Results tagged ‘ Evan Longoria ’

First Glimpse at Photos From Today’s 2013 Media Day

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This is the day a lot of us wait for wondering who will smile, who will not, and who just might have the most character in front of the photo lens. When the Tampa Bay Rays take their Team Photos, you never know what will transpire and make itself to the Web. So I hit up a familiar website that usually posts these photos in nano-seconds and took 21 of the photos uploaded and presented them here for you to get a first glance/peek at before the final set is divulge.

ArcherFlettfootAs always most of the main characters within the Rays roster got their time in front of the lens, but a few of the Rays team photos did not make it into this first batch and probably will make their way onto the blogosphere some time soon, but I’m hoping they might show a bit more character and possibly a splash of that classic Rays humor we all know and love.

Longo1Of course Evan Longoria is not in this first set as he was motoring towards the St. Petersburg area to attend to a bit of baby business, but we know when his photo does surface, he will definitely have a grin from ear-to-ear as Papa Longo heads into the 2013 MLB season. But the 2013 edition of the Team Photos does look a bit tame compared to some of their previous Team Photos since the Rays moved their Spring Training complex 79 miles to the South in the hamlet of Port Charlotte, Florida

MerlotSRodOut of this first batch of photos there are the usual pairings like Ben Zobrist, David Price and Rays Manager Joe Maddon that look more like a Glamor Shots shooting than a Team Photo. But the camera again this season seems to love some people while also doing a 180 shift on others to kind of dull their enthusiasm and excitement and make fun of others.Some times the worst thing to do in front of a camera lens is try and look too professional be too serious as the camera doesn’t have a brain and can then tend to make them look more demented or possibly deranged even before the first Grapefruit League contest.

CobbColomeThis season the “Grumpy” awards might go to Rays SP Alex Cobb who looks serious, but also has that serial bean ball artist look much like Kyle Farnsworth’s every year photo.Interesting enough, minor league prospect SP Alex Colome might actually get the old moniker I stuck on his Uncle, ex-Rays RP Jesus “Smiley” since his photo looks more like a mug shot than a happy occasion. But that is what sets Team Photos apart.

Not all of them will be masterpieces or utter clusters, but it is the time of the season when  you can definitely tell who is relaxed, who might need a long hug, or who should be tackled by Raymond and tickled to the point of a huge smile and giggle.

Luke2Still, I think Luke Scott might actually have a twin in the Rays Spring Clubhouse mounted right alongside his locker. Now if he dyed his mutton chops white they might actually look like the tusks of that wild boar currently residing with a Rays Spring starburst cap in the Clubhouse.

But it is still great to see most of the photos are relaxed, tranquil photos that definitely shows who is eager, who is relaxed and who the camera seems to love.

LOneyLeeRays newcomer James Loney seemed to have brought a bit of that old LA vibe with him into the photo day as he looks perfectly calm, cool and collected as the Rays head into their 2013 slate of Grapefruit contests in less than a few days.

HellHernandezAlso within the first 21 photos released were SP Jeremy Hellickson, INF Sean Rodriguez, SS Hak-Ju Lee, Desmond Jennings and someone who might just make a player for a rotation slot this Spring, Roberto Hernandez.  There will be more photos in the future, but this first crop of Rays Team Photos for 2013 definitely shows the vast polar realms of personalities on this Rays squad this Spring.  Not matter what transpires, I can definitely see this team this Spring not being a bore…or is that boar?

Players and Fans Definitely Rocked the Trop at Fan Fest

Rays Fan Fest 2013 120

I saw a member of the Tampa Bay Rays front office while doing my usual trading card route a few days before that Saturday’s Rays Fan Fest. He seemed really excited about the anticipated fan to player ratio at the multiple events held throughout the day, and believe me, the Rays not only delivered, but a few of their players such as INF Sean Rodriguez and P Chris Archer seemed to be everywhere.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 099All day long I heard stories of players going above and beyond. We all have heard of Archer inviting a young fan up to the Autograph tales and behind the Rays blue curtain to meet a few of his Rays friends in the “Blue Room”. It was stuff like this, plus the added touch of players reading to young fans,  being open to fan’s questions and requests all day long that made a deep and lasting impression as to their investment in this region and this special fan base.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 073I did not hear a single story of a player turning down a fan, or refusing any request during this special Rays day that is a huge celebration of the season that is now upon us. Heck I think we all might even have gotten a glimpse at a possible Rays future draft pick as Toby Hall’s son stroked a HR out of the curtained off ballfield a few times from the left side of the plate.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 023I mean I even saw Rays P Jeff Niemann at one point basically depositing basketball over by the hoop carnival games like he was dropping a wad of paper into a wastebasket. And during all of this were a gaggle of screaming and excited kids, adults and a combination of the two relishing in this increased presence of the player this year. Over the past few years as the team has grown increasingly competitive some of the fold reverted a bit back into old habits of selective signings and photos with fans. On this day if they were able, photos were snapped and memories were imprinted forever thanks to their increased visibility.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 039Combine this breathe of fresh air from the Rays themselves with the over 25,000 fans who walked into the Rays Rotunda on Saturday, this region still craves baseball and made sure other in and around the MLB World knew there was a fan base in this community. Even with the huge turnout of fans to Tropicana Field for Fan Fest, it was overshadowed by the fact the team only drew over that 25,000 visitor threshold 17 times during the 2012 season.

Hopefully the recent blast in the media of supposed apathy and nonchalant attitudes towards the game have been erased at least until the regular season when the proof will be in the proverbial pudding if the fans will again flock to the Trop.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 041But this day was about the 2 lucky fans enshrined into the Rays/Pepsi Wall of Fame, the hundreds of scavenger hunters snapping pictures around the Trop in hopes of grabbing an Even Longoria signed bat for their collections. Everywhere you looked there were kids, parents and even long time fans walking, talking and making mostly positive comments about the days events. Baseball Hall of Fame member Peter Gammons visited Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s “Thanks-Mas” event prior to his own panel discussion making a few of those fans not only full of Maddon-induced food goodness, but also got to hear a baseball analyst’s take on the Rays and baseball.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 045Sure there were moments that made you scratch your noggin for a second like Rays INF/OF Shelley Duncan and Rodriguez as a pairing for the “Family Feud event. There were a few scattered “boo-birds” when Duncan was announced, but most have let the Spring incident of 2008 be finally put to rest. Still, it would have been interesting if Elliot Johnson was still here…pairing him with Duncan would have caught everyone’s ear. Still this season’s Fan Fest was amazing in the items up for sale in the Rays Garage Sale to the amount of MLBPA Alumni players participating in the Home Run Derby (won by O’s OF Mike Deveraux), to the huge table of past stars both of the Rays and other MLB vistas.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 095All in all the event might have been a bit reduced in total time we all spent within the confines of the tilted cap, but it was a day spent watching kids frolic in the batting cages, running the bases and getting a high-5 from Archer as they hit Home Plate. Matt Joyce also made a few more Rays fans as he stayed after his signing time was over and came to the side of the autograph stage and signed for a bit longer for fans who did not get a chance to get to him before his time was over.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 019Rays new Stud-du-Jour Wil Myers even made extra time for Rays fans who did not know him before his recent trade to the Rays and with Myers taking that extra moment, he sparked a few comments from people hoping he makes it to the MLB level some time in 2013. So now that the Rays Republic got a chance to see and meet a few of our new players to the Rays fold, and a few of the hungry and eager ones wanting a taste of the MLB life, it is now our time to show support for this team not only this Spring, but all the way until Game 162.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 002The Rays invest a lot of time and money in an event like this, and with 16 of them now in the books I can definitely say without any remorse that the 2013 edition definitely has set a new standard for future Rays Fan Fest’s. I made a tongue-in-cheek Tweet the other day about the whole Rays front office forming a Congo line today and each of them pat each other on the back for pulling off this grand event in style. I think it was Pepsi who sealed the emotions of the day as the Rays staff and players definitely “Rocked the Trop” on Saturday and I do not think anyone did not leave with a bit of Rays swag, autographs or maybe even a former players jersey tucked under their arm. The Trop definitely rocked a bit on Saturday, but I think we were all having too much fun to notice, which is a good thing.

First Sign Price Might Not Want to be a “Rays Lifer”

 David Price

What a great and grand New Years day present to hear the Tampa Bay Rays and their ace, David Price have come to an agreement for his 2013 salary. Sure a 1-year, $10.1 million dollar payday for the upcoming 2013 season is nothing to sneeze at (or if you are Astro..snort at), but the reality is so many of us had hoped the recent decision of Evan Longoria to basically announce he wants to be a “Ray for Life” might rub off a bit on his condo-sharing neighbor Price. Realistically you had hoped the Rays would have pushed harder for at least a 2-year deal to hedge their own “fiscal cliff” and keeping Price at least in a Rays jersey until late July 2014.

David PriceBut the blatant fact here is Price knows his stock will soar yearly as he meanders towards his Free Agency years, that if he stays consistent and produces number that are in the higher echelon of the MLB hurlers, the dollar signs and length of contract will increase tremendously. That by itself would surely dictate a 1-year deal for 2013.

I think I’m not the only one hoping somewhere within the Rays 4th floor there is someone trying to not only persuade Price and his agent to think long-term, but that the new Rays pitching leadership figure might want to stay with the thoughts of teaming along side Longo for at least the next 5 seasons possibly pushing the Rays past their present post season darkness. You want to think someone who has not only embraced the region, but its fan base with such smiles and up-lifting comments would make a visual or fiscal move to show confidence in the system and the Rays composition.

Price1Maybe I’m a bit naive in thinking Price would make a gesture towards this community showing his want and eagerness to stay beyond his proposed 2015 payday. Possibly my sugarplum and sunshine daydreams are all well and good, but Price’s own agent has basically let it slip out Price want to be the best, and that might not only pertain to the playing field. If that rhetoric stands, new Dodger SP Zack Grienke and his MLB record 6-year, $147 million dollar acquisition might be pushed to the #2 slot when Price hit the Free Agent market.

Price himself has let out little sound feelings that suggest he wants to be the best, and by the way he has produced on the field and stayed clean off it during his career, teams would be crazy not to line up and try to get him signed on the dotted line. So maybe I’m throwing some rain water on the pure sunshine that Price is signed, sealed and delivered for 2013, but behind all that glitter that is Price’s new gold is the common fact this might be the first step towards the final parting of Price and the Rays.

David PriceI want to be just like so many other and be naive to the fact Price will command a possible $13-14 million dollar payday as he goes through salary arbitration again next Winter. This kind of financial burden would not cripple so many other ball clubs, but with the Rays coffers not lined in silver and gold, anything over his present $10.1 million salary could stagnant the Rays chance at improvement at other positions, especially the devoid Designated Hitter slot.

With just a 1-season contract at this moment, could Price realistically be entering the twilight of his Rays adventure? Could this type of thinking snowball and take on such momentum this season that by the Trade Deadline, Price’s name goes from a whisper to a deafening shout as a trade piece?

377261244You want to thrust such thoughts deep down into your gut and not make them even public, but the truth is unless there is some form of futuristic commitment over the next 7 months as to his financial and physical standing with this team, He could be gone.

Price has been a great Ray since his relief efforts during their World Series run back in 2008, and his star has risen to such heights even over the past 2 seasons that the Rays may not be able to hitch their wagon to him anymore as Price might have finally entered that red zone of outgrowing the Rays fiscal comfort area.

Price is that one pitcher who come but once a generation for a team struggling with their payroll like the Rays. He has produced above and beyond expectations, shown his All-Star savvy and even garnered a few pieces of lifetime hardware for his efforts. He has made his dog Astro one of the best known MLB canine groupies ever and have even brought him to cult status in Tampa Bay and around the MLB. Price has had his bumps and bruises along the way, but has shown with class and confidence his style both on and off the hill are of the top order.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red SoxSome might say his $10.1 million salary was at the high-end of what the Rays would want to pay for Price, but the figure is in line with estimates and media speculations. You want to be optimistic at a moment like this and applaud and commend Price for a job well done during his career and embrace his achievements as we become anxiously awaiting his 2013 return to the playing fields of Port Charlotte, Florida for Spring Training.

Maybe by then we will have heard more out of the Price camp about the future, the present situation and his own opinions on him possibly being a “Ray” long-term. But as always, there is some darkness under this ultimate floating cloud’s silver lining, especially in the hopes of tying Price to a long-term deal or extension. Some would say I’m trying to pry open the Rays Carolina Blue curtain and further exposing the approaching danger on the horizon, but maybe it is more I’m finally coming to the conclusion Price might not be the type of player who wants to be a “lifetime” Ray. Hopefully he will prove me wrong….sooner rather than later.

Rays “Golden Arms” Were the Highlight of 2012

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As we begin our final countdown days towards the end of 2012, I want to take a moment to look back and remember both fondly and shudder at what was the Tampa Bay Rays 15th full season. This team showed us so much in their 180 day 2012 campaign both on the turf and off as this team bonded like never before where we all were witnessed to watch segments of their battle plan both explode and implode.

m3f5403-retouchIt was a season where human action figures named “Batman” (Wil Rhymes), “Godzilla” (Hidecki Matsui) and even “Wolverine” (Luke Scott) intertwined with “Zorilla” (Ben Zobrist), “HellBoy” (Jeremy Hellickson) and the “Archer” (Fernando Rodney). Even with such heroic character names, this team could not ultimately find a way into the October post season party, but their travel from game 1-162 was never boring, or devoid of heart and soul. We also got to see this team’s “nerdy”-side as team road trips again showed imagination and chemistry.

york-yankees-v-tampa-bay-20120702-193721-7552012 was also the season we saw a few players take their game to the next level with authority. B J Upton missed the coveted “30-30” spot by 2 HR, but in his failed attempt we finally saw glimmers of the potential we have always envisioned for him. Hellickson, fresh off his AL Rookie of the Year platform again garnered new hardware as he earned a special honor of garnering a co-ownership spot in the form of a glistening Gold Glove taking his pitching education to another dimension. We got to see the pitching promise that is Chris Archer, the resounding clarity that was Fernando Rodney brilliance, but also felt the pain and anguish of Rhymes as he collapsed into the arms of Rays First Base coach George Hendricks.

d2We all got to bear witness to one of those once-in-a-generation moments as Rays southpaw David Price and New York Mets knuckleballer R A Dickey both squared off in an early Inter League showdown on their journey towards their eventual Cy Young moments. Price in particular showed his stamina and determination throughout the 2012 campaign being one of the true linchpins of the Rays rotation providing the type of consistency and fortitude needed of your number 1 hurler.

In an ironic twist, the Rays home city of St. Petersburg, Florida somehow dropped the celebration ball with Price, possibly committing a ultimate publicity faux pas by getting “one-upped” by their “neighboring community” of Tampa presenting Price the key to the city with Astro, his trusty sidekick getting the opening cue on ESPN’s “Sportcenter” that evening. As is Price’s personality, he rolled with the moment possibly producing the best dog sound byte since Lassie’s first bark on television.

tumblr_m3fqj3gHF31qekndso3_12802012 was definitely a “Dog’s year” for the Rays as early on in the Spring they revealed their true love for the canine when players from the team teamed up with local no-kill animal shelter/clinic Pet Pals to produce a calendar that showcased the likes of RP Wade Davis’s German Shepherd pal Charlie, Evan Longoria’s “Spuds McKenzie” look-alike Bull Terrier Jango and Longo’s other canine condo bunk mate Boerboel Mastiff Tatum. We all even got to meet Maddon’s stoic English Bulldog furry friend Winston who like Astro has his own twitter account. Even behind the camera lens there was a Rays presence as James Shields wife Ryane did all of the shutterbug duties as the team embraced this community animal haven.

6985308645_09d3a46c7d_zalso saw bald again become beautiful as both Rays players, Coaches and even front office personnel let their curly and straight locks of hair fall to the wooden decks of the Charlotte Sports Park this Spring. From Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, Maddon to even Rays clubhouse staffers, all sat in the barber’s chairs to show community support and love for the “Cut for a Cause” campaign started by another fellow Tampa Bay sports icon, Tampa Bay Lightning star Vinny LeCavalier to bring about awareness to local pediatric cancer organizations and promote one of the Spring most heart-felt moments.

Even with all this animal love bounding through the Tampa Bay region, 2012 was also produced another stalemate check mark as the team and the surrounding communities wage verbal and visual battles trying to loosen the Rays lips and get some sort of loose translation sound byte of their own in the Rays quest to find their next home on either side of the bay.

carillon-new-rays-stadiumWith proposals surfacing that went as far East as the Florida Fairgrounds region, to a patch of dirt just off the Howard Franklin bridge in the Carrilon region, the entire community awaits with baited breath for some sign of the Rays want to stay or leave this community. Hopefully 2013 the silence will be broken and at least some parameters set into the community as to the Rays visions and dreams of a new state-of-the-art stadium hopefully somewhere in the Tampa Bay region.

Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta2012 started off with a few displays of fireworks with walk-off victories and the revelation that would become the foundation of the Rays Archery Club as we all bared witness to re-emergence of the shut-down abilities of Rodney who pushed post game arrows higher and farther with even his teammates watching as his quivers and stats reached levels not seen in the MLB for some time. Just watching Rodney pull back the imaginary string and release into the sky a Rays record 48 times was reason enough to be a Rays fan. 2012 was also filled with “Gladiator” moments as the team embraced the Roman warrior culture with some of it making its way onto television screen across America.

Evan LongoriaUnfortunately 2012 also revealed a few flaws in the Rays machine, especially after Longoria went down with a hamstring injury and the Rays began a roller coaster ride that did not straighten out until Longo again adorned a Rays uniform and returned to the lineup. Even with the Rays pitching staff producing incredible numbers in strikeouts, saves and ERA during 2012, the elimination of the Rays most potent weapon for such a long stretch showed their Achilles heel to all, and their opposition attacked the Rays at the core of their weakness with vengeance.

201208221343494136596-p2Even though Upton, Zobrist and even new Ray Jeff Keppinger tried to fill the void, their own production was muted by the struggles and slumps of Carlos Pena, Scott and the merry-go-round that was the Rays Third Base and Shortstop position for most of the season. The Rays once strong point of defense sprung leaks, showed faults and ultimately produced moments that reminded all of us of those pre-2008 Rays squads. 

It is hard to find a true title to the Rays 15th campaign. For all the highs and lows, the moments of exhilaration as we witnessed walk-offs and lost opportunities, nothing really stood out except the 5 souls who made up the Rays rotation.

Seattle Mariners v Tampa Bay RaysTheir arms truly becoming “golden” during the season as the team set an AL leading marks of 1,385 K’s , a incredible combined team ERA of 3.19, and saw Shields and Price eclipse the 200+ inning mark again. 2012 also saw mirror image inning production from young Rays Moore (177.1 innings pitched) and Hellickson (177.0 innings pitched) as they gained another strong year on the mound.

In the end, 2012 began and ended on the mound for the Rays. No matter what offensive highlight moment or defensive mis-step behind them, the Rays hurlers both starting and in relief set the tone this season and brought this team within a few victories of again hitting October moments. Their consistency, going deep into contests combined with stellar relief marks by everyone down in the Rays Bullpen gave us hope and want that the playoffs and October glory was still within our reach.

thYou can say 2012 was a lot of things from “Fortune Favoring the Bold”, to arrows piercing the night sky, but in the end it truly was the Rays “Golden Arms” who kept us spirited and showed us determination, heart and even a little hustle can produce moments to remember. As a homage to 2012, I am definitely tilting my cap to the right on New Years Eve as an homage to what was so fantastic about 2012.

Rays Million Dollar Question Mark

Sean Rodriguez

He was a Tampa Bay Rays player I truly thought had figured out his role and was about to ascend into stardom. Posting positive seasonal marks over the last 2 years, I felt he had approached the point of becoming more than Sean Rodriguez, he would be anointed with the nickname S-Rod, for he seemed to have everything going for him heading into the Rays 2012 season.

052712-5-MLB-Tampa-Bay-Rays-OB-PI_20120527194352739_660_320But even with the joyous noise of the Rays and Rodriguez today avoiding the arbitration process by agreeing on a 2013 salary of $1 million, the million dollar question still stands as to if S-Rod will be with the team on April 2,2013 when the Rays have their official Opening Day at Tropicana Field against the Baltimore Orioles. Will Rodriguez again prove himself in the Spring, or will he somehow again find holes in his bat and watch his field play dissolve into missed opportunities that could send him again into the Triple-A penalty box, possibly bringing a unfortunate end to his Rays fairy tale existence.

CB Bucknor, Sean RodriguezI mean I for one did not, could not of seen the debacle that was Rodriguez’s 2012 season coming because ever since his arrival he has shaken off injuries, sting ray barbs and slumps before without any downward spiral to his career. Ever since his arrival into the Rays system as a player to be named later in the Scott Kazmir deal, Rodriguez had seen his talents and abilities rise like a Tampa Bay high tide. Adapting to every position the team penciled his name into from 3rd option catcher to outfielder and finally a significant cog in the Rays infield alignment.

The Rays 2012 season was suppose to be Rodriguez’s MLB coming out party with him entrenched as the Rays Opening Day shortstop with plenty of rainbows and pixey dust on the horizon finally for him. But as quickly as he could pick up a grounder and underhanded it for the start of a routine double play, Rodriguez saw his season take on more twists and turns than an episode of “American Horror Story”. Who in their right mind could have seen or predicted the beginning of the slippery slope that Rodriguez had to endure in 2012 with finally accumulated with him spending time at Triple-A Durham.

Sean RodriguezBut Rodriguez has always seemed to have a lucky star, a brightness to him that seemed to take his troubles and whisk them away with ease, but 2012 definitely brought about numerous questions, and a shortness on possible answers as to if he would again reign supreme at the major league level. Still through all this tossing and turning of fortunes throughout the 2012 Rays season, Rodriguez somehow remained “rubberized” and bounced back from his demotion and subsequent fight with a locker in Durham to again grace a Rays jersey in September when the Rays roster expanded.

Who would of guessed the same guy who appeared in 112 games (87 starts) for the Rays have to endure such hills and valley throughout the season. I mean this is the same guy who hit .248 over his first 42 games in 2012, then went into a unforeseen tailspin that saw him hit .185 in his 70 games after May 22nd. Was this the same guy who was a huge catalyst when Evan Longoria went down by pushing out a .300 average with 3 HR and 9 RBI over his first 22 games in May, including 11 starts at Longo’s Third Base slot.

Sean+Rodriguez+Texas+Rangers+v+Tampa+Bay+Rays+VwZiev5f-d3lMaybe the pressure and added momentum to be “the guy” during the injury absence of Longoria stifled Rodriguez a bit, but who would of guessed that from May 23rd to August 7th when Longoria returned, Rodriguez would be mired only hitting .164 with 35 K’s in 53 contests. When Longo returned to the Rays lineup, Rodriguez had a short period where he hit .300 from August 7-20th, but it was too little too late and he found himself optioned to Durham when the Rays activated DH Luke Scott from the 15-Day DL.

You would have thought Rodriguez would dig deep into himself and bring out a thirst and hunger to get back to the MLB level ASAP, but after playing in only 2 games for the Bulls, Rodriguez and a Durham locker had some issues. Rodriguez only went 3-6 with a HR and 2 doubles in his short stint with the Bulls, and when rosters expanded, he was immediately put on the 15-day DL and appeared in only 6 games over the rest of the Rays 2012 campaign. Rodriguez had somehow during his 2012 season struggles lost his luster against southpaw hitters as he watched his career .260 average against left-hander produce a 2012 total of only .228 with no homers.

uspw_6551916But Rodriguez’s 2012 struggles did not only happen at the plate, for the first time in his career, Rodriguez committed 2 errors in 2 consecutive games (Sept 17-18th) after his reinstatement from the disabled list becoming the first AL player with multiple errors in consecutive games since Detroit Tiger Carlos Guillen back in 2006. Even the thrill of his 10-game hitting streak from May 2-12th could not dilute the pure fact question marks were beginning to surround Rodriguez and his tenure with the Rays.

So I guess the true million dollar question is not if 2012 is going to be an isolated event or the beginning of a trend, but more if the usual up-beat and positive personality and mindset of Rodriguez will return this Spring making him again someone to watch closely in those pivotal Spring games as he again solidify s his Rays foothold on the Port Charlotte, Florida clay infield. If Spring 2012 is an indicator, Rodriguez will again try to lay claim to an infield spot, possibly making the Rays again think long and hard about their shortstop position.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Tampa Bay RaysRight now there are meandering questions surrounding Rodriguez and his upcoming plans in Spring 2013 of turning his 2012 negatives into immediate positives and shine again in any and every capacity for the team. With his salary now out of the way, it could also clear the way for the team to possibly use him as filler for a trade, or if the Rays front office still has high hopes and knows his 2012 was a unfortunate blip on his career radar, Rodriguez should again climb out of this hole and be better for the adventure.

Seriously, if Rodriguez again shows not only the fans, but his teammates and the team’s front office his head and heart are again aligned perfectly with “the Rays Way”, the all the proverbial mini-Raymonds will somehow again line up in a row on the chalk lines as Rodriguez again shows his renewed vigor, vitality, brilliance and resilience that could erase every one of those current swirling million question marks surrounding him and his Rays future.

 

Longo Plans to Be a Ray for the Long haul

I wasn’t surprised at the fact the Tampa Bay Rays wanted to get their perennial All-Star  candidate Evan Longoria signed for as long as humanly possible. Here is a player who openly wants to be in a Rays uniform until his possible retirement date. That and of itself makes me respect Longo more and more as the years pass.

And the Rays did not have to go about this evolution this season, they could of waited until the Winter of 2014 to possibly go about just this sort of extension, but in it Longoria has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt why he will be here longer than Jeremy Hellickson, Desmond Jennings and even David Price. Longoria is the face of the Rays. He has taken to that mantel since 2008, and every season either you love him or want him to stay longer.

It is kind of amazing that this exceptional Rays financial commitment was made by both parties in an era where your Rays tenure is vastly connected to your upcoming or predicted fiscal numbers. Old # 3 has shown again he can be the defensive master possibly now robbing himself of a few million, but having the solidarity and stability of a possible entire career in one MLB jersey. Sure the timing of this move could have been more towards a future date, but this action fully vests both parties interest in securing a top tier player who is becoming an MLB icon and will be the face of Tampa Bay for many more seasons.

It might seem a bit weird that Longo, who already had a hugely attractive team friendly contract extension he signed not 2 years ago would make such a solid career movement at least until the Rays Club Options were on the horizon. The extension firmly shows where Long’s heart is, and where he wants to play out his career. Even though today’s extension could/will net Longo $136 million through the 2022 MLB slate, this was a personal show by Longoria that he is behind the “Rays Way” and wants to be a keystone of this team yearly battles for the American League East title.

Mixing together the previous extension that still owes Longo about $36 million through 2016, the current contract will net him $100 million from 2017-2022. This deal also negates the Rays Club Options originally on the books for 2014-2016 and might end up being one of the best bargains in baseball if Longoria stays healthy and sees his game mature both on the field and at the plate.

Considering Longoria inked his first Rays extension just 6 contests into his rookie season, the Rays solid defensive and offensive weapon will not see his salary hit the 8-figure mark until 2015 when he will make $11 million and $11.5 million for 2016. The Rays also tagged on a nice Club Option for 2023 just in case Longoria still has his feet underneath him, possibly as a Rays DH at that point in his career. When Longo hit the $11 million mark in 2016, when he will turn 31 on October 7th, about the time of the year the Rays would be trying to get back to the World Series (fingers crossed).

You have to think by that 2022 MLB season Longoria will have secured all or most of the Rays defensive and offensive records, along with the “Graybeard” title that is bestowed upon the longest tenured player in club history. By 2023, Longoria will be around 38 years of age. On paper the contract looks like a no-brainer complete with a signed,sealed and delivered commitment by one of the Rays flagship players. Everyone seems to win in this deal from the Rays front office, to the Rays charity, the Rays Baseball Foundation to kids who are beginning to idolize Longoria for his play and community involvement. This contract looks like a sure fire “win-win” barring anything or anything derailing Longoria.

If all goes according to his plan, Longoria just might get that elusive gift of playing for one team in his entire career. I wish him luck, health and most of all longevity to fulfill that dream. And making some primo bank during the stretch does hurt either. Way to go Longo! 

Remembering Some of the Fabric that Made the Rays 2012 Quilt

I sometimes think of the Rays unique ability to find players n the hidden recesses as a seamstress taking a piece of unused material and finding the right spot to be sewn it into their quilt pattern that will show promise to the overall Tampa Bay Rays team fabric. Sure there have been many patterns sewn and then discarded by Rays, but each addition had their purpose and conception in the Rays ever-changing roster design. From their inaugural line-up to their 2012 final game in October the Rays front office has found bits and pieces that have either been compliments or mute points in their want to again be a top the American League East.

Some have worked brilliantly and brought intense value to the Rays fold while a few seemed to be just parcels the team needed to fill voids due to injury or even production and then they were cut back out of the Rays pattern and set free again. The Rays in 2012 took a lot of these player patchwork pieces and again some fit nicely while others just served a short-term purpose and were discarded into the wind. 

Players like Brandon Allen, Brooks Conrad, Hideki Matsui,Will Rhymes, Drew Sutton,and last but not least, Rich Thompson. all had moments in the Rays fabric that either played to the Sun or escalated into darker moments. From stem to stern, this group of add-ons were key components of the Rays quest to find a cohesive offensive unit that somehow seemed to tear a hole into the team’s fabric at the worst possible moments. Some were brought in as stop-gaps to keep the fabric whole while other player’s mended their injuries or to plug gaping holes in the Rays defensive alignment.

Each member had their Rays sunburst highlight moments with some being at the plate (Allen, Matsui), while others were remembered for action on the field. 2012 was not the first time the Rays searched the MLB waiver wire or brought in players from the scrap heap who found ways to produce. Some had small bursts in the sunlight like Allen, Matsui and Thompson, but even the magic produced by Sutton and Conrad at Third Base as Evan Longoria healed could not save their spot in the Rays 2012 blanket. Rhymes showed the consistency the Rays desired at Second Base, but the Trade Deadline acquisition of Ryan Roberts made him also obsolete to their future plans.

Each had their own colorful blend into the Rays 2012 quilt and each should still be considered huge parts of the Rays 2012 fabric. Each of these players has seen his bit of material taken out of the Rays fabric with some finding other vistas while other await someone else wanting to add their pattern to their MLB team’s own clothe. None of these players might ever again don a Rays uniform, but their brief tenure with the team will be remembered by the Rays Republic as interwoven and special parts that were instrumental to the Rays success in 2012.

 

B J Upton: Either You Love Him or…….

He has been considered a polarizing member of the Tampa Bay Rays ever since his first time up in “the Show” at the young age of 17. Every single member of the Rays Republic have their opinions on this athlete with some being down right founded on a few moments of lapse, or mis-understanding on his drive, passion and commitment. No matter what you views are on Center fielder B J Upton, within the next several days he can either be destined for another locale, or become the highest paid Ray on the 2013 roster.

In the next few days Upton along with his agent have a chance to see just what kind of contract might lie outside the confines of the Trop. The Rays are wagering Upton takes his show on the road and decides to sign with another squad so the Rays can get a nice added Draft pick as compensation for losing one of their brightest stars. People seem to forget with all the negative banter swirling around Upton that he came just 2 Home Runs short of becoming the first Rays player to join the coveted “30-30” Club.

Upton might have his negative factors, but his positives have emerged at the right moments for the Rays, especially in 2012 after Evan Longoria was gone from the line-up and someone had to step up and take the reins of this team. Say what you will on his stride in the field that does have a look of loafing only because his stride is so natural and his body doesn’t show the torque and awkwardness former Rays speedster Carl Crawford displayed in the field making similar difficult fielding choices.

We also forget Upton took on a position that was foreign to him during his tenure and converted himself into one of the best defensive centerfielders in Major League baseball right now. He had his learning curve in the spot with mis-guided routes and playing too shallow at times, but that adventure has long since been eradicated with well-time leaps, runs and remarkable plays that play on highlight reels still to this day. How soon we forget Upton was drafted as a shortstop and took a journey around the infield before finally finding his spot just beyond the outfield star burst emblazoned on the Trop’s Astro Turf.

So within a few days Upton will either walk towards a long-term deal possibly with the Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals or maybe even the Atlanta Braves. Seems more likely Upton would transverse his game into the National League than stay in the confines of the American League, but who knows what is rolling around in his mind at this moment. Change of venue would be cleansing for him and his game, but again he would have to adjust and refine his game to the rigors of the NL where strikeouts are more frowned upon and walks are considered almost doubles with his base-stealing abilities.

But a monkey wrench could be thrust into that plan just as easily if Upton decides he can accept a 1-year, $13.3 million dollar payday and stay with his old club. Of course the Rays would lose their ability to gain a compensation draft pick if Upton heads this direction, but they also know if he is under contract, they could still trade him either this Winter or possibly at the 2013 Trade Deadline and still get some sort of compensation for Upton. This might be a gamble Upton may be willing to take since he has deep ties to the Tampa Bay community with his outside charity groups and local South St. Petersburg, Florida youth groups that himself and Rays SP David Price put a lot of time into both during and after the regular MLB season.

Possibly the Tampa Bay community still has Upton’s heart along with his positive affirmation this team is just a step behind regaining another shot at possibly a World Series shot. With one of the best rotations and pitching staffs in baseball, Upton knows if their offense can find a rhythm and consistent groove, a spot in the October post season party is not only possible, but definitely achievable.

Maybe his recent strides as a key figure within the Rays Clubhouse could be the deciding factor for Upton that he is willing to wait a year and take a chance on the group that has bonded together so tight and knows something grand awaits them. With the Rays having their solid pitching aspect combined with the team unity displayed, I can easily see Upton taking the Rays qualifying offer and staying with the hopes of another champagne celebration or two before his final exodus from Tampa Bay.

Whatever Upton decides, I will salute that decision and will be happy for this Rays icon I have seem mature, evolve and become his own style of MLB player.

Sure I’m a fan who supports Upton with undying loyalty and pride having seen this transformation from 17-year old SS prodigy. If Upton should decide to stay, I will be there to shake his hand in February at Spring Training. If not, I will still keep tabs on Upton and his career since he was a Ray and was such a key part of this team, especially since 2008.

No matter if he stays or leaves, the fans of the Rays have to acknowledge Upton has done a lot for this team. Still even with that said, some will still remember him for the gaffes and strikeouts and forget about his well-timed Home Runs or terrific plays off the CF wall. But that is what happens to players who you care for deep down, they either steal your heart or break it.

Love him or hate him, Upton to me has been a key component of the Rays playoff and a player to remember. Some will read that line and scoff and bid him “good riddance”, while others will shed a tear. Upton has been polarizing as a Ray, that I will admit, but he is still a player I’m glad had such a long tenure with this team and maybe another 180 days as a Ray.

Rays Should Elevate Zimmer to “Manager Emeritus”

I have a feeling there are going to be more than a handful of things I’m going to be writing about that the Tampa Bay Rays front office does between now and the time Pitchers and Catchers report to Port Charlotte, Florida in February 2013, but this one move to me signals their commitment to bring the top tier of talent to this squad.

 

It was not the affirmation of the team accepting the 2013 options for players like SP James Shields, C Jose Molina or even the brilliance that was RP Fernando Rodney’s 2012 campaign. No, the action that caught my eye and truly showed me this team is committed and expecting to “shoot for the Moon”, is the recent press release that Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer will partake in his 65th year in organized baseball, and his 10th with the Rays. This to me is the biggest, best and most logical move the team will make all Winter.

 

We all know that Zimmer is the Master Yoda for this young and energetic squad, having beat health situations in 2012 and is again eager, willing and excited about stepping foot on the field again this Spring. Sure Zim who has been immortalized in so many ways over his career and his 10 years with the Rays has his own “Bear” now, but I think the title of “Senior Advisor” needed to be ripped off the team website, and a new proclamation be made to show the respect and reverence to all things “Zim”.

 

Some will say being Senior Advisor is enough for Zimmer, but to me it can be elevated to a new level with the mere changing of his title. I’m sure Rays current Manager Joe Maddon will not take offense to this, or even take it as even a mild slap if the team were to elevate Zim to the position of esteemed and new fangled title of Rays Manager Emeritus. When former Rays owner Vince Namoli sold the team to the young and youthful Stuart Sternberg, he was given the designation “Chairman Emeritus” when you gaze at the Rays Ownership section of their website and Media Guide.


Emeritus” by definition in Webster’s Dictionary tends to lean more towards showing this title going to someone who has been “retired” as a post-positive adjective to show respect and dignity to someone who gave of themselves in all aspects for the betterment of their chosen field. Namoli possibly holds this distinction because of his tireless pursuit of the Rays franchise combined with his due diligence while commanding the top tier of the Rays hierarchy before passing the torch to Sternberg.

 

Zimmer is not retired as a Major League Baseball figurehead, but he is as an active “Manager”, and that is the aspect I feel his title being changed to “Manager Emeritus” has merit. Zim is a constant figure down on the turf during Rays Batting Practice and is as much a personality and part of this team as any of the players and Coaches who adorn the Rays colors. The Rays have not been shy in the past of being creative with titles, responsibilities or even assignment, but making Zimmer a permanent part of the Rays culture, game-day experience is the least we can do for a true MLB icon.

 

Heck, I still remember when Zimmer lived on Treasure Island, Florida with his awesome wife and used to come into my father’s gas station for fuel. I would talk baseball with him, even when he was the Red Sox Manger. I looked up to this man for not only living the dream, but always wanting to be within eyesight of the game and wanting to always have a finger on the pulse of this grand game.

 

Some might say my wanting of this title change is futile, a bit contrite and maybe a bit evasive on the legend that is Maddon right now in this region. I can see that point of view, but name me another figure besides Namoli who has done as much for this franchise both in front and behind the scenes as Zimmer. I know personally he loves to give knowledge, excite the younger generation of the baseball royalty and be the anointed “father figure” some of these guys need when the game slaps them around a bit. To me Zimmer is as much a part of the Rays game as Evan Longoria’s bat or even Rodney’s archery pose.

 

This action probably will not happen. Zim will remain the title of Senior Advisor until the time he walks away from this game for the final time. Maybe I’m just trying to be a bit insightful and want him to enjoy the respect, admiration fans like myself in the Rays Republic have held for Zimmer, even before he donned the “TB” cap for the first time. Zimmer is a Tampa Bay icon, a long time resident who has given us at least 2 generation of Zimmers’, and will always be cut into the fabric that is the Rays legacy. Maybe the word “Emeritus” is too small for the legend that is Zim, maybe “Emperor of the Rays Republic” fits more like a Rawlings glove.

 

 

Are Rays Hitting Their Stride for the Final 50?

All season long some of us have been waiting for this kind of production. Since the days before Tampa Bay Rays 3B Evan Longoria grabbed the back of his leg, the Rays Republic have been awaiting this kind of warfare. From singles to massive Home Runs, the Rays again have found their focus, their offense that combined with their pitching cohesiveness to brings about solid and warranted victories.

8 out of their last 13 road battle have seen either Fernando Rodney chuck a arrow into the sky, or provided the optimal moment for this team to celebrate mid-infield with high-5′s and handshakes galore. This is what happens when a team finally get back a fallen comrade and gets their sights set throughly for the final 50 game grind. That’s right, 50 games left in the Rays 2012 regular season, with a hope that October dreams come true.

From this squad getting their bellies full with “meatloafing” (winning 2 out of 3) series wins to finally finding that home remedy to evoke victories, this team has positioned itself going into today’s contest just 1 game out of the top spot for a American League Wild Card slot, and is within fighting range of the whole enchilada of another possible AL East banner being raised come April 2013. Tell me any of us felt that way as bombs burst in night air on July 4th while this team struggled to find cohesion and consistency.

Finally the Maddon mantra has again proven true as “Fortune Favors the Bold (or Bald)” as this team has stood tall in the face of injuries, potential trade chatter and unimaginable defensive blunders and gaffs to be in the right spot at the right time for a solid and concerted effort to topple their AL east rivals. Sitting currently with a 44 % chance of playoff champagne, this team has to continue to get their meaty goodness both at home and on the road mixed in with a few extra wins to bolster their post- season chances.

Right now the Rays are toe-to-toe with Oakland, Detroit, Baltimore and the Los Angeles Angels for a solid chance to walk into their third consecutive playoff spot, and fourth in 5 seasons. But it all begins now. 50 games, 50 chances to pull closer or fall to the back of the pack. Of those 50 contests, 29 of these contests will come against divisional leaders or Wild Card hopefuls. Plus in this 50 game hunt for October bliss, the Rays will play only 6 more games against the Yankees and 6 against the pesky Orioles. Of their final 50, the Rays will suit up against their AL East rivals in only half (25) of those contests.

Definitely the Rays might want to also channel a former Maddon Mantra from 2011 of “Finding Another Way” as they will have to garner additional victories against the likes of Seattle, Kansas City along with a slate of 16 contests against the unpredictable American League West foes.

The key to the Rays future seems to lie not only in their divisional slanted schedule in September, but in their rivalries against the West Coast opponents. Throw in 7 contests against the AL Central and you get the idea the Rays final AL East tallies might hold the key components to the Rays post-season recipe, but the rest of the American League could poison the “meaty” goodness with a few well-placed wins against the Rays.

6 games currently separate the Rays and Yankees with Baltimore still hanging on like that poster kitten, but destined to fall before the leaves turn colors. With the days of September coming closer the Rays engine is currently purring on all 8 cylinders and looking stronger every game. But it will only take a small back-step, a slip or even another key injury setback to again put haste and anxious thoughts into everyone’s noggin.

Winning series, posting up impressive game stats is only part of the equation. In the end, possibly the Rays will have to win at least 37 of these final 50 games to again shower the Trop’s fans with champagne and not have to re-visit another Game 162 moment or heartbreak.

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