rays farm system that seems loaded for bear, and could endure a spell without remorse.

Jennings is the Rays top field prospect, and I have a sneaking feeling his up-coming promotion to “The Show” has a hidden agenda. Exposing Jennings to MLB caliber pitching with 10 days left could persuade someone to take a risk or gamble on a guy who might not be considered the best outfielder even on his Triple-A squad. But if the Rays do keep Jennings, Upton better look over his shoulder later in the season.

Fuld might be safe, but if his average goes South along with his “Legend”, his time and days will be numbered. Damon is the best Rays commodity right now and might be plucked. But Friedman will not trade him for a “rental” player or even a marginal player or prospects. When you have a guy who is putting up consistent numbers like Damon, the price tag has a few zeros in it, even for the short term.

This is the time of the year where guessing, predictions and even off-the-cuff remarks come with a glance from the baseball world. Teams want to chuck, acquire and sometimes streamline for different reasons. The only reasons any of these players might be plucked off the Rays roster is if this team truly thinks they have the horses for a playoff run.

Upgrading by trading would be the only reason right now the Rays would open their doors for change. 

The Real Rays Spring Battles are in the Left Side Trenches

 

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One of the biggest battles this Spring has not materialized out of the Bullpen situation, but has surfaced in the grass and clay just beyond the pitching mound. Infield spots once thought to be solidified by returning member of the Rays or their farm system now have a few outsiders eager to take a roster spot.

Around the diamond, the only positions that seem to have any stability long range heading into the final weeks of the Spring is the right side of the infield. We all know that third base is the kingdom of Longoria, but not until recently when Reid Brignac set foot in the clay at the shortstop position did we know just how firmly he was going to plant his feet into that surface.


Brignac has basically closed the door to anyone else trying to take his spot this Spring, bolstered by an impressive .533 Batting Average and a outstanding .667 Slugging Percentage. But some have also whispered it has only been 6 games, and “Briggy Baseball” should not be handed the keys yet to the Rays shortstop job. But we forget this is the spot Brignac has been groomed for since he hit the Rays farm system, and his exuberance and stellar defensive play has only solidified that thinking.


So that leave the Second Base and First base slots where the competition might not be fierce for a starting nod, but also for that coveted “jack of all trades” every teams needs during the season. And here is where the competition really heats up.


AqkbOpJ6.jpgSure Sean Rodriguez, who might be anointed the Rays Second Baseman by the end of Spring camp has done nothing to diminish his claim to the spot, but Elliot Johnson and Felix Lopez will definitely get their own chances to rattle the cages a few times before it is all said and done this Spring.


Rodriguez has stayed in his usual Rays Spring zone hitting .444 in his limited appearances, but has also been m ore than adequate with stellar defense. Johnson has been the one guy you might have been rooting for to finally get his chance to again grace the Rays roster. Most might not remember his short stint with the Rays in 2008, but the Rays Triple-A fixture is more than apt to finally plant his feet firmly in the clay of the Trop.


But Johnson has not materialized in 2011 so far like he has dominated in recent years, In 2011, he has appeared in 6 games going 0-10 with a .230 OBP. Not the type of numbers you want from someone finally getting a chance to gain a Opening Day slot. His 2011 number pale in comparison to his 2009 Spring that boasted a .981 OPS to go along with a .309 average with 3 HR and 7 RBIs. Johnson will need to hit a massive streak in the coming weeks to stave off the advances of Lopez.


Here is where it gets tricky. Lopez has the ability and the pedigree to take the utility job and possibly get some extended play in the infield for the Rays in 2011. And if his first few weeks of the Spring are any indication, Lopez might just end Johnson’s chances in the next week or two just by staying consistent.



c4s_lopez030811_165555c.jpgLopez has put up a .429 in 12 games including a tie with catcher Robinson Chirinos for the second highest hit total (9 hits) on the Rays this Spring. Combine that with Lopez getting some extensive time at Third Base, possibly for a buffer to give Longoria a chance to DH a bit more in 2011. Lopez currently has done everything right for the Rays, including a perfect 1.000 Fielding Percentage in his 28 innings of work.


Right now Lopez is firmly in the driver’s seat to taking the Rays utility position, but Johnson will definitely have something say about it before the March 31st Spring finale in Tropicana Field. But just to the left of the Utility man war might be one of the most interesting fight this Spring. First Base was a sore spot for the Rays with the departure of the offense and defense of Carlos Pena to the Chicago Cubs. Most thought Ben Zobrist might get a bevy of the chances this Spring to contend for that spot, but it has been a two horse race so far with slugger Dan Johnson showing his glove is also pretty good.



g2e22e2000000000000dd17429124703d6ee651020f44c48c1f2f2d4056.jpgJohnson has started out this Spring with a mission to show he has the defensive chop to take the everyday 1B spot for the Rays, even with a defensive specialist like veteran Casey Kotchman on his heels. Defensively it has been a neck and neck race here with each showing brilliance and a knack for being in the right place this Spring.


Even though Kotchman has had the only error this Spring between the two, their innings of work at First suggests that Johnson who has logged 42 innings at First this Spring might have a slight edge on the defensive side. Even though Kotchman has also appeared in 11 games and manned the bag for 51 innings, the Total chances between Johnson (39) and Kotchman (45) suggest this is definitely a two horse race with both possibly getting a roster spot.


Currently on the offensive side of the equation, it is Johnson’s starting nod to lose right now. Even though Johnson has 4 extra base hits, including 2 Hrs recently against the Phillies, his average is dipped even below the Pena line (.160). That might be a concern for Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his staff, but Johnson also has a .222 OBP, which might show a tendency to eye the ball more at the plate than Kotchman.



2232903.jpgStill, Kotchman right now might have the edge on offense, but it is more based on average than a slugger’s mentality. Kotchman’s .393 Batting Average combined with a .414 OBP suggests he is seeing the ball well this Spring. And with a 4 doubles this Spring, maybe Kotchman might be a great match-up for Maddon’s usual line-up maddness when he needs a guy at the plate for average instead of for power.


This brings up the idea that both could possibly make the team, but that might be stretching it a bit. With the Rays possibly carrying 12 pitchers, that leaves 13 rosters spots for the fielding side of the ball. Pencil in Longoria, Jaso, possibly Shoppach, Ramirez, Damon, Brignac, Rodriguez,Upton, Joyce, and Zobrist and possibly Justin Ruggiano or Sam Fuld fighting it out for the fifth outfielder spot .


Suddenly you have only 2 viable open Rays roster slots for the four guys currently fighting it out on the left side of the infield. The Rays do have the luxury of having Zobrist also playing outfield, which could jettison both Ruggiano and Fuld possibly to the minors or being traded. That would leave three spots (without a change in the 12-man pitching staff) with one lone player in the foursome coming up with the short straw.

If you want to see intense competition on the Rays over the next three weeks, do not look to the Bullpen, look to the left side of the infield. Four guys will be fighting for their MLB livelihoods over the next few weeks with each vaulting and falling in their secure spots as the games become fewer. Johnson and Kotchman could both gain roster spots based on their collective offense and defensive might, but the Johnson and Lopez battle is far from over……Let the real competition begin……Now!

 

 

Andrew Friedman: Reloading the Rays, Not Rebuilding.

 

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I really do not know how Tampa Bay Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman keeps doing it. For a long span of this off season it was almost as if the Rays entire front office staff closed their doors until almost January.

It was if the Rays staff wanted to sit there lurking as the MLB Free Agent market set its ceilings and cellars for positional and pitching. Then like a top of the food chain predator, Friedman awoke from his Rip Van Winkle slumber and proceeded to hand pick his replacement fruit from the still bountiful MLB player trees.

Evan as other free agents started getting plucked with vigor from the tree by other teams in haste, Friedman acted more like a customer in the produce aisle thumping the exterior of players like a ripe melon. His first move of the off season Friedman went out and signed promising ex-Nationals right-hand reliever Joel Peralta on December 17,2010 to help fill the first piece of the Rays Bullpen overhaul.

In his now classic under a cloak of secrecy Rays style, Friedman was also concluding one trade deal with the San Diego Padres to ship one of his big ticket arbitration eligible Jason Bartlett on the same day as the Peralta singing. Still lurking in the darkness was a thunderous trade of Rays starter Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs on January 8, 2011. Friedman made out like a bandit on both trades bringing back a bountiful treasure trove of both MLB quality players, plus some high caliber prospects that will help reload the Rays farm system for the next Rays reload.

The trades of his two highest dollar arbitration eligible players helped Friedman free up just over $ 10 million to pursue some big fish for other Rays glaring holes in their Bullpen, plus a big bat to protect Evan Longoria in the Rays line-up. But the Tampa Bay sun was shining bright on Friedman as two of his other arbitration eligible players Centerfielder B J Upton and reliever Andy Sonnanstine both signed one year contracts freeing up Friedman from any possible arbitration hearing duty this Spring.

Just as you thought Friedman might take a deep breath and relax for a brief moment, Friedman went out and got his intimidating back-end of the Bullpen reliever in RHP Kyle Farnsworth on January 15. Friedman then possibly made a few decoy moves in signing complimentary pieces RHP Dirk Hayhurst and 2B Daniel Mayora to minor league deals with a Spring Training Invites.

Then in Friedman style, just when you thought that the MLB cupboard was starting to become mighty bare, Friedman signs Tampa Bay native and defensive First Baseman Casey Kotchman to a minor league deal. The Kotchman deal might have been another Friedman diversion as his next deal had some around the MLB wondering if the Rays were in fact rebuilding or just simply reloading.

One day after Kotchman signed, the Rays announce their biggest off season signing of the season, a duo signing of Lf/DH Manny Ramirez and LF/DH Johnny Damon to one year contracts that are very team friendly. Ramirez and Damon’s combined salaries will cost the Rays around $ 7.25 million (not including Damon’s attendance incentives), which still is only $ 1.75 million LESS than the Rays paid Pat Burrell for his services through mid-May 2010.

If you even include Farnsworth’s $ 3 million base salary (not including games finished incentives), the three signings will sneak just under the projected off season arbitration figures of traded players Bartlett and Garza ( $ 10.5 million). Only Friedman could trade away two important cogs of the Rays roster and get so much back in return, plus prospects who will help keep the Rays payroll in check for a long time.

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But that is the magic of Friedman. Somehow he can come into a do-or-die cost-cutting scenario with only a bale of wheat or hay and come out in the end spinning a strand of thin gold into a tight ball. You have to seriously wonder just how savvy and creative Friedman was as an investment banker if he can do all of this with a significantly reduced Rays payroll (proposed ceiling between $40-50 million).

Pull up the Rays 40-man roster going into Spring Training, including their under the radar Spring Training Invites. On February 15, 2011 when Rays pitchers and catchers begin their first 2011 workouts, it will be just over 60 days since Friedman’s first signing of Peralta. Just think about the level of talent already assembled, and we still have over 10 days for Friedman to still daze and confuse us before that first workout.

Not since that first Rays blunder under Friedman’s watch when the Rays tried to sneak Josh Hamilton through the Rule 5 Draft, has Friedman toughened up and taken a firm stand that he will never be surprised like that again. Deal for deal, salary for salary, I truly think Friedman might have gotten the most money back on his entire player investments since taking the Rays reins.

Besides the tarnish of the Burrell debacle, there is nothing but shine to Friedman’s trade and Free Agent moves. Since his emergence on the MLB scene, Friedman has been simply golden. Gifted with a crack Scouting Department, piles and piles of correlated data and visuals, plus an eye for talent, Friedman has made the Rays a role model for team competing on a shoestring budget.

But do not be surprised if in the next 10 days, before February 15th if Friedman doesn’t pull another off-the-cuff deal that seemed to come out of nowhere. But then again, that is okay, Friedman is not rebuilding the Rays, he is just helping them reload

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.

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