Results tagged ‘ Evan Longoria ’

Has it Really Been a Year Since the ManDam Days?

It still doesn’t feel like we have gone full circle. Doesn’t seem to compute to 365 days, but it was 1 year ago today (January 31, 2010) that the most anticipated and exciting Press junket took off like a rocket. The anticipation and excitement within the room had the walls sweating, and more than a few of the assembled media members jockeying for the perfect photo of this grand Tampa Bay Rays moment.

The signing of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to me personally meant we were taking a giant leap of both faith and ability to get to the next level. Both men came to the Rays with World Series rings, plus a lingering bromance between the two MLB stars that bordered on a love-fest.

After the two traded volleys of compliments and platitudes amongst themselves, it seemed like this duo could be the eventual key to the Rays getting past the American League Divisional Series again and not just contend, but have a legitimate shot at seeing this young squad finally thrust skyward that long anticipated golden chalice. You had the feeling leaving that junket that these two MLB vets were here to win another crown and keep the drama to a minimal.

I still remember watching Manny and his father walking up to the Rays clubhouse in Port Charlotte, Florida on the day Pitchers and Catchers reported excited as Manny looked in great shape and had come in early to camp to talk with the staff, players and I even found my hand in his at some point. But we all know how the duo turned out.

One provided a perfect example of an MLB veteran thing and proved night after night his spunk, drive and a determination that has been previously unseen by a veteran in a Rays uniform. The other found himself suddenly an MLB outsider again after partaking in an illegal substance that took him instantly from the sparkling light of the Trop and into his own personal demon field.  I am still dumbfounded Manny did not take the penalty in stride, work to get back into a Rays uniform. Instead he packed-up, shipped out and seemed destined to fail for one of the first times in his career.

As Damon provided  a jolt of energized inspiration by his feats on and off the field, Manny found trouble on his own Florida home front.  I still want to somehow go back in time and shake Manny to and fro and wonder why he again slipped towards the dark side.  Manny signed for a small penance compared to his past contracts, and seemed he had something to show the rest of the league heading into the season.

I still wonder what could have transpired when Manny found his groove and could have been a great asset and weapon to keep American League pitchers’ honest against Evan Longoria. Instead Longo found himself with limited protection in the 5th spot in the batting order. If Manny had only kept himself straight, I shudder to think what each could have accomplished in 2011.

Both are long gone now. Damon pitching his skills and wares outside of his native state of Florida. Hoping to catch on with the Orioles and keep his AL East dream alive. Many have checked in on Manny this Winter, but so far no one has put a possible contract in front of him for 2012. There are rumors the Oakland Athletics might take a chance, but Billy Beane might have a few special provisions in that performance bonus laden contract before Manny has a chance to sign it.

What a difference 365 days have made. Carlos Pena is back in the Rays fold, All 5 2011 starters are still penciled-in for the Spring, and B J Upton is still a Ray. It is a shame the Man-Dam traveling road show could not produce and make the Rays decision harder this off-season to keep or give-up the duo. One showed his class for 180 days, the other was gone even before the blink of an eye. Still, the madness and pretense of that first Man-Dam press conference was one for the ages…..Makes you  realize sometimes things can be too good to be true….Sigh!

Hoping There is One More Trade on the Back Burner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Step for Pena……the Twitterverse?

Since Carlos Pena left the Tampa Bay Rays, a lot has changed both within the Rays clubhouse and with their team personality. Some might not even remember anymore the 2008 MLB blog penned by Pena as the Rays embraced and embarked on their maiden voyage into the Major League Baseball post-season. It showed a well-educated and articulate side of Pena most never knew until he spoke in videos, or in public to groups.

Under the roof of Tropicana Field Pena again blossomed, became a MLB icon whether he was arching his back connecting with a pitch down the center of the plate, or showing his cat-like reflexes that have earned him the status of one of the better defensive First Baseman in the MLB. Some say Pena found his second chance in Tampa Bay and became an instant fan favorite as much for his on-field efforts as for his oratory and charity works off the turf.

In less than a season, the Rays have also evolved without the leadership of Pena as another level of leaders emerged as Pena patrolled the First Baseline on the Northsde of Chi-town in 2011. The Rays collectively have become a team that is not obsessed but social media savvy, almost to the point of TMI at times.

And this is a fan interactive realm that Pena might not have encountered in his short Cubs tenure, but one he will quickly find encircles the personality of his old squad. Still, I wonder how long it will take before his teammates, or even Pena’s ex-Cape Cod teammate on the Rays 4th floor get him thrust into the social media frenzy.

From Rays farm hands Mikie Mathook ( @MikieMahtook8 ) or Stephen Vogt ( @SVogt1229 ) to the ever popular Rays feeds of David Price ( @DAVIDprice14 ) and Evan Longoria ( @Evan3Longoria ), the Rays have become socially savvy and frequent participant in the Twitterverse. I know the college educated and articulate Pena would be another great component of the online media feast for the Rays Republic, but finding the right handle or screen name might be a bit more difficult than we all imagine for the stylish Pena.

Just for giggles, I am going to take a gander at some of the more universally related “Pena persona’s” and see if those name or alias are currently available on the Twitterverse, or taken way before Pena’s first venture into its social realms. I will first post the more common screen names that could be associated with Pena, then move onto possible more obscure possibilities. 

@CarlosPena23 Unfortunately the most universal name that Pena could use is already associated with “Maximilian”, but this name might just be a shell since the author of this screen name has never issued a single Tweet, and is only following 1 person at this time. Sad, this could have been a perfect format for Pena’s Rays splash into the social media pool.

@TheCarlosPena It is unfortunate that Pena also shares the same complete celebrity name with another well-loved and respected Latin personality who won the second season of Latin American Idol. Just like his baseball counterpart, the singing Pena is known for his modesty and charisma. Who knows, maybe the singer will someday grace the Trop’s stage as a Rays/Hess Express Concert Series as we all will bask in double the Pena charm that evening.

@Car_Los23 At least we have an athletic-minded “Carlos” on this screen name. He is (Juan) Carlos Zaragoza (Murillo) who is a Mexican footballer currently playing for Club Leon in the Liga de Asenso. It might be a dummy Twitter site for this “Carlos” since it has only 3 followers and 3 Tweets since it’s inception. Pity, this name could have gone well with Pena, but such is media life.

@ILoveCarlosPena Heck, this screen name would have been perfect for Pena’s adorable other half, his wife Pamela. Unfortunately it is also the “love-fest homage” screen name for the band Big Time Rush fan Ashley.

Maybe I should venture more towards screen names that might be associated with Pena’s old nicknames, possibly bringing up some name attached to him during his Rays tenure that could evolve into a possible Rays Twitter home for Pena. Then again, we might encounter the same obstacles and detours previously seen when trying to get Pena just the right persona for his Twitter and Rays Republic social media moment.

@ElPresidente I had hopes this name would be unused and available, but it is another name that somehow is being underused and not developed to its full potential. Not sure who or what UAT is, but it has the regal “El Presidente” within its kingdom. This account is currently Following 37 Twitter accounts and has a robust 66 Followers even though it’s author has never submitted a single Tweets since its inception.

@ElPresidente23 I decided to try to see since El Presidente was taken if possibly just attaching Pena’s past Rays jersey number would get me a positive result. Unfortunately, this name too already has been taken and is active in the Twitterverse. It is attached to Peter Nixon, who is an active Twitter disciple who has thrust out over 3,127 Tweets and is following 645 other account and has 328 Followers of his own.

@Los23 This is another nickname that has evolved to a point where Rays fans automatically think “Pena” when it is voiced, written or otherwise communicated. As is our luck today, this screen name is also attached to 2 people with a bit of difference in their “Los” persona’s. One is Carlos Vargas (@Los23), who if you read his Tweets has a mellow kind of homey vibe, much like Carlos. The other does not have a human named attached to it, but @342Krazy who follows only 1 other Twitter persona much be a Rays front office covert ops….It makes sense (just kidding).

@ElGato Most people associate this MLB nickname with Andres Galarraga who was known as the “Big Cat” also during his MLB career from 1985-2004. An interesting side note is that Galarraga, like Pena also calls Orlando, Florida his home. But this account is actually the Twitter presence for Eye TV which is the world’s leading TV recording software and TV tuner solutions for the Mac computer.

As we can see, the usual names that Pena could incorporate his online social persona have either been taken, or are active accounts with some sort of back history that might be dangerous for Pena to cross paths with followers of the present account holders. That would only lead to possibly there being a new Pena persona hatched, or another nickname used to possible develop Pena’s Rays social presence. I have a few suggestions, with one being the best of both worlds for Pena, currently open for his use on Twitter, possibly as soon as he starts his account.

@ElGatodelCrimen This Twitter name might be more tongue-in-cheek than Pena would want for himself, but it is a nickname some put upon him during his Rays days as a bit of an homage to former Rays 1B Fred McGriff who was known as the “Crime Dog”. The name translates into “The Crime Cat”, possibly playing on McGriff’s persona, but with the added flair of Pena’s feline movements while covering the bag. This is not my favorite option, but it could be a nice way for Pena to remain secluded but also relevant among the unique Twitterverse.

@23CarlosPena This is my favorite Twitter name for Pena. I hope he wants to retain the jersey number 23, and if he did, this name would work to not only separate himself from the “other Carlos Pena’s”, it would make his name synonymous with his Rays persona as well as being his personal account to update us on great things in his of-the-field life. Truly this screen name could embrace and include everything we all have love, respected and admired of Pena since he first stepped outside the Rays Spring clubhouse wearing that symbolic number.

I truly hope Pena does take to the social media format just like so many of his team mates did in 2011. It is another way for both the MLB fans and the Rays Republic to see these guys more as humans than just as physical cogs in the Rays baseball machine. Pena has great passion and respect for the game and this community, his Rays presence speaking to that point and showing us another side of himself will make even his harshest critic embrace his Tweets and await anxiously for his next writ of wit.

PS My own Twitter name has been changed to @TheRaysRenegade after Twitter would not give me access to my original screen name after someone hacked into my account. I would appreciate and consider if it privilege if you “follow” me on my new name.  I also have the @TheRaysRenegade account scrolling on the sidebar of my blog again.

Great Scott!

Not sure if I should send an edible fruit bouquet or an animated “thank You” card to Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations. I know some found the “Ghost Protocol” blog a bit far-fetched or even too realistic, but the pure fact is the Rays were on silent running because they did not want the rest of the AL East to know they finally got the player Friedman has asked about for the past 2 Trade Deadlines.

I honestly think the signing of Luke Scott to a one year deal with a club option for 2013 is a firm step in the positive direction of finding a Designated Hitter that can grow within the Rays fold. Sure Scott might be a bit of a late bloomer, but they said the same thing about Jonny Gomes when he was a DH, and he blossomed quite nicely after leaving for the Reds and eventually being traded to the Nationals.

Considering Scott also has a home in Florida located in De Leon Springs (Volusia county). The only thing that could possibly stand in the way of Scott taking the Rays DH role and pouncing on it is a setback from his July 2011 shoulder (torn right labrum) surgery. But all indications are that his rehab has been productive, and Scott should be ready to go in about 45-50 days at full steam and is currently in the midst of his own intense off-season workout regimen. Scott also could see some time possibly during the Inter-League portion of the 2012 schedule in the outfield if his throwing shoulder has healed sufficiently.

He seems to be the offensive weapon the Rays have been seeking for a few seasons, with Friedman always asking the Orioles about his availability come late July, and always finding the prospective package too rich for the Rays blood. But when Scott is healthy, he could be a godsend to a Rays offense that at time rolls into a hitting funk at the wrong moments. Scott has hit 23 or more home each season from 2008-2010 before he was limited to 9 HRs over his 64 games in 2011. In his best showing for the birds, Scott hit for a .284 average with 27 HR, 72 RBI and a .368 on-base percentage back in 2010.

Still, it was great the Rays could finally get Scott without having to send prospects or even MLB ready players to their divisional foes the Orioles thanks in part to them non-tendering Scott earlier in the off-season. The terms of Scott’s 2012 Rays contract are still being ironed out, but you can bet there will be plenty of room for incentives if Scott can knock the cover off the ball or deposit some nice white souvenirs into the Trop’s stands. Scott does come to the Rays with the accolades of being a top-tier offensive weapon having been selected as the Oriole’s 2010 MVO (Most Valuable Oriole). And the cherry on top of it all..He is also an avid First Baseman.

If Scott can hit anywhere close to his .500 Slugging Percentage that he has displayed in the past, he could be a nice addition and a good bit of protection for Evan Longoria. It has been a few years since Longo has had a hitter behind him who can command a pitching staff to pitch to him in fear of giving the next guy an ample chance for a run-producing at bat. Scott could be a great equalizer, especially if he gets ahead in the count and makes his rival possibly groove one in on him.

That is where Scott reminds me so much of Gomes. He has that type of power to get the bulk of the bat on the ball late and drive it towards First Avenue South with a simple twist of the wrists. That kind of consistent power display and ability has been missing with the Rays for some time. Plus with a one years deal and a 2013 club option, if the Rays and Scott do not fit together right, Scott could again be a free agent in the off-season of 2012.

Scott has a pure passion for guns and hunting, which might make him an instant friend of Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann, but he is also someone who has his opinions and is not afraid to voice it loud and proud no matter if you in his corner or not. Mark Reynolds, an old Baltimore teammate of Scott possibly has the best explanation of “Scott being Scott” :

He doesn’t hide it, he doesn’t talk behind people’s backs about anything. A lot of people have those opinions and don’t say anything. Did I think he needed to go to the Winter Meetings and say all those things” Probably not. But he’ll give you his opinion.”

So as you can see from Reynold’s comments, Scott comes with some concerns, but has generally been a positive force in the clubhouse. It is away from the playing field and his teammates that Scott has made a few less than adamant “followers”. He was a Baltimore fan favorite, being accessible and gracious to the fan base, but he did have a tendency to rub some the wrong way with his devote religious beliefs and political opinions. I think if the Rays did win the World Series in 2012, Scott might not have an instant invite to the White House.

But he has also been known to have a razor-sharp wit sometimes going above and beyond the usual lines like throwing plantain chips at a player to keep him in line. But that is another quality that is very similar to Gomes in that Scott is almost like an larger-than-life animated cartoon character in the clubhouse and vocally.

Heck, some might remember Scott ruffled a few Rays feathers in the past spouting off about former Rays hurler Matt Garza and making sure his Home Run celebrations against the Rays had a bit of an extra kick to them. So Scott might be one of those “tough love” guys, one of the people who will tell it like it is, and make you sorry you asked the question for the abrupt response to your query.

But Scott should love this region. Did you know Scott is fluent in Spanish and loves the Latin culture. That should go great with a team with plenty of Latin flair, plus a community that boasts the second largest Hispanic population in the state. In the end, the Rays got the guy they have been peering at from afar for several seasons. Scott is also a great contributor to local clinics, special events and charity events. He has the personality that can be a crowd pleaser and a seat filler not matter the event or the reason for the assembly. 

The echo of his bat meeting the ball in the trop should sound like thunder, and hopefully he will rain down a few HR showers over the course of a season. His love for all things Latin, including the language will make him likeable, respected and a quick fan favorite. I can hear the Raysvision clip now as Scott rounds the bases after hitting one into the seats. On the scene is Doctor Emmitt Brown in a clip from “Back to the Future”, and you know the line……”Great Scott!

Who knows, maybe they will use this clip……

Are The Rays Currently in Ghost Protocol Mode?

On Wall Street, the Trades and Acquisitions Department of large investment firm have the covert mentality of the CIA and other branches of International intrigue that use initials. Knowledge is power, and with that, secrecy and the movements under that umbrellas come at a premium.

So far this Winter we have heard and seen some of the clandestine targets and near misses of the Tampa Bay Rays, who operate under their own initialed powerful and might organization, the MLB, has taken the art form of gliding amongst the darkened halls with silent whispers to a new level. As we have learned in the past, the Rays have a circle of trust within its Fourth floor domain that no constants, syllable or even grown are visualized or voiced when the always alert media comes a-callin’ with trade rumors and whispers in the wind.

Some moves might be counter-moves, made to seem directed towards a general target, but suddenly change direction, showing a more devious and unimagined alternative plan. Take the recent movement by the Rays to get the services of free agent outfielder Coco Crisp. That’s right, the same Crispy critter who almost walked into a James Shields hay maker in 2008 that might have shattered Shield’s pitching hand.

Who in their right Rays mind could have seen this one coming? Of course Crisp decided he like to stay on his dock by the bay and rejected the Rays advances. We know Crisp and Shields have buried their hatchet, but have all the bad blood been drained within the Rays Republic in regards to Crisp? That, my friends is blowing in the wind now, and great fodder for Happy Hour discussions. But the outfielder chatter did not stop with the Coco one, there was another attempt, or stab at Seth Smith, and adequate fielder and hitter in his own right to possibly be a Plan B to the Crisp covert ops.

But you got to ask of there is a problem within the Rays outfield we do not see, or are we possibly looking 4-moves behind the mind right now of Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. I was content to think we might see Desmond Jennings in Right field this season trading spots with Matt Joyce who I thought made his presence known for the full-time gig, even against southpaws. I had come to terms my myself that B J Upton might wear a question mark on his uniform instead of the # 2 this season as his tenure in Rays Center field is more rental than lease with an option to buy. Was starting to think someone named Damon might have the only true answer.

The moves towards Crisp and Smith have me wondering just how much confidence the Rays have in Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer or even Justin Ruggiano to be that 4th asset in the OF puzzle…or if their own Rays existence is also under the microscope as possible trade fodder? It is almost as if I should think of 20 of the 25 names on the Rays roster not named Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Joel Peralta, Evan Longoria or Ben Zobrist are stapled to the Trop turf, but everyone else is up for discussion at some point. And now comes internal gossip the Rays might not have held onto Smith if they had signed him, but used him as more enticing bait for another morsel….How quickly the tides turn in Tampa Bay.

But that is what the Winter Hot Stove season is all about right? Making the waters boil and seeing who rises to the top of the pile and who settles to the bottom, possibly there until the late July Trade Deadline timetable. Early this Winter we had the Ivan Rodriguez, Josh Willingham, Carlos Beltran and finally an afterthought of a Anthony Rizzo acquisition spinning in our head’s before the new year. Sometimes I wish I had a mouse with a lipstick camera or a house fly with a video feed to give me something tangible and substantial to write about before it hits the general airwaves.

I’m beginning to think we need to contact the modern Sherlock Holmes I saw on BBC the other night, he sees in that altered universe realm, and can be perfectly comfortable thinking 6-8 moves ahead of the rest of us mortals. For some reason I think a MI-6 License to Kill might be easier to obtain than a Rays trade whisper. Sure there are still cracks in the Rays armor, but it is in the field personnel and not on the front office lines. Questions abound around the infield now with the Rays inquest towards trying to secure Brooks Conrad and Ryan Theriot.

I had the notion to think it might be a slip up, a showing of their cards that possibly Sean Rodriguez is penciled in at Shortstop and Second in a platoon, and Zobrist again will carry at least 5 gloves to every Rays contest. I thought for a moment I might have cracked a hidden code, possibly being 1-move ahead of the pack with the Rays inquiring about Conrad and Theriot, but their talents were to be as bit players not starters in the proposed Maddon 2012 Tour. Foiled again just when I thought I had inched forward with something of substance again left with poached egg on my grill.

But one day. Ahhh, one day someone will crack the code, bring about the wheeling and dealing to the surface, not with the realm of full disclosure, but with hints, smatterings of intel and possibly make us all giddy again about what really lies behind the Rays Carolina Blue curtains. But I am left right now with the pure facts I will never be in the Rays circle of trust, never be an intricate part of the Rays always unfolding covet machine, finally realizing with crystal clear clarity my best guesses at trades are just those…guesses.

I guess I will have to be content that the powers that be that invisibly move within the 4th Floor sanctum is hard at work making the Rays a better oiled machine. A more precise instrument to take into the 182 battles that make up an MLB season. That I can sleep better at night knowing Friedman is out there somewhere already in work mode to answer those question we have not even asked yet.  Still, the Ryan Madson rumors have me curious….I wonder if there is a motorized mouse online I can buy, or what time is it in London?

Could Tim Beckham Face a Position Change This Spring?

They were supposed to be the heirs apparent to the Tampa Bay Rays revolving door situation at shortstop. Each saw their 1st Round selections in their season’s MLB Draft as the enthusiastic stamp of approval by the Rays that their style of baseball had a place under the Tropicana Field roof, and that their rise through the Rays farm system would finally accumulate with them manning the 6-hole for this team for years to come. One saw his future and position changed upon his arrival into the MLB, the toehr could be going down that same familiar path soon for the Rays.

Funny how the early farm system years and expectations of B J Upton and Tim Beckham mirrored each other with such eerie similarities and the promise of them becoming the Rays sure-fire solution on the right-side of the infield. Upton was the first to take the venture, and Beckham soon might find himself at that same crossroads Upton faced, possibly never getting a chance to show his potential at shortstop.

But it is actually good that Upton has taken the journey and could be a beneficial listening post for Beckham as he too might encounter a roadblock in his escalation towards the MLB level. Upton has become an outspoken clubhouse voice, and has grown into the role as mentor and responsible MLB member as he has become secure with his career position change. This talk could come as soon as the Spring of 2012 with Beckham seeing his stock as a Rays top prospect plummet to the # 13 slot this off season. Beckham, like Upton has the skills and tools to be a major leaguer, it just might not be at the position he envisioned on his MLB Draft day back in the Summer of 2008.

Upton finally made it to the MLB level, but not for his shortstop skills. He was being considered a plug-in alternative around the infield when he was first called-up, manning the Second Base position, then taking his shot at the Hot Corner as Evan Longoria was taking his bumps and lumps in the Rays minor league system. Something happened to Upton as he matured as a SS prspect through the Rays system, he suddenly became erratic with his throws, his footwork was being questioned, and his once abundant confidence as a future MLB SS began to fade. But Upton came to a crossroads, with a positional change firmly blocking his path to the shortstop spot.

I somehow feel the same fate just on the horizon for Beckham. It is not that Beckham like Upton could not man the position, but there is another hot prospect who might have taken the thunder from them, and thrust his name further up the potential depth chart. Beckham did start to show some of the fundamental breakdowns that Upton faced at Triple-A Durham before his MLB rise, but Beckham has also worked tirelessly to correct, manipulate and strive to again have his name whispered as a MLB level shortstop.

With Baseball America tapping Rays current Double-A SS prospect Hak-Ju Lee as the Rays infield prospect, you have to wonder if the Rays scouting department is turning their head towards Lee as the heir apparent and possibly having Beckham do the infield shuffle himself. 2012 could be a great indicator of if the Rays think Beckham is the right guy for the 6-slot, or someone to man the slot until Lee shows he is ready, willing and able to be that everyday middle-of-the infield commando.

I truly think it might be a blessing in disguise for Beckham to shift his role across the Second Base bag and take the ball from a different angle. It might even be career changing. I watched Beckham hit last Spring and he reminded me of a budding Rickey Weeks. You remember him, the guy the Rays passed up for SP Dewon Brazelton back in 2001. Beckham has that raw talent and bat speed that made some drool about Weeks, plus Beckham is still growing.

Beckham might be currently be the invisible man in regards to the SS position, but he will get his chance this Spring to make the Rays reconsider, possibly making himself a go-to utility guy who could learn on the job while working with long-time Rays Coach Tom Foley on his fundamentals or positioning. But the reality is that Beckham may only stand at that SS position a handful of time when he finally gets to the MLB level, and even then it might be until Lee is ready.

Still, a shift across the diamond, possibly being a heir apparent to the 2B spot could end up being the thing that takes Beckham to the next level. The current supply of MLB superstars that man the 4-spot are aging, and a shift to that position might actually help his reputation and future aspirations within the MLB. With some saying Ben Zobrist will slide over to the First Base bag in the next few years for good, the 2B slot could be wide open.

Upton came up to the MLB with hopes and dreams of manning the 6-spot for 10 seasons, but finally found a home deeper in the slot back by the Rays sunburst in Centerfield. It was a great move by the team and Upton to slide him into the outfield, and even without an All-Star selection to his credit, Upton is one of the fastest and best defender in that position.

Beckham might have to make his own decision possibly this Spring as to his future with the Rays, and a slide vertically could benefit not only him, but the Rays as he could be a critical pivot man for Lee in the double-play format. Beckham could win a chance at a utility role with an outstanding Spring, but the reality is he might be Durham bound again, possibly even switching to the other side of the bag for the Bulls in preparation for the switch-a-roo.

No matter if this pans out, or if my vision is just as blind as some behind the plate, Beckham’s future role with this team might depend on his flexibility and mental toughness possibly learning a new position and becoming a huge cog in the Rays future infield. Hmmm, I think I said the same about Upton not so long ago, and that position switch has turned out pretty well for the Rays.

2011 is Almost in the Books, but What a Season to Remember.

Usually around this time of the year Tampa Bay Rays blogs begin to countdown their top moments of the season. It was a historic season by many aspects. The team posted their third trip in four seasons to the October party, but also we saw so many of the Rays post their own moments of wonder and amazement it has to have all of us giddy with emotion knowing there are less than 100 days before the fun all begins again for 2012.

We saw the emergence of “the Legend”( Sam Fuld), the formulation of the “Magic of Kotch” (Casey Kotchman) movement, and also saw the further maturation of the Rays top tier players David Price and Evan Longoria. We saw Sean Rodriguez move across the diamond to the 6-hole and show why he has always been a prized reward of the Scott Kazmir trade. Desmond Jennings came up and proved once and for all he is not a “Crawford”-clone, but has his own power, style and base-stealing magic.

Matt Joyce proved he had the stuff to hit left-handers, and Ben Zobrist again show the “Zorilla” style traits we all fell in love with during the 2008-2009 campaigns. From starters to Bullpen the Rays hurlers showed promise, unexpected magical moments and the durability of the staff graybeard as James Shields merited Cy Young consideration.

2011 was suppose to be a rebuilding season, but the only rebuilding the Rays did was on their reputation and solidarity to fixate on that post-season goal and drive towards it with vigor and vitality. This season will not go down in Rays history as the most productive on paper, but the 91 wins posted by this squad were 1 better than their rivals the Boston Red Sox and produced another champagne moment within Tropicana Field.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon instilled a “Find Another Way” mantra on his troops early this Spring and several players in the Rays fold responded by showing their abilities are on par with this league even if their MLB service clocks show minimal numbers. Jennings might have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt in 2011 he should be the heir apparent to the Rays lead-off hitter the Rays for 2012. Joyce finally got the at bats to prove he can be the Rays everyday right-fielder and run producer.

All five members of the Rays 2011 posted over 10+ victories with Shields leading the field with a 16-12 record. Not only did Shields lead his young Rays comrades in “W’s”, he also topped the squad in innings pitched (249.1 innings), strikeouts (225) and ERA (2.82 ). Filling in gaps within the season the Rays saw the promise of brilliance of Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and the late season relief pitching of Alex Torres.

Pitching definitely defined so many of these great Rays moments, but the bats did not remain silent during the carnage. We saw new closer Kyle Farnsworth struggle but post a career high with 25 saves, but we also saw the season toll takes it effect on one of the most intimidating players in the game. But the Rays Bullpen which featured 3 lefties for most of the season closed down offenses with RP Joel Peralta providing his own brand of set-up brilliance as well as posting 6 saves. From inning 1 to 9 this Rays team’s pitching tried to set the tone and bring home a win on a nightly basis.

Who will forget that Home Run hit by Longo to seal the Rays post-season against the Yankees on the season’s last day in extra frames about the same time ex-Rays LF Carl Crawford missed a dying quail in Baltimore to propel the Rays into the October party.

With that singled out win on the last day of the 2011 campaign, the Rays ended up posting their only winning September ever with a 16-10 record. It also secured the squad’s third straight 90+ win season, How pale does that starting 1-8 record look now in retrospect as corks exploded within the Trop’s confines and players and fans celebrated together.

Rookies earned their Rays letters this season at an alarming rate as Moore, Brandon Gomes,Torres, Jake McGee and Jeremy Hellickson combined to bring home 8 of those 16 September victories among them, further showing the promise and prosperity that should bring about more moments of celebration and excitement in 2012 for this talented 5-some. Each of these 5 hurlers definitely earned their Rays letterman’s sweaters complete with a shaving cream pie.

But even with the emergence of the rookies, some of the Rays players saw their season as constant reminders of the ever-changing MLB environment. Pitchers J P Howell and Andy Sonnanstine began the 2012 Spring Training with high expectations and a want to show their abilities for this team. Sonny ended up in Triple-A Durham for most of the season, and Howell who came on later in the season never seemed to find the right groove or positive upward momentum. But that is the joy of the New Year, resolutions can be made, and the past is just that…past.

The 2011 season has long been put into the record books, but 2011 is slowing winding down towards it’s last tick of the clock and should be remembered as a season of true fortitude, ever-present resilience and a combined team-wide confidence stemming from the veterans to rookies that this team could win on any given night.

But still if I had to pick a moment of clarity for the Rays, a scene that showed the drive, commitment and determination of this squad it was on the 180th day of the season, in the 12th inning Longoria proved once and for all he is the man to follow on this squad even before his 31st Home Run made human contact in the right field stands. So as we begin to enter the 15th season for the Rays, Sonny has found a new home with the Cubs, Maddon has darkened his hair a few shades.

Changes are still in store for this team before they cross the Port Charlotte, Florida threshold this Spring. Some players have solidified their spots on the roster while others have the Rays scouting and Coaching staff wearing out the erasers on their pencils trying to mesh and mold this squad to take that next step. Can’t wait for that crystal ball to fall in NYC soon because that will symbolize that 2012 is squarely upon us, and the memories of 2011 are just that…fond and precious memories.

Were You The One?

Recently columnist John Romano of the “St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times” wrote an editorial stating the Tampa Bay Rays possibly could be one bat away from reaching the last series again in late October. Some have chuckled at this notion while others have taken his conjecture with a grain of salt, possibly whisking the sodium chloride over their left shoulder for luck just in case he is right.

I know Romano’s main premise is encircling the Rays need for one consistent weapon that empowers this team and acts as their point man during struggles and setbacks. A player of stature and confidence that evokes fear in other team’s, possibly with good reason. Names like Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and even former Ray Carlos Pena quickly come into my mind, but will the price for their services be more than the Rays can muster? Will they quickly be termed “not the one’s”.

Could it be possible my own ideals are more far-fetched than Romano’s? Maybe I am insane to think the entire 25-man roster can transform into one cohesive and consistent unit that nightly can get the job done. For 2 MLB seasons we have seen this Rays club get battered and beaten early in contests and somehow get back off the turf and watch as a Rays du Jour hits the plate or mound and deliver the final death-blow to an opponent. Maybe it is time for this team collectively to take a giant leap of faith in regard to reaching the individual zenith.

Maybe it is as simple as each member of the Rays 25-man roster to take their own game to their next level, to bring about a rude awakening of the slumbering weapons already harnessed within the Rays arsenal. Maybe Rays Manager Joe Maddon should adopt a “Were You the ONE Today?” mantra for his 2012 squad. Possibly that is why this mantra speaks to me in such a way. A total unit is only as strong as its pieces, and this Rays squad has shown in the past it can play with anyone on any given night and post a “L” up on their side of the scoreboard. Did you forget, the Rays did beat the eventual World Series winners in their InterLeague series at the Trop, and outscored them 16-9

Because the Rays payroll is already hovering over $50 million mark for 2012, is there realistically room enough under their ceiling for another impact bat? Considering the potential power and hitting on this team, when all their cow-nosed Rays line up in a row and consistency rules the day, this team is a run scoring machine. The current 2012 roster has the talent, the potential and the ability to combine and prove sometimes the unit as a whole is better than the “one”.

Over the past few seasons we have seen players like Cliff Floyd who showed so many on this team how to be clubhouse leaders and professionals but did not translate that on the field with authority. We saw the Trop termites seemingly destroy “Pat the Bat”, and saw pieces of the puzzles like Brad Hawpe, and Hank Blalock post high hopes, but quickly that balloon burst and again this team was as square one. The “one” big bat concept has not evolved here, possibly doomed to fail from its onset.

But over that same period of time, the Rays Top 5 have produced some impressive numbers and have grown on and off the field. Young players like Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson have shown the 5 can expand into even larger omnipresent spectacle possibly becoming a shimmering 25-point star. We have seen shining bursts of the talent and power from players like Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, B J Upton plus pitchers David Price and James Shields as they have all shed brilliant light upon the Trop.

Maybe this is insanity speaking, but these five points of the Rays star need to shine brighter in 2012. The great thing about elevating your game is it becomes infectious to your team. Each player on the Rays roster wants to be the “one” on a daily basis. Could it really be as simple as combined pitching energies and offensive forces combining to add up to one win, one defining moment, one potentially moment of clarity for this team?  If this 2012 Rays team can harness that and mold it into a consistent vessel of power, then the sky is the limit for this team in 2012.

Moore’s Extention Provides Some Fiscal Stability for Rays

Finally the Tampa Bay Rays have done something positive in the team-oriented arena besides sending Double-J John Jaso to the Emerald City this off-season. The fact the Rays again signed, sealed and delivered another one of their meteoric rising stars by securing the services of southpaw pitcher Matt Moore until possibly 2019.

The deal might seem a bit minuscule compared to the recent quarter of a billion shelled out for new heavenly Angel 1B Albert Pujols, but it gives Moore a bit of financial stability, but also a huge jolt of confidence the team is behind him 100 percent. Sometimes a small financial boost and stable foundation can do more for a pitcher’s confidence than a new pitching grip.

Then again the Rays have become more comfortable over the last few years to giving their rising stars a chance to firm up not only their bank accounts, but give the team a stability in salary escalation that can be monitored with clarity. Some would say the deal Moore made with the Rays will have both sides smiles for a long, long time.

Kind of funny to me that Moore had to think about this deal for a second: “I had to basically make up my mind, was it worth it. I feel like the risk is being shared on both ends and I’m happy where we are.”

Moore is just the latest in an increasing line of Rays budding stars like James Shields, Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria and Wade Davis to see the team approach them and construct a package that suits both sides of the equation with fairness and stability. According to ESPN, Moore’s contract will be the highest guaranteed dollars and potential earning for a pitcher who has less than 2 years MLB service time.

Moore vaulted past Oakland SP Brett Anderson and Rays rotation mates Shields and Davis who all signed their own exclusive contract extensions after their first full MLB season. That is itself bodes well of the strong opinion and scouting confidence the Rays have in their budding star that he will surpass his 2011 excitement, possibly pushing out someone in the Rays current starting rotation.

The deal also puts the idea of the Rays habitually watching Moore’s MLB service time clock tick away before they can either bring him up to avoid quickening his salary arbitration clock. The deal is definitely a “win-win” on both sides of the coin.

Moore gets a solid $1 million in salary until after 2015, then Moore will begin an ascending odd-numbered salary climb of $3 million (2015). $5 million (2016) and a possible $7 million salary in 2017 when the Rays will begin a 3-year club option phase where the club can decide on his last 3 contract years at a combined $ 26.5 million with a huge buyout of $2.5 million in 2017.

Consider for a moment the magnitude of this contract offer of $39.75 million over 8 MLB seasons. That is just under $2.5 million off the team’s 2011 payroll of $42,171,308. That is a clear and concise affirmation of the Rays commitment to their young left-hander. Oh, let’s not forget, Moore even pocketed a clean $500,000 signing bonus prior to the Press Conference.

Moore might be the first in an expanding list of players within the Rays fold who might have a chance over the next few years to invest their skills long-term with the team and have a nice financial windfall to back their further Rays commitment.

I wonder if Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations has Jeremy Hellickson and his agent as his next new speed-dial number, I know I would.

Will Price’s Venture into Arbitration Facilitate a Rays Countermeasure?

Southpaw starting pitcher David Price easily can be considered the most important cog to retain in the Tampa Bay Rays surging competitive machine. His potential is limited only by his own tinkering and shifting in his pitching grips. His confidence and abilities might have taken a direct hit in 2011, but his first season as a Rays “ace” definitely showed he has huge potential and “up-side” to grow into the role and Price is eager to embrace these challenges.

As his abilities have grown, so will his seasonal salary, with Price garnering a sustainable $1.25 million for 2011, Price definitely will see his bank account expand in the coming seasons. Some people among the Rays Republic were shocked when Price opted out of his original 6-year $8.5 million dollar payday recently with the Rays. After achieving Super Two status this past season, Price was in a position to not throw a curveball into the Rays 2012 plans, but possibly offer a bit of salary stability if the Rays would talk about an extended foundation in the Rays fold. Price was set to earn $ 1.5 million for 2012, plus garner the last deferred installment payment of his $ 5.6 million signing bonus from his original Rays contract signed on August 15, 2007.

Some have said publicly that Price executing his right to refuse his 2012 option of $ 2.433 million was a formality, possibly a venue for the Rays and Price to discuss another deal for the long haul. But his decision to exercise his right to refuse his option might put a few of the Rays “wishes” for offensive help on the back burner for a bit possibly putting handcuffs on the Rays front office from getting that needed offensive firepower to stay competitive.

Then again, the move by Price could be a calculated risk with Price knowing he could bring a sense of salary stability with an extended deal instead of the financial darkness that always overshadows the arbitration process. The Rays currently have club control over Price until 2015. But with Price’s decline of his 2012 set salary, his suspected 2012 salary jumps tremendously from the $ 2.4 million figure to between $ 7-8 million dollars just for 2012.

Price could go instantly this off-season from a true Rays payroll value to potentially being the top dog (sorry Astro) within the Rays salary hierarchy. This off-season both Price and arbitration eligible CF B J Upton could both possibly take between $14-16 million of the Rays payroll between themselves. That is why a long-term understanding between the Rays and Price should be on the table this Winter.

Price’s decision definitely puts the Rays front office behind the 8-ball this Winter to either sign Price to a team friendly extension, or face the reality that his escalating arbitration salaries after 2012 might make Price more of a liability financially as his abilities escalate upwards. You wonder if the Rays will stand by patiently watching as Price’s salary escalates yearly finally seeing the Rays faced with another Scott Kazmir or Carl Crawford situation as his worth exceeds the Rays fiscal abilities.

This move by Price could transition into a finely packaged extended stay with the Rays for the southpaw, or be the first indicator of his own exit visa being stamped with a potential 2015 date. possibly shipped out before that expiration date. Rays payrolls for the next few seasons might not venture even close to the previous high of $72+ million dollar threshold back in 2008.

SP Jame Shields has a bevy of club option salaries of $ 9 million ($1.5 million buy-out) for 2013 and $ 12 million for 2014 on the immediate horizon, and these high dollar figures will make him instantly expendable as early as July 2012. Current Rays offensive spark plug 3B Evan Longoria will see his 2011 salary double from $ 2 million to $4.5 million in 2012 with club options on the horizon that balloon to $7.5 million (2014) to $11.5 million in 2016. Even 2B/OF Ben Zobrist will see his coffers increase from $4.5 million in 2012 to a possible $ 7.5+ million club option in 2015. Suddenly this Rays cohesive core has an impending high salary expiration date.

This whole Price situation can go a multitude of directions. The two sides could sit down, iron out an extended stay with the club with team friendly terms. Or the Rays could venture into the unknown void of the arbitration process that will surely see Price’s value escalate skyward on a yearly basis until Price is a high dollar risk and an instant trade commodity.

This fiscal nightmare has been on the horizon for some time. With extended deals signed prior by Zobrist, Shields,Longoria and last season with SP Wade Davis. The Rays financial nightmare scenario might have been set into motion by Price’s option out of his low-ball 2012 salary. Other members of the Rays young core will soon reach salary arbitration for the first time and financial decisions will have to be made as to the breaking point nears for this Rays expanding young nucleus.

That is the fiscal reality of the Rays. They are a franchise that is currently treading water in a deepening financial MLB ocean as salaries push them under and they gasp for needed financial relief. There is the potential for salvation, or the realistic drowning financially of this franchise. Either way, the Rays player movements this Winter will definitely define their direction and their commitment towards their young core. Within the next few years with a few budding stars pushed out by their impending financial burdens, not their talents.

The final rendering of their movements with Price will either send out shock tremors, or sighs of relief. Price is the keystone to this movement. The first to walk through this fragile threshold, and he will definitely not be the last. Price is wandering into the impending darkness not knowing his final destination, but hopefully the Rays will illuminate the path with their trademark sunburst and make the whole journey pleasant for both sides. Price is betting his Rays future on it.

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