Results tagged ‘ Elliot Johnson ’
Sometimes things happen in the off-season that just boggles your mind. Players are picked up for their subtle and special nuances that can be used by a statistical savant like Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon to intricately change the delicate nature of a game in progress, possibly for his advantage based on match-up potential situations or maybe even a simple hunch.
I know there is a logical explanation and suitable conclusion to why the Rays are currently carrying 7 out of a possible 9 infield players on their 40-man roster, 1 signed player but not added to the 40-man roster yet, plus 2 additional players who are non-roster invites who can man the middle infield. Considering the Rays traded for their potential starting shortstop in Yunel Escobar, you have to logically conclude that 8 of the other 9 might have to fight tooth and nail to get selected for that revolving door slot known as Second Base.
I think with the large amount of veteran bodies vying for a job at 2B, you can easily see the current Triple-A duo of Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee getting their fair share of starts and possibilities this Spring, but the reality is they are the Rays future for right now and with minor league control on both players, their rise to the MLB level might not come until possibly September barring an unforeseen Rays injury situation.
So that immediately shuffled the field down by a third and with the Rays facing 3 different player signing going “official” this week, maybe a few old Rays household names will be bidding the team farewell even before the positional players make their way to Port Charlotte, Florida. 3 other Rays middle infielders who might be on the invisible bubble might be the enigmas known as Elliot Johnson, Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac could all get an unexpected call or pulled in from the Rays Spring Clubhouse soon possibly severing their Rays tenure.
All 3 did not have the kind of 2012 campaigns the Rays envisioned when they popped their name on the 25-man roster last Spring, and any or all of the 3 could be subject to waivers or possibly traded before the Rays officially add DH Luke Scott, 2B Kelly Johnson or RP Kyle Farnsworth to the Rays 40-man roster. You would think Johnson and Rodriguez might have the leg up on Brignac because of their utility play everywhere around the Rays infield, but even then, their lackluster numbers from last year could get them penciled in as potential casualties when the Rays add their 3 signed, sealed but not roster delivered players.
There are mumblings in the Rays Republic that “Briggy Baseball” might be the most expendable of the this enigmatic duo, possibly the first name to be announced and waived this week by the Rays. Brignac has had multiple chances to secure and hold onto his shortstop slot, but for some reason his bat did not follow him into either of the past 2 Rays seasons with any regularity. Johnson might get an initial pass because he is a switch-hitter just like tag-team 2B Ben Zobrist who will get to camp late this Spring as he is playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
Even with a slight edge over S-Rod, Johnson could find himself again straddling the bubble if he gets off to a weak Spring or doesn’t get into the game flow with consistency. You have to like Rodriguez’s chance since Spring seems to be the time he rises to the occasion and shines bright, but he could also see his star darkened if he gets off to a bad slump or has some defensive irregularities early on in camp. Another small sliver of hope for Rodriguez is the fact he still has 1 minor league option while Brignac and Johnson have exhausted their minor league options.
That takes care of 6 of the 7 players that currently are designated as “infielders” for the Rays. Zobrist is categorized as an “outfielder” on the Rays 40-man roster, but should see substantial playing time at Second Base along with the only other player listed, Ryan Roberts. “Tat Man” should have an advantage heading into Spring Training to secure a utility and tag-team situation with Zorilla at Second Base. Roberts did not have a huge year at the plate in 2012 either in Arizona or St. Petersburg, but should come into the Spring as a penciled in player in the mix for that part-time 2B gig. But there are other who might also have a say in it all before the roster is set into stone when the calendar changes to April.
Spring Training non-roster invites to the Major League camp have also been extended to MLB veteran Mike Fontenot and former Rays invitee Shawn O’Malley. Even with these 2 additional names to be put into the middle infield pot, Fontenot might have to stage a spectacular Spring to unseat any of the potential Rays utility players, but I also think O’Malley who made a great impression last Spring with the Rays might have a more viable chance to hang on late into the Spring Training schedule with Zobrist out and possibly be offered a Triple-A slot.
The Wild Card in this suspected scenario might just be newly signed, but not added to the roster Kelly Johnson who can basically play any of the fielding positions, including possibly being the guy who could give James Loney a rest. In Johnson’s favor to possibly get a long look and possible spot on the Rays 25-man roster is his ability to hit right-handed which could make him a valuable asset at First. And with KJ’s birthday coming in late February (22nd), he could possibly have an inside chance of securing a spot even before the Rays play the Red Sox in their first Grapefruit Series game.
2B or not 2B…….That is surely the question here as the Rays have a huge pool of player talent and potential to pick from the get their final selection before their first seasonal contest on April 2,2013 in Tropicana Field. This might be the strongest the middle infield as been in quite a few years in Tampa Bay, and with some of the names and potential, the players inked on the Rays final 25-man roster could provide that spark of offense the team needs along with some stellar defensive work.
Does it really feel like it has only been just over 5 months since the Rays Republic got to witness something that doesn’t happen very often. Even more precious than a cycle, more compelling than a walk-off victory, on that June 13,2012 night all 18,496 of the Rays faithful and a huge television audience got to see the 2012 Cy Young winners do their stuff under the Teflon roof of Tropicana Field.
That’s right, in a Inter-League middle of a three-fer mid-week series Rays starter and now 2012 American League Cy Young winner David Price went up against New York Mets starter R A Dickey, the 2012 National League Cy Young winner. Who could have known history would again assemble their names together and my mind instantly goes to this past game with such fond memories. I remember it like it was just yesterday as Dickey brought a 9-1 record into the Trop while Price stood at 8-3 and wanted to check another notch in his “win” column.
Each hurler got to toss over 100 pitches( Dickey 106, Price 109) in this contest, as each took the hill wanting a piece of this moment not knowing it would or even could turn into a historic event so many months later. As we now know, it pitted right-handed Cy (Dickey) versus Southpaw Cy (Price) with the Rays (35-27) and Mets (34-29) both sitting with about the same record at the time. On this night it was not the slicing fastball or shifty change-up of Price that glided a path for victory, but instead it was the fierce high velocity butterfly pitch from Dickey that made 12 Rays leave the Batter’s Box wondering how to get to Dickey’s dancing knuckler.
Only one Rays got to put solid wood upon a Dickey offering, with B J Upton finally stroking a soft ground ball to Third Baseman David Wright and beating the throw by no more than a gnat’s eyelash. Immediately whispers and shouts came out with different opinions from either side of the field. Rays fans cheering for Upton hustling down the line and beating the throw from a fellow North Virgina baseball teammate. Met’s faithful in the stands wanted a review, but the play did not call for one, and their moans and groans could be heard loud and clear all over the blue-hued Trop.
How could we have know that ticket stub would be a slice of awesome baseball history. A moment when 2 Cy Young players took to the hill threw their arms out and the visitor got the final cap nod and victory. Upton’s hit came in the Rays first chance in the bottom of the 1st inning against Dickey, but no other Rays hitter from that moment on seemed to have a viable way to beat Dickey. Even Rays INF Elliot Johnson turning around and hitting right-handed against Dickey did not produce a cure or show a hint of damage.
On the night Dickey set a new Met’s scoreless streak of 32 2/3 innings just pushing past former P Jerry Koosman’s old mark of 31 2/3rds innings did Dickey show a sign of mortality in the bottom of the 9th watching Johnson reach on a throwing error by Wright, then Dickey showed his human side by helping produce 2-straight pass balls that got Johnson to Third Base and finally on a ground out by Desmond Jennings the lone Rays run on the board.
So here we are Nov 14, 2012 and I’m about to hit MLB.com and pull up this contests again and watch these two artists paint their pitching portraits again on the big screen. Sure Price did not come out on the winning side that night, but this contest showed us the resolve and composure of the guy who would end up with his own piece of Cy Young hardware.
Congrats again to Dickey who fought long ans hard to perfect that knuckleball and to our own Astro’s Dad, Price on an Cy Young award that possibly began on that June 13th evening, under the Teflon roof of the Trop. This just goes to prove, special moments can and do happen in the Rays hamlet of St. Petersburg, Florida under that tilted cap we call Tropicana Field.
I am starting to believe in this full circle train of thought. That all things go into circles and come back again new and improved and somehow modified in their simplicity. I guess we can say the same for Tampa Bay Rays newly annoited SS Ben Zorbrist, or should I call him Zorilla 2.0?
It was exactly 6 years and 33 days since the first time a young and lanky SS prospect was traded to the Rays from the Houston Astros for a gruff and grumbling Aubrey Huff. Along with Zobrist the Rays received P Mitch Talbot, who we all know wears Cleveland Indians garb now. Zorbrist came to the Rays as a infield specialist, but his true specialty was playing the deep hole between second and third base both with range and a cannon attached to his shoulders.
Some say that his ability back then worked B J Upton around the infield from Third to Second before he finally found his home in Centerfield. But 2006 was a memorable season for the defensively maturing Zorilla as he spent only 18 games at Triple-A Round Rock and when Zorbrist and Upton were recalled by the Rays on August 1st after the Rays felt secure enough with the tag team of Upton and Zobrist at SS that they sent starting SS Julio Lugo to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline.
All Zorilla did was start 50 of the final 56 games….all at the Short Stop position. How good was the new acquired defensive neophyte? Well not 31 days later did Zorbrist and Rays catcher Dione Navarro stamp their own brand on Major League Baseball history when they recorded the only 2-6-2 triple play…EVER.
Many might have forgotten Zorbrist was the Rays Opening Day SS in 2007 starting 13 of the Rays first 17 games, then something happened and he fell out of favor and started only 2 of the team’s next 17 games before the Rays sent him down to Triple-A Durham and subsequently claimed SS Josh Wilson off waivers from Washington. Most see that as the memorial moment that the Rays might have set their sights on Zobrist being a key figure in the Rays scheme, just not front and center in their future infield.
Still, I think this is a great idea that has been kicked around for quite a while by Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who wanted to see Sean Rodriguez take ownership of the spot, but little things have de-railed the S-Rod experience for the Rays along with Rodriguez’s enemic .209 average with only 6 HR and 30 RBIs. Zobrist has a great first move towards the hole, and even with a few years of rust to shake off before he again find his optimal rhythm, I hate to say it, he is a vast improvement at the plate as well as in the field.
There are going to be a few rough patches as he again gains the trust in his abilities on the opposite side the the second base bag, but if anyone can do it and provide the leadership and positive mindset needed to be a consistent and agile SS, it has to be the Rays # 18.
It is a lot to ask of a player who doesn’t even make the Rays all-time Top-5 SS list in any category, but this is also the same stellar fielder who garnered a .989 fielding average and is not listed on either the SS or 2B all-time errors Top-5 list (Upton is #5 @ 2B with 12). So far in 2012, Zobrist has 8 errors in 961 total innings all around the Rays infield, and outfield. As a whole, the trio of Rodriguez, Will Rhymes and Elliot Johnson have combined for 31 errors with Zobrist tied with Rhymes for 3rd most on the team.
This is not to say errors will cease and life in the middle of the Rays infield will be a bed of roses. There will be challenges, possibly multi-error contests, but the leadership and offensive confidence of Zobrist should emulate enough so that the rest of the infield can feed off of Zorilla and grow tighter and stingier over the last portion of the season. The Rays have not put Zobrist’s finger in the dike hoping to stave off the total flooding of potential errors, but the maturation of Zobrist and his “can-do” persona should do miracles in a position in the field that was looking more like a gaping hole.
Seriously, to me it is a long time coming, and a position change that will not only get Zorilla consistent starts in one spot in the Rays field alignment, but it can finally give him a chance to possibly not have to lug around the huge equipment bag with 9 different gloves inside it. Who knows, if Zorilla takes to this position like he did in 2006 and makes it his own again…..It would be hard not to vote him again as the Rays team MVP like in 2009. Zorilla 2.0…….I like the sound of that more and more.
I swear at that moment I saw the cloth fabric of Tropicana Field move like a sudden wind gust had enveloped it. The collective gasp and exhale after a botched stolen base attempt by Tampa Bay Rays 3B Evan Longoria made the Trop. silent as we watched Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield and Rays skipper Joe Maddon trot out to Longo. I immediately let out a long drawn out moan of “Oh No! Longo!” that made a few people laugh as it sounded more like the old SNL Mr Bill character than my usual voice, but it hit me like a rock that suddenly one of the true keystones of this amazing run by the Rays stood favoring his left knee and we all wanted it to heal instantly.
This season Longoria seemed to want to be the “go-to” guy, he wanted the pressure, the stress and the responsibilities that go along with being the player constantly in the spotlight for both praise and criticism. It is always a good sign for a player to leave the field on his own power, but when it is a central figure standing there trying to keep his weight off his sore and aching knee, the Rays Republic could only think the worst. Even before Longo hit the Rays dugout steps the dulled whispers and a active hum hit the stadium.
The early prognosis is that Longoria is suffering a bit of soreness in his left knee region, but then we heard the three letter that instantly horrified us all..M..R..I. That doesn’t mean as much today as it would 3-4 years ago as every athlete even with a minor aliment gets this imaging test nowadays as a precaution more than a insight to injury. Still, this one test can see deeper into the situation, and possibly bring to the surface our darkest fears, a extended bench vacation for the Rays offensive weapon.
That would put a deep crease in the Rays offensive machine as Longoria was a key figure in the Rays 5th ranked American League offense, and was experiencing a great start in 2012. Going into this match-up against Seattle, Longoria himself boasted a .550 average with runners in scoring position, which lead the majors. To put it into deeper prospective in Longo’s last 12 plate appearances with runners in scoring position before Monday night’s contest, he was an astronomical 9-for-10 with 2 doubles, 2HR, 2 walks and 11 RBI. Instantly by this you can see a major clog in the Rays machine has a sudden health issue.
Let’s expand a bit more into the offensive presence of Longo for this 2012 Rays squad. He already has 19 RBI in 95 plate appearances in 22 games. That is a huge improvement over 2011 when it took Longoria 151 plate appearances to hit the same mark. Longoria had 15 RBI in 13 road games this season as well as since last June, his 105 RBI in 120 games leads the entire tier of sluggers in Major League Baseball.
If Longoria spends any significant time off the field it hits the Rays in a multitude of areas. It takes a huge piece of the Rays hitting factor our of their 2012 equation as well as a team on-the-field General and leader. Even with his fumble-itus recently at the Hot Corner, his experience and solid foundation at Third Base will open a huge hole with only utility guy Elliot Johnson and possibly Jeff Keppinger currently on the Rays roster who can play the spot with any consistency. It would also throw a huge monkey wrench into the Rays winning formula that has already sparked an impressive 8-2 record over their last 10 contests.
It is too early to think negatively. Longo maybe needs a day or two off his feet in the field, possibly resting and icing the knee. I do not want to fathom the thought of 30 days or longer without the Rays spark plug at the Hot Corner, I would rather think of this as a short vaca to do some much needed R&R.
Possibly as early as this afternoon or tonight we will know more, so I will keep the negative Nelly stuff deep within me, hoping the MRI shows minimal or no significant damage. I know the Rays Republic are sending positive vibes and emotions to Longo, hopefully they have the power to heal and bandage this evolving Rays situation. I truly did have the shivers last night watching the event, and it was hard to stay positive. Hopefully Maddon will be the bearer of great news later today.
For awhile this Spring I was beginning to wonder and a bit concerned that Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon might have to pick his daily starter at short based on a Clubhouse game of musical chairs. Even worse, he might come up with a blind choice game of I-Pod musical roulette to decide his daily choice. I could imagine hearing “Glory Days” by the Boss playing loud in the Manager’s Office as Maddon opens the door and scribbles Elliot Johnson’s name on the line-up board. Thank goodness that is not going to happen….for now.
Even that kind of insane and luck-based playing system is a testament to the great underlying potential and great ability the Rays trio of SS candidates have in their singular arsenals heading into Opening Day. I do not remember another segment of Rays players who will make up the mercenaries of the middle who had as much ability and downright potential to shine bright and become the unforeseen gems of the Rays diamond this season. It been quite a while since the middle of the Rays infield has had this source of considerable true talent and strength pushing this position into forming an unbreakable backbone for this team.
Not since the departure of former Rays All-Star Jason Bartlett has the number 6 spot had as much experience, potential for greatness and have bona fide momentum changing abilities at their disposal. Literally the Rays middle infield could become a place where hit balls go to die. Just the thought of increased chances at put-outs, double play combinations and the speed and agility of this trio boggles the imagination. Possibly we could see the “pitcher’s best friend”, the 6-4-3 Double Play become an intricate part of the winning combination this season.
We “officially” know that Maddon might be playing a bit more Salsa tunes on his I-pod as Sean Rodriguez has received the first nod from Maddon has the Rays “main man in the middle” for Opening Day. It is a well-earned spot for S-Rod as he knew coming into the Spring the job was open and a good, consistent Spring could net him this desired spot. But do not discount the possibilities of Johnson and Reid Brignac forcing Maddon’s hand at time with streaks of their own, or defensive gems that could get them additional starts and chances to shine brighter and brighter.
Maddon has said this will not be a platoon-based middle infield, but I think it is way too early to dictate that with clarity considering all 3 of these players could start somewhere among the 30 MLB teams. I truly consider the present Rays trio to possess the offensive tools and power that could finally turn the bottom half of the Rays daily line-up card into an additional run-producing power source as well as showcasing some brilliant defensive stalwarts.
Tell me another time in this franchise’s history we have had 3 players who could bring the potential of the middle infield up to this previously unforeseen caliber. But depth like this can be a double-edged sword. Sure Elliot Johnson might see some additional starts in the outfield this season and be more of a plug-in utility player all around the field, but Briggy Baseball can also make Maddon change his mind a bit if he gets off to a splendid start at the plate, especially with some extra base nuggets.
That is not to say Brignac might not see some starts against crafty right-handers, or possibly weekly dose of getaway games and possible Sunday matinée’, but if Rodriguez should stumble out of the gate, there are options in place for Maddon to be swift with the marker and make changes. But that is what happens when you got 3 baseball players who have untold potential and limited spots and starts for them. But then again, it is a nice problem to have.
To finally have infield depth that can be plugged in and play to an outstanding level without skipping a beat. Who knows maybe the future sounds of a plethora of 6-4-3 double play combos will be music to all of our ears. I know I already like the rhythm and cadence of it.
Coming into this Spring, we all knew that this Tampa Bay Rays squad had front row dugouts seats for an old-fashioned knock-down, drag out fight for their shortstop position. Both Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac’s names were ranked 1 and 2 at the very top of the contending candidates list.
Rodriguez was hampered a bit early on in Spring camp by a linger cold, then a short setback after an Inter-squad game on March 8th brought to light a sprained left index finger possibly caused after Minnesota Twin OF Denard Span stole second base and S-Rod might have jammed his finger in applying the tag.
Suddenly it seemed timing might be smiling on “Briggy Baseball”, with a cane to separate himself from Rodriguez in the race by some considerable lengths.
But this “horse race” was far from over as Brignac recently had his own dark turn recently after injuring his foot and now being basically “shelved” for the time being from game play as his plantar fasciitis injury will do more to dictate how soon before the end of the Grapefruit season Brignac can resume the fight for his 2011 Opening Day position.
Best case scenario has Brignac getting daily treatments, the injury tearing itself and then a short rehab period as the injury heals itself. Basically, if the injury takes too much time, Brignac could lose his slot in the shortstop battle with Elliot Johnson currently pining for an infield spot himself on the Rays roster, possibly even manning the 6-slot if Rodriguez has a fall from grace.
Some would say the 2-man horse race suddenly has a fast approaching dark horse coming up quickly on the outside (Johnson) and is trying to overtake the pack and get his nose squarely and firmly in the Rays SS race.
That is what is so frustrating about this recent setback for Brignac who knows all too well the sands in the Rays decision hourglass is fading and all Brignac can do is take a “wait and see” situation until his body makes the first move towards eventual recovery.
But his body better make a move soon or Brignac could face the realization of starting the 2012 season on the bench, possibly lower than second on the middle infield depth chart.
Another bout of bad timing is the injury is taking place at the time when his family strolls in from Louisiana and provides their annual Cajun Celebration complete with homemade Boudin, Jambalaya, Red Beans and Rice and a velvety bread pudding for teammates and Rays staff members.
Until Brignac get the “thumbs up” from Rays Trainer Ron Porterfield, he will just have to keep himself mentally and physically sharp hoping he can get into games near the beginning or middle of next week with an eye at sliding past Johnson for that second slot on the SS depth chart.
Then Brignac will have to up his game during the beginning of the regular season by slowly chipping away at Rodriguez’s grip on the SS spot, then thrust himself firmly into regaining his old starting spot. But for now all Brignac can do is hope and pray for a speedy tear and repair of his foot injury and his eventual return to the Rays line-up.
Timing, it can be said can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Briggy Baseball is hoping right now that time is on his side and he still has a fighting chance at possibly retaining his Opening Day spot in the middle of the Rays infield.
For some reason, I would make a solid bet of Brignac providing a huge last-ditch effort over the last few games to keep his game style fresh in the minds of the Rays staff, possibly winning this race by a single foot.
Some say Rays Manager Joe Maddon has made more than a few headlines for his follicle hair coloring statements over the past few seasons. From his steady head of gray to John Cash black to a more subtle but pronounced medium brown this Spring, Maddon has made his hair fashionable.
On Thursday Maddon’s “ hair moment” or in fact his “loss of hair moment” will proceed over an event that has seen it’s list of participants grow by the hour. Over 26 members of the Rays are set to see their locks fall to the ground and be swept away as a symbolic gesture of support for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Dubbed “Team Rays” on their website, Maddon will be not only leading by example, but following the road set forth by another Tampa Bay sports icon, Tampa Bay Lightning F Vinny Lacavalier.
This is the same organization that Rays starter Wade Davis showed such support for in 2011 as he let a young cancer patient shave his head as he sat in a chair over the Rays dugout after the conclusion of a Sunday game. That was only one participant, and the crowd was amazing. Think of the magnitude knowing over 25 members of the team and the Rays staff will also sit in the chair and have their locks fall to the grass in support of this effort.
Rays participants set to join Maddon in the barber’s chair before the Rays Thursday afternoon contest in Port Charlotte include Rays pitchers: Davis, James Shields, Bryan Augenstein, Cesar Ramos. Jake McGee, Alex Cobb, Brandon Gomes, Matt Torra, Albert Suarez, Matt Bush, Dane De La Rosa and Rays rookie sensation Matt Moore.
Not to be outdone by the pitchers’, the entire Rays catching corps will also have their time in the leather chair as Jose Molina, Jose Lobaton, Chris Gimenez, Mark Thomas,Stephen Vogt, Robinson Chirinos and follicle-challenged Craig Abernaz will see their hair fly away in the Charlotte Sports Park wind before that days contest. Also making an appearance in the chair will be some of the members of the Rays right-side of their infield: SS Reid Brignac, 3B Jesus Feliciano, INF Elliot Johnson, plus Rays outfield members Matt Joyce, Brandon Guyer and the “Legend” himself, Sam Fuld.
A few well-known figures in the Rays coaching staff will also need more sunscreen this Spring as Third Base Coach Tom Foley and Bench Coach Dave Martinez will also be supporting this great charity. The Rays front office will also have a few hit the chair as Rays Senior VP of Baseball Operations Brian Auld, Sr VP Mark Fernandez, VP of Branding and Fan Experience Darcy Raymond, Sr Director of Corporate Partnerships Aaron Cohn,Manager of Corporate Sales Jake Hornstein and two Directors of Corporate Partnerships, Richard Reeves and Josh Bullock.
I think the paragraph on the pcfcutforacure website under “Team Rays” speaks volumes on why the team is so focused and excited about the event:
“This is about being there for the kids and their families. We want them to know they are not alone. It’s a small gesture, but it is our way of showing support for them while gaining empathy for what they are going through. We have a saying posted in our locker room that says ‘Fortune favors the bold.’ As we go forward with this campaign we are doing so under the flag ‘Fortune favors the bald.’ As an organization, we are proud to support organizations and institutions like the Pediatric Cancer Foundation (PCF) and the Moffitt Cancer Center.”
This is the kind of event that bonds a team. Unified with a common thought and goal, it can be a great starting point of the Rays taking another step not only in their development as a team, but as a great inspiration to other teams around the MLB to follow suit. I commend Maddon and his troops for their commitment, their outstanding community involvement and support, and most of all for donating what some see as a status symbol but they see as only hair and a visual stamp that they support this organization.
If you want to help support this cause with a donation of your own, text CUT to 50555 or go to pcfcutforacure.org. Just as every snip of the scissors is a chance to change a life, every text can also be life-changing for someone.
Coming into Spring Training, the Tampa Bay Rays have 20 of the 25 members of the 2011 squad back for another chance at the brass ring. That fact by itself is amazing, but considering the youth and talent of this group, that could also be a seasonal occurance for a while. And with that familiarity of the personnel comes a consistency, a confidence and most of all a bond that almost nothing can break.
Humor seems to be the bond of this young squad. From veteran 1B Carlos Pena producing a small masterpiece with resident comedian C Steven Vogt impersonating Rays skipper Joe Maddon to a nationwide acknowledgment of this talented group off the turf by INF Eliot Johnson as he nails ESPN’s resident leprechaun Tim Krukjian, humor rules the Rays roost.
From their great road trip ensembles of years past, to their annual Spring talent reveal, this Rays team knows the value of a giggle, belly laugh or even a practical joke. That lends a lot to a young team fighting for an identity. It bonds each member a bit tighter together and with that comes a more refined unity needed over the grueling 162 game schedule.
No matter if it is a joke, a story or even a off-the-cuff impression, the antics this young team does in the dugout, clubhouse or even in public shows they do not take themselves too seriously and know their day job comes with stress, but comic relief is only a conversation away.
Some might not guess, but this humor also keeps peop-le in check. How can we all forget the sunflower seed shower given to Rays P David Price during a live interview in 2011 when fellow hurler James Shields decided Price needed a bit of props/sunflower seeds for the interview process. I still chuckle at the mention of this event because it firmly illustrates the loose vibe in this clubhouse and the players ability to not take themselves so seriously.
Laughter by itself is also a great indicator of the closeness and unity of this Rays squad. For to laugh at yourself or others and take it with a grain of salt is the measure of this team grasping the reality that every win is critical, but sometimes steams has to be let off, and laughing is better than a more votatile alternative.
Joking around both before, during and after the game has been around for as long as players have taken to the diamond. It is a productive way to let off steam, do karma patrol action to players who’s follies might be known or personal as well as keep themselves loose and ready for anything. As long as this team stays in this humerous state, I think this team can go as far as their on the field talents take them. But if the laughter tends to cease in the clubhouse and on the field, then it is time to worry about these guys.
Words would just ruin the moment. Here is a photo essay of complied photos from the great AP photographers Mike Carlson / Chris O’Meara and Getty Images Photog J. Meric on the field and deep within the bowels of Tropicana Field tonight. .
Last, but not least, the Home Run trot that began the celebration!
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.