Results tagged ‘ Desmond Jennings ’

As Upton Crumbles, Opinions Rumble as to his Loss

He is one of those player who has been the hero and the scapegoat, sometimes within the same game. No matter what your opinion of Tampa Bay Rays Centerfielder B J Upton, this injury hurts to the core of the Rays Republic.

Upton has been a Rays barometer over his last few seasons. As B J climbs, so has his Rays team. As B J matured and evolved in his MLB skin both in the field and at the plate, his Rays young teammates have also grown to become a competitive force and have firmly rallied around the one Rays player people love to point fingers towards.

Be it a mental lapse on the base paths, or a argument with the Home Plate Umpire, Upton has always always landed straight into the cross-hairs of critics and haters. Some consider it arrogance, most know it is a high degree of competitiveness that Upton only sweats between the lines.

No matter what is being vocalized, even shouted from the stands, Upton has done his thing, moved at his own pace and provided moments we will never forget. Every team has a guy fans and observers like to focus upon as a linchpin of how a team will perform, of who is critical to a win or loss, possibly rattling them would secure a victory. Upton has been the guy teams have tried to take apart, sometimes succeeding with vengeance.

Upton seemed to be in the perfect position to take in the apparent double hit deeply into the CF/RF corner by former Ray/Twin, newly minted Tiger OF Delmon Young, then suddenly a padded wall had a different agenda. The way Upton glided over from his Centerfield spot last night, I had the impulse to want to scream, warn him the orange tinted warning track coming up faster than he realized, but like viewing a play via a slow-motion camera, quickly I saw Upton realize too late his speed versus wall was a recipe for disaster.

The sound might not have been deafening, but within a second, you could of heard a pin drop around Tropicana Field. Upton laid like a rag doll on the AstroTurf surface, immediately Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield sprinted to his side with Rightfielder Matt Joyce trying to comfort Upton. As Porterfield attended to Upton I heard a wild range of comments in the stands.


 Some were glad for the injury so future Rays outfielders like Sam Fuld and Desmond Jennings will get a chance to strut their stuff in Centerfield. Others worried that a Ray who has been so instrumental in this odd season competitive rebirth might be sidelined until September, effectively hurting the Rays machine. Polarizing opposite statements and opinions rained down in the stands like the showers upon the Trop’s Teflon.

No matter if you love, like or even despise Upton, this injury is going to hurt deeply. Upton has transformed himself out of the view of the fans in the Rays Clubhouse as a true leader, has done some foolish things to promote energy and confidence and has been met by spite and misguided comments. Upton has been the one constant in an ever changing Rays format for a long time.

Knowing the caution Maddon takes with his players in the later stages of the season, Upton may sit a few days, possibly even a week to make sure the shoulder that has been held high and helped carry this Rays team is healed and 100 percent. Sure Fuld and Jennings will get multiple chances to place their names in the Centerfield mix for Spring 2012, but as long as Upton is a Ray, it is his territory.

The injury might actually pay dividends for the Rays not in Upton’s absence, but to give the Rays Centerfielder a chance to relax, refocus and re-energize going down the stretch. Upton held a horrific .181 batting average at home coming into last night’s game. His injury might give him ample time to heal more than just his shoulder. Upton will be a key ingredient if the Rays are to again stir the pot and get a chance to play into October. A healthy Upton both physically and mentally could be just the trick to again being bathe in champagne.

You either love him, or hate him, but you got to respect that Upton doesn’t disrespect the game or its nuances. Some find him cocky arrogant, even to the point of nausea, but want him on the base paths or in Centerfield if the game is on the line.

Hopefully before Upton leaves, possibly through free agency after the 2012 season, everyone in the Rays Republic will see just how much sweat, blood and emotion this guy has spilled on the Trop’s turf. As Upton laid on the turf last night I thought instantly of what this team loses by his absence, I know others around me were thinking just the opposite. Guess that is B J ‘s Rays legacy in a nutshell.

Does the “Legend” Have a Rays Future?

I swear if I dig enough into his genealogy somewhere I will find a past circus performer hidden in the gene pool of Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Sam Fuld. There has to be a secondary reason for him flinging himself without regard to life and limb around the Major League Baseball outfield. Some call these people “kamikazes”, I just call them “one with the ball”.

Some have anointed Fuld a true life “legend”, some have seen him as a breath of fresh air in the 2011 M L B season, but no one anywhere has doubted his talent or ability to make us all wonder if he is blessed with an ALPHA ability. Some of us television zombies have possibly seen the new show “Alphas” on the SyFy Channel that deals directly with people who inhibit that extra special ability to perform a simple normal human task to the 10th degree, or pulls off something insanely difficult with ease and grace. But ultimately being an “Alpha” has its own drawbacks.

Such may be the case in the Spring of 2012 as whispers are beginning to ring louder that the Rays could keep centerfielder B J Upton through to his impending free agency date after the 2012 season.

Fuld has hit the optimal media spotlight point of his career, even before he has a daily spot to call his own. Indirectly the focus around his vertical talent and his sporadic appearances in the Rays line-up as of late could end up being his Rays downfall.

You see, the Rays already have a budding outfield prodigy named Desmond Jennings who has come out of the rookie gate like his nightly numbers at the plate will decide more than his future. Jennings may have seen the ESPN web gems and National media cooing about Fuld and felt anxious that his future spot might be gone if he did not produce now.

On the opposite side of the outfield from Jennings is rightfielder Matt Joyce who has also risen high above the early seasonal goals set by his Rays Manager Joe Maddon and is only being saddled now by Maddon’s inability to let go of his reins and let Joyce pounce and show his worth against left-handed pitching.

This squad does need a lead-off hitter and basestealer, but Jennings fills that bill right now. It needs a special player that pulls you out of your seat as you watch him hit, but Joyce fills that bill too. It might come down to one of those “mixed blessings” scenarios. Would the Rays trade Upton and his track record to go with the skill set of what Fuld could do for this team?

With these two bookends to Upton, plus the addition of Ben Zobrist as an ample and reliable 4th outfielder, Fuld’s best chance to rise again in the MLB might be to leave the Rays coop.

I really did not think the versatile 5′ 8” outfielder had a chance this Spring to compete and win a chance to play in the April 1st home opener at Tropicana Field. Then again, I did not know he secretly injected the blood of Rocky the Flying Squirrel into his body to produce so many early season defensive highlights, almost on a nightly scale. It was as if the “legend” was channeling “the little engine that could” by astounding us and making all of us believers in his abilities.

Fuld is super. Fuld is an aspiring “legend”, and Fuld might be a guy who will be constantly fighting for a job for the rest of his Rays days. Not a bad thing, but something that could ultimately drain the “Legend” of some of his magical powers and make him more of a Rays folk hero than a budding M L B career mainstay. I would hate for Fuld to go the way of former Rays OF Jason Tyner, from bobble head to oblivion in the blink of an eye.

Believe me, I am one of those who wish only the best for the often vertically prone magician, but with the prospect of Upton staying until 2012, and the double J’s, Jennings and Joyce manning the corners, Fuld may be a man without a position. And that sucks big time.

Fuld has the ability to play daily along with the support and admiration of people from 5-65. He makes each and every one of us wonder if we would do the same….defy gravity, bring in the ball and then pop back up off the ground like it was a dive into the swimming pool. That kind of play excited the crowd, makes people buy shirts and jerseys, even wear giveaway capes to bed with their name on them.

We have seen others here in Tampa Bay get the fan support, the admiration of all of us then find their place on the bench instead of the field. I felt this same way about Jonny Gomes. Here was a guy who would do anything short of a crime to get a win, an magical moment or produce a bit of history all for his team. Fuld might be smaller than Jonny, but he fits that mold to a “T”.

Fuld may never get a chance here in Tampa Bay to become a bona fide M L B or All-Star. He does however possesses that special ingredient we all find appealing and wonderful to watch. Fuld truly does channel the energy and spirit of a child when he plays.


Not worrying about the impending damage or possible injuries, but producing the out. Not trying to be a showboat, but a motivational punch in the gut to the other team’s offense. Fuld is someone every team needs, but the Rays already have an over abundance of this same type of talented individuals.

Maybe I am saying my piece now because I have grown to like the guy from speaking to him, to getting his S P P D cap at the Spring Opener in Port Charlotte and wearing it on my head in my car when coming back from San Francisco to Tampa Bay. Fuld reminds me of me as an athlete just as he reminds all of us of our youth and own bouts with vertical mortality.

Be given another chance to take that next step, to spread his wings farther and stronger with another club. It is a thought I really do not want to have in my head, but one I know is the right thing for him professionally. I truly hope the Rays find a way to bring Fuld more into the Rays future game, letting his special light shine bright.

Maybe that is why I am writing this today. In a hope that if the Rays do not see a future place for Fuld. Possibly this off season we might see the “flighted one” leave Tampa Bay for a greener pasture. 

Let Them Eat (Bundt) Cake

Not much of a dessert guy myself, but tonight, the Toronto Blue Jays got their just desserts. Funny how it was not a shaving cream pie, or even a Carvel sundae, but it was a special Tampa Bay bundt/bunt cake that did the trick.

Who would have thought the recipe for again awakening the Rays offense would be to start off in the bottom of the 2nd inning playing “ small ball”. That’s right, not aiming for the fences, but putting the bat on the ball and squirming it along the AstroTurf woke up not only the Rays bat, but reminded the Jays defense this team doesn’t quit.

Sure Ben Zobrist did his best “2008 Zorilla “ impression crushing a ball into the Rightfield bleachers for a short-lived 1-0 lead. Then after a Casey Kotchman fly out, B J Upton showed why the Rays gambled and kept him here instead of sending him away. A well crafted single to Leftfield, then well placed 9 iron shot by Matt Joyce into shallow Center put the Rays in a position to make some early noise.

With Joyce and Upton in scoring position, Sean Rodriguez dropped a beauty of a bunt just in front of Jays starter Carlos Villanueva who then proceeded to commit a costly error as Upton stamped on Home Plate. That was the first sliver of the bunt/bundt cake.

Then Rays rookie catcher Robinson Chirinos put down his own little bounding ball of short happiness for a infield single to First. Joyce came in to score, and all of a sudden it was 3-0 Rays on top. Second helping of bundt/bunt cake with a little extra dab of frosting.

All of a sudden last night’s lone Rays run scorer decided to get into the action himself as rookie speedster Desmond Jennings wanted to deliver his own bit of sugary goodness by placing a perfect bunt in front of Jays Third Baseman Edwin Encarnacion who was playing back hoping for a double play ball.

Suddenly bases were loaded with Rays, another slice of bundt/bunt cake delivered. Finally Johnny Damon ended the sugar rush by delivering a long and deep sacrifice fly to Centerfield that easily scored Rodriguez to make it 4-0 Tampa Bay. All of a sudden a little bit of pre-game prep work by the Rays in bunting drills snapped their offense out of its funk.

When the Rays came up in the bottom of the 3rd inning, it seemed the Jays were still infused and decimated by the Rays bunt barrage, and possibly a little sugar shock. Villanueva, a former Jays reliever, couldn’t seem to get out of his 2nd inning stride and quickly the Rays added some more morsels to their run/ sugar intake.

Of the 8 Rays hitters to go to the plate in the bottom of the 3rd inning, 4 produced extra base hits, and the Jays saw 4 more runs cross the plate. Suddenly after solo homer by Kotchman, a double by Joyce, Rodriguez getting pelted with a pitch, Chirinos decided it was time to put the cherry firmly upon the cake and delivered a 3-run shot to Leftfield that left more of a bitter taste in Villaneuva’s mouth than sweet.

Ex-Rays bat boy and Jays starter Jesse Litsch came in and stopped the flow of Rays runs getting Damon to strike out swinging.

Finally the Rays had figured out a way to get out of that 1-2 run lead routine with the Jays and tack on some needed runs with the small ball, then using the long ball to seal the win. This is the type of offensive show that we have seen so often in road games, but has been few and far between at Tropicana Field.

With a win tomorrow during the Parks and Recreation Day, plus the Rays Tweet Up, the team could head into their 3-game series against the Oakland Athletics, who the Rays hope they can extract some more sweet revenge on this weekend. This is the home offense we have been anxiously awaiting. Pining to see finally break through and produce at home.

What happens during the Thursday matinée will go a long way in providing comfort and stability that this team has finally broken out of the home rut and will again dominate. A win tomorrow will put then back at square one with a 26-26 mark at home.

Tonight the Rays delivered a beauty of a game hitting on all cylinders, providing not only a huge run support cushion for Rays starter James Shields, but a solid effort with this team finally figuring out their home crux. Tonight the Rays did deliver a sliver of just desserts to the Jays, but hopefully it is only an appetizer of what is to come in the next 4 contests.

Bon Appetit Rays Republic, for tonight, let the Jays eat some humble pie.

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.

Your Day at the Trop To Drop 140-Characters

So how excited is the Rays Republic heading into the Tampa Bay Rays first Tweet Up? I would say as excited as a walk-off homer, complete game shutout and hitting for the cycle. Who wouldn’t be excited about sitting just beyond the shoulder of Rays Bullpen legends Scott Cursi and Bobby Ramos.

We could have a possible dancing brown bear moment, or maybe even a Kyle Farnsworth sighting. Seriously, it has been a great thing that the Rays front office and their marketing department embrace the social media phenomenon and provide a chance for the Rays Republic to possible hi the Worldwide trending board with such an effort.

That is where I am predicting this event will fall in the ranks of the Tweet Nation. Even if we just hold that sacred spot for a minute, the work, hustle and bustle would be a complete success. So that is a goal within our reach, one we can touch or type, to provide a Rays moment Worldwide. I love the sound of that personally.

We know @RaysRepubilc, the Rays official word smiths of the social media universe, will be providing interesting incentive, prizes and possible inclusion of witty banter posted during the event. Did you know the creative brainiacs behind @RaysRepublic now have over 100,000 Twitter followers? Who knows, maybe we can even get a up close and personal moment with the @RaysRepublic crew, a picture would be perfect (hint, hint).

I have heard that each person buying a special Tweet Up ticket will not only enjoy the company of other 140- character Rays fans, but will have the chance to sit in the exclusive Papa John’s Bullpen Cafe nestled just beyond the Rightfield line a stone throw away from the Rays Bullpen. Heck, it is just a soda cup away from my own old roosting spot.

Being offered even before the event in Twitter contests by @RaysRepublic will be a chance to win tickets to the event, a chance to throw out that night’s Ceremonial First Pitch that, plus a unique chance to hand the Rays line-up card to the Umpires before the game. Of course the crafty minds within the Rays Promotions department are not done there.

Also on tap is a chance to be the personal (game day) assistant of Emmy award winning  CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) who like the @RaysRepublic crew sports more than 100,00 followers. Another special treat at this game will be hearing Rovell perform the National Anthem, plus have a chance to view his tweets as he moves about Tropicana Field.

The ticket package is still being finalized, but you can go to www.raysbaseball.com for updates and hopefully a official announcement and begin of ticket packages for this unique Rays Twitter experience. Who knows, you might have a chance to sit by the spirited and spunky @Lovebees, or maybe even meet the Rays twins @TBRaysTwins, or possibly get a glimpse of the lovely@Sportschix1.

Seriously now, the Rays are sporting a impressive Twitter collection of MLB player based accounts with the likes of @DAVIDprice14, @Evan3Longoria, @BJUpton2, @SamFuld5, @TheZobrists , @ShopHouse10 plus @Acobb53, @TheRuggianos, and @d_jennings15. The Rays even have a Bullpen presence with @ceez_27, @robdelaney55  and @CheckwitEck tweeting out of the Bullpen (not during games).

Even the medical staff is Twitter bound. Rays Strength and Conditioning guru Kevin Barr has a Twitter home, @TheBBRcom. You can even follow Rays In-Game host Rusty at @RustyKath if you need post game banter. Rays Manager Joe Maddon can also be found making sporadic quips, and witty banter from @RaysJoeMaddon. Last, but never least, Rays post and pre-game savant Rich Herrera can be found @richatthetrop

Going to be a wild and exciting night where the Rays Republic far and wide can contribute and expand the Rays Way all over the World. And added bonus is tweeters who use the hashtag #RaysTweetUp will get a chance to have their tweet posted on the Rays jumbotron during the contest. How’s that for expanded media! Also heard a few whispers that each ticket holder might have future bragging rights with a special edition T-shirt just for holders of a Rays Tweet Up ticket.

Purchase your Rays 2011 TweetUp tickets at this link (Special code word is TWEET) which will also entitle you to a personalized Rays TweetUp T-shirt, some light food and beverages while you relax and tweet from the Pappa John’s Bullpen Cafe, plus a special invite to a post-game Q and A session with Guest Darrell Rovell on the Social Media ( If he survives the scavenger hunt).

I already know you can count me in for the event, plus will have the laptop primed and ready to go before the game, and ( hopefully) well after the final pitch. Personally I am hoping to get some time with the fellow Rays Twitter Nation and talk, chat and maybe even watch the Rays take on the Toronto Blue Jays who also sport their own legion of MLB Twitter foes.

Hope to see you there (I will be sitting by Bobby and Scott)…..or just tweet me @TheRaysRenegade. I will come see you…I promise.


Could Upton’s Refusal to Long Term Deal be his Downfall

Even before the Tampa Bay Rays were bought and their brand re-invented by Stuart Sternberg, the Vince Namoli ownership group tried to convince their young “ shortstop of the future” to a long term deal…..He declined.

After his subsequent removal from the then D-Rays Shortstop carousel, he found himself subsequently hopping around the team’s infield like a rabbit at Target Field, but still he was adamant about dodging a long term deal with the new ownership. Some thought he was being arrogant, some thought he was selfish, in the end, he is still doing only 1-year deals with the Rays.

Finally Sternberg and Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman tried over the last 2 Winters to get this stalwart star to finally commit to possibly signing a deal for longer than one season. Even at this stressful juncture with the Trade Deadline looming like a vulture, there are hints that the Rays still want to venture into possible long term deal.

So far all they are hearing is a deafening silence from Upton’s camp.

Could this be another legitimate reason the Rays are now positioning CF B J Upton on their top shelf of players available for trade chats? Could Upton’s long standing refusal to stall or put off any long term discussion past the first refusal. Sure Upton has been known to be sometimes surly and gruff to American League Umpire spats, but inside the Rays Clubhouse and speaking with team officials, he has been nothing sort of cordial..

Legitimately you want a budding star to give you some financial security along with the thought of no service interruptions via a team-friendly  long term deal. In Upton’s case, discussions have been held with his agent, but nothing have materialized past the initial talking stage. Pity, a more contract secure Upton could relax until Sunday while the 1-year deals will have him guessing all the way to the end now. 

Must be frustrating for Sternberg and Friedman to know just as Upton is beginning to finally mature on the field and show that true potential we have been basically begging for for years,  he might be dealt because Upton might have ultimately priced himself out of the Rays equation. But the same could have been said for Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena in 2010 as they entered their “walk ” seasons, but they ended up staying with the ball club and helping the Rays to their second A L East title in 3 seasons before departing for the deep pockets of Boston and the North side of Chicago.

Teams are poking and prodding at Upton have been quoted to be offering everything from a small package of prospects to “the Moon”. Because New York Mets CF Carlos Beltran has an American League anxiety towards the Designated Hitter position, Upton has vaulted towards the top as  a key outfield acquisition target.

From Atlantic (Nats/Braves) to Pacific (Giants) teams are throwing together their best package hoping Friedman pulls the trigger.

With the surging emergence of Rays outfield prospect Desmond Jennings posting out-of-this planet offensive numbers, it has not only the Rays brass excited, but every MLB Fantasy Baseball geeks. Sam Fuld and Jennings can both play Upton’s Centerfield position and can make a transition pretty effortless if they wish to ship Upton out before the end of the Trade Deadline, or the season..

But with the team on the cusp of falling out of at least an American League Wild Card slot, Friedman might be more willing to at least listen to offers right now. This is not to say if Upton signed a 2-year deal today he would still not be dealt by the Deadline’s last moments on Sunday. But with a year m ore of team control, Upton would not be traded to become a “rental” player.

Got to be hard on a guy knowing eyes are prodding him nightly, stats are being compiled in big piles and everything from his speed from Home Plate to First to his bat swing is being monitored and evaluated with intense scrutiny.

Sometimes a change of scenery is good for a player mentally, emotionally and physically. Upton was hyped for so long as the “next big thing” for the Rays. Hints of that ability have risen then fallen just as quickly.

Not matter what happens to Upton over the next few days, you got to give him a ton of credit for not showing the stress, emotional tug-of-war or snap out at the Rays. Rays Manager Joe Maddon has said he has discussed around 65 trade scenarios with Friedman over the past few days. Let’s hope if Upton is in that bunch, the team again gets a return that will help them in the long term. 

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. 

Should Upton Start Shopping for Luggage?

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Coming into the 2011 Tampa Bay Rays
season, I knew it was a make or break season for the future of Rays
CF B J Upton. The way he performed in the field and at the plate
early on in this 2011 season could ultimately decide if he stayed or
left the Rays via a trade either at the Trade Deadline, or if the
Rays fell out of post season contention.


Ultimately the Rays did not feel
overwhelmed coming into Spring Training by Upton’s salary of $ 4.825
million while also subtracting the high salaries of SP Matt Garza and
SS Jason Bartlett instead of the wishy-washy tendencies both at the
plate and on base of Upton.


Some say the Rays were holding onto
Upton for 2011 hoping his trade stock would rise so they could
package him in the same way they did Garza with the Cubs this Spring,
or for additional possible Bullpen pieces for 2012. With Upton
entering his last and final arbitration this off season.


If Upton does hit his stride finally
providing ample hitting and smarter base running to go with his solid
defense, it could solidify his sport on the Rays 2012 roster. But
then again, who would have thought Bartlett and Garza would be
wearing National League jerseys in 2011 when the 2010 post season
ended.


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You have to also wonder what the Rays
brass is thinking right now with LF Sam Fuld, who has been a career
CF in the minors leading the AL in stolen bases ( 10 )and 4th
in hitting ( .365) heading into Sunday’s finale in Toronto. The
emergence of Fuld could hasten the potential of an Upton deal knowing
Fuld would makes only $ 418,300 for the 2011 season compared to
Upton’s escalating salary.


Do not forget the Rays have another
budding OF star currently hidden down in Triple-A Durham in Desmond
Jennings who most thought had a more than moderate chance to crack
the Rays roster this Spring before Fuld began his legendary run.
Jennings is currently hitting .241 with the Bulls with 5 SB and 2
Home Runs.


Having spare parts in their farm system
to interchange with Upton if the Rays want to unload another possible
$5 million plus salary for 2012 is just another intriguing part of
the whole Upton equation. With Fuld and Jennings showing they can
play CF, it has to put a bit of pressure on the organization to
possibly make some sort of ” fishing expedition” to see what
Upton could net the Rays in terms of players or prospects.


With the Washington Nationals currently
scouting Upton, they are one of a few teams sending team officials
out watching Upton on the road or at home. As the season unfolds,
Upton will either show his value, or the Rays might finally cut their
ties with their former First Round pick. But people fail to remember
Upton is still only in his mid-20′s, even younger than Fuld.


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Upton is currently sitting about normal
for him at a .219 average with 2 HR and 7 RBI, but his base running
in the early games of the season tended to push the needle closer to
a trade than the Rays retaining Upton for the full season.


But Upton is one of the Rays leaders in
the clubhouse even if he is not currently a intimate part of the Rays
marketing plan for this season. If you take the Rays marketing
direction in consideration, besides the Sunday, June 19th
bobblehead promotion, Upton’s name has seen limited exposure. The
fact the promotion is just a couple of weeks before the Trade
Deadline has it’s own interesting twist.


All in all you are either a Upton
supporter or a critical vocal partner. Sure the guy has not been the
most model MLB outfielder in respect to power and hitting potential
for the Rays, but people forget he has also been more than willing to
change from his original SS position to wander around the Rays
infield before finally landing at home in CF.


You either believe Upton still has
further MLB potential, or that he has peaked as a player. With Carl
Crawford heading to the confines of Fenway Park for 2011 you had the
realization that this might be Upton’s year to shine and show he has
matured and taken the next step in his development.


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But Fuld’s sudden cult following has
overshadowed Upton and possible given him another chance to lay low
and not be held totally accountable at times at the plate. For this
Rays team to get another chance to hit the post season party, Upton
has to be a vital part of the team, a contributor of the highest
order and a bright light in the clubhouse.


If not, the decision is made easier by
the Rays brass and Upton possibly could be wearing something other
than a Rays jersey by August 1st. I have posted before
that it is Upton’s time to “put up or shut up”, now it is time
for Upton to sprint out from under the Fuld media umbrella and show
again he is the veteran here. Either that or Upton has better buy
some good luggage for his journey somewhere else.


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.

2011 Rays Resolutions…Renegade Style

 


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With some of the after effects of the 2011 New Years celebration still pumping in our hearts and minds, it is that cherished time of the early year for all of us to solidify our midnight resolves and begin embarking on the tedious task of now trying to keep our promises.

Some of us at the end of the countdown professed to transform ourselves with hearty and healthy vows to lose weight, cut back on certain foods, or maybe eliminate a unhealthy or dangerous habit like smoking or texting while driving.

Then there is that other group side of the resolve coin that wants to initiate goals to help humanity and possibly try and “pay it forward” by helping those less fortunate or being more “green” in our every day lives.

Or possibly you are one of those people who really got excited when the thought of ecology was mentioned in classes and looked beyond our own visionary limitations to evoke a personal challenge or make a mental proclamation to enhance some external segment of this World’s by cleaning up a creek or riverbed or possibly helping bond in our communities building safer playgrounds for our next generation.

So on this first day of 2011 I thought it might be fun to try and make a few resolutions in the baseball sense for certain members of the Tampa Bay Rays. With pitchers’ and catchers’ set to begin reporting to their Rays Spring home in Port Charlotte, Florida in just 43 days, it is time to again bring our focus towards the 2011 season.
Evan Longoria: My resolution to you is to become the strong presence in the Rays clubhouse that evokes and proclaims the true meaning of the “Rays Way”. To take that next huge step to providing a dose of your own leadership ability that will ultimately mix with your teammates to concoct the perfect Rays team chemistry for 2011.

Secondly,if you find the guy who stole your cap and give the Rays Republic his name….We will take care of him.

 
David Price: My resolutionfor Price is pretty simple. Retain that same focused and calm persona that you have projected both on and off the mound. To accept the honorable challenge of being a bigger piece of the Rays puzzle while retaining a high level of confidence that your team is behind you in victory, or in defeat.

In addition, if you need a ghostwriter for a possible book on Pho eating establishments throughout the MLB cities…you know where I sit, and I work cheap (possibly for a steaming bowl of Pho).

 
B J Upton: I know this onemight be hard. I want you to finally let yourself go and go with the flow. Do not hold yourself so accountable for not achieving perfection. It has sometimes hastened your downfall as you tinkered, wallowed and self manipulate yourself into slumps, funks and a bad decisions. Woooo Saaaa!

Secondly I wish for your community/charity efforts to be fruitful. You are one of only a handful of Rays players who’s community interests (BJ’s Bunch) has opened to the Rays Republic another side of you that is sometimes hidden by game day bravado.

 
James Shields: My resolution for “Shieldsy” is to simply take a step back. Maybe by stepping back you can redefine that skill set that got you here to fully reclaim your spot as the Rays “Ace”.

As a two-time Rays Roberto Clemente Award recipient, the continued success of the “Heart Gallery”. I hope more baseball fans around the country in 2011 learn about this photographic and audio exhibit that helps kids in foster care find great family environments.

 
John Jaso: My resolve for you is to keep that internal competitive fire at its optimal level. Your rookie season showed the Rays Republic that your bat and your defense took major strides skywards.

Secondly, to provide inspiration to kids in Tampa Bay that an athlete can be book savvy and math friendly and still compete at the highest level of the sport. Most people outside of Tampa Bay do not know about your love of numbers and analytical equations.

 
Reid Brignac: My resolution for “Brigs” is to take the baseball and just grip it and rip it this season. You have the confidence of Rays Manager Joe Maddon that you can be the vital keystone in the Rays defense. It is time for you to make the rest of the baseball world to take notice and become believers too.

Secondly, we have to find someone else, possibly Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos to teach you to dance. Doing the “Dougie” for the cameras during the Rays postseason celebration made most of us cringe and wish you did the “Carlton” instead.

 
Matt Garza: This resolution is that you find that internal “happy place” for the entire season. That the events that have put extreme pressure on you in the past will find a path to melt away. Your talent will only be stopped by your own actions and reactions.

Second resolution for you is to somehow eliminate your bad habit of licking your fingers after you grip the resin bag disappears. Resin doesn’t taste good, has no nutritional value, and has solidified that “spittin’ Cobra” moniker. Maybe Price can get you a pail of Double Bubble for 2011.

 
J P Howell: My resolve for you is that you come back as the “Dude”. With that high spirit and confidence on the hill that made you a fan favorite. Even though we might not see you until May, you can be a key member of the Rays Bullpen by bringing your calm nature and competitive fire into the fray on a nightly basis. We really did miss you in 2010.

Secondly, that your charity “Discovery Your Path” which includes the “Healing Hearts Foundation” that helps children and youth facing difficult situations to find the mentoring and life path guidance needed to achieve a meaningful life.

 
Wade Davis: My resolution is for WD-40 to simply just grow into his MLB skin and experience more success in 2011. Some critics were very vocal about Davis throughout the 2010 season. But in reality, Davis posted a better 2010 rookie campaign (12-10 4.07 ERA 113 K’s) than Price’s rookie 2009 campaign (10-7 4.42 ERA, 102 K’s).
 
The second part of the resolution is for Davis and his charity, “Pitch In For Baseball” which accepts game used baseball equipment and distributes them to underprivileged children to finds more success and Nation-wide acclaim.

Jake McGee: My resolution for McGee is that he takes the critical next big step in his Bullpen transformation. McGee will be in competition for a spot in the Rays Bullpen this Spring. He could make the Rays Opening Day roster with a solid Spring with an eye into taking a bigger role with the team by the end of the 2011. Every good outing is another notch on his belt to helping McGee possibly develop into the Rays future closer.

My second resolution for him is a double dose of the first one. He is one of the future linchpins for the Rays.

Desmond Jennings: My resolution for Jennings is for him to develop a thick skin for 2011. He will hear more than a few jeers about Carl Crawford. They key for Jennings might be to put an early exclamation point on his rookie season by showing the Rays outfield game will not take a step back this season. Playing his style of game without compromise will be the ultimate key for Jennings MLB survival in 2011.

Dan Johnson: My resolve for DJ is that he finally feels he belongs in Tampa Bay. Johnson hit one of the more memorable Home Runs in Rays history back in 2008, but has never gained the Rays fans all out support. Whether he is at the DH spot or manning the First Base bag, Johnson needs to announce his presence with authority. A big first month impression can do wonders in silencing the Pena critics.

 

Secondly, DJ, we have to get you a good MP3 file so we can pick you a better walk-up song than “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats. It is catchy, but it drives me simply insane trying to not stand up and do the dance mannerisms…Seriously!

Sean Rodriguez: My resolution for S-Rod is that he can finally feel secure at Second Base for the Rays. We all know he has mad skills all over the diamond, but I would love for him to find a root system at Second. His timely hits and great defensive presence is a testament to his work ethic and his talents.

My second resolution for Rodriguez is that someone teach him the “Stingray Shuffle” this Spring so that we do not have to worry about his Gulf of Mexico activities on Rays home off days.

There are so many other Rays players in the Rays roster that need to have great resolute seasons to put their name on the lips of the baseball public in 2011.

Hope you enjoyed my small journey into some of my hopes and wants for the Rays in 2011. There is a link attached to each players charity if you would like to explore and learn more about their efforts outside of the ballpark to help those in and around our baseball world.

 

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