Results tagged ‘ Jeff Niemann ’

Has Niemann Thrown His Last Rays Pitch?

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In reality, it sucks what has transpired over the last few months for Tampa Bay Rays SP Jeff Niemann. He fought and went down swinging this Spring in his battle for the Rays 5th rotation slot with former ace Roberto Hernandez. And as the “Tall Texan” went toe-to-toe with Hernandez, he somehow developed a glitch in his pitching delivery that forced his velocity to decrease to alarming levels.

niemann032713_8colIt is like Niemann had to go through his own trial of Job this Spring before it was finally revealed by the Rays Medical staff that Niemann needed some R&R, or possibly surgery to repair the damage that reared its ugly head this Spring, and now might have cost him more than just the 2013 season.

You have to think this “down time” during his surgical rehab might be the final curtain for his Rays tenure, especially as Niemann will again go through the salary arbitration process this Winter, and with the advancement of the young talent down at Triple-A Durham, there might not be a place for Niemann on the Rays past the 2013 season. Of course this is just speculation right now that the young budding staff will remain healthy in 2013, but for all purposes, Niemann probably threw his last pitch ever as a Rays this Spring.

Throwing even more darkness on a hopefully return by Niemann after his rehab to returning to the Rays is the fact until he begins throwing possibly towards the end of the 2013 Rays campaign or during the Winter, there will be nothing but doubt and wonder if Niemann can regain not only a chance of playing again for this team, but get his velocity to a point that would warrant a longer look by the Rays staff in retaining him via the arbitration process.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red SoxWe all know that the Rays value depth in their pitching corps, and possibly the only future path for Niemann to find a spot on this team’s roster past 2013 might be in his newly defined role in the Rays Bullpen as a long-reliever. Even in this instance, Niemann window of opportunity has dimmed a bit as the club did not get to utilize him in this new role and subsequently it would be a gamble on the Rays part baring a complete recovery to set a-side possibly $3-4 million dollars for a player who has question marks attached to them.

We all know Niemann has already completed the surgery portion of his recovery, but now comes the hard part for both sides as time will elapse and both the Rays and Niemann wait patiently until he can again begin some sort of throwing program to regain his strength and show progress or relapse capacities. I have gotten to know Niemann pretty well over his Rays years from his early rehab in the minors, the multiple Rays events he has attended.

I have confidence he will do whatever is needed to again step upon the clay of a MLB squad and throw that ball with vigor and vitality. I want to be confident Niemann will have a place, but the business of baseball might decide his fate and not the relationships and friendships he has established as a member of this team.

The worst thing is it might not be with the Rays name emblazoned upon his chest as the team might have to part ways with a guy who has embodied and lived his MLB career as a Rays and epitomizes the values and character needed to be a member of this franchise. 

 

 

Roberto Hernandez Could be the Linchpin to Several Rays Spring Decisions

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So we can already guess upon the top 2 slots in the Tampa Bay Rays rotation without much debate. But number 3 through 5 will definitely bring about a few thoughts, opinions and possible destinations for the one hurler who loses out a slot with the team. It truly seems that SP/RP Roberto Hernandez will have a say on who might take the third slot, then the rest will hopefully fall into place with possibly one odd man out, and he might just find himself in an ironic footnote.

RobHernWhen the Rays first signed Roberto Hernandez I was not sure which pitcher we might see this Spring. We could have seen the guy who was “lights out” as the Opening Day starter for the Indians, or the pitcher who seemed in a daze last season putting up sub-par numbers and maybe battling a bit of a confidence issue due to his “name game”. Instead we have seen Hernandez throwing some interesting innings, and he could possibly push his way up to number 3 if SP Matt Moore has some more control and questionable decision while on the hill.

And I do not mean this as a demotion to Moore, but the Rays could have a guy in Hernandez who could be throwing at a #2 level right now and with Moore fighting a few issues, pushing him back to the 4th slot could give him extra time with Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey or to work on his mechanics and be ready to start off the Rays second home series of the season against the Cleveland Indians. This short reversal in the rotation order could be beneficial to Moore in fixing his small flaws and also get him going against a foe that seems to hate left-handers.

201303051306471744340-p2Moore could in all likelihood after a few good starts reclaim his 3rd position, possibly as soon as April 16th in Baltimore due to a Rays off-day on April 11th in the middle of the Rays first road trip of the season. Of course that would push SP Alex Cobb into the final slot for the rotation baring an injury or the Rays decided SP Jeff Niemann would be a better fifth starter. But that is the biggest question mark of the Spring, and that decision might be delayed all the way into the Rays final contest in Tropicana Field against the Detroit Tigers on March 30th.

It seems more than likely at this moment even with a stellar Spring Niemann might be the odd man out and ironically, the Tall Texan could be possibly headed to the MLB team the last guy who fought him for a fifth slot found himself on Opening Day. You might remember the Spring 2008 battle between fellow right-hander and hurler out of options Jason Hammel and Niemann came down to the last possible inning before Hammel got shipped off to Colorado.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red SoxIronically, Niemann could also be heading to Coors Field because just as that moment, he is still out of options and would never pass through the waiver wire without someone hitching his name to their roster. The Rockies have checked in on Niemann already this Spring, and with a trade that might include a few prospects and maybe a fringe MLB player at best, Niemann could be staring at the Centerfield waterfall on the Rockies Opening Day.

So a few things seem to hinge in where the Rays truly see Hernandez in their rotation, either as high as third until Moore clears out a few cobwebs, or possibly as far down as fifth if the team think Cobb has the goods to secure that spot for the season. But with Moore having a few hiccups, using a proven MLB starter at the third slot until he clears his hurdle would be beneficial to him and the Rays especially since they have Hernandez on their roster.

sp_cobb030713_10351535_8colSome might say put Cobb in the 3-slot and let him learn on the job, but with an early seasonal tilt with a playoff and American League East divisional rivals slant, not putting the extra pressure on Cobb could turn out to be a blessing especially if it means he gets to mature at his pace and might get some extremely favorable match ups in the fifth slot that would favor the Rays right-hander.

Niemann seems to be the odd man out, but if the Rays see him as a long reliever, then he might not have to worry about any trade rumors and could find himself seated down where his old teammate Wade Davis sat in 2012…the Rays Bullpen.

JameyWThis is where another decision might have to be made. If the Rays think long time journeyman Jamey Wright might push Niemann firmly towards the door. If the Rays think Wright could be a right-handed option out of the Bullpen and stay healthy throughout the season, he could find himself taking Niemann’s slot in the Rays 25-man roster.

So it might be a bit of trickle-down right now with the Rays as they decide where to position Hernandez, and if Wright is a viable option for the Bullpen. Either way you seem to slice it right now, Niemann is firmly on the razor’s edge, and any slight wavering by the Rays in the coming week could either bring him back to safety, or mark his trail onward and outside the Rays roster.  

 

 

Rays Having Split Squads on Opening Day is Puzzling

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Will Middlebrooks

Am I the only one who felt the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday contests which composed of two split squad contests was out of the MLB ordinary? I mean the team doesn’t set their Grapefruit League schedule, that comes out of the hallowed halls of Major League Baseball in New York City.

201302231609581890246-p2Doesn’t it seem beyond just plain odd that MLB would not only split the Rays squad on the opening series of games, but also might have scattered a bit of their diverse Rays Republic fan base with some of the Rays usual fans motoring possibly 40-odd miles to see the traveling portion of the Rays roster as they took on AL East rival, the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers.

I hate to put it out there, but I feel a bit of the MLB grip here in reference to this odd and peculiar set of Spring opening contests.  I glanced over the rest of the MLB Spring opening slate both in Arizona and Florida and did not notice another team having a split squad set of contests this weekend.

That leads me to ponder the question if MLB in their scheduling genius had done this to make it possible for the Rays to not sell out their 2013 Spring Opener in Charlotte Sports Park. I know the Rays would have not only enjoyed but anticipated a better turnout on such a fantastic day, but with the split squads with main players in both locales, it might have split the Rays Spring fan base a bit with people from the Tampa Bay area hitting the home opener, and locales from South West Florida possibly hitting the Red Sox contest some 40 miles away.

201302231405507129560-p2Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but this bizarre Spring opening slate also brought to the front a interesting possible Spring attendance transference situation with the Rays having only 4,436 souls in Port Charlotte witnessing a awesome 3- innings of shutout baseball before the wheels began to come off and the team losing their home opener 3-2 to the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates.

Meanwhile some 50 miles away, the Red Sox shoved a sell-out 9,680 fans into their ballpark, but even the capacity crowd could not help the Boston squad to victory as they came up on the short end losing 4-3 to the traveling Rays caravan. Sure the Red Sox faithful make their pilgrimage to Fort Myers each Spring in huge numbers, but doesn’t the difference of ballpark attendance figures of 5,422 souls make for more then me to wonder if this was on purpose instead of built around schedules and the Spring feasibility concerns.   

201302231608580970240-p2Adding to the mystic here is the fact the Rays sent possibly their starting outfield of Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings to Fort Myers while the Port Charlotte crowd got to see a younger and possibly a roster battle with a Rays outfield consisting of Rays top prospect Wil Myers, minor leaguers Kevin Kiermaier,Tyler Motter and a pair battling for the Rays 4th outfield slot, Sam Fuld and Rich Thompson. It might seem by that teeter-todder of talent the Rays sent their veterans to face their seasonal rivals.

 

Sure I know split squads try and divide the talent up to an even keel, but it seemed the traveling Dave Martinez-led Rays contingency had the offensive advantage going into their away contest and ended up producing the first “W” of the Spring with mostly a Triple-A laden pitching selection.

cpsI know the Rays would have much rather had a full Rays contingency at Charlotte Sports Park for their Spring home opener, but I have a deep feeling MLB might have inserted a split squad arrangement to test the Rays Spring fan base commitment too. If MLB was hoping to see such an attendance disparity between Port Charlotte and Fort Myers, then they got their wishes. 

As I stated before, I’m not a huge conspiracy theory guy, not even deep down inside, but I do feel some of MLB’s fingers were at play when this schedule was formalized. Who knows if the Rays would have sold out their Spring opener if they did not have to send a second squad traveling on Saturday. I want to think the Rays Republic would have come out in droves and gotten the stadium at or near its 6,823 capacity with the berms and stands full of Rays fans.

But I guess we will never know thanks to this bizarre Grapefruit League opening slate of games. 

 

 

 

Players and Fans Definitely Rocked the Trop at Fan Fest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There Are No “Losers” in This Rays Trade

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I kind of expected the starting pitching market to go ballistic after that certain right-hander who hates Tropicana Field became the newest millionaire in Tinseltown. What kind of got me scratching my head a bit was the Kansas City Royals were willing to trade uber prospect and 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Wil Meyer straight up for Rays SP James Shields, but the Rays shuddered and turn that deal down without hesitation.

Sean RodriguezStarting to see a weird pattern forming for the Rays that they seem to finalize their deals right before the “Witching Hour”. Sure it has only been two times recently, but patterns seem to start that way. In the end the deal actually benefits both teams, one immediately and the other with possibly one piece playing a role in 2013, and a few others possibly a bit down the road. Sure the Royals got two definite pieces that could be immediately popped into their 2013 rotation in Shields and Wade Davis, and depending on who is the invisible “Player to be Named Later” who will come from the Rays current 40-man roster, they could get an additional piece to their 2013 25-man Opening Day roster.

We all knew this was coming, Shields has been as hot a commodity as any pitcher with his 2 years with a Club Option before he hits the Free Agent market for the first time in his career. This cleared a huge chunk of change for the Rays, possibly to be used to find a top-tier DH or right-handed First Baseman. Without knowing the identity of the PTBNL at this moment, the Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman got a nice holiday nest egg of around $13+ million dollars to possibly entice and persuade a power addition to the team’s roster before Spring Training. Shields even tossed out as nice little nugget that he would be willing to look into a contract extension possibly giving the Royals some additional years of “Big Game” on the hill for the Royals.

Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay RaysI currently do not understand how some of the Royals fans come to the conclusion the KC squad got the raw end of this deal. Sure they will have to pony up that $13 million, but they got two key components who can anchor spots in their rotation for 2 seasons as their own youngsters get more experience and training at the minor league level without subjecting them to the rigors and fast learning curve of MLB life.

I personal feeling is the PTBNL is going to either come from the Rays over stacked catching or infield slot currently on their 40-man roster. If I had to make an educated guess as to who this might be, I’m picking SS Reid Brignac who will be out of minor league option after the Spring of 2013, and with the added depth on the Rays roster of recent trade pick-up SS Yunel Escobar, the addition of veteran INF Mike Fontenot, Sean Rodriguez and the potential tag-team 2B duo of Ryan Roberts and Ben Zobrist, Reid seems to be the current odd-man out even with a banging Spring.

Florida Marlins v Tampa Bay RaysThe citizen of Royals-ville forget this trade actually make a few clever openings in the Rays rotation that could be filled from the pool of players like veteran Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb and possibly Chris Archer. It instantly rids the Rays of two starters and possibly an extra body in either the overcrowded catching corps or middle infield. This by itself is a clear “win-win” for the Rays front office to send two players with “team friendly” contracts to another team and clear a huge amount of payroll that can be allocated for current huge holes in the Rays offensive machine.

And do not forget the Rays got Baseball America’s 2012 Minor League Player of the Year OF Wil Meyers who turns 22 today (12/10). How soon we forget about former Rays who won this award like Carl Crawford (1999) or Rocco Baldelli (2000) who made quite a good impression at the MLB level for the Rays. Another tempting nugget to chew on is the fact Meyers is now the first player ever to win the Minor League Player of the Year award and was traded before he even made his MLB debut with his old squad.

Getting a player like Meyer who is still developing was a huge thing for the Rays as their yearly payroll stifles their creative juices to the point they have to make trades like this to get viable and young talent under their control for years to come. Now I hope Rays fans do not get too anxious and think Meyers will start the season with the Rays. Reality is the team will possibly use some of their farm system pieces with minor league options to fill in until the team can bring up Meyers without having to award him a year of MLB service time. Still, if injuries in the outfield hit the Rays early, Meyers could be in the Trop by late May, early June at the earliest.

505fe1cf35e24_preview-300Sure the addition of prospect hurlers RHP Jake Odorizzi (has the stuff to possibly make the team as a temporary RP), LHP Mike Montgomery and 3B Patrick Leonard gives the Rays some needed replacements and added personnel within the farm system who one day could be playing in St. Petersburg,Florida alongside Meyers. This trade not only has the potential to help the Rays possibly as soon as 2013 with Meyers, but it gives the franchise some credible arms to work in the upper echelon of the Rays farm system and get better before their own MLB debuts possibly in 2014-2015.

Sure the subtraction of Davis means the Rays will have to find a long-inning specialist, but that could easily be the pitcher who loses out on the Rays fifth rotation slot, but it could also be someone like LHP Alex Torres, RHP Dane Del La Rosa or possibly even Southpaw Jake McGee.

57073224_display_imageThe trade opens a widening world of possibilities to the formulation of the Rays 2013 25-man roster. The subtraction of Shields and Davis will be sorely missed, but it also give some of the Rays young arms a chance to rise to the occasion, just like Shields did when he shocked the Rays staff when he made his debut and got a no-decision against the Baltimore Orioles on May 31, 2006.

Because both these teams are on the bottom end of the fiscal reality of baseball, these kinds of trades are the lifeblood of the organizations.

563647_10151199388498429_32855498_nTaking high dollar veterans and turning them for prospects or players who could play at the MLB level is the way they can stay competitive and right up there with the AL high spenders. In the end, this trade had wins posted on both sides of the leader board.


The Rays got to shuffle off two experienced pitchers and another piece to be added to the Royals side of the equation soon (PTBNL) who should can help the Royals immediately, while the Rays got a few future pieces of their pitching puzzle and a player who could shine for them for the next 6-odd seasons in their outfield mix. No matter how you slice it, both sides should be commended on this deal that helped both clubs immediately both in personnel and the financial realm…..Sorry, but to me that is a classic “win-win” for both front offices.

 

Who Will Take a Chance on the Rays Roulette Wheel?

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The Tampa Bay Rays starting pitching situation is beginning to emulate the spinning of a casino Roulette wheel. Sure it is a gamble on both ends of this spectrum, but the Rays have the advantage here as the spinning of the wheel with any of their MLB or even minor league hurlers’ names anointed on the spinning circle could bring them rewards, financial stability or provide an end to a future problem scenario.

377261244And right now the Rays have more than a few suitors watching the spinning wheel wondering if their trade wagers either catch the Rays attention or if they only get a fleeting glance as the team takes in all of the MLB barters trying to find the one that brings the team the personnel windfall this franchise will need in 2013 or beyond to be competitive. As the dizzying wheel keeps gaining momentum and speed, you have to wonder if there are members of the MLB’s brass who will throw down the right coinage on the Rays felt and come away with a treasured piece, or go away empty-handed, wondering if they short-changed their opportunity to gain pitching riches.

I hate to tell everyone around the Rays Republic, but that always present fear of having a huge threshold of starting pitching talent and no where to put them is firmly on display on the Rays gaming table, but do not fret, just like Las Vegas, the Rays front office has the odds in their favor. Now is the time of the off season where we will truly see if anyone in the MLB is anxious to throw down a few much needed trinkets or prospects to entice a deal with the Rays and take a prized piece from the team;s staring pitching coffers.

201207151513547959658-p2This is the reality of the combined effort of the Rays over recent years of stockpiling such starting talent that one day the noise would be deafening as these hurlers begin to pound on and finally break through the Rays farm system ceiling on their journey to the major league level. Also at this time comes the stark realization and ramifications of the Rays current starters hitting their groove at the highest level and other MLB teams seeing that maturity and seeing their future potential rise even higher as their fiscal presence begins to put strain on the Rays fabric, almost to the point of breaking. 

I truly think we will see one, and possibly two pieces of the Rays starting staff traded before the end of July 2013 Trade deadline. This would be beneficial to the Rays by releasing some of that vented pressure both financially and physically so another cog of the Rays expanding pitching machine can take their place at the MLB level. But this current epidemic is this is not a 1-year situation in the release of a bit of this compounded pressure.

Over the next 3-4 seasons we could see an additional 2 or 3 more Rays starters possibly exhaled from the Rays balloon, finally bringing about a bit more room within the organization for the next generation of Rays pitchers to find their own grooves and one day be the focal points of another Rays purge as they block the way for another wave of Rays prospects on their trail of MLB glory possibly by 2017-2018.

GraybeardOn the expanded roulette wheel right now there are at least 3 current Rays names on the tips of MLB tongues that could find themselves wearing a different teams garb sooner than they realize. James Shields might be the guy everyone is pointing to right now, but Jeremy Hellickson and David Price also have to feel a bit of extra pressure and uncertainty as the financial reality comes over the horizon they are either too expensive to sign to extensions, or their management teams will be uber difficult to perform such an endeavor.

Shields right now is at his pitching zenith, possessing the tools and talent needed to push a team higher in the win column while also having at least 2 years of contract (Club options) stability. Hellickson, who has a rising resume that includes a 2011 AL Rookie of the Year award and a recent co-recipient of an AL Gold Glove is quickly approaching his arbitration years, and with an agent (Scott Boras) who detests team friendly contract extensions, Hellboy finds his own name on the lips of MLB suitors. But there is also a golden delight also on the table, but will cost someone dearly to wander into the gambling arena for his services. 

David PriceAfter winning the 2012 AL Cy Young Award, Price possibly sealed his fate with the Rays not based on the fact he will not sign an extension, but his proposed $9.5 million arbitration figure for 2013 already is pushing at the Rays top financial ceiling with another arbitration venture on the horizon following the 2013 season that could possibly push his 1-year salary towards a mark of $11 million plus. But he is the “golden Goose”, who will be pried from the Rays only for some of the best talent, possibly bringing in a unimaginable player bounty to further build upon the Rays player foundation.

Sure you could also include the “Silent Assassins”, also known as Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis into this scenario with no problems, but I think the Rays can use both of them in relief or even fill-in roles over the next 2 seasons, but their own futures might have some unscripted conclusions especially around the Trade Deadline as the Rays look to add or subtract bodies for a post season scramble. Seems odd that a team would even think of jettisoning pitching talent, especially talent of Shields, Price and Hellboy’s caliber, but sometimes it is just time to cut ties, find additional solutions, or just conclude the end is finally here for their Rays stay. 

Tampa Bay Rays v Milwaukee BrewersAs a betting man, I see Hellickson and Shields having the most MLB eyes gazing upon them at this moment, but just as easily if the right pieces get thrust into the eyesight of the Rays, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer or even Matt Moore could also find themselves armed with new contact numbers, plane tickets and be jettisoned towards another locale. That is the true reality here, even if these guys are paramount to the Rays rise in the coming MLB seasons, their Rays existence can never be completely balanced on the Rays always swaying teeter-todder as priorities change almost as quickly.

Rays starters name will be whispered and talked aloud by other MLB General Managers over the coming weeks with some extending offers, trade scenarios and possibly giving the Rays front office cause to pull the trigger and send one or possibly 2 starters away by the opening of the major league camp in February. As the Rays again begin another journey of that shiny steel ball into the wooden circular wheel the Rays are betting heavily on the fact a few MLB spenders with deep prospect and talent pockets will belly up to the Rays ever-spinning roulette wheel hoping to come away as winners.

Wonder which one of the Rays pitcher’s jersey numbers will have the highest stack of coins? 

Could Price’s Success Turn into a Rays Windfall?

This is the time of year when every baseball fan within the Tampa Bay region is anxious. This is the moment when every single fan has the air of an expert, with plots, sidebars and commentary on the team’s direction, points of attack and their own pick list of potential new jersey names to be sewn upon the Rays Carolina Blue unis.

This is that unscripted and unabridged segment of the MLB merry-go-round adventure where even the most popular and productive of names can find themselves not only trade whispers, but packing for new horizons and opportunities. With a mire tick of the off-season clock anyone currently residing on the Rays roster or farm system can not be totally at ease or comfortable because when the bell tolls for the MLB GM Meetings, it is a loud and clear signal that the first round of touchie-feelie wheeling and dealing conversations will commence and someone Rays tenure can be vaporized with a single late night ringtone.

Even someone like Rays ace David Price who has just been announced as 1 of the 3 choices for the 2012 American League Cy Young award, but Price could just as quickly find his name penciled in on a deal worksheet or scribbled on a team’s “wish list”. This is not to say Price is going anywhere, but if the perfect deal with the right talent that could right the Rays sinking offensive ship were to materialize…. Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman might ponder it……for a moment.

Most would think it insane to even talk about Price going anywhere with his successes piling up during the last 4-odd seasons, but sometimes a player, even someone with mega-talent and rising potential can make another team so hungry to hitch their wagon to a player’s rising star they overpay and bring a bevy of goodness to someone anxiously wanting offense like the Rays.

Another odd factoid to remember is that Price has a limited and quickly evaporating fiscal shelf life as a Ray with his second arbitration salary a “gues-timate of around $ 7.5 million for 2013 which would escalate Price into the thin stratosphere of salaries for a player in his second walk down the arbitration process. That would put Price in the second slot in regards to salary only beaten by his fellow co-Ace James Shields who will bank $10.25 million for throwing the rock.

Immediately it comes to your mind the Rays would be insane to even consider trading one of their most popular and productive mainstays, but the MLB is a business and if someone is willing to part with an astronomical package…no one, not even Price is safe from at least a sitdown discussion. And we know all to well that the rest of his MLB peers have mad respect for the Rays southpaw bestowing upon Price the 2012 Player’s Choice award as the American Leagues “Outstanding Pitcher”. And these pieces of hardware that Price is amassing yearly only bring the cruel reality into the sunlight that one day Price will unfortunately price himself out of the Rays fold.

Price is only hitting the second of his 4 trips through the arbitration process and could command a salary above Shield’s $10.25 contract as early as the Spring of 2014 if he keeps moving onward and upwards fulfilling his potential. It’s a pity because Price has a chance to evolve into one of the greats, but this will not be realized wearing the Rays sunburst across his chest. Price’s Rays clock is ticking louder and louder every off-season towards the alarm finally chiming it is time for change.

I’m not forecasting, predicting or even remotely pondering Price’s departure, but the stark and undeniable truth is soon Price even with all his community upside and personality will make a trade decision a fiscal necessity. Maybe I’m being a bit too prudent, too calculated that possibly the Rays could turn Price now while his value is through the Trop’s Teflon roof and gain a top infield prospect, a few near the MLB caliber players that could fortify this Rays roster for the next 5 years with more offense, or maybe even a proven Bullpen arm to join forces with Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta to form a tight 1-2-3 late inning punch.

Some times hard decision have to be mentioned, breached and put out into the open air even if they may be considered unwarranted or mis-guided by their timing. Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann and even Wade Davis will have their names thrown out into the wind this Winter as trade pieces, trade considerations or even sent packing for financial or offensive relief.

Bringing up Price’s name here brings out the reality of the off-season that no one, not even Matt Moore who has a team friendly contract can be considered “off limits” or beyond trade rumors and whispers. Price is probably completely safe right now in the eyes of Friedman and the Rays front office. But you have to wonder, when a player is at their highest career point with them teetering on the cusp of maximum possible return on value, can you ignore the sanity of the situation.

I do not envy Friedman’s job because I would hate to be remembered as the guy who traded Price, even if it did make sense.   

Did the Rays Gamble Heavy on Their Status Quo?

Wondering if the Tampa Bay Rays basically “ standing pat” will come back to either bite them in the hind quarters, or be a Godsend. So many factors were in play in the background today from medical reports on Evan Longoria’s rehab assignment, to equating if sending a piece of the franchise be it B J Upton or James Shields would stall their recent Wild Card forward momentum. I swear Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman will never have to hit Gamblers Anonymous because he only seems to bet on “ sure things”, or options that weigh heavily in the houses/ Rays favor.

I truly could not envision Friedman standing over a MLB gambling table surrounded by 29 of his peers holding the dice hard wishing for a 7 or 11. I imagine him more comfortable at the .25 cent slots bringing in a few dollars and making more sense of his money and movements. But still, it was good over the past week or so hearing the baited whispers and subtle glances towards Upton and Shields. Wonder how many of Friedman’s peers felt confident going into today that Friedman might part with the likes of Upton who is set to hit the Free Agent market this Winter. 

But then again, I could see Friedman playing Texas Hold-Em with a vengeance, and with the Rays on a West Coast road venture Friedman held his cards close to his vest hoping no one would venture to guess his intentions or call into question any type of bluff or stall tactic.


I felt sure Friedman might possibly throw down at least a Wade Davis baseball card towards an NL peer that might need an up-grade or stop-gap style player either in their 4 or 5 slots or in long relief. But Friedman has the luxury of knowing Davis is only gaining value, possibly with Davis becoming a prime piece of off-season gold that will be look upon with more value this Winter than at this time.

There were even cards in motion within the Rays farm system that hinted at some sort of planning or adjustments as RP Cesar Ramos was being primed and getting reps as a possible starter at Triple-A Durham. You had to have a feeling Friedman wanted to hold a distinctive wild card in his hand knowing a possible trade scenario involving a valuable and flexible southpaw would be considered a luxury heading into August and September as younger arms reach their yearly pitch counts. 

I remember reading in Dirk Hayhurst’s “Bullpen Gospels” about Ramos in the lower Padres system as a starter, so the idea is not foreign to him at all. Since I’m glancing towards the Bullpen, I truly thought Friedman might hold in his hand the cards of possibly relief pitchers Joel Peralta or Kyle Farnsworth as late inning pieces to another squad’s puzzle, possible also in the National League. But the Rays Bullpen stayed intact, possibly the best thing to happen to the Rays since Fernando Rodney’s first arrow flew deep and high into the sky.

Could Friedman have possibly mastered the art of the bluff this week by rebuffing advancements and trading cards being thrown down in his direction, Could the Rays not sending or receiving any players before the time ran out on this non-waiver Trade Deadline show contentment that in-house options are superior to the cards visible on the table, especially since Longoria and SP Jeff Niemann could be back in the dugout sooner rather than later.

No matter if Friedman was playing the game with all intentions of going through the motions, or waiting for the perfect scenario to be placed upon the felt and then plucking it with a grin and a giggle. We might never know the true story, but I do feel there were some potential MLB players trading cards picked up off that green poker table’s felt I truly thought the Rays might contemplate a bit on, or at least bluff towards plucking them for this team. 

The first player I thought the Rays might make a gentleman’s wager on was Miami Marlins 1B Gaby Sanchez who ended up becoming another valuable piece to the playoff hungry Pittsburgh Pirates. I actually thought the Rays might go “in heavy” on Sanchez as a possible 2013 replacement/younger hitting upgrade for the Carlos Pena. I thought Sanchez met the Rays criteria since he can be team controlled until possibly 2016, with his first venture into arbitration coming this Winter. Lest we forget Sanchez was a NL Rookie of the Year candidate in 2010 (finished 4th).

I also thought the Rangers picking up Geovany Soto from the Chicago Cubs recently might be a trading card piece of an evolving Texas trade hand for Shields since the Rays could definitely erase their need for a catcher with someone of Soto’s experience, especially since Soto will only be making his second trip trough arbitration this Winter, Soto’s past All-Star clout and his 2012 salary of only $ 4.3 million, he would be viewed as a solid backstop investment considering the question marks becoming larger with Robinson Chirinos and his concussion setbacks and if Jose Lobaton is a # 1 catcher or a career back-up back stop for this squad.

All that the Rays Republic is left with his wonder and maybe a little hint of want. This team has shown signs of an upwards trend against teams currently that they will battle throughout the rest of this season for a coveted American League Wild Card slot, but you have to wonder if Friedman had set down at least 1 hand in trade if the stakes and odds would have falling more into their favor.

 The Trade Deadline is one of those definite “He said, She said” types of moments where a season can be hinged or be separated by actions of standing pat. Personally, I wanted to see some down and dirty dealing via Andrew Friedman and his band of merry mongrels, but in the end we got only silence.

 Some venture to say the lack of Friedman playing any cards by the final toll of the bell at the Trade Deadline set the tone loud and clear for the Rays venture towards securing one of those coveted post-season slots. In the past the Rays have stayed muted and firm in their belief of their club’s talent and abilities and have come out smelling like roses.

Still, I would have loved to have someone like Sanchez chomping at the bit for that First Base job, or even Soto behind the dish providing offense and quality defense. Friedman decided to fold his hand, pay the dealer for his time and walk away empty-handed as the last cards were dealt today. But maybe by not making a gamble or losing in the process Friedman is way a head of the MLB pack. Only time will tell if he will be considered a winner or loser for his action with the cards.

 

First Half in the Books, Can’t Wait for Friday

Been a rough first half for the Tampa Bay Rays. Some things have gone as planned, while others have seemed to be spontaneous adjustments and hunches that either worked brilliantly or destined to be talked about, and dissected over and over again by the Rays faithful. Not once this season did Rays Manager Joe Maddon get to post the nine names he wanted on his line-up card together, the 9 names that he felt would make a difference, would bring him a consistent key to victory.

Not one line-up card in the first half carried all 9 of the Rays best players. That in itself proves something to me.  It also tells  a tale of how hard these first 86 games has been for the Rays coaching staff and Maddon to nightly present a consistent line-up card.  How frustrating  it must have been for Maddon over these first few months to consult his Medical staff before penciling in someone with clarity.  From B J Upton’s early season absence to Evan Longoria’s delayed return ( maybe mid-August), this team has been  a mire shadow of their 2011 selves.  

But with this All Star break comes a mini diversion of their 162 strife with a few days of life away from the ballpark to not only catch their breaths, but recharge and re-focus heading into their final 76 contests, I’m expecting to see some nervous energy and renewed excitement  bouncing from the roof catwalks to the outfield walls when the team again straps on their uniforms this Thursday in preparation of their second half kick-off against divisional rivals Boston.

Odd how that old Maddon mantra of “Fortune Favors the Bold” will again be in play this Friday as divisional rival Boston brings their bats and fans into the Trop. for a weekend shindig. Bold moves have been made all year-long with positional players doing a merry-go-round of nightly choices, with a few of them meriting longer looks and prolonged involvement for players who might not have made this squad if all were healthy. Still the seamstress known as Maddon has stitched some amazing embroidery so far this season with his patchwork quilt of players from Brandon Allen to Will Rhymes.

Got to hand it to the Rays skipper for keeping the positive front, going with his gut instincts and proving again and again sometimes stats do not lie about players and situations.  Only problem is Maddon will have to dig a little deeper over this final stretch, to find the pieces of the puzzle that fit each and every situation. Maddon has always preached the gospel of “Pitching sets the tone”, and it does, but when bats go silent or swing at dead air, even a brilliant pitching performance or quality start can be lost in the nightly box score. Maddon might have to listen closer to the Zim bear as he whispers into the Rays skipper’s ear.  Seize the day has to be paramount with  a hard-nosed defense again becoming the focal point of this club.

Might be kind of ironic that the group Train will perform on the Rays first night of their 10-game home festivities to begin their quest for another champagne soaked clubhouse and game dates in October. I got a nice vibe of reassurance from this squad in their final game in Cleveland on Sunday, that with all the strife, humbling injuries and peculiar results this team has had to endure over their first 86 games , the simple prospect of this team sitting just 1 game out of the American League Wild Card race is amazing.

I believe it was less than a month ago that the entire AL East was so jammed and reaching for the top spot you had to check the standing nightly to see who might be top dog.  This division currently has their entire corp of contenders at or above the .500 mark and are bunched within single digits from the top-tier to the cellar. Toronto and Boston currently are 9.5 games out of the top spot, but that could change as quickly as a 3-game win or losing streak by anyone in front of them. To put this into deeper prospective, if the Rays were to get swept in their upcoming series against Boston ( not going to happen), the Red Sox would not only jump over the Rays into third place, it could just as easily push the Rays from eyesight of the New York Yankees into the cellar.

Even with the Rays currently sporting a 45-41 record, ESPN has the Rays enthusiastically sporting a 26.8 % chance of again spilling champagne in late September.  For that to materialize, this squad has to re-mold itself into a more consistent fighting machine both on the field, and especially at the plate. Signs have been surfacing lately with Ben Zobrist rising his average up more than 50 points, Luke Scott finally getting the woodpeckers out of his bat bin, and Elliot Johnson no longer being the “secret weapon” no one knows about. Just a little more out of each of the Rays 25, and this club could be on track to again move onward and upward.

I know this Rays squad has it in them, we all saw it in their  early Walk-off victories that somehow got lost in all the clouds of frustrations both on the hill and at the plate.  When the Rays again get a few cogs of their offense back from their  injury hiatus, pieces of the overall Rays puzzle will click back in place. Matt Joyce is days away, Evan Longoria could be back by mid August, starter Jeff Niemann should begin some level of baseball activities soon, possibly being back before the roster expand in September.  This team realistically has their old magic just out of their reach right now, but it could be back sooner than we all imagine.  For now, patience is not only a virtue for this team, it is a necessity.

30 Minutes to Reflect, then Onto the Second Half

By the time I end up posting this on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Rays will either be celebrating their gutsy performance over the first half, or spending 30 minutes before thoughts turn to the second half, and the chase for another spot on the post season dance card. Expectation were sky-high in April, reality and gravity brought the surreal excitement to a halt with unforeseen injuries and players beginning a Conga line into and out of Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield’s humble office. Even with a victory today in Cleveland, this 2012 Rays squad will have posted the worst record of any Rays team since their re-incarnation in November 2007 by dropping the “Devil”.

From the hamstring drama of Evan Longoria, the fainting spell that possessed Will Rhymes, to the bats that turned to sawdust, the first half of 2012 has been a test of patience, determination and faith both in the dugout and among the stands. True fans have seen this before, but it was pre-2008 when the Rays Republic had to hold their breath as long, and pray to anything and anyone for a simple single victory during some of their awful losing bouts so far this season. Do not fret little Rays campers, for the 2012 edition of Rays complete with their patchwork quilt of fielders and hodge podge of Mendoza Line hitters might not be the defensive unit of 2011, but they have the courage, confidence and vital constitution that was forged in 2008 and is still rock hard today.

That might be the Rays saving grace with their line-up changing as much as the flight board in Chicago O’Hare Airport with rehab delays, hitting slumps for the ages and a defense that looks more like a piece of Swiss Cheese. Even with all these intangibles working against them, the Rays will end the day with an identical 44-41 record as the Cleveland Indians. But hidden just out of view is the travel this team has taken lately that took them from the 4th slot in the American League East standings, to possibly the second spot by nightfall. Even with all the toils and troubles on the field, this team still is in prime choice position heading into their home-stand on Friday to make an early run at solidifying their silver medal position.

When Longoria went down, this team did not fret, did not pout. Instead they called upon new additions to the Rays fight card from Brandon Allen, Drew Sutton, Rick Thompson and finally Brooks Conrad trying to piece together a consistent order both on the field and in the batters’ box. Some pieces of this amended puzzle proved moot, and have been cut away from this team either for good, or onto the Triple-A Durham Bulls roster. Farmhands Stephen Vogt and Chris Gimenez tried to show down home production, but both faltered and again found themselves again staring at the Green Monster in Durham wondering “what if”.

Hitting has been the throne in the Rays side for most of this season as the team will enter today’s contest with a Team Batting Average of .232, which is the lowest average at this point in a season , but then again the 2011 squad entered the All Star break with a .245 average last season and went onto a post season Wild Card bid. And their last 13 games has been especially cruel to the Rays as they have been held to 4 runs or less in 11 of those games, and have hit only .193 with RISP. But hope is shining on the Rays lately as Luke Scott shrugged off his hitting slump demon with two powerful blasts in C-town, and has looked more relaxed and selective in his appearances.

That is a good thing as the Rays Designated Hitter position has looked more like the 9th slot in an National League line-up than an AL powerhouse slot. Scott and Hideki Matsui have not been able to capitalize and make opponents pitchers pay for their mistakes, which is vital for this position. Sure the Rays have been Hit by a Pitch more than anyone else in the AL (36 times), but going into today contest, the Rays are tied with Baltimore for the most K’s (679) in the American League. Possibly with Scott again finding a groove he likes, the Rays DH spot again can bring some amount of fear and power heading into the final months of the season.

Defense has been so bad early on for the Rays they currently have 71 errors with a few innings to play in today’s contest. To put this into perspective, the Rays have had 19 multi error games including today’s game and seen 22 flaws coming out of Longo-land (3B), 14 out of the 6-slot, and 11 from the pivot (2B). For this team to again climb back into the Wild Card race and have any shot of catching division leading New York Yankees, this team has to hone their throwing and again look like a impervious defensive stalwart. This is not to say this team has to be flawless, but they need to be calculated mistakes that can be erased possibly with double plays or sneaky pick-off moves, not be free run scoring opportunities for their opposition.

One part of the Rays equation though has been up to the challenge and has consistently shown they have the field players backs, even if the bats did not respond in kind. The Rays Team ERA of 3.72 (3rd best mark in club history at the break) combined with a club record 676 strikeout heading into the All Star break has been the foundation for many of the Rays 1st half victories. David Price shared the best record in the AL (11-4) and combined with Rays greybeard James Shields, they have sent 214 hitters back to the dugout via the K so far this season. Matt Moore has found his rhythm again, Hellboy is ready to wreck havoc and Cobb is primed to prove he belongs here even after SP Jeff Niemann heals.

We saw another piece of the Rays pitching future come into the spotlight and perform as Rays prospect Chris Archer became the first non-Rays raised farmhand to take the hill as a starter in the long, long time. Archer showed just how valuable he will be for this team in the coming seasons, and Alex Cobb only cemented his reputation not only at this level, but as a solid MLB pitcher.

Expectation were high in April, but even with this fall from grace the last few months, the Rays are in prime real estate to again fight to the last game for another chance to play into October. Even with all the Rays perils, they are only a few well placed wins away from the top Wild Card slot, and with the momentum of their recent win in their old nemesis Cleveland, the Rays should be pumped to against strap on the uniforms this Friday when rival Boston invade the Trop.

I’m going to take a page from Rays Manager Joe Maddon mantra book and forget this first half in 30 minutes as soon as the Rays exit the turf at Progressive field and become excited and enamored with the second half and all its possibilities. This Rays team is one that is built for the long haul. With Longoria set to possibly still be out to mid to late August, and Matt Joyce possibly missing the 10-game home stand to start the second half, again faith, a slice of good luck and possibly a few bats finding the ball could help this team until their offensive brethren again don the Rays sunburst.

30 minutes has since elapsed since my first written word, time to forget the first half and stand ready, willing and able to help this team push a few squads out of their way in the second half of the season….or die trying.

 

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