Results tagged ‘ Elijah Dukes ’

Tampa Bay’s Favorite Scapegoat is Hot-lanta Bound

People in Tampa Bay are going to have to anoint a new scapegoat in the Trop. for 2013 because their old target, BJ Upton train is heading to Hotlanta. We already knew the odds of Upton returning to the Tampa Bay Rays were slimmer than his waist size, but now armed with a 5-year $75 million dollar lunch pail, Upton will be meandering along with his family up I-75 a tad to the N L east contender.

All that stands in the way of Upton securing his treasure is passing a Brave’s physical exam, but we all know that is a formality as Upton was in the best shape of his career at the end of 2012, and possibly knowing his payday was on the horizon, might have tweaked himself a bit to excite just such a ample and multi-year deal.

It is kind of sad that some will be left with the image of Upton possibly not being a team player, someone who might actually understand the word “lolly gagging”, and lastly that his concentration on game day has been mistaken for indifference. Ask anyone within the confines of the Rays clubhouse and they will tell you how much this guy has matured since the 2007 days when veteran Cliff Floyd mentored the oldest of the MLB Upton clan.

Even before he stepped foot again in the Trop. after his first venture into the majors at 17, people held Upton’s past and associations with others against him, even as far back as his DUI in North Carolina and as a member of the Terrible trio from Durham along with ex-Rays malcontents Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes. I seriously think that he had a black mark against him that so many would not/could not shake off him that he was doomed to be either loved or hated during his Rays tenure.

I do not want this to seem like a conspiracy theory, but it was almost like Upton didn’t have a chance with some fans in St. Pete even though he created “Upton’s Bunch” to help local south side St. Peterburg kids, or that he held his charity events to help organizations. Even after his positive on-field and off-field affirmations, Upton still heard the murmurs and cackles from the fan base about his long stride looking like he was moving at half speed.

Some even had the audacity to mock his Center field play as mediocre when considering Upton was projected as a speedy, well-tooled infielder and offered to test the CF waters as a challenge to his talents, in my opinion Upton nailed the transition, possibly transforming into one of the best Center fielder to ever grace a Rays uniform.

Upton’s game day demeanor also struck a chord with a segment of the Trop. crowd as he would become a bit quieter and sometimes over transfixed on game day that Upton made unthinkable mental errors both in the field and on the base paths with regularity erasing possible scoring opportunities because of him taking his eye off a slick pitcher or a catcher with a rocket arm. Suddenly he was badgered as being aloof on the field when in reality he was too concentrated on the small things and some major mistakes reared their ugly heads.

Upton even gave more fuel to the crowd’s smoldering embers when he would give long glares and a bit of sass to the home Plate Umpires, possibly branding himself with the guys in blue as someone you can get rattled with a borderline call or be caught wide-eyed with his bat on his shoulder with a hard breaking slider. Upton didn’t help himself with his batting swing mechanics and his prolific high strikeout totals every season.

Upton played in 966 Rays contests and leaves St. Petersburg with 8 seasons as a Rays that included 118 HR, 447 RBI, 232 stolen bases, a lifetime .255 average. But the stats so many will remember are his 69 times caught stealing, his 1,020 K’s and a total of 58 errors. Missing from even those facts was the shoulder pains, nagging hamstring and ankle injuries he played through for the sake of his squad. People have loved to downplay his outfield skill level, but out of his 71 career fielding errors, only 24 came when he was stationed in the outfield. Over the past 2 MLB seasons Upton has had back-to-back 3 error seasons proving his skill set has not only improved, but he is a capable Center fielder.

One of the things that personally rattled me coming from the fan base was the fact they all thought Upton was not “in-tune” or a leader in the Rays clubhouse. I guess they all have somehow forgotten Carl Crawford’s tussle with Pat Burrell in the Rays locker room when Burrell questioned Upton’s team commitment. For another player to want to physically as well as verbally stand up for you even in the clubhouse setting shows he had his team’s respect and confidence.

Personally I have known Upton since his first venture into the MLB a long time ago. He was a bit shorter, weighted maybe 160 pounds then soaking wet. Through his 8 seasons with the Rays I have seen him grow taller, confident and show the traits needed to not only be a leader, but also someone who can lead by example. I will miss Upton. Always made sure when I saw him to ask how his Dad and Mom were and he would cock a smile and a head nod.

It has been fun watching Upton mature on the field and off the field as a dad himself. I can sometimes shrug off a player leaving by using and analogy “it is all part of the game”, but with Upton it is different. I think he was wise to refuse the Rays offer of $13.3 million to stay another year. Even though some will say his new vista is just an 8-hour drive up I-75 from his old Trop. home, Upton needed a change of scenery, to re-energize his career and himself. Upton needed to go away to finally be missed…… by all of us. 

Blalock is the Bandage, not the Rays Answer

 J Meric / Getty Images
 
Anyone who has known me for any amount of time know that I have very well cemented opinions about this whole enchilada concerning Pat “The DFA” Burrell and Rays new poster problem child Hank Blalock. I do agree with the Rays Front Office that it was time to make some sort of residual personnel change and find a feasible offensive option at Durham for the Rays woes at the Designated Hitter spot.

But what concerns me is not the haste of the fond farewell to the Burrell Era, but the Rays reasoning for accepting Blalocks “convoluted” threats and letting him get what he wanted in the long run instead of flushing him out of the Rays organization. This recent action goes a bit against the grain of the Rays usual mentality to purge those negative influences instead of enhance them through promotion in their farm system.


There was already a viable Ray solution currently on the Rays 25-man roster named Willy Aybar who was more than capable of taking over and having instant success at the DH position. Why did the Rays Front Office bring in their resident angry child Blalock who might end up doing more harm than good in the character of this cohesive Rays clubhouse. Why wasn’t Aybar, who has seen his name erased from duty at First Base lately not given a chance to “own” the D H spot for himself before letting Blalock and his agent Scott Boras  deafening verbal barrages force the Rays hands on give in to their temper tantrum problem child.

In essence, the Rays did not have to play any part in Blalocks  tug and pull game, but there might be some sort of dark reasoning to all this madness that will expose itself in time. Sure there have been acknowledgments from the Rays camp that those verbal barrages did not play into the recent decision that could have ultimately exploded on them on May 15th if the Rays did not make a corresponding move to entice Blalocks happiness. My twisted point here is that this is second moment of Blalock misery that has descended upon the Rays Front Office ears in less than 60 days that Blalock has thrown his blatant opinions and close-ended options to the media instead of hashing them out in private with the Rays Front Office like a true professional.

I hate to say it like this, but I have more respect for the two snitches in the Mariner’s locker room right now than a player who whines through the media to hasten his departure from the minor leagues. But sometimes things are done in a business like baseball to hastly dampen outward disruptions while a viable alternative solution or destination can be fully figured out from stem to stern.

If you consider baseball a normal business, then why did the Rays let an “employee” manipulate their cherished positive value system and give him a promotion to the Major Leagues instead of sending Blalock on the same sharp rail that disgruntled former Rays employees Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes took on their treks out of town and to their MLB squads. And we all know how well that move went for the Rays organization. Well, at least the Young trade netted us key Rays contributors Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. 

 RRCollection

But this time for some odd reason, the Rays decided to let the playground bully get his way and stroll into the Rays locker room with his chest extended far and wide. I can tell you I will be one of those Rays fans sitting on their hands until good old # 9 gives me a legitimate and constant reason to raise them and pop them together. And the main reason for my defiance to Blalock comes from his numerous rants and raves that I felt was not needed if he truly did have the stats and the ability to help instead of hinder this squad. But there were other options at Durham who might have also fit the bill for the Rays. Cue the Dan Johnson promotional video.


Seriously, let’s look at both Aybar and Johnson for a moment before I make a final statements on Mr. Blalock. Coming into Sunday’s game, Aybar has been a great offensive addition to the Rays with the constant flux concerning Burrell before his final Designated For Assignment verdict on Saturday. Considering Aybar went a combined 5 for 21 with a HR and 6 RBI on the Rays recent 9-game road trip, Aybar has shown a knack for getting the right hit at the right moment to spark the Rays offense. And his exclamation point just Saturday afternoon of hitting a walk-off Home Run in the bottom of the ninth inning off former Rays reliever Jesus Colume shows he has the gumption and the ability to fill the D H position in-house without Blalock in the fold.

So let’s turn our attention to my subtle reasoning for a Dan Johnson promotion, who like Blalock can play most of the Rays infield positions. Johnson has also been on a bit of a tear in the minor leagues with Durham to start the season. And if you stack them side-by-side, they might make the Rays decision a bit more…well “convoluted” to me. Johnson has appeared in 31 games and has hit .325 while Blalock was maintaining a .349 batting average. Close enough to maybe throw a tie into that mixture of facts. 

If you look at their collective OPS so far in 2010 at Durham, Johnson has a 1.047 OPS as opposed to Blalocks .910 mark. During their Bulls tenure, Blalock has played mostly Third Base while Johnson has manned the First Base bag for the Bulls. But I really think that Johnson’s 11 HR compared to Blalocks 4 HR gives Johnson a distinctive edge as an offensive weapon for the Rays. But maybe the Rays saw Johnson’s 25 strikeouts compared to Blalocks 19 and considered that stat another tie or wash. But then two stats that should of made Johnson a “shoe-in for promotion might be his .651 Slugging Percentage and 15 walks. It shows shows Johnson is more selective at the plate compared to Blalocks 10 walks and .505 Slugging Percentage.

One of the explanations for Blalocks promotion was his overall versatility to play both corner positions, plus add a Designated Hitting option from the left-side of the plate. But Johnson also has that same level of distinction. I hope the Rays did some serious soul searching before they arrived at this final decision to bring Blalock to this Rays clubhouse. Considering the combined abundance of extensive Scouting and player development intelligence within the Top floor offices at Tropicana Field, you got to think there is a secret black ops plan or some sort of alternative universe thought process in rewarding Blalock for his convoluted comments and threats.

And I expect to get hammered by some people who will try and tell me to give Blalock a chance because he was so great for this team this Spring. That was true for the two weeks Blalock played until the last week of Spring Training when Blalock seemed to veer from his “Rays Way” of thinking. That moment provided our first look into the Darkness of the Blalock world. After the Rays announced that Blalock did not have a coveted slot on the Rays final 25-man roster, his first wave of frustration or disbelief hit his brain stem hard and without thinking of possible recourse, he rebounded with an instant call for the Rays to find a team that would “respect his services” or send him packing.

Some will say that the Rays worked with him and gave him assurances and possible scenarios for promotion at certain moments in the Rays season, but Blalock began to get antsy and wanted fruition to the primal Rays song and dance. And there might be a Rays crafty ulterior motive here to let Blalock showcase his talents until possibly the Trade Deadline in the end of July when the Rays could discuss his final visa papers to leave the Rays-land for another location in return for some added minor league talent.

Maybe even back in March the Rays had a plan to maybe hold onto Blalock when he would become a “premium” player and use the market to their advantage to get some needed resources heading in their quest for a 2010 Playoff berth. And if that is the intention of the Rays in the long run, then Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman would have been wise to swallow his tongue and take the verbal abuses when it might net some key member(s) to a future Rays squad.

But in the end, this should have been Aybar time to shine for the Rays. Even if he is only hitting .239 in his limited appearances, he was riding a wave of increasing offensive firepower and could reward the Rays greatly in their ultimate faith in him. But then again, Aybar was batting .308 in his past 13 games prior to Saturday afternoon’s contest after starting the season 1 for 12. If that is not the sign of a positive turnaround, then I am as dumb as a box of rocks So with Blalock here, it is a no-brainer that Aybar might get the multitude of appearances against left-handed hitters while Blalock might get his moments against a right-hander.

 Mike Carlson / AP

It seems to me that the Rays made the choice of bringing up Blalock with a more than ultimate chance to showcase Blalock to other team’s who might be in the market for either power hitting options in their corner infield spots or possibly DH. It might end up being the Rays real ruse to use Blalocks talents to win some key ballgames and propel them within sight of their goal, then jettison him before the fire in his belly begins to burn again…..possibly in late July.

So I will sit silent until Blalock makes me a believer that the verbal assault were just his ploy to show he has the talent and ability to be here. But until then, my hands are folded for him, but cheering wildly and loudly for Aybar to take the position firmly in his hands and keep Blalock on the Rays bench. Oh, and hopefully during his tour in the minor leagues, Blalock finally learned how to hit a breaking ball on the outside corner. If not, it is going to be a long Summer for Blalock.

 

Dear B J ,


Steve Nesius / AP

Hey there B J,

Got to tell you dude, lately you have doing some everlasting damage to your professional credibility here with your present boss, the Rays. Now we have known each other since  you first got called up in September 2001, when you were 17 and a few of us hit a local nightspot after a Yankees/Rays game and danced, chatted and got to know each other. I hope I can write to you as someone who has seen you grow as a ballplayer and offer some advice on your current problems. So take what I am about to say as a buddy just speaking to another buddy from heading towards a dangerous place.

No, it is not like you are attempting to go out on a building ledge and we need to talk you down, but you are in a very critical stage in your professional life where anything said from you right now is taken as gospel.  Now to even speak out of turn until your Batting Average and your fan approval  begins to again go north would be a very critical detour in your career. Seriously dude, when all that garbage came down a few years ago  from the local Durham fishwrap about the “Three Amigos” (Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes and moi) while with the Bulls, I was the guy fighting with Rays fans to see the words did not come from the “true” BJ, but from an “off the record”  BBQ conversation.

You rebuilt those bridges within the organization and showed you were a team player and you rebuilt your image to be sturdy and capable of taking on almost anything. But I have to level with you guy, right now the glaring games with the Umpires and the jawing after called third strikes along with the half efforts at flailing at balls outside the zone are making you look like a shadow of your former self.

E-man, I got to tell you this honestly, for a while there it looked like you were finally crawling out of that deep hole and were again showing that you loved hitting in the lead-off spot, but something suddenly died within your swing. Something zapped that energy and that strong will to strike that small white ball around like a toy.

Why is it that you got so upset about going down in the order? Dude, Joe Maddon has stood by and deflected the daily pot shots at you for so long that maybe he finally decided you needed to show some spunk and intestinal fortitude, and the 7-spot was a chance to sort it all out and still play every day.

Instead we got an entitlement attitude and a sense of lost focus at the plate. Dude, I know you still got it in you. Going down in the order sucks, but you are still living the dream and patroling the center fields of the MLB. And this latest bruhaha about you being moody about going to number 9 spot, Well stop it. I have to go with Maddon on this one dude. You forgot who B J Upton was there for a bit. You forgot the guy who the the opposition  nervous and sweaty while on base.
 

But If you truly want to know something……. Jason Bartlett did not like or want that lower spot in the either, but he smacked that ball and produced the hits and  drove in those guys in scoring position when you forgot how to play the game for a bit. Through him focusing  all his negative emotions onto his hitting, he got the desired spot he wanted. But he also thought of the nine hole as a “second lead-off” guy. And maybe that is where your mental state should sir right now. You get on base, you got guys coming up right behind you who have your back……everytime.


Chris O’Meara / AP

Understanding that was a move made for the team, not to punish you. It gives you an honest chance to readjust and refocus yourself to become the fiesty outfielder the fans have gotten to know and love. The actions that need to be taken were simple. You just need to now just chill a bit and accept things at the plate. Let Maddon go ot there and argue the balls and strikes.

Right now the more you whine to the guys in blue, the wider the strikezone might get before the end of this season. Smile, walk away and surpise everyone. Right now you are hiding within the shadow of a emerging star. You have not snuffed out the limelight, but it is growing dimmer. By showing maturity at plate, and towards the umpire crews, you will gain back that simple strikezone. Right now, I do not believe the umpires consider you a model citzen of the kingdom of MLB.

Secondly, get over all the chatter and ramblings about C C . I understand he is your sidekick, or vice versa. You guys will always be friends no matter if he plays here for in China. Look at the way CC is handling it, like a professional. He knows baseball is a business and he is hitting and playing like a fiend right now. He knows that the team could re-load the farm system with a trade for him. He is not happy about it, but both of you have seen enough guys come and go from the Ray to know it is not in your hands.

Come on guy, you are better than this B S. you truly know you got the stuff, or you would not be getting the chatter about your  “Web Gem” plays in Centerfield. You are within a whisper of getting your name mentioned with some of the best right now, and you might ruin it by sulking at the plate. Dude, they do not consider guys for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award who whine and sink at the plate. They do not give that beautiful Rawling trophy to guys who hits under .250 and does not look like they are leaders. That award is more than a defensive award, it recognizes the best of the best.

So the decision is yours dude. You know what this team needs right now is another bat to spring out and take control. Pat “the Bat” is beginning to find a small groove. The team has made a trade to get more production, and you now have got to carry your outfield weight. I am not asking you to hit .600 the next two months, but I am asking you go get on base, make pitchers nervous and be the B J we all came to watch play the game.

I got your back no matter what. I know how far you have sunk, and I know it is a tough road. But you got the goods to beat it and go forward from here. So why not take tonight’s game as a “coming out. part 2″ party and prove to some of the grumbling factions around the Rays Republic that you might be down, but you are not out.


Gail Burton / AP

Dude, just like the team, you are in a “must win” situation to garner  back the respect and the accolades you have sweated and labored for since that first call-up in 2001. It is time to take the Junior off your name is spirit and play like a man, take it like a man, and if defeated take your licks like a man. You know me, I will fight with words or fists to proclaim you are not a bum.
 

You have got to show these people the fire is still lit inside you. They think the flame is gone. It is time E-man. Time for you to show why we have been behind you for so long. It can be done with something as simple as a little more concentration and effort. So just think about what I am saying here. Think of what you are tossing to the side with those comments and outward anger. The number 9 slot is still in the lineup, you are not sitting on the bench watching Gabe Kapler or someone from the minor leagues play your spot.

Time to put childish things away like pity parties and temper tantrums and play like a professional again. You wanted this kind of attention and admiration since you were a young kid. Do not throw it all away on an attitude problem that will label you for the rest of your career. Tampa Bay has had this situation before, and his name was Jose Guillen.  Like you, he could play a fantastic outfield, could get the ball anywhere on the field. But he lacked plate discipline and focus. And that is the issue with you right now.

Not a lack of class, but of attitude and disbelief they would drop you down in the order. Remeber BJ, Guillen was here until his contract was up. After that he was free to go and became someone elses worry. I do not want to see you go down the same road. He was a great defender and could play the RF corner better than anyone who has ever put on a Rays jersey, but the drama with him on the team finally got to much. Young and Dukes are also gone because of their internal and external issues and frustrations surfacing at the wrong times.

Dude, all I am asking you to do it be that old BJ. The kid who could not wait to go to the ballpark and play baseball again. I am asking for that guy who used to grin when he got on base, smirk when he stole a base, and pump his fist when he scored a run.  want to see the guy who smiled before, during and after the game again. If not, then all I can say is I told you so.

Are we seeing the True Elijah Dukes?

 


RRCollections

I  wanted to believe that  former Rays bad boy Elijah Dukes has changed. Based on his actions this weekend in Tropicana fielkd you thought the guy might have finally gotten the idea on how to act upon a major league field, and off it. He did have a great series against his fomer tm as he went 4-12 with 2 RBI and 2 runs scored.
 

The Washington Nationals did however kind of place him in a plastic bubble and not let him give any statements or interviews while he was here, but he did perform like you had hoped a good ballplayer would after confrontation and controversy follow you. But then we also did not know alot about Dukes since he left the team. We did not know about incidents and confrontations with players and opposition fans around the National League.

I really was going to give him a mountain of respect from me for the way he kept his composure in rightfield on Friday night when the hecklers really got into prime spirits about his family matters and past screw ups. I do not know who the group of guys were, but they sure knew a lot of things about Dukes personal life. The guys heckling him in Section 140 sure knew a lot about his personal life and made sure he heard every word of it. But I was going to give him props on the way he took the chant “That baby don’t look like me” from the crowd and seemed to bounce on the field in perfect cadence with the taunt. But then I did not know anything else about his action this season with the Nationals. 
 

But it is not like he has totally been without sin or problems even this season for the Nationals. There was an incident in the Nationals dugout earlier in the week where Nationals Manager Manny Acta and Dukes got into a verbal argument in plain sight of the television cameras after a pretty animated home run celebration. It was not Dukes who hit the bomb, but team mate Lasting Milledge, who is also a guy from the Tampa Bay area with a checkered past.

Worst of all, Dukes showed up his manager by faking the high-five and dropping his hand as he approached Acta in the post-game celebration on the field. Ugly. According to the Washington Times, “As Dukes and Milledge crossed the plate, Dukes looked back at Capps (who blew his first save in 16 tries this season) in a move that could have been perceived as taunting the opposing pitcher. ”  It was the top of the ninth inning, so Pittsburgh Pirate closer Matt Capps did not get a chance to maybe show his own emotions by maybe drilling Dukes in the back in his next at bat.  So I guess Dukes still has the competitive bad boy lurking in his huge frame.

Anyone who has lived in Tampa Bay for awhile knows the adventures of Dukes and his children’s mothers. I even know of a website host who was thinking of making up 25 t-shirts with the words, “Elijah is my Daddy” and sit them within sight of the  outfield rail for the game. But he had a bit of conscience knowing it was not in the best interest of him or Dukes to prey on the subject. But I do have to say, I would have laughed for a while if I saw those shirts on some kids under 10 years old.

I mean I must have been so involved in the Rays 2008 playoff run that I missed this entire incident in Shea Stadium between the fans and pitcher Mike Pelfrey during September 2008.  Dukes barked at  New York Mets starter Mike Pelfrey following an inside pitch in the fourth inning – one at-bat after he belted a mammoth home run. Dukes also incited already-booing fans behind the Nationals dugout in the ninth with a series of arm gestures. And of course, after the game a Washington PR staffer stood guard to keep away the media as Dukes did not comment after the game.

Actions and reactions by him are going to be judged the rest of his career and how he responds to them will be key for him. Positive actions and comments will help bury his past and have him feeling more secure about playing in places like Tropicana Field in the future. It had to be rough for him this weekend. This is his home turf, the place where he made memories both as a Rays and as a high school star.

But right now everything he has done good in the world is overshadowed by comments and actions in his past. Hopefully the personal assistant that is always by his side has been a huge influence on him to promote a better image and man to the fans. So far I am seeing a different Dukes, but that could maybe be a mirror reflection of what I want to see in him too. You want misguided souls to find their ways, maybe Dukes has finally been able to come home and feel relaxed, even with the chants in the stands.

Rays Reminiscing…………..A Year Later

 

 

 

 

A little over 13 months ago we took on a new persona here in Tampa Bay. Everyone remembers the limp, win-challenged Tampa Bay Devilrays. Well, we were told to expect changes and get used to winning and maybe keeping a roll of antacids in our pockets for the 2008 season. But little did we know what was about to happen to effect our lives, stomachs and attitude towards our home team.

 

First there was the events st Straub Park that put the entire thing into motion for 2008. Kevin Costner and Modern West came to put on a free concert for the Tampa Bay Masses as we dropped the Devil from our moniker and became to Rays………free and clear. Along with those changes were vibrant logo with a highly accented “R” and the burst of light, which could of been a sunburst, a flashlight, or maybe even a quasar from the futre telling us about 2008.

 

 

 

 

The event brought alot of mixed emotions into the Tampa Bay area, but also brought about a sense of removing the past and being reborn to become what we should always have been…winners.  Not only did the team have a new energy about it, but the player showed the emotion and the anticipation on stage that night to bring about total acceptance of the new look. I only had one problem with all of this change. I still thank that the road jersey should have the “Tampa Bay” naming on the chest instead of the Rays.

 

It might be something simple to most people, but I also have been on teams that accented the away jersey would have a regional flair, and the Rays became only one of a handful of teams that now held the same uniform both home and away. One small patch on the sleeve kept the flying “ray” alive, but for how long. I have a feeling we might see it gone in 2009, replaced by some sort of symbolic gesture of winning, or maybe a “burst” like in the center of the current logo.

 

 

 

 

After the effectiver launching of the new logo and advertising, the team went on a media blitz that saturated the Tampa Bay area with the new attitude and logo. Gone were the green and white shirts off the shelves, and on them now was the burst and the typically blue hats with the white “TB” on them. Also gone were the 5 or 6 variations of the caps during the initial launch. Tampa Bay wanted the entire area to re-unite under one cap scheme before re-launching variations and knock-offs.

 

The Champs Sporting Good store player appearance were extremely popular and some store even ran out of certain team apparel that night. The buzz was all over the Tampa Bay area about the recharged Rays and their plans for the future.  So we got to relax for a short while before the team announced two huge trades of disgruntled or negatively-aligned players. One was a superstar in waiting, while the other may someday be a great powerhitter, but not with the Rays.

 

 

 

 

Delmon Young, who had been in the doghouse of Maddons’ since the last game of the season was jettisoned to the great white dome in Minnesota along with utility guy Brendan Harris and minor league outfielder Jason Pridie. The deal at first looked like the Twins had fleeced the Rays for a potential All-Star and slick-hitter in Young.  But the deal did not take a Tampa Bay turn into late in Spring Training when it looked like two of the players dealt to the Rays might be starters on the team.

 

 

 

 

Jason Bartlett came to the Rays as a much under used appreciated and mis used member of the Twin’s infield. He had good skills at the plate, but his strong point was his defense. The second member of the trade might have come with the most baggage to Tampa Bay. Matt Garza was a great pitcher, but he got into himself too much and might have done himself more damage than good in his time with the Twins. In the end, both guys became valuable members of the team and did not even look back as they moved forward with the Rays. The minute Spring Training started at the Namoli Complex, you could see both guys were relishing in their change of scenery.  Bartlett quickly got into the team’s rhythm and poised to become a valuable member of the squad.

 

 

 

 

Garza tried to become a dominating pitcher early, but his mind got in the way of his pitching and sulking and frustration came to the top alot in the beginning. The truning point for this trade came on that faithful day in Texas where Garza could not longer hide the frustrations and outwardly exploded in the dugout. That day, Garza let it all out and began a transformation that made him into a stellar pitcher.

 

 

 

 

The second trade might not have made much sense at the time, but it was done more out of helping a player who did not think he needed the help at the moment. Elijah Dukes will someday be a trememdous hitter and outfielder, but the local enviorment for him was toxic and he needed to leave before it destroyed him. Duke was traded to the Washington Nationals and did not see a huge amount of action in 2008, but the positive did rear their heads for him during the year.

 

He played inspired ball and did not focus or dwell on the off the field problem he had in Tampa Bay. He showed the Nationals the raw ability and power he had, and made some amazing plays in the field before finally going down in a game against the New York Mets. In that game, Dukes sprinted for a ball near the base of the wall and hit it with such force it should have broken his leg.

 

He did come outy with a knee problem, but came back  quickly and even made more heads turn before the end of the year. He stayed out of trouble and learned that the change of scenery made the trade a blessing in disguise. Tampa Bay might not have gotten alot in return for Dukes, but they did give him his life back, and he repaid them by doing it the right way.

 

 

 

 

After these two trades, the team went about signing two members of the 2008 team that made contributions in different ways. Troy Percival was chasing a top 10 spot in the All-Time save list when he signed a 2-year contract with the Rays. Because of his knowledge of Maddon’s gameplan, he was the perfect candidate for closing out Rays games. He came with veteran experience and postseason muscle, which could come in handy for the young Bullpen.

 

His work ethic and chats with the young guys could serve a dual purpose as having another pitching coach out there in the Bullpen to educate and relate to the other players. Percival came into the year  wanting to secuire the back end of the Rays Bullpen and give them some stability in the position.  Little did we know at the time what would happen, but in 2007, it was heralded as a major upgrade and a certain intimidation factor.

 

 

                              

 

 

The second signing was for a former outfielder who had won a World Series ring just like Percival. Cliff Floyd came to the team with a dual mission. He came to the team to provide ammunition and experience to help educate and emotionally charge the young bench. Floyd came here with great credentials, but his on-field mobility was in question from the start. Gone were the legs who could produce a run from a single, but the power and the stroke were still there in force.

 

He became an instant leader in the clubhouse and lead by example. Always the professional, Floyd took young players like B J Upton and Carl Crawford under his wing and taught both of them the art of the game. That half the battle in this psort was fought between their ears and in their words and comments to others. You could see the change in both players’ early in the year, and it set the tone for the team.

 

                                

 

 

 

So with these 4 episodes early in the off season for the Rays, the team set about  a series of changes like never before in their history. They had a change of uniforms, attitude and a veteran experience level they had not witnessed in their short history. The sky was the limit for the young team before the Feb. reporting day, and from there they just kept making history. 

 

Rays Tidbits and Views for 2008

 

I used to cover a lot of sports in this area for a afternoon paper that ceased publication in the late 80’s. I also have played both in high school and college baseball for many years. It is with great local pride that I have followed my hometown team, the Tampa Bay Rays since their inception. I was lucky enough to be one of the first group of local people to put down an initial $ 20.00 as a deposit for Season Tickets.



In this vein, I feel I have ample experience to comment on the sport and my team. The Tampa Bay Rays recently began their second decade with an transformed logo, and an eager emphasis on a new outdoor stadium proposal(which I support, and will get deeper into in another blog).

 


Their is an air of positive energy starting with coaching staff, and spreading to the first-time Spring Training rookies. I have been out to the complex a few times in the last week, and have seen a more relaxed group with an intense attitude to succeed this year. Everyone seems to have a confident stride, and a renewed vigor and vitality this year. Prior Spring Training squads did not displayed this trait. We have players talking about positive moves within the organization, critical steps and moves that will set the stage for success this season.  Off-season moves that were viewed as ” filling the holes” on the roster, and bold statements of a new clubhouse leader-in-training.

 


The new Rays logo has been viewed as a reconstruction of a franchise, a signal and symbol  that this franchise wants to go upward this year and remain in that sphere for a long time.

 

Gone is the playful swimming “Ray” on the uniforms, to will still be included this tear as a sleeve patch, but  might not survive after this year. Gone is his likeness on the caps, and in the main uniform design.  You have to know where you have been to understand where you are going. A common misconception or oversight  is the fact that the “Devil” has been removed from the uniforms for about 4 years.

 

 

In 2004, the vest jersey sported the simple word, “Rays” blazoned over the chest with our friendly “Ray” character confined to the green undershirt sleeve. Not since the 2004, has the word “Devilray” adorned a uniform for this team. the original 1970-disco induced  acid-trip jerseys did have the word “Devilrays” adorning the rainbow hued uniforms.

 

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I will hit a real fast misconception on the proposed stadium plans. The big negative voiced by  this plan has been that the proposed stadium and monies from the selling of the current stadium’s property would better suit the city’s budget cutbacks and be used to retain and train new law enforcement and firefighters. I understand that this might be seen as the “city’s” money to be distributed in any manner it sees fit, but the tax situation concerning the stadium,  and its property is under the city Parks and Recreation Department, and its monetary windfalls  can not be used for capital or central city government improvements.


If any money is made from this sale,or lease of the property, it can only be used in certain areas, like the Pier, Mahaffey Theatre, or any park renewals and upgrades. The tax situation in the current stadiums’ future redevelopment/sale can not help the general budget demise that the city will feel in the near distant future.

 

 

I actually see the idea of the Rays giving $ 150 million upfront, instead of 10 years of rent payments, as a general promise by the ownership group to see this proposal and construction succeeds from day one.

 


There will be a few surprises this Spring that you had better be ready for here.


We currently have a top three pitching rotation that is  all under 27 years of age, and under team control for at least 3 or more years. The trio of Scott Kazmir (last years’ AL K leader), James Shields( getting better and better every outing in 2007), and newly acquired Ray, Matt Garza ( former Twins first rounder ), will be the envy of ownership groups around the league.


Even the guys fighting for positions, like Edwin Jackson, Jeff Niemann, Mitch Talbot. David Price and host of minor league All-Stars, will make this the most competitive and hotly contested  rotation slot battle in our  short history.



Never before in our franchise, have we had three slots filled by reporting date. David Price( LHP), out top pick from Vanderbuilt tossed his first 33 pitches in the live batting practice today. Pitching coach Jim Hickey did not show too much excitement about it, but I saw them sitting there talking the entire time. And I do not think they were discussing tee times. Coach Joe Madden said earlier in the week that he felt we could see Price sometime this year up with the big club. I agree with him in what I saw today, but it is only his first time out with the big boys, and a few months at Triple-A might actually prime him better for the future call-up.

 

My opinion is, that if Edwin Jackson does not win a starting rotation slot, he will be dealt to Seattle. The Mariners’ have been high on him for the entire off season, and with no minor league options left, might fetch something instead of a possible loss on the waiver wire. Now, I love watching Edwin “Action” Jackson pitch, I even have one of his Game-worn jerseys in my collection. So, to see him leave would not be good for my soul. In the second half of the season, I think that Edwin transformed his pitching style and saw positive steps to grow on this year.

 


Newly signed Outfielder Cliff Floyd told a local reporter the other day that he has not been in this great of shape and not hurting since his time with the Florida Marlins. By the way, that is where Cliff earned his World Series ring.

 


Troy Percival is already getting the clubhouse rolling. Ask any of the Clubbies about his water cooler next to his locker. Success has its rewards. It is actually a prank played by the Clubhouse staff when he yelled about water the first day. Welcome to the Rays, Troy, buckle up. it is going to be a wild ride this year.

 

The St. Petersburg Times also had a recent article where they asked All-Star LF Carl Crawford about the Delmon Young Elijah Dukes trades and situations. Carl commented, and the world took it wrong, that Delmon and Elijah were distractions and problems for the team last year. Carl is growing daily into the team clubhouse leader by example.


Carl is a pretty quiet guy. Those who have met him, know he is reserved guy, who has the passion of a warrior. In the past, I think he could have stepped up and been more of a force in the clubhouse, but probably did not feel it was his job to be “the Man” for people to look towards for inspiration or mire words. Carl reported in the best shape of his career to the complex, which going to mean trouble for the every AL pitching staff.


He built a gym and installed a pitching machine in his home in Arizona to get pumped and primed before the reporting date. Dedication like that will make him “the Man” this year. I think that second All Star nod also got him thinking that he has a chance to change the past of this team, and lead the guys towards respectability and new found glory. Go for it Carl, you are just the guy to be the face of this team. Smile, and let America see those dimples.

 

 

Let me get more into that trade smack talk here. Granted, Dukes had a mess of situations off the playing field that greatly diminished those pretty Home Runs in Yankee Stadium. He was given a bit too much leash to run and subsequently hung himself.


Another article in the Times, the the next day quoted Dukes as looking forward to his time with the Washington Nationals. You know, the team did him right from the start by having a staff member, James Williams tag along with Dukes daily to observe and keep and eye out on the 23 year old Outfielder.


We forget he is 23, and he is still learning who he is in life. His past is checkered and his future is as bright as the sun. Dukes was sitting in the Nationals locker room with his 3 year old son in tow, and looking forward to the adventure at hand. Here are a few quotes from Dukes in that article by the St. Petersburg Times:

 

“I was a real hard headed guy,” Dukes said. “It was at times hard for me to listen. I needed to be able to admit that I do things wrong and it’s okay to do things wrong, but to make good after that.” “I have tests in my life every day, trying to raise my son and stuff like that,” Dukes said. “I had my issues, but I overcame them without being on the front page or behind bars or something. So, obviously I kind of dealt with my things the right way.”

 

Dukes agreed with Rays All Star outfielder Carl Crawford, who told the Times on Tuesday that he didn’t think the “maturing part would have happened here,” for Dukes and Delmon Young. Crawford said that Dukes and Young had “too much free range to do whatever they wanted to do.” “You’re gonna need that veteran guy there sometimes to be able to stick it to you hard,” Dukes said. ” And we didn’t really have that many older guys that been through too much to experience things with. (But) not all people need that type of thing, so its not expected.” Before Dukes left, he offered one more – if not his last – promise, “From now on, everyone will get a chance to see the real Elijah Dukes.”

 


Let’s hope he becomes that big bat that he was destined to be in his career. Say Hello to Jesus Colome for me Dukes.

 

 

 Now on the Delmon Young tip, I have never been a big fan of him since he pulled that “he said/she said”, about not being called up in September. Now this is not the Durham Bulls area story touting Delmon and Elijah Dukes and B J Upton were bad-mouthing the Rays management, this was the 2006 season where it could not be confirmed if he ( Delmon ), or his brother ( Dimitri ) said the nasty comments.


Building the fire internally, was the actions while with the Bulls in 2007,  on that,  where he threw a bat at the umpire and got a major suspension and fine, did not put him in better company, or in my good graces. If you saw the video, the opponents catcher knew something was going to happen, because he went out of the crouch and to the mound. He knew a war was about to blow….hard that night.


It all came to head this past September when Young decided to “lollygag” his way to first. Joe Madden told Delmon he was going to sit him for the final game. Delmon spouted back he might not even show up to the stadium that day.

 

 I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for him. I had heard he was a bit abrasive in the Rays clubhouse, and looked extremely bored during the Fan Autograph session a few days earlier. His time had come, and he is going to be better for it. You got to remember, this is not the first time we have drafted a member of his family into the Rays organization.

 


Dimitri Young was an original expansion pick of our team, but we did not want him, so we shipped him to an NL team. Delmon might have started to get a “older brother” mentality and feel he deserved more than a “rookies” status on this team. My personal opinion and view of him is that he is not happy here and should of gotten out at the trade deadline, but he showed a late splurge in productivity in September, and that might have helped his case.

 

His attitude cost him the AL Rookie of the Year award. His little base running blunder blew up in his face.

 

The Twins are a better team with him, and we are a better team without him. I would not be surprised if he is a 10-time All Star somewhere else…as long as it is not here.


See you at the ballpark soon. Remember, we might only have 4 more years to enjoy our 70 degree weather inside before the elements get us on Opening Day 2012. Anyone who is ever at the Trop., come down to Section 138, near the bottom. I love talking baseball with everyone,even Yank and Sox fans.


Rays Tidbits

 

The Trivia question for today is for my die hard Red Sox’s Nation fans.

Who’s spirit is said to haunt the stands and press box of Fenway Park?

 

Here is a hint, the current voice of the Sox, Carl Beane, is known to voice a few commonly used  lines from this deceased, and beloved announcer every game . The answer will be at the bottom of the blog.

 

It has just been reported to me from the Rays coconut telegraph that the Rays have inquired about a player from the Atlanta Braves. The player being discussed is third baseman Wily Aybar. Wily was acquired by the Braves in the Dany Baez trade a few years ago from the LA Dodgers’, and has had a few off- field situations for the organization.

Is this might be an insurance policy for the Rays concerning top prospect Evan Longoria. I thought the Rays were set with either Longoria manning the 5-hole or ultra 3b/1b power maven Joel Guzman helping to fill the power gap and base duties until Longoria hit the big time.

Guess the Rays think that they might need another project player who has had situations with the MLB substance abuse system and has left hot-lanta for help from relatives in Boston, without the Braves knowing this beforehand.  Guess we need to have a charitable situation on every roster to remind us why free agents do not flock here to the rain-less confines of the Trop.

 

Granted, Aybar has power and a great glove. He is young( 24), and has a huge upside. But unlike Matt Garza, his upside comes with some baggage that we just traded off to the Washington Nationals. Unlike Dukes, there is no ex-wife or court battles lingering in his future, past or present. Abyar  has tried to show that his wrist injury and situation are behind him.  In Winter Ball in the Dominican Republic, playing for top team Licey, he compiled a .339 average and a .415 OPS in 15 games. 15 games is not the rigors of Spring Training or a 162 game season, but it does give insight to his health and the condition he is in this off season.

Let’s hope the Rays decide to gamble and let Longoria start at third this Spring Training without a upshot prospect looking over his back wanting his position. Let’s hope this team has finally taken the high road and can rely on it’s intuition more about it’s players and their potential. We have a great scouting system that has shown us we have a great knack for talent in our past and in the players coming through the system.

 

I have a few websites on my Bookmarks that show prospects and MLB trade rumors concerning  all baseballs current players. The one I like to visit every day is http://www.MLBTraderumors.com. I am thinking about asking them if they need a correspondent to do the upcoming season from a field-side aspect for the Rays. I have done this before for a newspaper, and during the year for a blob on MLB.com, but never on a daily basis with an emphasis on just one team or segment.

Another writer that has my interest is Eric SanInocencio from Rays Anatomy. He compels me more because he is based out of Birmingham ,Alabama and has a great sense of the Rays and their system. You got to remember that Birmingham is the town that gave you the Michael Jordan experience in the Minor Leagues, and is a hot bed for college and minor league baseball. He is very insightful and genuinely frank about our squad and the upcoming season. Please check it out, and if it is in your type of writing, and you like his style, bookmark him and check in daily, weekly or monthly if that is your thing.

 

I was hitting Rays Anatomy the other day, and saw a article about the Top 20 prospects in baseball. A few are already up in the MLB with short stints in September,2007 , like the Yankees’ Joba Chamberlain.

The Rays had 5 members in that Top 20 list. The second best prospect was, of course, Evan Longoria.  David Price was listed at number 4, but he has not pitched since the NCAA Regional last year and is predicted to make a fast upward move if his stuff is still there this spring. Price has the confidence and the gentle cockiness to know he can survive the MLB hitters and be a great starter for the Rays. I think this kid is the real thing and can be the hidden talent that James Shields showed us a few years ago. He has three pitches that are MLB quality right now.

 

 The thing is, he might need until July to get the rust out and get that command back where he is a threat every time he hits the rubber for the Rays. A lot of news organizations have the Rays contending in 2011 for a AL East crown. If that is the truth, the list of players mentioned in third blog will be the heart and soul of the rotation and lineup in that time period.

Reid Brignac is out future in the SS hole. I have no doubts about this guy after meeting him and seeing a short highlights film on him in the Minors last year. He as slick at the plate as he is in the field. Smooth, rhythmic and poised to be a power hitter in the bottom of the order for the Rays.  He is being nurtured slowly in the minors to develop fully before even hitting the Trop’s infield.

 

I will go on record as saying, that I was hoping B J Upton would get another shot here before Reid was brought up, but he is making a huge  improvement in the off season in Centerfield, and should be an All-Star in the near future with his speed and agility.

Wade Davis and Jacob McGee.

Well, to start, they were impressive at Gulf Coast League,Vero Beach last year before hitting the SW Michigan Rays squad, and have another productive year under their belts  They are currently pitching like a duo not seen since Greg Maddox and Tom Glavine. They have the tools and the abilities to be in the starting rotation in the coming years and be great supporting teammates to the guys they came up with in the Minors. They both have a great head on their collective shoulders and will be great influences in the system for a long time.

The last guy I am going to talk a bit about here is someone who is going to probably get a long look-at this Spring Training. I do not think he is going to be on the 25 man roster this spring, but he is coming up the Rays system fast, and will be pressing on the door this year, maybe as early as June or July.  John Jaso is a great draft pick who is doing everything asked of him the minors, and is going to get his deserved time this Spring.

 

Jaso is not even listed in the Top 10 prospects in the Rays system by some people because he has risen so fast behind the plate. He did something this past year that he has not done in prior Minor league seasons in the Rays system. He was healthy.

There are a few people who think that he will start just below the MLB level this year with the Triple-A Durham Bulls. With Dioner Navarro, and Mike De Felice manning the backstop this year, do not be surprised if Jaso get off to a great start, that he broad jumps a few catchers in the system and is sitting in the Bullpen at the Trop by September.

 

I like Navarro but he has not produced yet to show that high draft pick by the Yankees in the past. This is not to put a curse or hex on the guy. He is a great guy who grew up in the Tampa Bay area, and is a great feel good story for the organization. Dioner will have to keep that great batting streak going that he showed in the second half of the 2007 season to keep the talking to a whisper.

I hope this happens. I like the emotional firestorm that is Mike D, but he does come with some vocal disabilities behind the plate. Now, this is not to mean that he is shy or timid. The exact opposite is true here. Mike has been known to get tossed for his opinions and actions in the past. Just ask the Tigers about his rant a few years ago.  But to be totally frank here, it might be the attitude these young pitchers see from a catcher to give them that extra “umph” to push their game to the next level. An emotional catcher, and a vocal leader can fire up a situation faster than striking out the side.

We shall see.

 

Trivia answer:

It is said that former Red Sox announcer Sherm Feller visits the sox during the home stands and his presence has been felt at the park for a long time. The line that current announcer Carl Beane borrowed from Feller is to say the simple phrase of :”Thank You” after announcing the  teams coaches’. He sees it as a tribute to Feller because for many years, it was Feller’s style to conclude the lineups in that manor. He also does a opening nightly/daily greeting, “Ladies and Gentleman, boys and girls, Welcome to Fenway Park”, just the way the Sherm Feller did all his years at Fenway Park. This adds a sense of history and continued elegance to this storied franchise.

 

 

With that, I am gone.  It is less than 28 days until Pitchers and Catcher report, and I am giddy as a school kid again.   I love the Spring.



 

Recent Rays Moves………….My View from Rightfield

 

 

Wow!

Here it is a few days from the Winter MLB meetings in Opry-ville and we made a few needed moves that will help define our current and future goals for our squad.

 

First off, let me get that off my chest right now. I am not a Delmon Young hater in anyway, but, from my seat in Right Field, I could read some of his body language and tell  he was just buying time before the poisoned axe or his actions  dictated a move to new Fieldturf pastures.

 

 Have fun in the pillow-dome Delmon. You complained about not being able to clearly see balls at the Trop. Wait until you look up in that sea of lights and  true white roof at the Metrodome………..you will wish for the grey white roof of the Trop. I do wish him alot of luck in his future and success with that “Young” brothers curse of having a small attitude adjustment problem. His brother seemed to have finally gotten his attitude to shine with the Nats, let’s hope it doesn’t take Delmon as long to fine the right basepath to being the great teammate. Delmon’s departure will come back to haunt us at times,…………..but only for 6 or 7 games a year.

 

Now the players we got for Delmon are quality guys. Matt Garza is a young player that can br dialed into this rotation for years and will be a positive and needed upgrade to our constantly inproving and maturing pitching staff. Garza has not even hit the stride in his career yet, so the sky is the limit right now with him.

By the way, in Garza’s last 2007 start in, he pitched 6.2 innings with 4 hits and 1 ER against the Royals and Lost the game. We will take 6.2 inning outting any day with only 1 ER…….with the offensive power we have on our roster right now, it should always  be a “W” with the Rays.

 

The additon of Garza is great because this staff can grow into a huge AL East  pitching monster. Scott “The K” Kazmir is just getting started. James Shields was perfecting a few of his pitches last year, and gaining a boatload of knowledge about American League hitters.

 

 Those two will hold down the front of the rotation for a long time. Matt Garza is a great addition to help get those extra ( hopefully) 10-15 wins a year to get close to that hallowed 82-82 mark.

 

They only curious point to this trade is Jason Barlett,the second player involved in this trade.  He is destined to be just a stop-gap fill-in until protege’ Reid Brignac is ready to man the 5 hole for years to come. Bartlett  hit .265 last year, but only has 10 HR’s in his career and only 1,079 AB’s in his career.  He has primarily been a utility man during his career in the bigs, and this is his first extended playing time in the shortstop position.

 

Now he knows the role he will play here in Tampa Bay, but who knows, someone could come to camp to even replace him ( maybe Ben Zobrist ). Worst things have happened to our team.  Remember Danny Batista and Roberto Alomar retiring from our squad with only days to go in Spring Training. Losing these ex- All-Stars was viewed at the time as a failure by the team. It turned into the emmergance of Jorge Cantu and Jonny Gomes as “go-to” guys for the Rays for  that year.  So, sometimes a bad look can turn into a solid gold treasure when you only look at the surface of a situation. But that is why we play the games and do not award a trophy for roster potential, but game results.

 

With that in mind, let me wander a bit. and fantasize here.

 

 Can you go back home again in baseball? Not to a home per se, but to an old team that left you unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, and you selected to a good NL team that did not even know if you could play an entire season because of health and personal concerns.

 

Josh, I have always wanted success for you and knew that you could and would pull yourself together and show the world what a ture 5-tool player looks like up here. You went on to  prove you can play at the highest level and even make their opening day lineup in Right Field. the start of the season offensive expolsion you provided made everyone’s jaws dropped in awe. You finally had an entire country knowing you had it in you, and you proved it to everyone.

 

Hey Josh, I was there the day you came back after your off field problems that took you from baseball and the Rays. I was the Pepsi  guy in the locker room talking to Tim M. right before you went out the door of the training complex and first met the media.

 

I knew then that you had it again. That your head and attitude felt right to me, and I wanted the sky for you. Can you forgive the powers from beyond the Trop’s D-rings and just listen to them if they want to trade and include you on our squad.  I would cheer and enjoy watching you in Right Field again. And a huge plus that people forget, you can be the left-handed bat that Joe has been searching for in the lineup. Could be a sea of pluses for both the team, and yourself.

 

Okay, fantasy time is over……… Trade number two might not seem big on paper or even in reality, but it can be the jump start for each player. Elijah Dukes and Glen Gibson both needed a team that wanted them and believed in them. Now I do not think the Rays ever disliked or wanted harm for Elijah. His off-field and on-field distractions just took their toll on himself and the front office. Both parties knew that a change of scenery can work wonders for you, as a  person and a player.

 

 I wish you a cartload of homers in that new park Elijah. And we will not see you for  about 6 years. It take a few years for the schedule to again list the Nats’ as a interleague opponent again.So this trade might be a hidden blessing for you.

 

 Now Glen Gibson is  daily becoming a more polished pitcher.  Baseball America rated Gibson’s changeup and curve the best in the Nats’s farm system. Now we  know he has inherited talent and a great barometer a phone call away from him. Not every guy has a father that pitched in the majors. That could end up being a hidden blessing for him and the Rays.

 

Fantasy time again…………this time Minor edition.  The Rays’ top draft pick last year, David Price has set high expectations of himself and his progression in the Rays farm system this year. Now I will never argue with a Vandy grad, but I just want him to have a shot to know the systems and not rush his progress. When he gets called up to the Big club, he may  get hit like a pinball for a few weeks, but being a Southeastern Conference pitcher is a bit of a farm system in its own right. The best have had a rough beginning until they adapt and conquer the unique strike zones and brutal power potential of a MLB batters’ box.

 

I love to hear bravado and throwing caution to the wind, but I think a year in triple-A and a call up down the line could be his best medicine. There are a great amount of talent in Double-A and Triple-A right now biting at the bit to get that Spring Reporting date here and start to show their stuff. Jeff Neimann, Jeff Ridgeway, JP Howell,Mitch Talbot, and ex-big club guys like Chad Orvella, Jae Kuk Ryu want another shot up here as well. And that does not include the future power pitchers scattered in the Montgomery, Columbus, and Vero Beach teams. The future looks really bright for this team in the pitching department.

 

Having a prospective rotation of………Scott Kazmir, James Shields,Matt Garza, and add any of these  current teammates names,………Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Hammel and my favorite, Edwin Jackson to the mix, make for an exciting rotation problem  that could win anytime they hit the rubber.

 

Back to reality.  The addition of  closer extrodinaire, Troy Percival only makes the 6th through 9th inning  a more secure spot for the Rays.

 

What I am talking about is the fact that  Gary Glover,Al Reyes, Dan Wheeler are proven MLB relievers who can make it a challenge for any team to try and score after the starter leaves the game.  We have had great relievers before, but never in the middle roles.

 

 I think Reyes showed a huge amount of class in knowing that what is right for the team is great for the future of this squad. I think that is why they picked up his option. There is no doubts or questions he is a plus everytime he hits the mound for us.

 

 He might be the last guy to get the ball on most nights, but he is the first to know that this team has  within reach lofty goals, and they are within reach most nights, even in Fenway Park.

 

Now I have heard a bushel basket of rumors about additons and subtractions to this team. I want to address my views on a few subtractions here.

 

 Delmon might have been a player with a career that will bury his older brothers, but he also has the Young family cancer of that hidden danger and aggression that could ruin all that is good with……..a simple, casual walk to first.  Rays’ fans know what I am talking about here. I enjoyed watching Aubrey Huff hit for years here, but when he started to jog down to first is when he got that dreaded “Ben Grieve” epidemic. Maybe it is in the aura of Right Field that our players get that attitude and begin to falter right in front of us. 

 

Brendan Harris and Josh Wilson were the “blue collar” guys last year. Each guy experienced  a banner year. they got to play ball almost every night and did it the right way. Both got rewarded in different ways.

 

 Brendan got to play in another Dome, but has a great chance to be the everyday guy in the 5 hole up in Minn. Josh Wilson was put on the daily MLB waiver wire with the hopes he could pass through without a hitch. One big hitch, some people actually read those waiver wires daily.  The Pirates took a gamble, and got another quality infielder for their rebuilding ballclub. We wish you a ton of success Josh……you did a great job for the short time you were a Rays. Just a reminder, we did get Josh on waivers from the Nationals last year.  Karma?  you never know.

 

The last two trades I want to discuss did not happen as of the writing of this blog. That does not mean that the teams are not on their cellphone right now mending the deal or twisting the pieces to fit both teams.

 

 The First is the rumor of Edwin Jackson shipping off to Seattle for  1b/DH Ben Broussard. Now I am a huge “Action” Jackson fan, just ask him (lol). I liked Ben Broussard when he was an Indian, but I think his production has slowly seem a downward spiral. We could have done better even in a rumor than this one.  Another rumor had the Mets again this year coveting Jackson.  I do not know what the Mets’ still have left in their farm system. They have been active the last few years adding the missing pieces to their squad. But I am not sure their farm system is as strong as when we plucked Scott Kazmir from their clutches.

 

The second  non trade is a two-parter.It is the “non” trading of Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli.

 

I know that Carl would love to be a part of the first winning team in this franchises’ short history.  He should be a part of this celebration……front and center. Rocco I believe will come out of Spring Training in better shape, and better condition than any other time in his short Rays tenure.

 

 I used to be out at the Rays complex delivering alot, and when Rocco was mending from his surgeries and bumps and bruises, he was  always eagerly training and building himself up for his return. If you remember, Joe used to like to have Rocco in the dugout at home games and selected road series because of his great attitude and zest for success.

 

 I think this time it is totally personal for Rocco. I feel he knows that the team took a gamble and signed him to a long term deal. He is a proud guy, and he is probably the most excited about reporting in  Feb. 2008. Rocco stated in a news article he will relax this off season for a change. I believe that like I believe the “Clear” was a muscle relaxing ointment.  FDA approved too………right? He is probably getting in the best condition both mentally and physically for this team.

 

Right Field has been a concern for the big wigs upstairs since Delmon hit the road for the Great White north.  I think Jonny Gomes, Rocco, or even the tandem of Triple-A studs Fernando Perez or Jason Ruggiano can man it better than Cliff Floyd, Geoff Jenkins, or Darin Erstad. No disrespect to Darin, Luis Gonzalez, or Cliff. I even recently heard a rumor of my old baseball buddy Trot Nixon maybe being a good fit for us. He did hit great here against us, But remember fans,so did Jose Cruz Jr. when he was with the Jays and then got suddenly an average hitter at the Trop.

 

I think the Rays can have a perfect “wait and see” attitude here, unless Josh Hamilton is truly availiable….hint hint Andrew and Matt.

 

In conclusion, the non-tendered list of players will be announced in the coming weeks. This is a huge announcement that always has a few jaw dropping names on it. Things can change dramatically if a huge or unexpected name is released.  There always seem to be a  a few  high dollar drops, or a player with  health questions when  these names hit a wire……………We shall see.

 

 Kick the tires and look  real close under the hoods  there guys. This team is finally in a position to take quality over quantity in a players signing.

 

This team will have Carlos Pena back with a projected one year deal.  Pena has two years until he is a Free Agent, but both sides are working towards a agreement in place before the Spring Training report date.

 

I think this might happen to both prove both sides points.  His agent,Scott Boras says that “Carlos is just heating up”, and the Rays are hoping it was not  just a fluke year offensively for Pena. Either way, Carlos will be a rich guy come Feb. 2008.

 

 And we are a richer team both in knowing the talent is the best this team has fielded in its 11 years in the MLB. Sorry Fred McGriff, Wade Boggs and Jose Canseco. I wanted the “Hit Show” to be the thing that we measure our successes by, but that is not the case.

 

I will end this with a note about the hardest working Rays I have nkown in my years watching and following this team.  Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi  is always working with the pitchers and providing BP pitching and foul pole comments and analysis. I have known Scott for years and truly feel blessed to have ever met him. We have had a routine of him coming to give me some grief before every game down the Right field line after he tosses with the Rightfielders.

 

 We have a habit of tipping our caps after the last out before he heads into the locker room for the night. Scott is a guy who has invited me out a few times when I have gone on road trips to celebrate with himself and a few people on the team. I have cherished these moments in Seattle and Cleveland. I look forward to 2008 for both the Rays sucesses, and seeing my baseball buddy again manning the Bullpen with Bobby Ramos. As always Scott, I tip my hat to you for what you do for the Rays, and our  Section 138 fans group.

 

Only ( as of Dec 7th, 2008) 77 days until Pitchers’ and Catchers’ report ……..and I can’t wait until 8 am that day.

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