Results tagged ‘ Jason Bartlett ’

Will It Take Some Budding SS Fruit to Acquire Justin Upton

So it seems the Tampa Bay Rays might have to slice off a bit of their future if they want even a remote chance at outfielder Justin Upton. It seems the Arizona D-Backs are adamant about getting a quality shortstop for their outfielder, plus possibly another piece or two running up the Rays farm chain. This doesn’t mean dangling a quality pitcher might not get the OF with the power stroke the Rays yearn for, but possibly tearing out a small slice of the Rays future infield might be a huge deciding factor for Arizona helping out their MLB Expansion kin.

Fortunately for the D-Backs, the Rays have a few of these lying around, with even a duo having Major League Baseball service time under their belts, but the Arizona front office has done their research and the targeted one is the guy the Rays most likely would not give away for now. You would hope the D-Backs would want to help solve the Rays current SS situation by taking one of their experienced infielders currently residing at the Triple-A level like Reid Brignac or Sean Rodriguez, but AZ is being smart here knowing each might have decent defensive skills, but their bats have a few gaping holes.

You also wish the D-Backs would take a longer look at SS prospect Tim Beckham and love what they see, but Beckhams 2012 brush with the MiBL drug police that cost him 50-games might put him firmly sitting in the Rays system. Unfortunately if the Rays want to swing this deal it might take a piece like top prospect Hak-Ju Lee who is currently listed by Baseball America as the Rays 3rd best prospect with Beckham all the way down at number 8.

You have to wonder if Brignac had prospered at Triple-A or made it back into the Rays fold at some time in 2012, he might be the top name whispered into Executive VP Andrew Friedman’s ear right now.

But Briggy Baseball’s fall from grace not only at the MLB level, but struggling for parts of the Triple-A season might have put him into a dark corner for now. And S-Rod did himself no special favors by punching a locker after a Durham Bulls contests putting himself further into an abyss possibly not seeing a Rays uniform until this Spring, if then.

Lee even seems to taken an unexpected step backwards in 2012 with a few injuries and plate struggles, but he is still the guy with the MLB spotlight upon him, and I truly think we will see more reps with him at the MLB camp this Spring. Problem here is Lee has been penciled in as a guy with a true Rays future and seems a bit more untouchable that the rest of the SS group. Seems odd that a prospect infielder could garner that “hands-off” mentality, but then again name me one Rays SS not named Bartlett who have made you swoon and cheer his play in the field and at the plate.

The SS slot for the Rays has always been a patchwork spot with free agent names taking priority. This duo of Beckham and Lee are the first Rays homegrown versions of the 6-spot, and because of that fact, they might be harder to pluck from the Rays hands. You have to ask yourself if getting a key bat now for a player who could play in the Rays fold for possibly 3-5 years is a gamble or a calculated risk worth taking.

That is the true tragedy here. It will take the Rays giving up a key component of their future 6-slot for them to even be mildly considered for the Upton sweepstakes. If Brignac, Rodriguez or even Beckham had mustered a huge late season surge, possibly their names would be on the lips of the Arizona front office right now. But that did not materialize, so the D-Backs brass are looking into a longer term team controlled option, and a player who can grow with their franchise.

We all know Ben Zobrist came up as a shortstop prospect, even was the Rays Opening Day starter at that position at one time, but he is putty into the gaping hole right now. He played brilliantly when called upon in 2012, but he is a stop-gap until possibly Lee or Beckham shows the promise and gets the confidence of the Rays staff that they can be the true SS hierapparents.

Problem is, one of them might be the key piece to any future discussions between the Rays and Diamondbacks in regards to the “other” Upton. I guess the Rays will have to seriously ask themselves if they pluck a piece of future fruit from their farm system vine now for Upton, will it taste sweet or bitter come September 2013.

Rays Shortstop Trio Could Become the Gems of the Diamond

For awhile this Spring I was beginning to wonder and a bit concerned that Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon might have to pick his daily starter at short based on a Clubhouse game of musical chairs. Even worse, he might come up with a blind choice game of I-Pod musical roulette to decide his daily choice. I could imagine hearing “Glory Days” by the Boss playing loud in the Manager’s Office as Maddon opens the door and scribbles Elliot Johnson’s name on the line-up board. Thank goodness that is not going to happen….for now.

Even that kind of insane and luck-based playing system is a testament to the great underlying potential and great ability the Rays trio of SS candidates have in their singular arsenals heading into Opening Day. I do not remember another segment of Rays players who will make up the mercenaries of the middle who had as much ability and downright potential to shine bright and become the unforeseen gems of the Rays diamond this season. It been quite a while since the middle of the Rays infield has had this source of considerable true talent and strength pushing this position into forming an unbreakable backbone for this team.

Not since the departure of former Rays All-Star Jason Bartlett has the number 6 spot had as much experience, potential for greatness and have bona fide momentum changing abilities at their disposal. Literally the Rays middle infield could become a place where hit balls go to die. Just the thought of increased chances at put-outs, double play combinations and the speed and agility of this trio boggles the imagination. Possibly we could see the “pitcher’s best friend”, the 6-4-3 Double Play become an intricate part of the winning combination this season.

We “officially” know that Maddon might be playing a bit more Salsa tunes on his I-pod as Sean Rodriguez has received the first nod from Maddon has the Rays “main man in the middle” for Opening Day. It is a well-earned spot for S-Rod as he knew coming into the Spring the job was open and a good, consistent Spring could net him this desired spot. But do not discount the possibilities of Johnson and Reid Brignac forcing Maddon’s hand at time with streaks of their own, or defensive gems that could get them additional starts and chances to shine brighter and brighter.

Maddon has said this will not be a platoon-based middle infield, but I think it is way too early to dictate that with clarity considering all 3 of these players could start somewhere among the 30 MLB teams. I truly consider the present Rays trio to possess the offensive tools and power that could finally turn the bottom half of the Rays daily line-up card into an additional run-producing power source as well as showcasing some brilliant defensive stalwarts.

Tell me another time in this franchise’s history we have had 3 players who could bring the potential of the middle infield up to this previously unforeseen caliber. But depth like this can be a double-edged sword. Sure Elliot Johnson might see some additional starts in the outfield this season and be more of a plug-in utility player all around the field, but Briggy Baseball can also make Maddon change his mind a bit if he gets off to a splendid start at the plate, especially with some extra base nuggets.

That is not to say Brignac might not see some starts against crafty right-handers, or possibly weekly dose of getaway games and possible Sunday matinée’, but if Rodriguez should stumble out of the gate, there are options in place for Maddon to be swift with the marker and make changes. But that is what happens when you got 3 baseball players who have untold potential and limited spots and starts for them. But then again, it is a nice problem to have.

To finally have infield depth that can be plugged in and play to an outstanding level without skipping a beat. Who knows maybe the future sounds of  a plethora of 6-4-3 double play combos will be music to all of our ears. I know I already like the rhythm and cadence of it.

Andrew Friedman: Reloading the Rays, Not Rebuilding.

 

TBO.com/Unknown Photog

I really do not know how Tampa Bay Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman keeps doing it. For a long span of this off season it was almost as if the Rays entire front office staff closed their doors until almost January.

It was if the Rays staff wanted to sit there lurking as the MLB Free Agent market set its ceilings and cellars for positional and pitching. Then like a top of the food chain predator, Friedman awoke from his Rip Van Winkle slumber and proceeded to hand pick his replacement fruit from the still bountiful MLB player trees.

Evan as other free agents started getting plucked with vigor from the tree by other teams in haste, Friedman acted more like a customer in the produce aisle thumping the exterior of players like a ripe melon. His first move of the off season Friedman went out and signed promising ex-Nationals right-hand reliever Joel Peralta on December 17,2010 to help fill the first piece of the Rays Bullpen overhaul.

In his now classic under a cloak of secrecy Rays style, Friedman was also concluding one trade deal with the San Diego Padres to ship one of his big ticket arbitration eligible Jason Bartlett on the same day as the Peralta singing. Still lurking in the darkness was a thunderous trade of Rays starter Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs on January 8, 2011. Friedman made out like a bandit on both trades bringing back a bountiful treasure trove of both MLB quality players, plus some high caliber prospects that will help reload the Rays farm system for the next Rays reload.

The trades of his two highest dollar arbitration eligible players helped Friedman free up just over $ 10 million to pursue some big fish for other Rays glaring holes in their Bullpen, plus a big bat to protect Evan Longoria in the Rays line-up. But the Tampa Bay sun was shining bright on Friedman as two of his other arbitration eligible players Centerfielder B J Upton and reliever Andy Sonnanstine both signed one year contracts freeing up Friedman from any possible arbitration hearing duty this Spring.

Just as you thought Friedman might take a deep breath and relax for a brief moment, Friedman went out and got his intimidating back-end of the Bullpen reliever in RHP Kyle Farnsworth on January 15. Friedman then possibly made a few decoy moves in signing complimentary pieces RHP Dirk Hayhurst and 2B Daniel Mayora to minor league deals with a Spring Training Invites.

Then in Friedman style, just when you thought that the MLB cupboard was starting to become mighty bare, Friedman signs Tampa Bay native and defensive First Baseman Casey Kotchman to a minor league deal. The Kotchman deal might have been another Friedman diversion as his next deal had some around the MLB wondering if the Rays were in fact rebuilding or just simply reloading.

One day after Kotchman signed, the Rays announce their biggest off season signing of the season, a duo signing of Lf/DH Manny Ramirez and LF/DH Johnny Damon to one year contracts that are very team friendly. Ramirez and Damon’s combined salaries will cost the Rays around $ 7.25 million (not including Damon’s attendance incentives), which still is only $ 1.75 million LESS than the Rays paid Pat Burrell for his services through mid-May 2010.

If you even include Farnsworth’s $ 3 million base salary (not including games finished incentives), the three signings will sneak just under the projected off season arbitration figures of traded players Bartlett and Garza ( $ 10.5 million). Only Friedman could trade away two important cogs of the Rays roster and get so much back in return, plus prospects who will help keep the Rays payroll in check for a long time.

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But that is the magic of Friedman. Somehow he can come into a do-or-die cost-cutting scenario with only a bale of wheat or hay and come out in the end spinning a strand of thin gold into a tight ball. You have to seriously wonder just how savvy and creative Friedman was as an investment banker if he can do all of this with a significantly reduced Rays payroll (proposed ceiling between $40-50 million).

Pull up the Rays 40-man roster going into Spring Training, including their under the radar Spring Training Invites. On February 15, 2011 when Rays pitchers and catchers begin their first 2011 workouts, it will be just over 60 days since Friedman’s first signing of Peralta. Just think about the level of talent already assembled, and we still have over 10 days for Friedman to still daze and confuse us before that first workout.

Not since that first Rays blunder under Friedman’s watch when the Rays tried to sneak Josh Hamilton through the Rule 5 Draft, has Friedman toughened up and taken a firm stand that he will never be surprised like that again. Deal for deal, salary for salary, I truly think Friedman might have gotten the most money back on his entire player investments since taking the Rays reins.

Besides the tarnish of the Burrell debacle, there is nothing but shine to Friedman’s trade and Free Agent moves. Since his emergence on the MLB scene, Friedman has been simply golden. Gifted with a crack Scouting Department, piles and piles of correlated data and visuals, plus an eye for talent, Friedman has made the Rays a role model for team competing on a shoestring budget.

But do not be surprised if in the next 10 days, before February 15th if Friedman doesn’t pull another off-the-cuff deal that seemed to come out of nowhere. But then again, that is okay, Friedman is not rebuilding the Rays, he is just helping them reload

Could a Ramos Injury be Delaying the Bartlett Deal?

 

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 Unknown Orioles photographer

So has Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett been unfortunately transported into some other dimension ? Is there such a locale as a Major League Baseball trade purgatory? We all have probably read the multiple Tweets, snippets and status of stagnant scent of limbo in regards to this recent trade between the Rays and San Diego Padres. But what is the dark secret keeping each party from either walking away or completing this trade? Curious minds want to know!

We have been lead to believe from sources within both MLB communities that the stalemate between the completion of this deal is a certain “injury” situation has been discovered on the Padres end of the trade. But you have to wonder just what kind of effect this will have as the two teams try to ease this trade towards its fruition. Or could the thawing ice under this deal finally melt in the hot California Sun and both parties have to again begin to rebuild this trade brick by brick.

Reports have surfaced that Jason Bartlett went through his physical with flying colors and is more than ready to join the roster of the San Diego franchise who initially drafted him during the 13th Round of the 2001 Major League Baseball Draft. But in this 13th hour, there has been cause for the Rays to put the brakes on this trade and leave both teams suspending the trade’s completion for the moment

With his trade in a state of limbo, Bartlett and his family must be in a state of utter amazement that they can not proceed on any present plans to possibly place their Fort Myers home on the market, or even proceed to journey back to Sothern California to look for another home in the San Diego area.

Bartlett’s prospective professional baseball life has now also put his off the field life into a proverbial holding pattern following a recent problem with one of the duo of prospects heading to Tampa Bay in exchange for the Rays 2010 starting shortstop. Bartlett must be welling up with the impending pressure and stress of this trade possibly falling part at the seams with a problem with either pitcher Adam Russell or Cesar Ramos.

I decided to dig a little deeper into the backgrounds of the two Padres set to becomes members of the Rays when this deal (hopefully) entered it final moments. I hoped to easily find a hidden physical aliment or a current injury that might not have been previously reported by the players and instantly sent up a bevy of red flags up to the Rays medical staff. What I found actually took a bit of time, but might just be the one aspect that is keeping this entire trade from finally being completed, or scraped.

You have to give both the Rays Front Office and their medical staff kudos for possibly finding a hidden situation or future health situation problem. Neither player probably has exhibited or previously established any pattern of injury concerns during the 2010 MLB or minor league seasons.

But recently Ramos was placed on the 7-day disabled list by his Winter League squad, the Naranjeros de Hermosillo ( Hermosillo Orange Pickers) of the Liga Mexicana del Pacifico. Considering Ramos did experience a previous problem with a left elbow strain. Back in 2006 suffered the injury and possibly the Rays are doing due diligence by possibly sending Ramos to their own doctors to examine the extent and possible effects of even a small scale injury to Ramos right now.

You can not fault the Rays for wanting to get a second opinion from their own battery of doctors before finally dotting the “I’s” and crossing the “T’s” on the Bartlett trade.

But in the mean time it has been a cloaked veil of secrecy again from the Rays camp as to the extent or possible injury prognosis in regards to Ramos. I actually had to find a friend who speaks fluent Spanish to even find a hint of nay injury or problems in regards to either Padres player in this trade. But that is the Modus Operandi of the Rays organization to hold their cards close to their vest before I might have found a reason for the trade delay.

With the clock ticking on both the Rays and Padres side of this trade agreement, let’s hope that we can get a valid and feasible window finally established to either kill or proceed with this trade. Lives are being held up in the balance, and that is not fair when people are trying to formulate or adequately plan their upcoming Spring Training home sites.

But sometimes that is the nature of the trade beast where a single variable can sink the trade and send both teams scattering for a solution before exhausting all their options and calling it quits. Hopefully for all three players involved in this trade we can get a fast solution and lives put back into motion, both on and off the baseball diamond.

 

Garza Chatter is Stoking the Rays Hot Stove Fire

 

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Chris O’Meara/AP 

 

In the waning moments of the 2010 Major League Baseball Winter Meeting there is an increasing chilly wind whistling around the ornate columns of the Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort. Within the sound swirling through the colorfully decorated corridors, the name heard on the cusp of the wind is that of Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza. The Rays front office has more than let it be known that they will listen to offers and discuss their young budding star, and possibly provide him as additional luggage for some lucky GM before they hit the tarmac off Sand Lake Road.
But more than a few will balk at the attached price tag, while others will try and haggle and possibly snatch the young pitcher but he will not come as a bargain basement item. Garza can easily be thrust up into the top three pitchers made available during the Winter Meetings joining fellow starters Cliff Lee and the Royals Zack Greinke as the 1-2-3 combo of pitcher currently wetting the lips of fellow MLB GM’s. With Lee basically pigeon-holed to the top tier of moneymakers like the Yankees, Nats and Rangers, that leave right-handers Greinke and Garza as top dollar showpieces.


That being said, the Rays would love to keep someone of Garza’s ability and future potential, but the market sometimes dictates the flow and impending exit visa of a player like Garza. And he has gained the most possible trade inquiries instead of fellow starter James Shields. If you melt Garza’s last three season together you get the persona of a highly competitive hurler with an extremely emotional passion for the game. With a projected arbitration guesstimate of $ 5.5 million for 2011, he would be a financially viable option.

One of the possible negatives surrounding Garza might be the return the Rays would expect to pluck Garza from the Rays roster. Even with the aspect of a reduction the Rays payroll with sending Garza to another team, the Rays will want more than a single player in return. And that can be a defining factor that could quickly eliminate more than a few MLB teams from even calling about the right-hander.

But a crafty GM who knows about the Rays impending fiscal binds combined with the stark reality that the Rays might need to pursue a trade with one of their pitchers before the 2011 season to unblock the path of top prospect Jeremy Hellickson who has shown he is ready for full-time MLB duty. After an impressive September, Hellickson is not guaranteed a rotation slot or even a roster spot for the Rays in 2011, but am impressive Spring could force the Rays into a snap judgment pitching decision.

Maybe it is time for all of us within the Rays Republic to accept that even with Garza’s increased proficiency on the mound, maybe he has reached his ultimate zenith in trade value. That by trading him at his highest level, Garza will bring a healthy player return that will fundamentally secure the Rays next level of player development. With the Rays currently having up to 6 open slots in their bullpen for 2011, using Garza to gain some impending relief depth might be the best playable card in the Rays deck of cards.

Most in the Rays Republic might want the team to shop fellow starter James Shields instead of Garza, but Shields is coming off a sub-par 2010 season and needs to reestablish his value in the trade market before the Rays dangle him on a line. Garza has also received the most nibbles by prospective MLB teams, and could provide some internal team control since he is a Super-two arbitration eligible player and a prospective team could control him longer before Garza would hit the free agency trail. But then again, posting a No-hitter automatically has more than a few mouths watering around the league.

 

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Chris O’Meara/AP

It is that classic “Dang if you do, Dang if you don’t” scenario that even putting Garza out there to entice the rest of the league could come back to bite the Rays in the end. We have seen recently that the Rays are trying to get the most in return for anyone they consider “tradable”. With recent Jason Bartlett trade rumors falling by the wayside, it is becoming evident that the Rays value quantity as well as quality in their trade talks. Some teams might want to strike while the Rays iron is hot in the coals and steal Garza away, but that will not happen.

The Rays do not have to trade Garza or any other player currently on their roster to afford them. But the underlying aspect of possibly getting two or three players under contract for the same $ 5.5 million might entice the Rays to trade Garza a little less in return right now. But the deal will still be on the Rays terms, and will involve the players they as either future keystones or possible 2011 foundations rocks to rebuilding the franchise’s current weak spots. The Rays have never been a club that will thrust up the K-mart blue light and proclaim a special low cost price for one of their players. It is not known yet if the Rays will pull the trigger on a trade of any of their players during the Winter Meetings or before the team again begin to assemble this February.

Garza has done a lot for this Rays franchise. He has produced some of the most memorable moments in Rays history from securing the 2008 ALCS Most Valuable Player award to thrusting his fist skyward after his No-Hitter in front of the home crowd against the Tigers. I would be disappointed to see him leave, but I also understand the limitations and circumstances that surround the Rays this off season that facilitate such a move.

The cool Florida winds are still blowing through the Resort lobby, but somewhere beyond our eyesight I can still feel the warmth of the Rays taking calls and making inquires trying to find those special pieces of cordwood to stoke their Hot Stove fires.

 
 

Rays Put Out Trade “Feelers” on Bartlett


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Since Free Agent Shortstop Juan Uribe decided to accept the Los Angeles Dodgers offer a few days ago, now the spot light is centered directly on Tampa Bay Rays middle infielder Jason Bartlett who might have priced himself out of the Rays fold. Bartlett is entering his last phase of arbitration this off season and could command up to $ 5 million dollars through arbitration.


The shortstop is still a viable defender and might have just had a down year in 2010, but his upward salary scale is definitely making him more than expendable to the cost efficient Rays. And with Uribe now off the books, during the upcoming Winter meetings I am expecting Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman to be a popular man with at least four teams searching for a shortstop option.

The teams considered at least mildly interested in Bartlett include the newly crowned World Champion San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles. Three of the four make perfect sense to also get Bartlett out of the American League where he would only post a 3-game problem at the least when the Cardinals and Rays square off in an InterLeague match-up at Tropicana Field July 1-3,2011.

The most interesting possible trade scenario might be if the Rays decide to trade with their American League East divisional partner, the Baltimore Orioles. Considering that the Orioles still have Julio Lugo, also an ex-Rays shortstop on their current roster, it could make for an interesting 17 game home and away seasonal series in 2011. With that in mind, it also makes the Orioles the most unlikely of candidates for the Rays to consider a trade for Bartlett, but Friedman has been known to shock a few people before, even among the Rays faithful.

So with these few teams in mind, let’s take a look within their respective rosters and see just who might be able to be considered off all four teams as potential trade pieces with the Rays for Bartlett. With Uribe off the boards, Bartlett is probably at his highest possible trade value at this point, and if the Rays do pull some sort of delay or freeze any trade discussions past the Winter Meetings, the Rays could have overstayed the marketplace and would have to trade Bartlett for less value in return.

Baltimore Orioles:

I am going to embark on the possible trade candidates with the Orioles in mind with two of the most logical players, but also one that might end up looking more like a potential arbitration salary swap than a true upgrade in talent and moderate salary. Luke Scott has been within the Rays crosshairs for a few seasons as a potential offensive weapon. Scott is entering his third chance at salary arbitration this Winter, and could demand even more than Bartlett’s $ 5 million dollar prospective 2011 salary price tag.

But you can not argue with a .281 batting average with 27 HR and 71 RBI’s after you saw your best offensive weapon (Carlos Pena) go on the open market this Winter. It is imperative that the Rays find an adequate replacement for Pena to protect Evan Longoria in the Rays batting order. Scott also has the ability to hit for average along with power, which might be a great combination that could influence the Rays decision.

Considering that Scott might have peaked at the right time in 2010 by having a monster August hitting for a .314 average with 9 HR and 20 RBI, he might gain some serious looks by the Rays. His OPS (.898) and Slugging Percentage ( .535) suggest that he might be the bat the Rays missed in 2010 in the Designated Hitter spot. Scott also was the AL Player of the Week (July 25) and posted a 11-game hitting streak during the 2010 season. Scott might not seem like a value in trade for Bartlett, but it would help the team solidify a position (DH) that has plagued the Rays line-up for at least two seasons.

A second potential trade candidate has been mentioned a few times before in regard to Bartlett. Pitcher David Hernandez has only a $ 402,000 salary in 2010, and might just be the type of pitcher the Rays could effectively carry in their Bullpen for several seasons before he becomes too expensive for the team to carry.
Hernandez posted an 8-8 record in 2010,which might not seem impressive, but once the Orioles took him out of the starting rotation where he went 1-5 with a 5.31 ERA in 8 starts, he quickly adapted to a relief role.

Hernandez then went on to post a 7-3 record with a 3.16 ERA along with 2 saves as a Oriole reliever. The fact that Hernandez could be an effective part of the Rays Bullpen either as a middle inning reliever or as a inning eater should intrigue the Rays to more than just kick the tires on Hernandez. Sure he might have only, logged 33 total relief appearances in his career, but Hernandez has the fire and desire to succeed. That fact is truly demonstrated in his ability to go at least 5-6 innings in 7 of his 8 starts in 2010 for the Orioles.

San Francisco Giants:

Considering the Uribe left the World Champions for a new home in Chavez Ravine, the G-men will be looking quickly for an alternative with some relief pitching as the main bait. Javier Lopez, who the Giants got in a trade in late July from the Pittsburgh Pirates is a 4-time arbitration eligible player this Winter. Even with his fourth try at the arbitration game, his prospective arbitration amount should be considerably less than Rays Free agent RP Grant Balfour. Lopez earned a total salary of $ 775,000 in 2010 and could be a possible middle inning replacement if the Aussie refuses the Rays arbitration offer.

But as a left-handed option, Lopez brings a lot of great ability and stamina to the table. Lopez went 4-2 this season with a 2.34 ERA in both locales, but his numbers quickly dropped once he was sent to the West Coast. He posted a 1.42 ERA in 27 games with the Giants after leaving behind a 2.79 ERA in 50 games with the Pirates. But his main selling point to the Rays might be his ability to get out left-handed hitters as a viable replacement for another Rays Free Agent, Randy Choate.

Lopez held NL batters to a .163 opponent’s batting average, which was the lowest mark posted by a National League LHP since he joined the Giants. Even more impressive is the fact Lopez held left-handers to a .68 batting average. Another plus for the Rays would be the fact Lopez limited his opposition to a .190 average with RISP and induced 7 GIDP opportunities during that span.

San Diego Padres:

With the Padres sending two great young potential relievers to the Florida Marlins earlier this Winter for outfielder Cameron Maybin, they seem to be a bit bare in the cabinet in relievers unless something drastic or inventive can be arranged in a possible trade with the Rays. Sure you would love to see the Padres offer up closer Heath Bell, who is up for arbitration for the third time, straight up for Bartlett, but that possibility might just not be in the framework. But a guy like Bell could ease a huge chunk of the Rays problems with their Bullpen if they knew a guy who was 6-1 with a 1.93 ERA with 47 saves was to come in and take over for Free Agent Rafael Soriano.

But the real life scenario of the Padres sending Bell to the Rays would be more of a potential salary swap since Bell could also garner over a $5 million 2011 salary through arbitration. But again, it would cement close a huge Rays hole in the back end of the Bullpen? A more realistic trade option might be left-hand reliever Joe Thatcher who would still be under team control for a few seasons. Consider the southpaw posted a 0.51 ERA over his last 39 outings could make the Rays salivate knowing they could receive a quality LHP option in return for Bartlett.

Pushing Thatcher more into the spotlight is the fact he struck out 41 batter over his last 56 relief appearances, plus had only 19.7 percent of his inherited runners score on him this past season. Considering Thatcher went to the mound with 66 inherited runners and less than 20 percent scored is a huge plus compared to some of the Rays totals last season. But even if Thatcher did have 59 scoreless innings in 2010, he was used mostly as a left-handed specialist facing 1 batter in 33 of his 63 outings. But still a 0.00 ERA against right-handed hitters over 17 innings of work with 17 strikeouts provides a nice exclamation point as to Thatcher’s value to the Rays Bullpen.

St. Louis Cardinals:

The last team I will visit is the Cardinals. Sure they have ex-Rays RP Trever Miller under a good contract for 2011 ($ 2million), but I think the Cardinals would like to keep their leftie who posted 15 holds and had the fifth best NL mark in regards to inherited runners in 2010. But there are two young right-hand options that I think could be interesting to the Rays. First is a young RP Mitchell Boggs who is not arbitration eligible this Winter and made MLB minimum salary in 2010.

Boggs appeared in 61 games for the Cardinals in 2010 and came away with 44 scoreless outings. Combine that with his ability that he went extended innings in 11 of appearances, you get a little endurance to go with your stability. Boggs also retired 42 of his 61 first batters he faced last season, but also has left-handers handcuff him to a 5.23 ERA. This points to a positive upside as the young reliever (26 years old) can grow into a solid part of the Rays Bullpen for many years.

But the guy who really has my eye as a potential trade piece from the Cardinals is right-hand reliever Jason Motte. He converted 2 of his 3 save opportunities during 2010 when Ryan Franklin went down in 2010. The fact this young gun is not even arbitration eligible yet but ranked 13 holds for the Cards in2010 speaks to their commitment to using the young pitcher . After a short rehab assignment following a right shoulder injury, Motte did not allow a run in his next 10 appearances. His 54 strikeouts in 2010 pushed him to a 9/3 K/ 9IP clip that is impressive for such a young reliever.

Combine that with the fact Motte held right-handed hitters to a .198 batting average with 39 strikeouts shows that he can get hitters out from both sides of the plate. At one point in 2010, Motte retired 32 straight hitters and never surrendered more than 2 runs during an appearance. Another nice stat is that Motte worked better off one days rest ( 0.57 ERA/ 16 appearances) than with two days off (.079 ERA/ 12 appearances). But both stats show that Motte is beginning to provide secure and stabile relief ability, which could benefit the Rays for an extended time out of their depleted Bullpen.

 

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Bartlett is going to be traded at some point in 2010. Now is the time when his inherent value might be at its peak and other teams might be willing to trade for the arbitration eligible shortstop. As the season grows closer, his value will go down and the return will also suffer. At this point with more than a few teams looking for middle infield options, Bartlett’s stock is on the rise. Friedman will be diligent, but hopefully he will not be so cautious as to not entertain a reasonable offer for any young reliever or hitting option. Hopefully by the end of the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Florida, the Rays will have found a good locale for Bartlett for Spring 2011.

Rays Best Non-Trade of the Season

 
 

Back earlier in 2010 when the Seattle Mariners put a “For Rent” sign squarely on the chest of starting pitcher Cliff Lee, the Tampa Bay Rays were quick to phone the Mariners and see just what they had to dangle in front of the seafaring squad to entice them to send the left-hander to another coastal town at the opposite end of the country.

The Rays were not in denial that it would only be a 3-month rental, possibly 4 at the most, and would have to probably give up some substantial player personnel to push this deal towards the finish line.

There were more than a few speculations that the Mariners wanted a pitcher in return who was already Major League ready, or currently on the Rays 25-man roster. There was also a good indicator that the Mariners would be wanting possibly two infielders, one from the Rays stable farm system, and then possibly another MLB ready candidate.


Whispers were prevalent that the Mariners were seeking Rays rookie Wade Davis or possibly Rays farmhand (at the time) Jeremy Hellickson as a first point on the triangle of talent to secure Lee’s services for the remainder of 2010. But Davis had begun to shown a more mature pitching style at that moment and was beginning to show his true colors and adaptability to Major League hitting when the deal was being considered.

Hellickson on the other hand has run into a few situations in his recent starts about that time and was still a very unproven MLB commodity. With neither of these Rays pitchers’ solidly in the chatter between the two teams, this discussion was over quicker than it started. But who else might have been on the wire for the Mariners to consider? What other MLB caliber players or possible Rays farmhands possibly would have been plucked to complete a trade of this magnitude?

 

Rumors abounded all over the stadium that the Mariners were more than eager to solidify their shortstop position, and their attention went immediately to Reid Brignac. The young Rays infielder had developed a more power infused hitting stroke, and his defensive play had made him a valuable asset to the Rays not only as a left-handed option, but as a cog that could be popped into positions all over the infield.


Ray farmhand Matt Sweeney, who was acquired in the Scott Kazmir trade in 2009 was also seen as a possible trade addition as a future third base option for the Mariners and might be a year or two out of the Major Leagues with the Mariners, but would have to change positions to get to the same level with the Rays because of 3-time All Star Evan Longoria standing in front of him on the Rays depth chart.

Word was also circulating that Leslie Anderson, the former Cuban National team member was also being scouted as a possible future Mariners option at first base with both current M’s Casey Kotchman and Russell Branyan being Free Agents in 2011. Options were plentiful, but the Rays also did not want to give up too much in MLB potential for a short rental property like Lee.

In the end, this possible trade came back to haunt the Rays as Lee eventually went to American League West divisional winner the Texas Rangers and solidified their pitching staff after a short adjustment period. During the post season, Lee has now extended his winning streak thanks to two remarkable performances again the Rays in Game 1 and Game 5 of the ALDS.
 
It is a bit ironic that the one pitching piece the Rays had sought to bolster up their rotation in the end helped to create the demise of the team that wanted to acquire him. Ultimately the left hand of Lee added to the Rays misery and their early departure in the ALDS, but they got to keep pieces of their farm system and team who could play major roles in 2011.

Hellickson and Davis should be key components for many years of a maturing Rays rotation and be two valuable right-handed options in the Rays pitching staff for at least the next 5 years. Reid Brignac could have developed enough in 2010 to possibly unseat incumbent Jason Bartlett and his possible 4.5 million 2011 salary and make Bartlett trade bait this off season/. Matt Sweeney is growing his power potential with every game he plays and should be a great power option possibly in late 2011 or 2012,possibly at Designated Hitter.


 

Anderson is going to play in the Arizona Fall League (Peoria Saguaros) to gather some more training and game experience with a possibility for a 2011 Spring Training invite to challenge for the Rays First Base position. All five of these players who were thought to be in the trade process between the Mariners and Rays for the limited services of Lee until the end of this season.


The Seattle and Rays management not liking the players pairings for Lee and then shutting off talks and then having the Mariners end up sending Lee to Texas might be one of the best deals this season for the Tampa Bay Rays. People argued at the Trade Deadline that the Rays might have been too picky or too silent and it cost us a chance to go deeper into the postseason.

In the end, the Rays front office’s strict guidelines for a substantial return on their short term investment in Lee might turn out to be their hidden gold mine by keeping their stockpile of young talent.
 

 
 

Trop comes with Warning Labels

 
 
Brian Blanco/AP
It isn’t any wonder that after Minnesota Twins slugger Jason Kubel hit his high game winning pop-up into the center vortex of Tropicana Field that opponents came out of the woodwork like a bunch of festering cockroaches to condemn the Tampa Bay Rays home. Immediately after the ball struck the A-ring and came down 25 feet in front of where Rays infielders Reid Brignac and Jason Bartlett were stationed, the catwalk carnage was just getting started within the media posse’ in the Rays Press Box. But with these two American League foes, this is the third time the Tropicana Field catwalks have had it say in the course of a Major League Baseball game. Twice the advantage went to the home team, this time, it went for a game winning RBI pop-up single for the Twins

And it is nothing new for the out-of-town media to begin to bicker and rant about the stadium they call an architectural pinball machine. But it did come as a surprise that Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who has been at the helm of the Rays for 3 ½ seasons became its latest detractor after Thursday matinee game. Maddon did everything short of calling the Trop a circus big top and professed that Major Leagues Baseball needs to make changes to the Trop’s present Ground Rules if the Rays make it into the 2010 Playoffs. This was the same Rays Manager who once said we had to embrace the peculiarities of our home field and use them as a unplanned home field advantage. Funny what comes out of your mouth when the “advantage” works against you.

 

And the Rays home is far from unfair or holds a distinctive home field advantage of some other ballparks around the country. Tropicana Field doesn’t have the luxury of a short Rightfield porch that Yankee Stadium possesses, or even the oddity of a flagpole perched upon a uphill grade within the playing surface like the Houston Astros. Each MLB stadium has it’s own distinctive advantage for the home squad. The problem with the Trop’s apparent advantages is that it can go either way in a matter of seconds.


Tropicana Field’s irregularities are viewed on a vertical scale, while those other examples have a more planed or horizontal distinction. I have even heard the roof support structures of the Trop referred to as the four rings of the apocalypse by a member of the National media. It is almost like the rings surrounding the playing surface of Tropicana Field are a vortex that white baseball enter, but are never seen again…most of the time.

Sure we have seen two different game day occurrences so far in 2010 of a hit baseball entering the upper echelon of the Trop’s air and being diverted a different directions, each with different outcomes. The first instance this season happened against the New York Yankees back on April 11th when Yankees Manager Joe Girardi protested that a pop-up by Even Longoria hit a large speaker situated in foul territory along the C-ring and deflected the ball into fair territory for an infield hit.

 

The Rays did not capitalize on that day’s magical event as they fell to the Yankees 7-3 losing their first series of the season at home. But again, the media decided at that same moment to bring up the particular interesting ground rules that pertain to this lop-sided dome,. Rules which totally favor the offensive team, and not the defensive unit on the playing surface. To quickly paraphrase the Rays Ground Rules, if a hit ball strikes anything, in fair territory, it is considered “in play” and should be dealt with accordingly. In other words, if it hits something between the foul lines, you better catch it or pay the piper.


And the totally obscure fact that Kubel’s high pop-up probably went vertical about 190-some feet before deflecting off a set of stairs that take people to the upper cupola or the A-ring, it is a magnificent blast no matter who hits it. And with as many distracters of this stadium’s roofing system, it was only the second batted ball to ever hit that section of the Trop’s roof. Particularly amazing, the first time also involved the Twins and Rays too. Since the Rays first game on March 31,1998, only 105 balls have ever come into contact with the Tropicana Field roof support structures, and none have ever been hit into the cotton fabric that lies underneath the stadium’s main Teflon roof.

Let’s see if I can fully illustrate the oddity of Thursday hit by providing that the Rays have played 1,028 home contests with less than 105 balls hitting that menace of a leaning roofing system that projects over 194 feet above Home Plate. That works out to one baseball possibly striking the Rays roof maybe once every 98 Rays home games.

Kubel’s high pop-up is so into the realm of being an obscure it is not even funny. The fact that only four balls have ever been hit up into any of the surrounding roof rings and never came down is simply amazing given the roof reputation by its own distracters. What is more perplexing is that the Twins are no strangers to the A-ring controversy on the Trop’s catwalks. Back on another afternoon contest on Sunday, May 31,2009, when Rays slugger Carlos Pena put the first ball off the A-ring but was caught by Twins reliever Jose Mijares for an out. And the only other time the catwalks have come into play when the Rays played the Twins was back on May 2, 2007 when again Pena hit a towering shot that deflected this time off the B-ring for an infield single.

 

The next day during Batting Practice, it was discovered that the Twins would have an additional helper up in the catwalks against the Rays as a mannequin had somehow been positioned just off the playing surface high in the roofing ring system with a Twins jersey cap and a right-handed fielding glove. It is not like the ball will always deflect or angle itself away from fielders when the roofing rings are involved. I remember a game one season against the Cleveland Indians and a ball went into the C-ring and was bouncing around on the flat surface. As both teams looked up into the rafter system, Indians shortstop Omar Visquel positioned himself under the ring between the infield and the leftfielder. Within less than a minute the ball began it descent straight into Visquel’s glove for an out.


Tropicana Field was proposed back in the late 1980’s when a futuristic baseball stadium was to be built upon the same site with an open-air concept with a circus tent type roof and water features in Centerfield like the Kansas City Royals Kaufman Stadium. It’s first design was to be open to some of the elements of the Florida climate.

 

 The final recommendation came that a domed stadium, or fixed roofing system had to be employed to further protect the playing surface from rain and gusty winds that plaque the region during the Summer months. It was a matter of picking your own poison, and the comfort of watching baseball indoors while rain and winds howled outside in 72 degree splendor won out to a natural surroundings.


Sure a retractable roofing system might have prevented 105 batted baseballs from striking the Trop’s present roofing ring system. And also of note, that type pf roofing system would give the Rays a chance to open their playing surface to the outdoor elements on starry nights or pleasant and cool afternoons, but that type of retractable roofing system was not totally developed by the time construction started on the then Florida Suncoast Dome.

Our parents drilled into us at a young age to “use what we got, improvise and adapt if you want something to work to your advantage”. All of us have tales and stories of making just that happen in our own lives. Tropicana Field is an abnormality to so many in baseball. Some call it and its crowds more like a mausoleum than a ballpark. But say what you will about the Trop., but remember this.

The Rays, even with their losing tradition early in the franchises first ten seasons has gone 507-520 All-Time at home. Only 13 games under .500 in the team’s history. Credit some of that to the Rays past teams, credit some of that to the fanatic Rays Republic, and you can give credit a few of those wins to the rings around Tropicana Field. It might not have gone our way on Thursday afternoon, but it distinctly our home field advantage….most of the time.
 

Brignac is the Rays Heir Apparent at Shortstop

 


 
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

More and more it seems that the fulcrum of the events concerning Tampa Bay Rays players Reid Brignac and Jason Bartlett has seen more and more movement recently. With the extended power now being displayed by Brignac in recent Rays games, plus another Arbitration raise this coming Winter for Bartlett, somewhere the fulcrum will shift and the Rays might have to make either a difficult decision, or one made easier by the maturation process.


But that is what happens on teams that are deep with farm systems that supply players as variable rates like the Rays. Player suddenly begin to reach their fiscal top ends, like Bartlett’s expected $ 5.5 million dollar question for 2011. Plus the fact that Bartlett will be 31 during 2010,while Brignac will celebrate his 25th birthday might signal a change in the middle infield for the Rays.

It is not like we have not seen this coming in the last few years as Brignac has made huge positive adjustments in his hitting, plus gotten his feet underneath him enough that when Bartlett got hurt earlier this season, the Rays did not panic and make a trade, they trusted the winner of the 2010 Al Lopez Award as the top rookie in Rays camp to fill-in with no true signs of weakness or vulnerability.
And maybe that is what might hasten this change to come into motion between now and the Winter. With Brignac gaining ground every day on possibly being the Rays 2010 starting shortstop, more and more the possibility of Bartlett being expendable is coming to light. And it is not for his abilities or even his decrease in his hitting for average this season.

Bartlett might have finally outgrown the Rays financial security blanket and might be wearing a new uniform in the future. And Bartlett will not be the only player that the Rays make a hard decision on between now and the Winter.


Within the next few months there will be additional thoughts, ideas and even plans put in place for players like Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, and maybe even Rays starter Matt Garza. People sometimes forget that even though fiscal and physical sound a bit alike in their phonic pronunciations, they are very different scenarios in how the Rays will plan their future rosters. It might come down to the $ 5 million dollar question of if Brignac can do Bartlett’s job with the same intensity and performance for a huge fraction of the cost.
Nothing personal, nothing to be ashamed of, the nature of the business of baseball. And with the team dedicated to removing a hefty portion of their 2010 payroll out of the 2011 equation, we might see the Rays soon begin to trim the fat possibly before the Trade Deadline, or if the team falls out of contention for a Playoff spot.

Unlike their divisional foes the Red Sox and Yankees, the Rays have to reload and reconstruct from a minor league system instead of spend dollars to make sense. That puts the Rays at a disadvantage in terms of veteran experience, but give them financial flexibility for a few seasons as their player mature into their roles.


 
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Nothing has been formally announced as to the Rays intentions with Bartlett following the 2010 season, but the writing is firmly on the wall. With a viable option in the system and able to take over the day-to-day duties, it is a matter of time. And with Brignac showing more and more confidence in both ends of the equation, the decision might just be weeks away from fruition. And that is the general evolution of the today’s professional baseball player. As you grow through the system and become more financially secure, you make yourself expendable to teams like the Rays with fixed incomes or revenues coming into the team.


Bartlett is a smart player, and he can definitely see the writing on the wall for himself. That might be one of the reasons we are seeing him fighting right now to show he has the great ability to help not only this 2010 Rays squad, but showing some signals to a potential future employer that he can be the perfect man for the job. Brignac is definitely the man of the future for the Rays at the shortstop position. That is the way the Rays system was designed, and has worked for years. Pieces have been mended and shaped to form a cohesive unit and Brignac is a perfect example of the Rays molding a player for greatness.

Bartlett could survive until the Winter, or possibly be gone as soon as the end of the month, but he has been a total professional and has carried himself perfect while with the Rays. For years Bartlett was in the same position as Brignac while with the Minnesota Twins. He was that supoer utility guy who seemed to possess the abilities to play at any position the team put him at in the field.

The chain is about to again come full circle, and Brignac, who is now in that super utility role will assume the top spot until the next Rays comes to challenge for his spot. It is the natural progression of baseball, and one that the Rays will keep seeing revolve and evolve for a long, long time. Change is on the horizon, and Brignac’s future looks extremely bright as a starter for the Rays.

Could Rays Rookies Force a Bartlett Decision?

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