Results tagged ‘ Cesar Ramos ’

Peering Through the Rays Looking Glass- Hurlers

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Rays “Man about the Stands” Todd Kalas has informed us all that with a Kansas City or Oakland win tonight (9/19/14), the Rays will be mathematically eliminated from any more post season banter in 2014.

With that in mind, it is time for the second installment of “Peering through the Rays Looking Glass” and focus today on the Rays pitching corps for 2015.

057Going into the spring of 2015 this has to be one of the most secure spots within the Rays organization, but there are some changes that could, should or will happen before the boys again unpack their gear in Port Charlotte in February 2015.

So let’s start with the obvious first here. The Rays rotation might need a few tweaks, but there also might be an omission or deletion before the team again assembles for that yearly pre-Spring pep talk by Joe Ma on the green grass.

I definitely have been hearing great things on the progress of Matt Moore in his rehab and come spring, I consider him 1-L on the Rays starting rotation chart. Sure that might seem funny to some, but has been the case here in Tampa Bay for some time, there are 2 starters who deserve that # 1 position heading into 2015.

thI1Y37WIMOf course I have already assigned one half of that equation to Moore, and it only seem appropriate and totally earned that Alex Cobb will be the Rays 1-R or top right-handed option heading into next season. I’m not going to attach either to a #1 or #2 slot basically because I’m not sure yet which kind of order the Rays Front Office and Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey envision to be the best fit.

That being said, these two names will be at the top of the chart no matter the decision, and that decision will also fully decide the 3-5 slots also.

Just as the Rays #1 and #2  Rays pitching matchups are probably months away from being in some sort of concrete mode, the Rays # 3 and #4 spots might also be a total guess work right now and are totally interchangeable at this moment.

But even with that in mind, Rays left-hander Drew Smyly and Chris Archer should definitely be more than penciled in as the Rays middle rotation guys with either taking the #3 or #4 slot possibly based on a L-R-L-R rotation mix or Maddon could go L-R-R-L giving the Rays possibly a southpaw in every series being blanketed by a tough right-hander.

thILL9QYITEven though Jake Odorizzi produced a very respectable 2014 season and popped out great starts throughout 2004, I suspect he will face a nice dose of competition this spring to hold onto the Rays 5th rotation spot.  I can easily imagine Merrill Kelly, Alex Colome and possibly a veteran being signed by the Rays on the cheap to battle it out in spring training for this last rotation slot.

As Maddon always says, “Pitching sets the tone” again in 2015 on just how far or how low the Rays end up early or late in the American League East standings.

You might notice I did not include Jeremy Hellickson this rotation list. I think that this winter the Rays will definitely offer him up as a trade piece not only because he seems a bit injury prone, but because his salary is only going to rise and he might not be the solid investment for the Rays he was just 2 seasons ago. I would not be surprised if a change of scenery sparks Hellboy back into a frenzy quite possibly to the heights experienced by former Rays P Scott Kazmir this year in Oakland.

thG080DJ9VUnlike Price, Hellboy has not seen his stock rise in value the last few years and it might be time for the Rays to let Hellickson try another vista and re-establish himself.

Some have labeled 2014 a disaster year for the Rays because of their less than .500 overall record and their lack of offensive excellence, but the Rays found out in 2014 that this young staff will step up, will compete and will produce wins even with a less than desired run support by the field players.

But there is also another set of hurlers who will have a say in 2015 and just how far and fast the Rays can rebound again to regain their winning ways.

Leftie Jake McGee has more than shown us in 2014 that he has the right stuff to be our last line of defense, but some of the other pieces of the Rays Bullpen puzzle might have bigger question marks after lackluster 2014 seasons.

Bruce Boxberger’s pitching arm definitely will get him another shot in 2015 to stay at the M L B level, and if he can stay consistent, his spot on the Rays roster can only grow more secure with each great outing.

th02DTSMX8Even though Grant Balfour has another year on his contract with the Rays, he might be a nice piece of bait to wiggle out there for a team that needs a veteran closer who never lets his baseball fires burn out. I like Balfour and his fire, but the money spent on him could be used to bring in 2 relief pieces and with a team that will be pinching pennies ‘til they scream, Balfour is  a cautiously expendable commodity that could be in high demand somewhere else this winter.

You might think the Rays might have an easy decision to make this winter on Joel Peralta, who has been a fine set-up piece for the team. Starting this winter, the Rays hold 3 different club options on Joel in 2015-17. I do not see Peralta going anywhere, but depending on the size of cuts the team will have to make on payroll heading into 2015, his worth to the Rays teeters more on the good side than bad.

thXVN39TTLAlex Colome, who is now out of minor league options could be key pieces to any 2015 realignment of the Rays bullpen. Colome could easily be either the Rays 5th starter, spot starter or just inherit the long reliever slot in the bullpen. Colome has at least 2 more starts in the Rays rotation in 2014, but an impressive 2015 spring could hoist his name easily as a 5th slot contender.

With young relievers like Steve Getz, Brandon Gomes, Jeff Beliveau, Cesar Ramos, Kirby Yate and even C J Riefenhauser getting time this year to impress the Rays in extended looks and chances in 2015, one of the Rays next waves of players being selected from the minors might have a definite reliever flavor.

Some might think the name of the Rays Reliever of the Year and current Durham Bulls closer Adam Liberatore should be pushed onto this list. Sure he will get a spring major league camp invite, but the Rays still  have a hand full of minor league options on him and could bring him in more for seasoning and extended work with the M L B staff than promote him before quite possibly September 2015 or a more realistically during  2016.

248An extended injury to McGee before 2016 could escalate his chances to gain a quicker M L B chance to impress during the regular season.

Sure the Rays will sign a few veteran and even productive name to spring camp, but I do see the Rays current young and hungry relievers fighting them off tooth and nail to be a part of the Rays machine come late March 2015.

Each of the above relievers should get a chance in the latter stages of 2014 to make impressions and even get a longer look this upcoming spring in the major league camp and it would not surprise me if more than 3 of them break camp with a 25-man secured spot.

The pure unadulterated strength of the Rays heading into 2015 is their great pitching and the depth of said commodity in their farm system.

th37PB61VFThis is a time where the Rays could find more than a few intricate pieces of their 2015 puzzle with very affordable and team controlled contracts that could help the team survive and thrive through the lower payroll expectation of 2015.

It is possible the team might look to shave $20-30 million this winter and if that does come to reality, Hellickson, Balfour and quite possibly Peralta might be the viable and most costly options that get more than a few long and hard looks as to their worth in the Rays pitching corps.

 

 

Bell Unfortunately Clanged as a Ray

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On paper the December 2013 trade that brought Heath Bell from the desert to the Gulf coast seemed like a nice addition of Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen depth and a nice sprinkling of leadership. It seemed like a nice added relief corps bonus to insert perfectly between Joel Peralta and Grant Balfour…that is on paper.

download (5)Today the Rays did something that could cost them mega bucks for their thrifty franchise, the designated Bell for assignment and if they cannot find another abode for Bell in 2014, the result could be a major blow to any late season help being brought onto the Rays roster.

Bell had a predetermined salary for 2014 of $ 9 million before even pulling on a Ray’s spring jersey, and even with the magical work of financial warlock aka Rays VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman, the team is still on the hook for around $5.5 million.

This move smell incredibly like a past Rays decision to shed a player who not only could not live up to his potential, but did not seem to have enough in the tank to provide a possible upside to keeping him on the 25-man roster. Oh, you mean you do not remember the mid-May slashing of offensively anemic Pat Burrell? How soon we forget a DH who hit only .202 with 2 HR and 13 RBIs over his first 24 games back in 2010.

Bell’s Designation  For Assignment today unfortunately has the same odor to it. A guy who was counted on for stability and consistency somehow fell into the “Pat the Bat” funk-a-delic whirling dervish and found himself sucked out of a promising M L B clubhouse while on a road trip….double whammy.

downloadBell appeared in a now unlucky 13 games for the Rays amassing a 1-1 record and a highly elevated 7.27 ERA for the team. In a completely ironic twist, Bell had been used in both games of the Rays current series with the New York Yankees and was rewarded with his first win since August 27, 2013 when he was with the Arizona Diamondbacks.  

Want to know just how much the Rays were counting on Bell this season for consistency and long relief appearances? 4 times already in 2014 Bell had thrown 40 or more pitches in an appearance and with Cesar Ramos doing some short-term starting assignments, the team was counting heavily on Bell to take the long reliever role and stress off the Rays Bullpen until Ramos could return to his familiar role.

Bell just didn’t seem to provide the needed stability even though he was on  a roll to surpass his previous long-relief record of 7 appearances with 40 or more pitches set back in 2006 when he was with the San Diego Padres. Maybe another vital nail in the coffin of Bell was the pure fact he had allowed at least a run in 7 of his last 9 trips to the mound with an exclamation point last night surrendering 3 runs on 28 pitches in his late inning of work.

Sure Bell did not provide the Yankees initial runs scored that sunk the Rays chances on Saturday night, but his 3 runs given up during his last Rays appearance definitely added enough weight to tip the Rays scales of not seeing him as a viable option for the rest of the season.

images (3)Maybe Bell’s April 24th gig when he gave up at least 5 runs during an outing sent warning bells chiming for the Rays. Possibly the 3-run shot given up to the Twins unknown Aaron Hicks in that appearance might have shown a pure weak spot in Bell’s arsenal that he could again give up double digit HR in consecutive seasons ( he gave up 12 in 2013). Even though during that same game Bell experienced for only the second time in his career entering a contest in the 5th inning.

I think the final ring tolled for Bell in the fact entering Saturday’s game he was tied for second among American League relievers with 21 hits allowed and had right-handers hitting .375 against him compared to his .244 mark set in 2013.  Bell ended up giving up 3 more hits on Saturday for an even 2 dozen (24 over 17.1 innings of work.  Over the last 7 days Bell has appeared 5 times, thrown for 5.1 innings and seem his WHIP explode upwards( 2.09) with a 3 walk/4 K split over that span.    

Some might see my display of Bell’s stats as a bit harsh, but this is a player who has been given the task of protecting leads, admonishing scoring chances and keep his team in a game with his pitching. Bell has not lived up to that task in my opinion for the Rays.

download (2)Ultimately in my eyes, and it seems the Rays, Bell has not only faltered, but slide a bit down the scale as a trusted reliever on this team.

Trust me, I know from talking to some of the Bullpen guys at times that being an M L B reliever is a thankless job at times that requires a Teflon shield and a mind healthy game-to-game case of amnesia, but Bell did not answer the call and so his designation was not unwarranted, but was still alarming until you look deeper into the abyss at his 2014 stats. The Rays will have 10 days to try and trade Bell, waive or release him outright.

Ramos and his Versatility Deserves a Chance at Rays 5th Slot.

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Some would say throwing your ball cap into a ring with several other MLB caliber players is a “no-win” situation. That in doing so you might seem a bit of unsure of your part in the Tampa Bay Rays brain trusts ultimate plans for you, but I disagree with that train of thought.

I actually think the decision reached by southpaw reliever Cesar Ramos is not only bold but a calculated move and shows to the men who make these kind of decisions that he is willing to do whatever is necessary to put his name on a Rays 25-man spot come Opening Day, even if it means abandoning their pre-set agenda of him being the long guy out of the Rays Bullpen.

cr2It also shows to me Ramos wants to garner the same type of versatility and game situational thought process that makes a utility player like Sean Rodriguez an invaluable piece of the Rays game day puzzle. By Ramos going back and trying to stretch himself out again as a starter, it could give the Rays not only another leftie starter, it could ultimately solidify his slot as the Rays long innings eater out of the Pen as well as a spot starter without having to bring someone in from Triple-A Durham in an emergency scenario.

Making yourself an invaluable piece of the Rays machinery has led to a longer Rays tenure for Rodriguez, and it only seems natural for Ramos to also want to secure additional roles or situational ideas with his name imprinted upon Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s mind.  By wanting to take a chance on the Rays 5th rotation spot, even in the short term until Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson come back sometime in late May, Ramos is showing his versatility, willingness to take on challenges as well as show he wants the ball every 5th day this season.

Sure it might only be a gig for 7-8 starts then back into the Bullpen frame of mind, but it can project not only the confidence he has in his pitches, but if the Rays did elect to hand the ball to Ramos, it shows they too understand the commitment whether long term or short is one the leftie would accept again at a moment’s notice.

cr3And that kind of guy down in the Bullpen is needed. You never know when a guy might stiffen up, feel a tweak or just doesn’t have his stuff on a given day and with the Rays confident in Ramos, it makes the decision not only easier, but gives them confidence immediately Ramos will rise to the occasion and take the ball.

A great comparison to what Ramos is trying to achieve is the situation that fell to Andy Sonnanstine late in his Rays tenure.  Sonny was put into the Bullpen with the knowledge he not only has “starter’s stuff” in the way of preparation and stamina, but had the reliever’s mentality at the same time to get the job done in the least amount of pitches, with the least amount of damage until the Bullpen took over the late innings.

And not surprising today during his first Spring Training outing, Ramos survived 2.2 innings of work but did give up 4 hits and 2 runs while fellow 5th spot contenders Eric Bedard got the victory and Jake Odorizzi got his first ever M L B save. Still Ramos faced 12 batters and was added by a sniper-like throw by Evan Longoria to get shifty pinstripe Brett Gardner who was trying to stretch his single to left field into a double at Second Base.

Some might instantly say Ramos was lucky, but every M L B starter knows a little “luck” is more than welcomed during an outing.

cr4I kind of like the idea of Ramos fighting for the 5th rotation slot even if it might be on an interim and abbreviated basis. It puts another usable pitching cog into Maddon’s arsenal as well as doesn’t use up a minor league option on one of the Rays triple-A stars trying to bang their way into the majors. Now it’s up to Maddon and his brain trust to decide if Ramos, who is out of minor league options is their 5th guy until Hellickson hit the mound again, or remains in their long reliever role from this point on this Spring.

Hopefully Ramos will get a few more chances to not only change the minds of Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and Maddon, but endear himself to all of us as not only Evan Longoria’s old roommate at Long Beach State, but as the versatile guy is truly is……..I hope Ramos get the shot because versatility especially in the pitching area is something special and should be rewarded. 

Tasty 2014 Rays Media Guide Tidbits: Rays Bullpen

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As I have mentioned before, the day I get to check out the Tampa Bay Rays new edition of their Media Guide is a day filled with adventure, intrigue and maybe even a little whimsical fun. Glancing over the awesome moments of our brood of baseball buddies always bring to light moment uncaught by our eyes and ears in the stands and produce stats and figures we never really realized for our guys who battle upon the turf.

ku-xlargeSo I decided to stay in the hurler mode today for my 2nd installment of the special career notes and humanitarian efforts of our firemen down on the First Base line who we affectionately know as the Bullpen. Depending on the type of relief corps your team possesses, they can either give you a warm feeling or outright panic when a starter begins to show fatigue.

Lucky for us here in Tampa Bay our relievers have shown more pluses than minuses over the last few season, but glitches do happen. Also we do not know yet if the Rays will carry 11 or 12 pitchers going into the season, so I’ll just take a coin flip and list the 6 guys I think might comprise the ‘Pen and a few names to possibly watch this spring.

th (6)Jake McGee: Jake and his wife Morgan went a bit “Italiano” this past November visiting Venice, Milan and George Clooney’s hangout Lake Como. During Christmas Eve this past year, Jake and his wife also visited local foster families in Reno, Nevada and provided the kids with Christmas gifts.

McGee is 2013 ranked second in the M L B among reliever southpaws with an average fastball velocity of 96.3 mph. The mark was the highest among American League leftie relievers. McGee also posted up second among all M L B relievers with throwing a fastball on 93 percent of his pitches. Makes sense McGee has been working on a few additional pitches this off-season to keep hitters guessing in 2014.

th (7)Brandon Gomes: Took the LSAT after graduating from Tulane and if he wasn’t playing professional baseball, Gomes would have attended Law School and pursued a career in law or finance.

Even though Gomes only appeared 26 times in 2013 due to a right lat. Strain which sidelined him for 88 games, he did go 3-1 last season and split his season almost down the middle 14 games before/ 12 games after returning) between his injury stint. Could be a pitcher to watch this spring as he wants to show the Rays he is durable and consistent.

th (8)Cesar Ramos: He learned English at a bilingual preschool in Los Angeles, Calif. His parents immigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico 34 years ago seeking a better opportunity for their family. Cesar also has sister named Elena.

16 of Ramos 47 appearances in 2013 were 2 innings or longer which was the 4th highest number in the American League and most by a Rays reliever since J P Howell’s 23 in 2008. Ramos also secured his first M L B save after throwing 3 scoreless innings in Cleveland on May 31st.

th (9)Joel Peralta: Considered quitting baseball in 2002 following a demotion from Double-A Arkansas to Class-A Cedar Rapids while with the Angels. His older brother Frank persuaded him to stick with it and Joel responded by going 5-0 with 21 saves and a .95 ERA with the Kernels (THANKS Frank!).

Peralta led the majors in 2013 with 80 relief appearances, which puts in 2nd overall in Rays history behind Randy Choate (85 in 2010). It was Peralta’s 3rd straight season of 70+ appearances (227 over 3 seasons) and the cherry on top is Peralta led all M L B relievers with 41 Holds in 2013.

Rays-Heath-Bell-2014-600x337Heath Bell: Who knew the All-Star closer was also such a force in the kitchen? Bell made 24 gingerbread houses from scratch for his kids school. Heath hopes to meet Duffy, the Ace of Cakes this year when the Rays travel to Baltimore and would like to compete on the Food Network pastry competition show Sweet Genius someday.

Pitched in 69 games last season for the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was his 7th consecutive season of 60+ appearances. Ranked 3rd among M L B closers in saves (166) over the last 5 seasons. With Mariano Rivera now retired, only Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon (173) remains in contention for the overall top spot.

th (10)Grant Balfour:  Most people might not know Grant’s father after completing his rugby career became a leader in developing and promoting Australian baseball and served as the G M of the Sydney Blue Sox before retiring last August.

Grant saved a career high 38 games last season with only 3 blown saves. Over his last 24 appearances in 2013, Balfour had a 92.7 percent save percentage, 4th best in the AL and in A’s team history. He beat out his own 92.4 percent mark set in 2012 for the 4th spot. Converted 62 of 67 (92.5 %) save chances over the past 2 seasons.

th (11)Juan Carlos Oviedo:  He might be one of the biggest question marks this spring in regards to the Bullpen. The team took a gamble on 2013 by signing him while he was rehabbing after a Tommy John’s surgery. They released him in the off-season, but quickly resigned him and invited him to spring camp. If healthy and firing on all cylinders this spring, could be a factor in the team’s Bullpen makeup and possibly send someone above away in a late spring trade.

Oviedo logged 92 saves from 2009-11. That total was 8th best in the M L B at that time and ranked him 3rd on the Miami Marlins all-time save list.

His last time pitching in a professional games was July 14, 2013 while with the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs. 

pageAs always, do not discount the names of Jeff Beliveau, Brad Boxberger, C J Riefenhauser, Josh Lueke or even Kirby Yates of not making noise in supplanting one of the above pitchers for a spot on the Rays 25-man roster. Even if none of these names make the final roster before Opening Day, their names will again be heard possibly at some point within Tropicana Field in 2014.

Also worth circling might be the name of Erik Bedard who might have a chance to fill the Rays long reliever role with their 2013 hurler. Alex Torres traded in the off-season. Bedard could also be a great fill-in starter in-house option for the Rays if he were willing to accept a non-starter gig in 2014.

Tomorrow we will hit the factoids concerning the players who should be deemed the starters in the Rays infield for 2014. 

“Mama Said There’ll be Days Like This”

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I guess The Shirelles had it right when they said….”Momma said there’ll be days like this”. It is one of those thing that happen to every pitcher at some point in their season, a game just gets away from you and no matter what you do to adjust or stop the bleeding, something springs a leak again and all you can do is shake your head at “ what could or should have been”.

David PriceThat the most honest and to the point reasoning I come to what transpired to Rays ace David Price and any other Rays hurler that took their tun on the Rays mound on Sunday. I mean usually one pitcher gets rattled a bit and someone comes in and reverses the course or stems the tide a bit, but for some reason Sunday it seems no matter if the Rays went left or right they had a obstacle in their way.

I’m just going to chalk this horrific outing all around to a pitcher who was on his game on Sunday and a team that was tired of being embarrassed and shut out by this Rays pitching staff. You know this type of game seems to get into some pitcher’s heads once thew runs and hit begin to fall they try and adjust a bit on their grip, location and then instead of good things happening, the bottom falls out of their game.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130407-124501-670Sure this is not a typical Rays outing, especially from Price, but the reality is this type of games do happen over the course of the season even to a guy who has a Cy Young on his home mantle. Some times things do sideways and you can not recover, and that seemed to happen to Price, Kyle Farnsworth, Brandon Gomes and Fernando Rodney all seeing their appearances become small disasters while Jamie Wright and Cesar Ramos got out of their innings unscathed and not permitting any run damage.

But this outing will have raise a few questions, with maybe one or two about Price. I thought he was trying to utilize his off-speed stuff a bit too much when things got dicey, but I also do not have the benefit of the Indians pitching report and possibly they are a team that showed some glaring weak spots in the breaking pitch department in the first two shutout wins, but on Sunday seemed to be waiting for some pitches and just launching them skyward.

There will definitely be a few muffled voices within the stands and fan base as to if Fernando Rodney is going through that usual “dead arm” sequence that sometimes hows up in Spring Training now in his first few appearances of 2013. But even if Rodney is suffering a bit with his delivery, do no fret, this is not a resurfacing of the 2011 Rodney that seemed to lose control at will and defeated himself on the hill.

201304071354500660776-p2And the third pitcher that might warrant a few odd opinions is Farnsworth who also did not seem at all settled and loose on the mound Sunday and might have some lingering effect he is trying to play through or might reoccur if he throw the bullet a bit higher in velocity. This is someone who prides himself on his craft and right now Farnsworth doesn’t seem to have all the materials he usually has at his side to fluster and confuse hitters.

This is not to suggest the Rays greatest asset, their pitching staff has concerns. It is just the plain truth that Sunday when the Rays sent their best to the mound, sometimes things do not groove in the right order, follow the norm and the unexpected rises its head up and introduces itself to your team. Maybe there is more life wisdom to that Shirelles song than we want to admit to at times. “There’ll be days like this my mama said”. 

“We Want Mike Morse”

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._ _ . ._ _ . _ _ . _ _ _ . . _ . _ . _ _ _ _ _ . _ . . . . .”

To most people the above crypt ed type is a by-gone era relic of communication mostly done between long distance communicators or ships at sea. But to me it seems like a fitting code to use when the Tampa Bay Rays might be seeking out another body, and one who could take on multiple player duties while being a member of the Rays roster.

74fb6661-3d2f-383f-abfa-12823de2534aMaybe it is more than fitting that I tried to throw out a makeshift code of “We Want Mike Morse” in the above telegraph possibly showing at least one member of the Rays Republic’s adamant desire that the Rays go out ad get this desired First Base/DH and most of all, right handed hitting option.

Possibly it is an omen today that temps in the Tampa Bay region are hitting the Spring and Summer averages showing maybe even a higher power wanting this deal to go to fruition. But the total reality today is that the Washington Nationals since they signed their desired 1B Adam LaRoche to the dotted line, Morse might be a few dashes or dots away from finding a new vista to call home, and since Morse code is associated with water…..possibly ending up on a team who’s own hometown is surrounded on 3- sides by water.

mmmmmmmSome might ponder the idea that since Morse is in his “walk” season before he hits free agency for the first time a trade for him might not be in the Rays best interest, but if you dig beyond the surface and truly see the stats for what they are…Morse could be just the right fit for Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s sometimes maddening system of plug-and-go lineup shifting roles and reversing logic to find wins, key hits and much needed runs.

Morse’s 3-season line of .296/.345/.516 might not just out on the page at you, but it is clearly a huge upgrade to the 2012 Carlos Pena debacle and combined with already in-house option James Loney, the “Maddoning” lineup possibilities and positioning is simply boggling with right and left handed options possibly being inter-changed at First and DH with the addition of Morse.

280px-Michael_Morse_2011If you really think about it, if the Rays did trade for Morse who is set to make $ 6.75 million this season, you get twice the bag (and less K’s) for the slightly over $ 250,000 the money the Rays paid Pena in 2012 to mostly tap his cap on Home Runs and be the returning smiling face. It might surprise you that Morse had over 5 years of MLB service time split with 2 seasons each with the Seattle Mariners and Nats, but making Morse and even bigger prize for the Rays is another small bit of flexibility that Maddon enjoys even more.

250px-Mike_MorseMorse can also play other spots in the infield besides 1st (SS, 3B) as well as possibly a corner outfield position. With Desmond Jennings making a slight shift left in 2013 to post up at B J Upton’s old haunt, Centerfield, Morse could play right into Maddon’s always mind-bending game of match-up and situational defense possibly finally securing Ben Zobrist for mostly infield and outfield duties from time to time.

Instantly some of the cautious Rays Republic followers will bring up the pure fact in 2012 Morse only hit out 18 Rawlings while in 2011 he hit a career high 31 orbs into the cheap seats.

But even as you would notice Morse had a dip in his offensive numbers in 2012, he was also playing throughout the season with more than 1 nagging injury and still put together a season that showed his commitment to the game, confidence in his abilities and provided a added power option for the Nats.

That in a nut shell is the type of guy the Rays need. He fits the Maddon profile of being able to post up at various positions, plus has been in the post season race, plus played in a highly competitive NL East division that yearly produces enough stress and pressure to crumble a tea kettle. The dashes and dots all point to Morse as being the kind of player who will transcend under Maddon. But you have to ask if the Rays have the personnel to pull off such a heist. Why yes they do!

natitude-michael-morseConsidering the Nats lost out on former Rays RP J P Howell, maybe Friedman could patchwork up a nice package with a centerpiece of Southpaws Cesar Ramos or Alex Torres as viable Bullpen options. Torres has limited relief appearances, but his 2012 chances showed he might have a better calling in the MLB as a relief option than as a starter. Ramos we already know has the goods to be a consistent reliever and would be a valuable piece of the Rays Bullpen puzzle to lose, but if it bring a hint of better offensive presence….I’d jump on it and ride it until it dies.

Combine either of these leftie options, or possibly send a piece like OF Brandon Guyer or maybe even someone in the minors who is a few years away from MLB ready and if you are Washington you get a need filled, a extra bit of outfield security and a player developing in the wings to fill a future need, possibly in the infield.

Now this is not to convey the Rays will even take a gander at Morse with more than the usual Friedman cell call to ponder, wonder and suggest ad lib, but with camps beginning to open in just over 35 days, things concerning Morse might just hit a fast and furious pace as five other MLB squads also seek their own “Morse code” answer for 2013. I am expecting to hear a lot of dots and dashes over the next few days with hopefully Friedman finding the right combo and most conducive package to net the Rays Morse’s talents for 2013.

Maybe I need to do it 1 more time for clarity: “ ._ _ . ._ _ . _ _ . _ _ _ . . _ . _ . _ _ _ _ _ . _ . . . . .”

Did the Rays Gamble Heavy on Their Status Quo?

Wondering if the Tampa Bay Rays basically “ standing pat” will come back to either bite them in the hind quarters, or be a Godsend. So many factors were in play in the background today from medical reports on Evan Longoria’s rehab assignment, to equating if sending a piece of the franchise be it B J Upton or James Shields would stall their recent Wild Card forward momentum. I swear Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman will never have to hit Gamblers Anonymous because he only seems to bet on “ sure things”, or options that weigh heavily in the houses/ Rays favor.

I truly could not envision Friedman standing over a MLB gambling table surrounded by 29 of his peers holding the dice hard wishing for a 7 or 11. I imagine him more comfortable at the .25 cent slots bringing in a few dollars and making more sense of his money and movements. But still, it was good over the past week or so hearing the baited whispers and subtle glances towards Upton and Shields. Wonder how many of Friedman’s peers felt confident going into today that Friedman might part with the likes of Upton who is set to hit the Free Agent market this Winter. 

But then again, I could see Friedman playing Texas Hold-Em with a vengeance, and with the Rays on a West Coast road venture Friedman held his cards close to his vest hoping no one would venture to guess his intentions or call into question any type of bluff or stall tactic.


I felt sure Friedman might possibly throw down at least a Wade Davis baseball card towards an NL peer that might need an up-grade or stop-gap style player either in their 4 or 5 slots or in long relief. But Friedman has the luxury of knowing Davis is only gaining value, possibly with Davis becoming a prime piece of off-season gold that will be look upon with more value this Winter than at this time.

There were even cards in motion within the Rays farm system that hinted at some sort of planning or adjustments as RP Cesar Ramos was being primed and getting reps as a possible starter at Triple-A Durham. You had to have a feeling Friedman wanted to hold a distinctive wild card in his hand knowing a possible trade scenario involving a valuable and flexible southpaw would be considered a luxury heading into August and September as younger arms reach their yearly pitch counts. 

I remember reading in Dirk Hayhurst’s “Bullpen Gospels” about Ramos in the lower Padres system as a starter, so the idea is not foreign to him at all. Since I’m glancing towards the Bullpen, I truly thought Friedman might hold in his hand the cards of possibly relief pitchers Joel Peralta or Kyle Farnsworth as late inning pieces to another squad’s puzzle, possible also in the National League. But the Rays Bullpen stayed intact, possibly the best thing to happen to the Rays since Fernando Rodney’s first arrow flew deep and high into the sky.

Could Friedman have possibly mastered the art of the bluff this week by rebuffing advancements and trading cards being thrown down in his direction, Could the Rays not sending or receiving any players before the time ran out on this non-waiver Trade Deadline show contentment that in-house options are superior to the cards visible on the table, especially since Longoria and SP Jeff Niemann could be back in the dugout sooner rather than later.

No matter if Friedman was playing the game with all intentions of going through the motions, or waiting for the perfect scenario to be placed upon the felt and then plucking it with a grin and a giggle. We might never know the true story, but I do feel there were some potential MLB players trading cards picked up off that green poker table’s felt I truly thought the Rays might contemplate a bit on, or at least bluff towards plucking them for this team. 

The first player I thought the Rays might make a gentleman’s wager on was Miami Marlins 1B Gaby Sanchez who ended up becoming another valuable piece to the playoff hungry Pittsburgh Pirates. I actually thought the Rays might go “in heavy” on Sanchez as a possible 2013 replacement/younger hitting upgrade for the Carlos Pena. I thought Sanchez met the Rays criteria since he can be team controlled until possibly 2016, with his first venture into arbitration coming this Winter. Lest we forget Sanchez was a NL Rookie of the Year candidate in 2010 (finished 4th).

I also thought the Rangers picking up Geovany Soto from the Chicago Cubs recently might be a trading card piece of an evolving Texas trade hand for Shields since the Rays could definitely erase their need for a catcher with someone of Soto’s experience, especially since Soto will only be making his second trip trough arbitration this Winter, Soto’s past All-Star clout and his 2012 salary of only $ 4.3 million, he would be viewed as a solid backstop investment considering the question marks becoming larger with Robinson Chirinos and his concussion setbacks and if Jose Lobaton is a # 1 catcher or a career back-up back stop for this squad.

All that the Rays Republic is left with his wonder and maybe a little hint of want. This team has shown signs of an upwards trend against teams currently that they will battle throughout the rest of this season for a coveted American League Wild Card slot, but you have to wonder if Friedman had set down at least 1 hand in trade if the stakes and odds would have falling more into their favor.

 The Trade Deadline is one of those definite “He said, She said” types of moments where a season can be hinged or be separated by actions of standing pat. Personally, I wanted to see some down and dirty dealing via Andrew Friedman and his band of merry mongrels, but in the end we got only silence.

 Some venture to say the lack of Friedman playing any cards by the final toll of the bell at the Trade Deadline set the tone loud and clear for the Rays venture towards securing one of those coveted post-season slots. In the past the Rays have stayed muted and firm in their belief of their club’s talent and abilities and have come out smelling like roses.

Still, I would have loved to have someone like Sanchez chomping at the bit for that First Base job, or even Soto behind the dish providing offense and quality defense. Friedman decided to fold his hand, pay the dealer for his time and walk away empty-handed as the last cards were dealt today. But maybe by not making a gamble or losing in the process Friedman is way a head of the MLB pack. Only time will tell if he will be considered a winner or loser for his action with the cards.

 

Hair Today….Gone Tommorrow… for a Great Cause

Some say Rays Manager Joe Maddon has made more than a few headlines for his follicle hair coloring statements over the past few seasons. From his steady head of gray to John Cash black to a more subtle but pronounced medium brown this Spring, Maddon has made his hair fashionable.

On Thursday Maddon’s “ hair moment” or in fact his “loss of hair moment” will proceed over an event that has seen it’s list of participants grow by the hour. Over 26 members of the Rays are set to see their locks fall to the ground and be swept away as a symbolic gesture of support for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Dubbed “Team Rays” on their website, Maddon will be not only leading by example, but following the road set forth by another Tampa Bay sports icon, Tampa Bay Lightning F Vinny Lacavalier.

This is the same organization that Rays starter Wade Davis showed such support for in 2011 as he let a young cancer patient shave his head as he sat in a chair over the Rays dugout after the conclusion of a Sunday game. That was only one participant, and the crowd was amazing. Think of the magnitude knowing over 25 members of the team and the Rays staff will also sit in the chair and have their locks fall to the grass in support of this effort.

Rays participants set to join Maddon in the barber’s chair before the Rays Thursday afternoon contest in Port Charlotte include Rays pitchers: Davis, James Shields, Bryan Augenstein, Cesar Ramos. Jake McGee, Alex Cobb, Brandon Gomes, Matt Torra, Albert Suarez, Matt Bush, Dane De La Rosa and Rays rookie sensation Matt Moore.

Not to be outdone by the pitchers’, the entire Rays catching corps will also have their time in the leather chair as Jose Molina, Jose Lobaton, Chris Gimenez, Mark Thomas,Stephen Vogt, Robinson Chirinos and follicle-challenged Craig Abernaz will see their hair fly away in the Charlotte Sports Park wind before that days contest. Also making an appearance in the chair will be some of the members of the Rays right-side of their infield: SS Reid Brignac, 3B Jesus Feliciano, INF Elliot Johnson, plus Rays outfield members Matt Joyce, Brandon Guyer and the “Legend” himself, Sam Fuld.

A few well-known figures in the Rays coaching staff will also need more sunscreen this Spring as Third Base Coach Tom Foley and Bench Coach Dave Martinez will also be supporting this great charity. The Rays front office will also have a few hit the chair as Rays Senior VP of Baseball Operations Brian Auld, Sr VP Mark Fernandez, VP of Branding and Fan Experience Darcy Raymond, Sr Director of Corporate Partnerships Aaron Cohn,Manager of Corporate Sales Jake Hornstein and two Directors of Corporate Partnerships, Richard Reeves and Josh Bullock.

I think the paragraph on the pcfcutforacure website under “Team Rays” speaks volumes on why the team is so focused and excited about the event:

This is about being there for the kids and their families. We want them to know they are not alone. It’s a small gesture, but it is our way of showing support for them while gaining empathy for what they are going through. We have a saying posted in our locker room that says ‘Fortune favors the bold.’ As we go forward with this campaign we are doing so under the flag ‘Fortune favors the bald.’ As an organization, we are proud to support organizations and institutions like the Pediatric Cancer Foundation (PCF) and the Moffitt Cancer Center.”

This is the kind of event that bonds a team. Unified with a common thought and goal, it can be a great starting point of the Rays taking another step not only in their development as a team, but as a great inspiration to other teams around the MLB to follow suit. I commend Maddon and his troops for their commitment, their outstanding community involvement and support, and most of all for donating what some see as a status symbol but they see as only hair and a visual stamp that they support this organization.

If you want to help support this cause with a donation of your own, text CUT to 50555 or go to pcfcutforacure.org. Just as every snip of the scissors is a chance to change a life, every text can also be life-changing for someone.

 

 

Anxiously Awaiting the Rays Report Date

I do not know about you, but the next 14 days will surely seem like trying to get that last drop of molasses out of that stupid bottle. For as the climax and celebration of Super Bowl is finally beginning to get out of our ears and thoughts, now the baseball world begins to get their Spring priorities right and think of the American Pastime. With the last bit of cool crispness in the air, it will be time to pound a few dozen balls into newly oiled mitts and try out a few new pitch variations, and hopeful improvements.

14 days until the Tampa Bay Rays again try to mess up the status quo among the American League East. 14 days until we see what Rays starter Jeff Niemann has up his sleeve to make this team fall in love with him again and possibly jettison another piece of the Rays rotation puzzle to a destination unknown. Or will the magic that Rays rookie Matt Moore displayed in late September and October translate into a slot on the MLB roster, or a few months vacation in Durham until Niemann’s first anticipated soreness issue. This could only start a countdown for Rays SP Wade Davis too as teams are watching his every move as the Rays are surely going to have to make at least 1 painful starting pitching decision before the Rays Opening Day on April 6th.

14 days until we find out if new Rays RP Fernando Rodney will take a moment with Rays starter James Shields and try to get a fresh prospective and grip on his Change-Up. Shields would seem to be the perfect candidate for Rodney to chum up to considering his variable speed pitch is considered one of the best in the majors.

14 days until we see if the off-season was the time needed for Rays leftie J P Howell to again become “the Dude” providing long curves and a renewed vigor and vitality to his fastball, possibly topping 89 MPH by the season’s start. I truly hope and want Howell to have a revitalized Spring, or he might be re-named “ The Dud”. Along with Howell, there is considerable chatter on if the Rays will again hold onto 3 southpaws which could mean a trip to the minors or elsewhere for fellow left-handers Cesar Ramos ( no options) and Jake McGee (1 option).

14 days until we see who out of the Rays young backstop stable of Jose Lobaton or Robinson Chirinos want the Rays back-up gig and produce defensive gems and offensive dreams from a position with loads of talent, but lacking in MLB catching experience. That will also be the moment we see just how much in the gas tank for “the other Molina” Jose. Will he excel at the Rays weak spot in the batting order, or become another Rays casualty destined to watch the young bucks get the starts while he mends.

14 days until we see the sophomore effort of Hellboy take place. Will he again find his demonic rhythm that had everyone in baseball envying the upstart Rays? Can Hellboy improve on his walk to strikeout ratio, and more importantly improve on his ground ball ratio to let his great defense behind him help him gain victories and accolades. Will the young right-hander finally become comfortable in his 3-slot knowing he can be a series exclamation point behind the two top aces, Shields and David Price.

14 days until we see if Price can gain some consistency by not trying to change grips during a game and totally trusting the grips that got him to points in games without diverting from the game plan by toying with his art. 2012 will also be the season where Price can either gain a foothold on immortality by posting numbers worth of his new salary and being that stop gap starter that should be the Opening Day starter and player who can get that needed win.

14 days until we can see if the “B-brothers”, RP Brandon Gomes and ex-Fish Burke Bradenhop can secure roster spots with an impressive Spring. Also on our minds firmly in 14 days will be the talent escalation of the 2 “Alexs”, Cobb and Torres. Each throwing from a different side, but each wanting a roster slot and a chance to show their worth to the Rays this Spring. Coming into the Spring it seems Gomes has a clear shot, but as we all know, things can change before the calendar changes to April. All 4 players mentioned in this paragraph have minor league options, and the Rays could play a game of “mix-and-match” early on during the season with any of the 4 spending time both in St. Petersburg and Durham.

Also firm in the Rays Republic’s mind is the elbow health of Kyle Farnsworth who put up career numbers in 2012, but had a few episodes with soreness that some thought was a pre-cursor to possible Tommy Johns. 14 days the Rays will see if his off-season rehabilitation and strengthening program brought results or more of the same.

I truly think the Rays have aligned themselves with 3 closers now, who could all be used in certain situations and firmly close the door on the opposition. Farnsworth and Rodney might have the early nods, but I truly think Joel Peralta is going to be the thunder under the dome this season. I saw a spark of it late in 2012 when Farnsworth sat due to his soreness, Peralta showed beyond a shadow of a doubt he could inherit or be destined as the Rays closer. I thought he might ascend to that spot in 2011, but in-synch with Farnsy, the two became a consistent 1-2 late inning punch for the Rays.

14 days when I will be personally sad not to see former Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos giving off a loud belly laugh as he heads to the practice fields. It will seem odd, but new Bullpen Savant Stan Boroski not only has the credentials, but the familiarity with this Rays staff moving from his Assistant Pitching Coach role to an on-the-field mentor to the Rays staff.

14 days until we see if young catching prospects Nevin Ashley and Stephen Vogt can turn a few Rays heads, possibly moving their own name up the Rays depth chart with impressive Springs, maybe even outing one of the present favorites for a back-up role. Ashley and Vogt have the offensive chops to be with the Rays, but with the catching corps becoming clouded in 2011 with extra pieces and rehabbing players, they might have slipped out of the Rays minds as future weapons.

14 days until at 10 am the gates open and we embrace “officially the Rays 15th season in the Bigs. 15 years where coming into this point in the season there were tons of questions with few answers. This season there are tons of answers with clarifying questions dotting the landscape…for now. Port Charlotte comes alive when the team get back into town. The sky seems bluer, the air has a nice crispness to it and the grass awaits their footprints. 14 days until we can again firmly boast, and await our 2012 Rays. Look, already 15 minutes closer as you finish reading this post.

Hoping There is One More Trade on the Back Burner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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