Results tagged ‘ Joe Maddon ’
Recently I was volunteering at a golf tournament and got to speaking to a pretty well known Catcher who was on the Free Agent market for a bit this Winter. I had met him a few times on the sidelines at Florida Gator games, but never really got into the baseball discussion until about twilight just as the gold tournament was coming to a close. This is a ample backstop who has a World Series ring, a few All-Star selections (2), caught a No-Hitter (Mark Buehrle) and a Perfect Game (Phillip Humber) under his belt and is considered by some one of the most hated, but fiery competitor you either love or hate (depending on if your team can overcome his special karma).
You might have guessed by now I’m talking about Catcher and Orlando native A J Pierzynski who even drove former his CWS Manager Ozzie Guillen a bit nuts with his “gray area of the MLB rulebook and on-the-field conduct. Here I was face-to-face with the guy who possibly pulled off 2 of the most debated plays that seemed to magically bend the MLB rulebook like a slider dipping towards the outside corner of the plate rules. You hate playing against him for his slight of hand moves and borderline antics, but you also know if he was on your team you would defend him to the rafters and beyond.
I really had that almost universal love-hate feelings in regards to the new Texas Ranger Catcher, but what he said that day kind of shocked me, both in a good and bad way. Pierzynski only had a few minutes of time to sign an autograph for a baseball fan who showed up hoping to score some of the athletes scribbles, but as he signed, I threw out a few questions and without batting an eyelash, a few interesting revelations quickly came to light.
I found out he kind of knew heading into the final White Sox games of 2012 that he might not get an offer qualifying or not from his former club, and knew fully expected he would be venturing down the Free Agent highway for the first time in his career. I asked if he had every thought of calling the Tampa Bay Rays and then again without hesitation came the bombshell I knew was lying in the deep grass.
Pierzynski and his agent had contacted Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman about a possible spot on the 2013 roster. Since Pierzynski still has an off-season home in the Central Florida town about 100 minutes from the Trop, A J could have possibly commuted with RP Kyle Farnsworth daily from the Orlando region during Rays home stands. I wonder if Friedman took the call as a courtesy, or if he thought long and hard at what offensive power Pierzynski could bring to the bottom of the Rays lineup, or if his style of play would bring a little havoc into the Rays fold on the field.
In the end Pierzynski was blunt that the money was not a right fit, and he in turn took the Rangers $7.5 million offer. Still I wonder if Friedman had offered $5 million with some offensive incentives if Pierzynski would of thought long and hard and made his “X” on a Rays contract?
We all know the Rays catching corps has been a roller-coaster over the last 2 seasons, and with Jose Molina making a club friendly $1.5 million this year, and Jose Lobaton being out of minor league options the Rays hands might have been tied unless an offer that blew the doors off the Clubhouse had been received by Pierzynski. But then again you have to think the offensive upside of having A J behind the dish along with his ability to frame pitches with the best in the MLB might have merited a longer bit of discussion between the pair.
But Pierzynski is now a Ranger, and will probably be a thorn in the Rays side again this season, but still I wonder just what would have happened if he had somehow found the right combination to entice the Rays to bring him into their fold. If that had happened, I wonder how many of the Rays Republic would have still greeted his presence with a clenched fists or a forgiving gesture of open arms?
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.
All 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.
I 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.
I 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.
Combine 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.
But 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.
Sure 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.
All 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 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.
The 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.
Sometimes things happen in the off-season that just boggles your mind. Players are picked up for their subtle and special nuances that can be used by a statistical savant like Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon to intricately change the delicate nature of a game in progress, possibly for his advantage based on match-up potential situations or maybe even a simple hunch.
I know there is a logical explanation and suitable conclusion to why the Rays are currently carrying 7 out of a possible 9 infield players on their 40-man roster, 1 signed player but not added to the 40-man roster yet, plus 2 additional players who are non-roster invites who can man the middle infield. Considering the Rays traded for their potential starting shortstop in Yunel Escobar, you have to logically conclude that 8 of the other 9 might have to fight tooth and nail to get selected for that revolving door slot known as Second Base.
I think with the large amount of veteran bodies vying for a job at 2B, you can easily see the current Triple-A duo of Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee getting their fair share of starts and possibilities this Spring, but the reality is they are the Rays future for right now and with minor league control on both players, their rise to the MLB level might not come until possibly September barring an unforeseen Rays injury situation.
So that immediately shuffled the field down by a third and with the Rays facing 3 different player signing going “official” this week, maybe a few old Rays household names will be bidding the team farewell even before the positional players make their way to Port Charlotte, Florida. 3 other Rays middle infielders who might be on the invisible bubble might be the enigmas known as Elliot Johnson, Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac could all get an unexpected call or pulled in from the Rays Spring Clubhouse soon possibly severing their Rays tenure.
All 3 did not have the kind of 2012 campaigns the Rays envisioned when they popped their name on the 25-man roster last Spring, and any or all of the 3 could be subject to waivers or possibly traded before the Rays officially add DH Luke Scott, 2B Kelly Johnson or RP Kyle Farnsworth to the Rays 40-man roster. You would think Johnson and Rodriguez might have the leg up on Brignac because of their utility play everywhere around the Rays infield, but even then, their lackluster numbers from last year could get them penciled in as potential casualties when the Rays add their 3 signed, sealed but not roster delivered players.
There are mumblings in the Rays Republic that “Briggy Baseball” might be the most expendable of the this enigmatic duo, possibly the first name to be announced and waived this week by the Rays. Brignac has had multiple chances to secure and hold onto his shortstop slot, but for some reason his bat did not follow him into either of the past 2 Rays seasons with any regularity. Johnson might get an initial pass because he is a switch-hitter just like tag-team 2B Ben Zobrist who will get to camp late this Spring as he is playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
Even with a slight edge over S-Rod, Johnson could find himself again straddling the bubble if he gets off to a weak Spring or doesn’t get into the game flow with consistency. You have to like Rodriguez’s chance since Spring seems to be the time he rises to the occasion and shines bright, but he could also see his star darkened if he gets off to a bad slump or has some defensive irregularities early on in camp. Another small sliver of hope for Rodriguez is the fact he still has 1 minor league option while Brignac and Johnson have exhausted their minor league options.
That takes care of 6 of the 7 players that currently are designated as “infielders” for the Rays. Zobrist is categorized as an “outfielder” on the Rays 40-man roster, but should see substantial playing time at Second Base along with the only other player listed, Ryan Roberts. “Tat Man” should have an advantage heading into Spring Training to secure a utility and tag-team situation with Zorilla at Second Base. Roberts did not have a huge year at the plate in 2012 either in Arizona or St. Petersburg, but should come into the Spring as a penciled in player in the mix for that part-time 2B gig. But there are other who might also have a say in it all before the roster is set into stone when the calendar changes to April.
Spring Training non-roster invites to the Major League camp have also been extended to MLB veteran Mike Fontenot and former Rays invitee Shawn O’Malley. Even with these 2 additional names to be put into the middle infield pot, Fontenot might have to stage a spectacular Spring to unseat any of the potential Rays utility players, but I also think O’Malley who made a great impression last Spring with the Rays might have a more viable chance to hang on late into the Spring Training schedule with Zobrist out and possibly be offered a Triple-A slot.
The Wild Card in this suspected scenario might just be newly signed, but not added to the roster Kelly Johnson who can basically play any of the fielding positions, including possibly being the guy who could give James Loney a rest. In Johnson’s favor to possibly get a long look and possible spot on the Rays 25-man roster is his ability to hit right-handed which could make him a valuable asset at First. And with KJ’s birthday coming in late February (22nd), he could possibly have an inside chance of securing a spot even before the Rays play the Red Sox in their first Grapefruit Series game.
2B or not 2B…….That is surely the question here as the Rays have a huge pool of player talent and potential to pick from the get their final selection before their first seasonal contest on April 2,2013 in Tropicana Field. This might be the strongest the middle infield as been in quite a few years in Tampa Bay, and with some of the names and potential, the players inked on the Rays final 25-man roster could provide that spark of offense the team needs along with some stellar defensive work.
The minute I heard about the fact that Tampa Bay born Sweetbay Supermarkets were trimming their store chain by 33 locations within Tampa Bay I wondered immediately how the consolidation would affect their strong partnership with the Tampa Bay Rays? Sure the chain will still have over 72 store in Florida, but slicing the region of 33 locations definitely takes a huge chunk of both grocery sales and local “feel good” exposure for the grocery retailer.
With the grocery chains long history of support and sponsorship with the Rays, you have to now wonder with 33 of their Tampa Bay stores being vacated just about the time for the Rays pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training if the close and intimate relationship the Rays and the grocery chain had for so many Major League Baseball seasons might also becoming to a haste conclusion.
The chain became the first supermarket chain to join with the Rays back in September 2008 as the Rays were experiencing their “magical season of baseball”, when Sweetbay joined forces with the Rays by signing a multi-year partnership deal with the MLB franchise. From that moment on, the team and the grocery chain found interesting and unique ways to join bring the game of baseball into their stores.
With Sweetbay’s consolidation announcement there is a boatload of questions without plausible answers at this time as to the continuation of such Rays game day experiences as the Rays Bat Kid of the game who loud and proudly announced that classic phrase “Play Ball!” before every Rays home game over the last few seasons. Sure the co-sponsor of the event, Aquafina/Pepsi could take the reins and make a smooth transition, but the fact remains, Sweetbay had a deeper impact on our Rays experience than we all realize.
Could there be a naming change now for the former Sweetbay High-5 station manned by Rays players during the last 2 Rays Fan Fest where kids got to get a high-5 from Rays players and Coaches as they rounded Third and came into Home Plate. Most people might not remember, but Sweetbay was also one of the corporate sponsors of the Rays 2011 Fan Fest as well as hosting Rays players autograph signing within their stores.
Sweetbay also provided a unique experience back in 2011 season when they offered a unique Rays game day experience during a Matt Joyce autograph signing at their North Dale Marby location. Fans who donated a 4-pack of fruit cup to the Feeding America’s Kids Cafe within the store were then eligible for a drawing to get 4 Rays home game tickets, 4 batting practice field passes, and a Matt Joyce signed bat during that season. The Rays and Joyce also premiered a special edition Rays set of players card on that date with Joyce personally signing his card for all in attendance
Sweetbay was also the first Tampa Bay area store to carry the same Kayem brand hot dogs sold during Rays home games at Tropicana field in their store locations throughout Tampa Bay to give fans a chance to also enjoy the same great hot dog taste while watching Rays away game broadcasts in the comfort of their own homes or backyards. And who could forget their annual $1,000 shopping spree with a Rays player in one of their locations where a Rays fan gets to go wild getting grocery carts filled within an allotted time with the help of Raymond and one of the Rays players.
Hopefully there is no huge effect of the relationship between the Rays and Sweetbay, but the reality is there will be less of a footprint in the region for the grocery chain and their long time partnership with the Rays could definitely be a victim in this change. It would be sad to see the chain take a step back and re-assess or remove themselves from the Rays fold.
It is a bit unsettling to see the chain who first brought their new name to our eyes in Largo, Florida in 2004, and is based in Tampa, Florida might be leaving our Rays game day experience. Together the Rays and Sweetbay chain made a great partnership with great game day and hit it out of the park regularly with their community events that not only sparked large crowds and a fond following, but showed that a sports franchise and a retailer could cross promote themselves with such class and grace.
But I guess sometimes change happens whether we want it to or not. Heck, where will Rays Manager Joe Maddon shop for his annual Thanks-Mas event if the stores near the Trop are shuttered up?
“ ._ _ . ._ _ . _ _ . _ _ _ . . _ . _ . _ _ _ _ _ . _ . . . . .”
To most people the above crypt ed type is a by-gone era relic of communication mostly done between long distance communicators or ships at sea. But to me it seems like a fitting code to use when the Tampa Bay Rays might be seeking out another body, and one who could take on multiple player duties while being a member of the Rays roster.
Maybe it is more than fitting that I tried to throw out a makeshift code of “We Want Mike Morse” in the above telegraph possibly showing at least one member of the Rays Republic’s adamant desire that the Rays go out ad get this desired First Base/DH and most of all, right handed hitting option.
Possibly it is an omen today that temps in the Tampa Bay region are hitting the Spring and Summer averages showing maybe even a higher power wanting this deal to go to fruition. But the total reality today is that the Washington Nationals since they signed their desired 1B Adam LaRoche to the dotted line, Morse might be a few dashes or dots away from finding a new vista to call home, and since Morse code is associated with water…..possibly ending up on a team who’s own hometown is surrounded on 3- sides by water.
Some might ponder the idea that since Morse is in his “walk” season before he hits free agency for the first time a trade for him might not be in the Rays best interest, but if you dig beyond the surface and truly see the stats for what they are…Morse could be just the right fit for Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s sometimes maddening system of plug-and-go lineup shifting roles and reversing logic to find wins, key hits and much needed runs.
Morse’s 3-season line of .296/.345/.516 might not just out on the page at you, but it is clearly a huge upgrade to the 2012 Carlos Pena debacle and combined with already in-house option James Loney, the “Maddoning” lineup possibilities and positioning is simply boggling with right and left handed options possibly being inter-changed at First and DH with the addition of Morse.
If you really think about it, if the Rays did trade for Morse who is set to make $ 6.75 million this season, you get twice the bag (and less K’s) for the slightly over $ 250,000 the money the Rays paid Pena in 2012 to mostly tap his cap on Home Runs and be the returning smiling face. It might surprise you that Morse had over 5 years of MLB service time split with 2 seasons each with the Seattle Mariners and Nats, but making Morse and even bigger prize for the Rays is another small bit of flexibility that Maddon enjoys even more.
Morse can also play other spots in the infield besides 1st (SS, 3B) as well as possibly a corner outfield position. With Desmond Jennings making a slight shift left in 2013 to post up at B J Upton’s old haunt, Centerfield, Morse could play right into Maddon’s always mind-bending game of match-up and situational defense possibly finally securing Ben Zobrist for mostly infield and outfield duties from time to time.
Instantly some of the cautious Rays Republic followers will bring up the pure fact in 2012 Morse only hit out 18 Rawlings while in 2011 he hit a career high 31 orbs into the cheap seats.
But even as you would notice Morse had a dip in his offensive numbers in 2012, he was also playing throughout the season with more than 1 nagging injury and still put together a season that showed his commitment to the game, confidence in his abilities and provided a added power option for the Nats.
That in a nut shell is the type of guy the Rays need. He fits the Maddon profile of being able to post up at various positions, plus has been in the post season race, plus played in a highly competitive NL East division that yearly produces enough stress and pressure to crumble a tea kettle. The dashes and dots all point to Morse as being the kind of player who will transcend under Maddon. But you have to ask if the Rays have the personnel to pull off such a heist. Why yes they do!
Considering the Nats lost out on former Rays RP J P Howell, maybe Friedman could patchwork up a nice package with a centerpiece of Southpaws Cesar Ramos or Alex Torres as viable Bullpen options. Torres has limited relief appearances, but his 2012 chances showed he might have a better calling in the MLB as a relief option than as a starter. Ramos we already know has the goods to be a consistent reliever and would be a valuable piece of the Rays Bullpen puzzle to lose, but if it bring a hint of better offensive presence….I’d jump on it and ride it until it dies.
Combine either of these leftie options, or possibly send a piece like OF Brandon Guyer or maybe even someone in the minors who is a few years away from MLB ready and if you are Washington you get a need filled, a extra bit of outfield security and a player developing in the wings to fill a future need, possibly in the infield.
Now this is not to convey the Rays will even take a gander at Morse with more than the usual Friedman cell call to ponder, wonder and suggest ad lib, but with camps beginning to open in just over 35 days, things concerning Morse might just hit a fast and furious pace as five other MLB squads also seek their own “Morse code” answer for 2013. I am expecting to hear a lot of dots and dashes over the next few days with hopefully Friedman finding the right combo and most conducive package to net the Rays Morse’s talents for 2013.
Maybe I need to do it 1 more time for clarity: “ ._ _ . ._ _ . _ _ . _ _ _ . . _ . _ . _ _ _ _ _ . _ . . . . .”
Maybe the Tampa Bay Rays waited a tad bit too long this time in looking for their 2013 Designated Hitter. Looking on various websites at potential “fits”, I found 7 names that seem to be listed on each of these sites as basically only “DH” candidates, and 3 of those names are former Rays players. I’m not even talking here about guys who might be right-handed and could pose a secondary First Base option and switch off as a DH or late inning power producer, for this post I’m hitting just the viable Free Agent DH candidates.
As I mentioned before, 3 former Rays made the list on 3 different Free Agent DH websites lists. One of the listed Delmon Young can be automatically eliminated from this discussion because of his past temperament issues. Adding some more spice onto this is the fact I do not think Rays Manager Joe Maddon has Young on his annual Christmas Card list. Sure he still has youth and a crafty bat, but his attitude and demeanor probably will prevent any serious Rays discussion unless someone want to pull a prank on Maddon or Friedman.
Then you get a second name that might merit a return, but at what cost. Johnny Damon did a lot in the Rays Clubhouse building upon the team’s strong leadership foundation, brought his hustle and bustle nightly, even if it was at a reduced speed due to his age. I loved his want to produce “big plays” and scoring opportunities with every swat of the bat, but he has digressed into a slap hitter, mostly producing RBI opportunities for others than being that DH who can drive the runs in and bring home the victory by himself. For that and possibly $5 or 6 million other reasons, Damon would be a role player at best for the Rays in 2013.
The one guy who I think might merit a second chance is the “Wolverine”. Sure Luke Scott had that dreadful hit-less streak that might stand for a decade, but the guy when he is focused, healthy and combined with the energy of this team seems to not only produce, but finds ways to motivate and get this team in the right mood to win games. But this Rays squad doesn’t need another cheerleader or bench attitude booster, it needs a guy who is healthy, hits the plate knowing his hit can score runs, and provide protection for the Rays middle of the lineup hitters by provoking a little stress when his name is announced. Scott might deserve a second try, but he would have to come in at the right cost and be willing to produce from day 1.
There are other names out there that at least pique my interest like Jim Thome or maybe even Travis (Pronk) Hafner, but my honest gut tells me these guys have another great year left in them, but my head is telling me it might not be 2013. That leaves 2 names, Nick Johnson and one time D-Ray (for a NY minute) Bobby Abreu. Just like Thome above, Johnson has had enough injury time in his career to warrant any deal to be heavily laced with performance and appearance incentives rather than a solid seasonal paycheck. Abreu in my opinion last played an honest season of baseball as an Angel and that was some time ago.
So out of the stable of guys who might only be “DH” options for the Rays, only their 2012 edition Scott might make sense for the team again in 2013. That doesn’t mean Thome or Hafner are lesser players, but their potential for injury might be greater than their bang for the buck. Still, I think of the 7 names prevalently listed on a few of these websites lists for DH possibilities, Scott, Thome and Hafner might be the cream of the crop, but it is not a bumper crop and might be one more devastated with question marks than answers.
Whatever happens, the player selected has to bring power, stability and a core value of producing runs and getting those additional wins that might be needed in a more competitive American League East race in 2013. Each and every one of these DH selections besides Young (27 yrs old) are above 34 years of age, and each have injury concerns as well as if their power will be there for another seasons of swinging the bat.
As Spring Report Date draws nearer, it is looking more and more like the Rays might find their 2013 DH on another teams roster. I do not envy Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman in finding some luster in this crop, or possibly even picking one of my three as potential fixtures for the Rays roster.
Post Script: Sorry it has been a short while since a post but I underwent an off-season surgery myself recently and have only felt like popping the keyboard today. All is well and I will have glove in hand again, possibly by the Rays Pitchers and Catcher Report date.
As we begin our final countdown days towards the end of 2012, I want to take a moment to look back and remember both fondly and shudder at what was the Tampa Bay Rays 15th full season. This team showed us so much in their 180 day 2012 campaign both on the turf and off as this team bonded like never before where we all were witnessed to watch segments of their battle plan both explode and implode.
It was a season where human action figures named “Batman” (Wil Rhymes), “Godzilla” (Hidecki Matsui) and even “Wolverine” (Luke Scott) intertwined with “Zorilla” (Ben Zobrist), “HellBoy” (Jeremy Hellickson) and the “Archer” (Fernando Rodney). Even with such heroic character names, this team could not ultimately find a way into the October post season party, but their travel from game 1-162 was never boring, or devoid of heart and soul. We also got to see this team’s “nerdy”-side as team road trips again showed imagination and chemistry.
2012 was also the season we saw a few players take their game to the next level with authority. B J Upton missed the coveted “30-30” spot by 2 HR, but in his failed attempt we finally saw glimmers of the potential we have always envisioned for him. Hellickson, fresh off his AL Rookie of the Year platform again garnered new hardware as he earned a special honor of garnering a co-ownership spot in the form of a glistening Gold Glove taking his pitching education to another dimension. We got to see the pitching promise that is Chris Archer, the resounding clarity that was Fernando Rodney brilliance, but also felt the pain and anguish of Rhymes as he collapsed into the arms of Rays First Base coach George Hendricks.
We all got to bear witness to one of those once-in-a-generation moments as Rays southpaw David Price and New York Mets knuckleballer R A Dickey both squared off in an early Inter League showdown on their journey towards their eventual Cy Young moments. Price in particular showed his stamina and determination throughout the 2012 campaign being one of the true linchpins of the Rays rotation providing the type of consistency and fortitude needed of your number 1 hurler.
In an ironic twist, the Rays home city of St. Petersburg, Florida somehow dropped the celebration ball with Price, possibly committing a ultimate publicity faux pas by getting “one-upped” by their “neighboring community” of Tampa presenting Price the key to the city with Astro, his trusty sidekick getting the opening cue on ESPN’s “Sportcenter” that evening. As is Price’s personality, he rolled with the moment possibly producing the best dog sound byte since Lassie’s first bark on television.
2012 was definitely a “Dog’s year” for the Rays as early on in the Spring they revealed their true love for the canine when players from the team teamed up with local no-kill animal shelter/clinic Pet Pals to produce a calendar that showcased the likes of RP Wade Davis’s German Shepherd pal Charlie, Evan Longoria’s “Spuds McKenzie” look-alike Bull Terrier Jango and Longo’s other canine condo bunk mate Boerboel Mastiff Tatum. We all even got to meet Maddon’s stoic English Bulldog furry friend Winston who like Astro has his own twitter account. Even behind the camera lens there was a Rays presence as James Shields wife Ryane did all of the shutterbug duties as the team embraced this community animal haven.
also saw bald again become beautiful as both Rays players, Coaches and even front office personnel let their curly and straight locks of hair fall to the wooden decks of the Charlotte Sports Park this Spring. From Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, Maddon to even Rays clubhouse staffers, all sat in the barber’s chairs to show community support and love for the “Cut for a Cause” campaign started by another fellow Tampa Bay sports icon, Tampa Bay Lightning star Vinny LeCavalier to bring about awareness to local pediatric cancer organizations and promote one of the Spring most heart-felt moments.
Even with all this animal love bounding through the Tampa Bay region, 2012 was also produced another stalemate check mark as the team and the surrounding communities wage verbal and visual battles trying to loosen the Rays lips and get some sort of loose translation sound byte of their own in the Rays quest to find their next home on either side of the bay.
With proposals surfacing that went as far East as the Florida Fairgrounds region, to a patch of dirt just off the Howard Franklin bridge in the Carrilon region, the entire community awaits with baited breath for some sign of the Rays want to stay or leave this community. Hopefully 2013 the silence will be broken and at least some parameters set into the community as to the Rays visions and dreams of a new state-of-the-art stadium hopefully somewhere in the Tampa Bay region.
2012 started off with a few displays of fireworks with walk-off victories and the revelation that would become the foundation of the Rays Archery Club as we all bared witness to re-emergence of the shut-down abilities of Rodney who pushed post game arrows higher and farther with even his teammates watching as his quivers and stats reached levels not seen in the MLB for some time. Just watching Rodney pull back the imaginary string and release into the sky a Rays record 48 times was reason enough to be a Rays fan. 2012 was also filled with “Gladiator” moments as the team embraced the Roman warrior culture with some of it making its way onto television screen across America.
Unfortunately 2012 also revealed a few flaws in the Rays machine, especially after Longoria went down with a hamstring injury and the Rays began a roller coaster ride that did not straighten out until Longo again adorned a Rays uniform and returned to the lineup. Even with the Rays pitching staff producing incredible numbers in strikeouts, saves and ERA during 2012, the elimination of the Rays most potent weapon for such a long stretch showed their Achilles heel to all, and their opposition attacked the Rays at the core of their weakness with vengeance.
Even though Upton, Zobrist and even new Ray Jeff Keppinger tried to fill the void, their own production was muted by the struggles and slumps of Carlos Pena, Scott and the merry-go-round that was the Rays Third Base and Shortstop position for most of the season. The Rays once strong point of defense sprung leaks, showed faults and ultimately produced moments that reminded all of us of those pre-2008 Rays squads.
It is hard to find a true title to the Rays 15th campaign. For all the highs and lows, the moments of exhilaration as we witnessed walk-offs and lost opportunities, nothing really stood out except the 5 souls who made up the Rays rotation.
Their arms truly becoming “golden” during the season as the team set an AL leading marks of 1,385 K’s , a incredible combined team ERA of 3.19, and saw Shields and Price eclipse the 200+ inning mark again. 2012 also saw mirror image inning production from young Rays Moore (177.1 innings pitched) and Hellickson (177.0 innings pitched) as they gained another strong year on the mound.
In the end, 2012 began and ended on the mound for the Rays. No matter what offensive highlight moment or defensive mis-step behind them, the Rays hurlers both starting and in relief set the tone this season and brought this team within a few victories of again hitting October moments. Their consistency, going deep into contests combined with stellar relief marks by everyone down in the Rays Bullpen gave us hope and want that the playoffs and October glory was still within our reach.
You can say 2012 was a lot of things from “Fortune Favoring the Bold”, to arrows piercing the night sky, but in the end it truly was the Rays “Golden Arms” who kept us spirited and showed us determination, heart and even a little hustle can produce moments to remember. As a homage to 2012, I am definitely tilting my cap to the right on New Years Eve as an homage to what was so fantastic about 2012.
I have a feeling there are going to be more than a handful of things I’m going to be writing about that the Tampa Bay Rays front office does between now and the time Pitchers and Catchers report to Port Charlotte, Florida in February 2013, but this one move to me signals their commitment to bring the top tier of talent to this squad.
It was not the affirmation of the team accepting the 2013 options for players like SP James Shields, C Jose Molina or even the brilliance that was RP Fernando Rodney’s 2012 campaign. No, the action that caught my eye and truly showed me this team is committed and expecting to “shoot for the Moon”, is the recent press release that Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer will partake in his 65th year in organized baseball, and his 10th with the Rays. This to me is the biggest, best and most logical move the team will make all Winter.
We all know that Zimmer is the Master Yoda for this young and energetic squad, having beat health situations in 2012 and is again eager, willing and excited about stepping foot on the field again this Spring. Sure Zim who has been immortalized in so many ways over his career and his 10 years with the Rays has his own “Bear” now, but I think the title of “Senior Advisor” needed to be ripped off the team website, and a new proclamation be made to show the respect and reverence to all things “Zim”.
Some will say being Senior Advisor is enough for Zimmer, but to me it can be elevated to a new level with the mere changing of his title. I’m sure Rays current Manager Joe Maddon will not take offense to this, or even take it as even a mild slap if the team were to elevate Zim to the position of esteemed and new fangled title of Rays Manager Emeritus. When former Rays owner Vince Namoli sold the team to the young and youthful Stuart Sternberg, he was given the designation “Chairman Emeritus” when you gaze at the Rays Ownership section of their website and Media Guide.
“Emeritus” by definition in Webster’s Dictionary tends to lean more towards showing this title going to someone who has been “retired” as a post-positive adjective to show respect and dignity to someone who gave of themselves in all aspects for the betterment of their chosen field. Namoli possibly holds this distinction because of his tireless pursuit of the Rays franchise combined with his due diligence while commanding the top tier of the Rays hierarchy before passing the torch to Sternberg.
Zimmer is not retired as a Major League Baseball figurehead, but he is as an active “Manager”, and that is the aspect I feel his title being changed to “Manager Emeritus” has merit. Zim is a constant figure down on the turf during Rays Batting Practice and is as much a personality and part of this team as any of the players and Coaches who adorn the Rays colors. The Rays have not been shy in the past of being creative with titles, responsibilities or even assignment, but making Zimmer a permanent part of the Rays culture, game-day experience is the least we can do for a true MLB icon.
Heck, I still remember when Zimmer lived on Treasure Island, Florida with his awesome wife and used to come into my father’s gas station for fuel. I would talk baseball with him, even when he was the Red Sox Manger. I looked up to this man for not only living the dream, but always wanting to be within eyesight of the game and wanting to always have a finger on the pulse of this grand game.
Some might say my wanting of this title change is futile, a bit contrite and maybe a bit evasive on the legend that is Maddon right now in this region. I can see that point of view, but name me another figure besides Namoli who has done as much for this franchise both in front and behind the scenes as Zimmer. I know personally he loves to give knowledge, excite the younger generation of the baseball royalty and be the anointed “father figure” some of these guys need when the game slaps them around a bit. To me Zimmer is as much a part of the Rays game as Evan Longoria’s bat or even Rodney’s archery pose.
This action probably will not happen. Zim will remain the title of Senior Advisor until the time he walks away from this game for the final time. Maybe I’m just trying to be a bit insightful and want him to enjoy the respect, admiration fans like myself in the Rays Republic have held for Zimmer, even before he donned the “TB” cap for the first time. Zimmer is a Tampa Bay icon, a long time resident who has given us at least 2 generation of Zimmers’, and will always be cut into the fabric that is the Rays legacy. Maybe the word “Emeritus” is too small for the legend that is Zim, maybe “Emperor of the Rays Republic” fits more like a Rawlings glove.
I am starting to believe in this full circle train of thought. That all things go into circles and come back again new and improved and somehow modified in their simplicity. I guess we can say the same for Tampa Bay Rays newly annoited SS Ben Zorbrist, or should I call him Zorilla 2.0?
It was exactly 6 years and 33 days since the first time a young and lanky SS prospect was traded to the Rays from the Houston Astros for a gruff and grumbling Aubrey Huff. Along with Zobrist the Rays received P Mitch Talbot, who we all know wears Cleveland Indians garb now. Zorbrist came to the Rays as a infield specialist, but his true specialty was playing the deep hole between second and third base both with range and a cannon attached to his shoulders.
Some say that his ability back then worked B J Upton around the infield from Third to Second before he finally found his home in Centerfield. But 2006 was a memorable season for the defensively maturing Zorilla as he spent only 18 games at Triple-A Round Rock and when Zorbrist and Upton were recalled by the Rays on August 1st after the Rays felt secure enough with the tag team of Upton and Zobrist at SS that they sent starting SS Julio Lugo to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline.
All Zorilla did was start 50 of the final 56 games….all at the Short Stop position. How good was the new acquired defensive neophyte? Well not 31 days later did Zorbrist and Rays catcher Dione Navarro stamp their own brand on Major League Baseball history when they recorded the only 2-6-2 triple play…EVER.
Many might have forgotten Zorbrist was the Rays Opening Day SS in 2007 starting 13 of the Rays first 17 games, then something happened and he fell out of favor and started only 2 of the team’s next 17 games before the Rays sent him down to Triple-A Durham and subsequently claimed SS Josh Wilson off waivers from Washington. Most see that as the memorial moment that the Rays might have set their sights on Zobrist being a key figure in the Rays scheme, just not front and center in their future infield.
Still, I think this is a great idea that has been kicked around for quite a while by Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who wanted to see Sean Rodriguez take ownership of the spot, but little things have de-railed the S-Rod experience for the Rays along with Rodriguez’s enemic .209 average with only 6 HR and 30 RBIs. Zobrist has a great first move towards the hole, and even with a few years of rust to shake off before he again find his optimal rhythm, I hate to say it, he is a vast improvement at the plate as well as in the field.
There are going to be a few rough patches as he again gains the trust in his abilities on the opposite side the the second base bag, but if anyone can do it and provide the leadership and positive mindset needed to be a consistent and agile SS, it has to be the Rays # 18.
It is a lot to ask of a player who doesn’t even make the Rays all-time Top-5 SS list in any category, but this is also the same stellar fielder who garnered a .989 fielding average and is not listed on either the SS or 2B all-time errors Top-5 list (Upton is #5 @ 2B with 12). So far in 2012, Zobrist has 8 errors in 961 total innings all around the Rays infield, and outfield. As a whole, the trio of Rodriguez, Will Rhymes and Elliot Johnson have combined for 31 errors with Zobrist tied with Rhymes for 3rd most on the team.
This is not to say errors will cease and life in the middle of the Rays infield will be a bed of roses. There will be challenges, possibly multi-error contests, but the leadership and offensive confidence of Zobrist should emulate enough so that the rest of the infield can feed off of Zorilla and grow tighter and stingier over the last portion of the season. The Rays have not put Zobrist’s finger in the dike hoping to stave off the total flooding of potential errors, but the maturation of Zobrist and his “can-do” persona should do miracles in a position in the field that was looking more like a gaping hole.
Seriously, to me it is a long time coming, and a position change that will not only get Zorilla consistent starts in one spot in the Rays field alignment, but it can finally give him a chance to possibly not have to lug around the huge equipment bag with 9 different gloves inside it. Who knows, if Zorilla takes to this position like he did in 2006 and makes it his own again…..It would be hard not to vote him again as the Rays team MVP like in 2009. Zorilla 2.0…….I like the sound of that more and more.
All season long some of us have been waiting for this kind of production. Since the days before Tampa Bay Rays 3B Evan Longoria grabbed the back of his leg, the Rays Republic have been awaiting this kind of warfare. From singles to massive Home Runs, the Rays again have found their focus, their offense that combined with their pitching cohesiveness to brings about solid and warranted victories.
8 out of their last 13 road battle have seen either Fernando Rodney chuck a arrow into the sky, or provided the optimal moment for this team to celebrate mid-infield with high-5′s and handshakes galore. This is what happens when a team finally get back a fallen comrade and gets their sights set throughly for the final 50 game grind. That’s right, 50 games left in the Rays 2012 regular season, with a hope that October dreams come true.
From this squad getting their bellies full with “meatloafing” (winning 2 out of 3) series wins to finally finding that home remedy to evoke victories, this team has positioned itself going into today’s contest just 1 game out of the top spot for a American League Wild Card slot, and is within fighting range of the whole enchilada of another possible AL East banner being raised come April 2013. Tell me any of us felt that way as bombs burst in night air on July 4th while this team struggled to find cohesion and consistency.
Finally the Maddon mantra has again proven true as “Fortune Favors the Bold (or Bald)” as this team has stood tall in the face of injuries, potential trade chatter and unimaginable defensive blunders and gaffs to be in the right spot at the right time for a solid and concerted effort to topple their AL east rivals. Sitting currently with a 44 % chance of playoff champagne, this team has to continue to get their meaty goodness both at home and on the road mixed in with a few extra wins to bolster their post- season chances.
Right now the Rays are toe-to-toe with Oakland, Detroit, Baltimore and the Los Angeles Angels for a solid chance to walk into their third consecutive playoff spot, and fourth in 5 seasons. But it all begins now. 50 games, 50 chances to pull closer or fall to the back of the pack. Of those 50 contests, 29 of these contests will come against divisional leaders or Wild Card hopefuls. Plus in this 50 game hunt for October bliss, the Rays will play only 6 more games against the Yankees and 6 against the pesky Orioles. Of their final 50, the Rays will suit up against their AL East rivals in only half (25) of those contests.
Definitely the Rays might want to also channel a former Maddon Mantra from 2011 of “Finding Another Way” as they will have to garner additional victories against the likes of Seattle, Kansas City along with a slate of 16 contests against the unpredictable American League West foes.
The key to the Rays future seems to lie not only in their divisional slanted schedule in September, but in their rivalries against the West Coast opponents. Throw in 7 contests against the AL Central and you get the idea the Rays final AL East tallies might hold the key components to the Rays post-season recipe, but the rest of the American League could poison the “meaty” goodness with a few well-placed wins against the Rays.
6 games currently separate the Rays and Yankees with Baltimore still hanging on like that poster kitten, but destined to fall before the leaves turn colors. With the days of September coming closer the Rays engine is currently purring on all 8 cylinders and looking stronger every game. But it will only take a small back-step, a slip or even another key injury setback to again put haste and anxious thoughts into everyone’s noggin.
Winning series, posting up impressive game stats is only part of the equation. In the end, possibly the Rays will have to win at least 37 of these final 50 games to again shower the Trop’s fans with champagne and not have to re-visit another Game 162 moment or heartbreak.