Results tagged ‘ Joba Chamberlain ’

American League East Thoughts

 

 
 


Everyone in America knew that this blog was coming. Everyone who follows my blog and baseball on MLBlogs knows that my team is itching to defend their American League Pennant. We know that 2009 will be the year where the Tampa Bay Rays will be between the crosshairs with everyone gunning to put us out of our misery every night. And you want to know something, that is fine with me. I am that kind of guy. Bring it on, I  think this team reloaded pretty good in the off season. We did not spend almost a half a billion dollars, but with millions we did invest in players went to needs, and that is the name of the game.
 

Most pre-season blogs and predictions have this as a two-team race in 2009. That is fine, they thought the same in 2008, and did not even acknowledge the Rays were a good team until almost the end of August. Everyone spent millions of words and letters chatting on the fall of the team. That the team was propped up by other teams getting caught off guard and the Rays just manipulated the system. Really? manipulated a system where New York and Boston were destined to win  it all, but one sat at home in October for the first time in many years.
 

Can you really think that I was going to post a blog putting a Boston or new york team up in front of us even before the first game?  Seriously people, I am not saying we are winning 162 games, or maybe not even 100, but I do think this team is for real and the race will be close until the last breathe of summer. And why do I think that with the multitudes of Yankees fans breathing down my neck chatting about their outstanding pitching. Well, Yankees fans, pitching only gets you so far, and do you really think that entire top5 will be on the mound the entire year? Seriously here, I can see C C Sabathia dominating the A L East, But A J Burnett might get his 15 wins, or he might be sitting in the dugout after a weird injury.

 


 

You guys have not even thought about if Joba Chamberlain is going to be 100 percent effective in the rotation. Once you begin playing with a guy running him in and out of a rotation, you can do more damage than good to the poor guy. If you have a solid 5 without him, let him stay as a set-up guy. Who is it going to hurt Mariano Rivera?  I am not going to throw any predictions out this year at all in the A L East war, but I will throw out a few challenges to teams. The first challenge is to the Yankees pitching staff. Since you have already been deemed the pitching staff of the century by experts, will it be a downfall if the staff doesn’t get 100 wins?
 

With that in mind, has the Yankee’s new stars sent flowers to A Rod yet thanking him for taking all of the Spring Training pressure off them so they can pitch like normal guys while the media froths over A Rod. Can you seriously think that the cousin/bad trainer/steroid situation will end in April? It will be a wild time in the Trop and other cities in 2009 as the fans show either their support or voice some loud chants about this entire situation. Want to make a bet on what is said? 
 

Also, people have dominated the off season with Yankee talk about the pitching upgrades. Did they do anything beside secure a good first baseman this past off season. Where is the offensive dynamo beside Mark Teixeria? Did the Yankees upgrade by getting Nick Swisher, or just plug in someone for a year in right field until something better comes along. And will Jose Posada come back as a stronger Yankee hitter, or be seeing more time at D H. Question are everywhere about the Yankees, but then again, even when they had a Championship team people had questions about weak spots.
 

Besides on the mound, is this really a strong Yankee team? They had better hope so, or the crowd will be on them soon. The A L East will get a fast idea on if the aggressive will dominate early in the season. The entire month of April will be spent mostly in divisional battles. This is where Boston took that early lead in 2008 before the Rays rose up and past them. So again in 2009, will the pattern remain the same, or will another team push towards the top and stay there.
 

Boston also did not weaken itself in the off season. They added Brad Penny and John Smoltz to their pitching staffs, with Smoltz maybe providing a cushion in the second half of the season.  This staff is the best in the A L East on paper. They have the experience and the stamina to out pace most teams in the division. But there are questions on their staff. They bulked up on set-up and relievers in the off season, but did the rotation really get that much better. I mean is Tim Wakefield still your best number 5 pitcher? Or will someone else step up and take that spot from him and make a decision even tougher about the Bullpen members.
 

I see the Boston pitching as another area where 2009 could make or break them early. Josh Beckett is a great pitcher, but until he get a few starts in we might not know if that lingering injury in 2008 is gone or might pop back up and take him down in 2009.  Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka are just going to come out ans reload after a great 2008. The 2 and 3 spot in this rotation might be the best Boston has seen in a long, long time. But let’s take a short look at the Bullpen. They have upgraded themselves, but with mostly National League pitchers. People forget that the National League is known for finesse and off speed pitches, while the American League is a power pitchers paradise.

 


 

But bright spot in Boston with no signs of disaster yet is their returning offense. The only blimp on the radar might be David Ortiz. Will the big guy be able to respond and get back into his former form and boost the offense in 2009? He is my biggest question mark on the entire Boston roster. Will we see the dominating Ortiz, or a shadow of himself like after his wrist began to hurt in 2008. You know that Boston wanted to upgrade somehow in that area, but with his contract it might have been bad at this moment. But can you see changes if he gets into a rut and stumbles out of the gate?  Will the team make that change and maybe upset the stadium masses, or will any injury make that decision for them? 
 

Can the upgrades in the Boston relief corps be enough to keep them in the game, or will the A L  bat them around for a bit until they settle in and pitch effectively. Questions ,questions. I am not trying to incite a riot online with these question marks. I am only trying to show that the A L
East will be a war that will have to be fought nightly this year. I really do not see Toronto or even Baltimore laying down at all this year. The Rays resurgence has shown small market clubs that anything is possible. One of these two bottom dwellers from the past two years might even rise up and bite one of the top three more than once in 2009.
 

It is not impossible for the eventual A L East division winner to have a .500 record against their  division rivals. I think it is a bit out of this world to think that, but it is possible. No one picked the Rays to even get into the playoffs, much less make it to the World Series. Boston and New York will  not lay down for  anyone in 2009. This division will be a sign that money and talent can battle each other and the best team will win no matter what the payroll. The Rays payroll might be upwards of $ 60 million plus in 2009, but that is pale in comparison to the millions dealt out just for pitching help by both divisional rivals.
 

                   
 

So will the money win out in 2009, or will the confident and determined show up again on top? We have a few days until we again get it started and go to the plate for real.  I have a feeling this spring will also be highly charged as all three teams want to prove some thing even before the season to their rivals. This might be one of the best Spring Trainings to watch in Florida for a long time. All three will be gunning to win, and wanting to put pressure on the others to either step up or shut up before even April. Now the real question might be, Is you team going to be talking or walking come October 1st?

Photo credits for today’s blog: Associated Press Photo Corps, ESPN.com, RRCollections.

 

Is Trash Talking in Baseball Out of Hand?

 

 

Is there a climate in baseball where the talking is starting to get out of hand during a game. Does it seem sometimes that the players take liberties with the umpires to try and argue balls and strike when they should be just standing in there and trying to hit the darn balls?

 

I have seen a heard a bit more verbal banter in the last year from both coaches’ and players’ sitting in the bench towards either the mound or the home plate umpire. Is it a bit rude to try and dictate what the umpiring crew is doing, or is it a revolution of the game. I can seriously say that the Rays did have a few really good violators of this process last year.

 

Eric Hinske is notorius for eyeing the umpire or talking back after a subjective call. We have had a few umpires even during the playoff run come from behind the plate and warn managers and bench players about their comments being heard on the field. Unknown to alot of people during the World Series, the Rays bench was active in their plate discussions and made sure they were heard by the umpiring crew.

 

 

 In Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series, the home plate umpire actually came over to Rays Manager Joe Maddon and complained that they would start to throw bench players out if they kept their vigil of barking at the crew.  There is a difference in arguing a close call on the bases, or even arguing a subjective call on a tag or even a force out. Those calls come, but they are getting more intense with replays and slow-mo that benches can see seconds after the play.

 

They are not allowed to show close plays on the Tropicana Field Jumbotron. I am taking this to be a MLB directive not to show up the umpiring crew, but in the halls and in the suites they get an instant replay and slow motion that can be heard at field level sometimes. Can this bring about more verbal warfare and instigation by players and fans.. you bet you life it does.

 

Now I am not trying to downplay the showmanship of guys like Grant Balfour who curses himself on the mound. Guys like Joba Chamberlain or any reliever or starter who get a big out can make a whoop and a holler without a second glance. But the guy who pitches inside and then comments should be reigned in by the umpires. A batter who talks to the pitcher should be disciplined if the intention is to start a beanball rally or incident on the field.

 

         

 

A good example of this is during the Rays White Sox ALDS series at Tropicana Field. Rays reliever Grant Balfour is notorious for talking smack, to himself duirng an at bat. With  Whie Sox shortstop Orlando Caberra at the plate Balfour began his usual pump-up mode by screaming at himself. He threw his first pitch insdie for a strike but close to Caberra. He again began to get louder on the mound. The second pitch came real close inside and Caberra went down to avoid the pitch.

 

Balfour was talking to himself, but Caberra did not know this was intentional for Balfour to curse himself. He took exception to the language and thought it was directed at him. He even motioned to go towards the mound at one point to comfront Balfour. Is this outward display a preamble to problems, or should ?Balfour be pulled back a bit to keep the assumption down that he might be trying to show up the batter.

 

Another thing that gets me is the umpire coming from behind the plate and warning the bench for talking smack towards him during the game. Shouldn’t the Bench Coach get tossed for any infractions like that, it is his responsibilities to get the bench in order. Even if it is the Manager that is spilling the words, shouldn’t the Bench Coach suffer for anything. Pitching Coaches’ are also famous for between inning banter to try and change a strike zone or chat up the umpires.

 

Should this conversations be muted and not even allowed during the game. I know it is all part of the game, but sometimes the conversation is so foul-mouthed that I see parents behind the dugouts shield their kids ears. It is a part of baseball, but can it be a bit toned down at times.

 

Managers will always get tossed, and players will get tossed for arguing calls. That is a given of the sport. I really love the old Aguafina commercial where Lou Pinella goes out and arguing with the third base umpire and is actually having a chatty conversation with him before getting tossed as a favor by the umpire. It is a classic moment that I know might actually happen during games.

 

           

 

You know there are managers who say certain things that annoy certain umpires. You know every team has a book on the umpiring crew that also spells out their no-no’s for that umpire. You can get tossed for anything, but to bring into the conversation a personal mistake that has been highlighted, or a past event can get you an early night quicker than a correct call.

 

 Joe Maddon is great at the art of trying to use the entire crew to get his point across. He always asks if they asked any of the other members of the crew if they saw the play differently.  Of course, unless it is totally blantant, the call will stand, but sometimes it does get you to think about things. Which for an umpire is progress.

 

 

Players at the plate each have their own brand of eyeing up an umpire or arguing their points. Most have subtle non verbal movements like Ichiro just looking the umpire in the eyes and not saying a word. That can be more intimidating that a word at times.

 

 But then you have guys like Boston’s Kevin Youkilis who sometimes looks like you shot his favorite dog if he gets a called third strike close in on the plate. He goes into a act of looking like you shot the darn dog right in front of him before sulking to the bench. Does this action even get any movement or different placement of the umpire’s strikezone. Probably not, but it does get Youkilis  has a reputation in the umpire circles to expect the clowning at the plate.

 

What I am proposing is not to limit or even make a baseball game a morgue at all from the field level. But can we pull back the bench BS and the Coaches’ smart aleck comments and just play ball. When I played Little League, if a coach or even a parent got verbal, they were gone the second they said the second word out of their mouths. It instilled in us the fair play principle and that the umpire is God behind the plate and in the field.

 

 

It also made parents better supporters and better fans of the game as they tried to understand the calls without leashing out a tirad of BS and insults.  Most fights during game have happened after trashtalking during an at bat, or during a play sometimes during that game.  Baseball was fun back then, but we did not have to account for million dollar salaries or even sponsorships beyiond the baseball diamond. Accountability is the only way to truly pull people bakc in after an incident duirng a game.

 

Recently in the NFL, the Cleveland Brown’s tight end, Kellen Winslow was fined $ 235,294 dollars for chatting up a disagreement about his injury rehabilitation. Miami Dolphins corner, Joey Porter was fined $ 20,000 dollars for saying the Houston Texans were getting calls during their game one Sunday in the NFL.

 

 Could the MLB and the MLB Players’ Union agree upon a financial penalty beyond the customary fines to repeat offenders or instigators. Who knows what will happen in the future, but I knowe that if a fan gets rowdy like that he is gone from the game, and might even be banned from the stadium if they keep it up.

 

Baseball will never ban guys from the field or stadiums for verbal warfare, but shouldn’t it get toned down to a level where the on-field actions at leats fit the language spilling out of the dugout?

 

Rays Tidbits

 

The Trivia question for today is for my die hard Red Sox’s Nation fans.

Who’s spirit is said to haunt the stands and press box of Fenway Park?

 

Here is a hint, the current voice of the Sox, Carl Beane, is known to voice a few commonly used  lines from this deceased, and beloved announcer every game . The answer will be at the bottom of the blog.

 

It has just been reported to me from the Rays coconut telegraph that the Rays have inquired about a player from the Atlanta Braves. The player being discussed is third baseman Wily Aybar. Wily was acquired by the Braves in the Dany Baez trade a few years ago from the LA Dodgers’, and has had a few off- field situations for the organization.

Is this might be an insurance policy for the Rays concerning top prospect Evan Longoria. I thought the Rays were set with either Longoria manning the 5-hole or ultra 3b/1b power maven Joel Guzman helping to fill the power gap and base duties until Longoria hit the big time.

Guess the Rays think that they might need another project player who has had situations with the MLB substance abuse system and has left hot-lanta for help from relatives in Boston, without the Braves knowing this beforehand.  Guess we need to have a charitable situation on every roster to remind us why free agents do not flock here to the rain-less confines of the Trop.

 

Granted, Aybar has power and a great glove. He is young( 24), and has a huge upside. But unlike Matt Garza, his upside comes with some baggage that we just traded off to the Washington Nationals. Unlike Dukes, there is no ex-wife or court battles lingering in his future, past or present. Abyar  has tried to show that his wrist injury and situation are behind him.  In Winter Ball in the Dominican Republic, playing for top team Licey, he compiled a .339 average and a .415 OPS in 15 games. 15 games is not the rigors of Spring Training or a 162 game season, but it does give insight to his health and the condition he is in this off season.

Let’s hope the Rays decide to gamble and let Longoria start at third this Spring Training without a upshot prospect looking over his back wanting his position. Let’s hope this team has finally taken the high road and can rely on it’s intuition more about it’s players and their potential. We have a great scouting system that has shown us we have a great knack for talent in our past and in the players coming through the system.

 

I have a few websites on my Bookmarks that show prospects and MLB trade rumors concerning  all baseballs current players. The one I like to visit every day is http://www.MLBTraderumors.com. I am thinking about asking them if they need a correspondent to do the upcoming season from a field-side aspect for the Rays. I have done this before for a newspaper, and during the year for a blob on MLB.com, but never on a daily basis with an emphasis on just one team or segment.

Another writer that has my interest is Eric SanInocencio from Rays Anatomy. He compels me more because he is based out of Birmingham ,Alabama and has a great sense of the Rays and their system. You got to remember that Birmingham is the town that gave you the Michael Jordan experience in the Minor Leagues, and is a hot bed for college and minor league baseball. He is very insightful and genuinely frank about our squad and the upcoming season. Please check it out, and if it is in your type of writing, and you like his style, bookmark him and check in daily, weekly or monthly if that is your thing.

 

I was hitting Rays Anatomy the other day, and saw a article about the Top 20 prospects in baseball. A few are already up in the MLB with short stints in September,2007 , like the Yankees’ Joba Chamberlain.

The Rays had 5 members in that Top 20 list. The second best prospect was, of course, Evan Longoria.  David Price was listed at number 4, but he has not pitched since the NCAA Regional last year and is predicted to make a fast upward move if his stuff is still there this spring. Price has the confidence and the gentle cockiness to know he can survive the MLB hitters and be a great starter for the Rays. I think this kid is the real thing and can be the hidden talent that James Shields showed us a few years ago. He has three pitches that are MLB quality right now.

 

 The thing is, he might need until July to get the rust out and get that command back where he is a threat every time he hits the rubber for the Rays. A lot of news organizations have the Rays contending in 2011 for a AL East crown. If that is the truth, the list of players mentioned in third blog will be the heart and soul of the rotation and lineup in that time period.

Reid Brignac is out future in the SS hole. I have no doubts about this guy after meeting him and seeing a short highlights film on him in the Minors last year. He as slick at the plate as he is in the field. Smooth, rhythmic and poised to be a power hitter in the bottom of the order for the Rays.  He is being nurtured slowly in the minors to develop fully before even hitting the Trop’s infield.

 

I will go on record as saying, that I was hoping B J Upton would get another shot here before Reid was brought up, but he is making a huge  improvement in the off season in Centerfield, and should be an All-Star in the near future with his speed and agility.

Wade Davis and Jacob McGee.

Well, to start, they were impressive at Gulf Coast League,Vero Beach last year before hitting the SW Michigan Rays squad, and have another productive year under their belts  They are currently pitching like a duo not seen since Greg Maddox and Tom Glavine. They have the tools and the abilities to be in the starting rotation in the coming years and be great supporting teammates to the guys they came up with in the Minors. They both have a great head on their collective shoulders and will be great influences in the system for a long time.

The last guy I am going to talk a bit about here is someone who is going to probably get a long look-at this Spring Training. I do not think he is going to be on the 25 man roster this spring, but he is coming up the Rays system fast, and will be pressing on the door this year, maybe as early as June or July.  John Jaso is a great draft pick who is doing everything asked of him the minors, and is going to get his deserved time this Spring.

 

Jaso is not even listed in the Top 10 prospects in the Rays system by some people because he has risen so fast behind the plate. He did something this past year that he has not done in prior Minor league seasons in the Rays system. He was healthy.

There are a few people who think that he will start just below the MLB level this year with the Triple-A Durham Bulls. With Dioner Navarro, and Mike De Felice manning the backstop this year, do not be surprised if Jaso get off to a great start, that he broad jumps a few catchers in the system and is sitting in the Bullpen at the Trop by September.

 

I like Navarro but he has not produced yet to show that high draft pick by the Yankees in the past. This is not to put a curse or hex on the guy. He is a great guy who grew up in the Tampa Bay area, and is a great feel good story for the organization. Dioner will have to keep that great batting streak going that he showed in the second half of the 2007 season to keep the talking to a whisper.

I hope this happens. I like the emotional firestorm that is Mike D, but he does come with some vocal disabilities behind the plate. Now, this is not to mean that he is shy or timid. The exact opposite is true here. Mike has been known to get tossed for his opinions and actions in the past. Just ask the Tigers about his rant a few years ago.  But to be totally frank here, it might be the attitude these young pitchers see from a catcher to give them that extra “umph” to push their game to the next level. An emotional catcher, and a vocal leader can fire up a situation faster than striking out the side.

We shall see.

 

Trivia answer:

It is said that former Red Sox announcer Sherm Feller visits the sox during the home stands and his presence has been felt at the park for a long time. The line that current announcer Carl Beane borrowed from Feller is to say the simple phrase of :”Thank You” after announcing the  teams coaches’. He sees it as a tribute to Feller because for many years, it was Feller’s style to conclude the lineups in that manor. He also does a opening nightly/daily greeting, “Ladies and Gentleman, boys and girls, Welcome to Fenway Park”, just the way the Sherm Feller did all his years at Fenway Park. This adds a sense of history and continued elegance to this storied franchise.

 

 

With that, I am gone.  It is less than 28 days until Pitchers and Catcher report, and I am giddy as a school kid again.   I love the Spring.



 

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