Results tagged ‘ Joe Mauer ’

2009 State Farm Home Run Derby thoughts

 

Most people call it the “most exciting play in baseball.” I am talking about the one play that can make even a visiting crowd stand up and rise to their feet and cheer and celebrate the true nature of the play. No, it is not a around-the-horn ( 5-6-3 ) double play but the always exciting home run. It doesn’t matter if it is a solo shot or a Grand Slam, people love seeing that ball take its extreme flight path from home plate to its final resting place hopefully in someones hands in the stands.  It is a play that in one swing of the bat can take a game and transform it in so many different directions for the two teams involved in the contest.

It packs the essence of power, of skill and of will power all compacted  in that one solid swing against that little white ball. But it can also hold the hopes and dreams of winning with it’s majestic path towards the outfield walls. There is no other play in baseball that is held in such a high level of respect and admiration when it comes to hitting. 

So we have come to that point just beyond the halfway mark where we celebrate everything that is great about the long ball for one long night. The stage and the players have been set, and their game faces will be different tonight because they will get to also celebrate with fellow teammates and All Stars from both leagues sitting right there within eye sight of the participants.
 

At today’s media day, there will be a million questions thrown at the participants in this seasons State Farm Home Run Derby.  Some asking about totals, distance, or if they can hit the Mastercard banner and win someone some extra spending money for the week. But hopefully someone will remember to ask this one question, this one simple thing that could bring a bold smile to each of their faces. ” What is your motivation for tonight’s event?”

Some of those questions will merit unique answers that might take a player back several years into their past. Others might speak of recent injuries or events that have shaken their core and made them a better player.  And other might just see it as an opportunity to introduce themselves to the world’s audience as both a player and as a person.

The event had grown into a  huge precursor to the All Star Game itself. To say the  Home Run Derby event has taken on a life of its own would not be too far fetched at all. E Bay will be full of 2009 Home Run Derby balls on Tuesday morning, including the gold-colored balls used to escalate the fortunes of charities tonight. For some to be at the event is enough, to celebrate the act of the Home Run and see the cheers of the crowd will be like drinking 5 Amp energy drinks in a row. Sparks will fly, minds will wander and kids will fall all over the outfield trying to catch these hit balls.

Heck, I even took a gander over there today and saw a ball from the 2008 Home Run Derby signed by Hamilton up for bid right now at $ 169.99. But then again that is a “Buy now” option that might not be met. But there is a smattering of about nine past HR Derby balls from 2001 to 2005  all running under $ 40 right now.  It is great that this event has  elevated itself to its current stature in the 3-days events surrounding the All Star Game.

It is hard to even remember that this event might have been made possible by a simple television program stated in the 1960′s. The black and white “Home Run Derby” show was so popular in the 1960′s that it had to have spawned the current event. Even though these shows only pitted two of the best home run hitter of that season, it  did have a huge impact on the future of the art of hitting the long ball. I remember seeing a few dozen of these shows as a kid and trying to copy the swings in Little League. But you did try and copy them because they were your heroes and you wanted to see them blast the ball into the stands with every pitch.

And the Home Run Derby did not hurt its image last season when the world got to see the re-emergence of Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton. From the  great personal story of Craig Counsel, his former AAU coach and personal Home Run Derby pitcher, to the struggles and demons Hamilton had to wash away to get back to this stage, it set up a heroes return to the game that impassions him from top to bottom.  And  his shattering of the events record books only goes to show that anyone can take the stage. But how many people remember that he did not win the event?

And America ate it up like a hot, creamy plate of mac & cheese. But it was also the kind of message that needs to be delivered to the youth of this country. That even if you hit rock bottom and the depths of despair, with a little faith and the courage to change, the world is at your feet.

But what will be the story this year?  Will it be another coming out party for another one of baseball’s stars. You know one of the great “feel good” stories will be the coming back from injury of Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer, which  also rhymes with power, this season. The young catcher has been known for his scattering of hits and his placement of the ball in achieving his current AL leading .373 average. It will be exciting to see him bend his back and thrust that bat to produce some power tonight in the Home Run Derby.

It might also be one of the “coming out” parties I eluded to in the beginning of the blog. Most people associate him with hitting in general. With a good showing in the H R Derby, he will also put his name on you mind when you think of Home Run potential. It is another aspect of his hitting game that might not get the attention it deserves, before tonight’s event.

Then you have someone like the Tampa Bay Rays Carlos Pena, who had been tossed around the league for a few years from teams from the Rangers,Oakland A’s, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees before he got a non-roster invitee invitation to Spring Training in 2007 from the Rays. Pena  has always had the great glove, awesome power and the ability to pull a team together, but they had not all combined together at the same time before his stint with the Rays.

That spring in St. Petersburg, Florida his game came together and his power numbers have been impressive over the past 2 1/2 seasons. Pena has hit 101 homers with 282 RBI  since his Opening Day start for the Rays in 2007. To even hear the story of him dreaming he was going to be on the plane to New York for the opening series after Rays Manager Joe Maddon informed him he was going to Triple-A to begin the season is amazing. 

An unfortunate injury to Greg Norton opened the door for Pena to fly with the team to New York, and he has been with them ever since. Pena has a very natural home run swing, and the rightfield fence in Busch Stadium, which is 335 feet down the line, could play a major role in how he does tonight.  But when you see him lean back and swing through the ball you have the thought in your mind each hit could go over the wall. He has the ability to take any pitch and drive it, so tonight might make people remember his name.

Brandon Inge, here is a guy I have been pulling for all year long for the Detroit Tigers. He has more homers and RBI than Miguel Cabrera, but most people outside of the American League do not even know his name. Because of his pairing with Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino in the All Star Game Sprint Final Vote, he has been dubbed the front part of the “Bran Torino” pairing.

This former catcher, turned third baseman has been doing the same thing for years without the acknowledgments, but tonight he can also get his name out there for future shots at the All Star team. Hidden beneath the names of Magglio Ordonez and Cabrera, Inge has been the consistent power monger on the Tigers this season. With 21 homers and 58 RBI, he is showing his numbers fit right into the program for the Home Run Derby. He even hit two on Saturday night to maybe get some extra momentum going into tonight’s event.

The reason you have seen only AL names listed here is because of the recent video by Harold Reynolds that put all the focus on the NL first baseman getting ready to participate in the event tonight. I am not taking Adrian Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder or Ryan Howard for granted at all, but to single out the four first baseman and not even chat about the AL competitors is just wrong.

It is for that reason I want to see Mauer,Inge,Pena and Ranger Nelson Cruz slam the door shut on the National League guys. That is right, I want to see a barn burner where the AL comes out on top…again. I am sorry if it is Albert’s house, but it is our event to win tonight. By Reynolds putting that video out with so much emphasis on the NL and not a word about the AL is good old fashioned bulletin board fodder that will be eaten up by the AL participants.

Let the balls fly where they may, but I am going to throw out my final round prediction here: Mauer versus Inge for all the marbles. And if you want a great story, either one of these guys could win it all tonight. But the best part is all of us get to witness some awesome power tonight, and maybe another player will step from the shadows tonight and become another favorite of the world and of your kids.

 

Dioner Navarro versus the Rays……….Arbitration 2009

 

 

 


With only two members of the 2008 roster still up for Salary Arbitration hearings, it was recently reported that Rays catcher Dioner Navarro will have his hearing in Phoenix , Arizona on February 9th . At that time an arbitrator will decide between the two totals, one submitted by Navarro’s representative, Kendall Americo,and the other from the Rays representative and then the arbitrator will submit their recommendation for the players 2008 salary for the Tampa Bay Rays in a few days. 


With the exception of Willy Aybar and Dioner Navarro’s arbitration award totals, the Rays are sitting at a round $ 60 million dollars in payroll for 2009. That is a great climb in salary for the Rays. In yesterday’s blog I went over the season for Willy Aybar and my prediction of his chances to increase his salary to around $ 1 million a year.  Rays G M Andrew Friedman better have some cards up his sleeves, or he might get his first loss at the Arbitration gaming table when Navarro’s turn comes up.
 


Today it is Dioner Navarro’s turn, and even thought the catcher lead  his pitching staff by example in 2008, it is well known that Navarro has stood up and taken the lead in the clubhouse and behind the plate for the team. His confidence and leadership have skyrocketed since 2007, and he is finally considered a force both at the plate and behind it for the Rays. Navarro has submitted a proposed salary of $ 2.5 million dollars for the year, while the Rays have countered with a $ 2.1 million dollar figure. That is a $ 400,000 difference, or almost his entire 2008 salary ( $ 412,500 ).

 

 

 

 

To begin with, let’s get to know a little bit more about Navarro, the player before I post my opinion on his arbitration hearing. Dioner Navarro was signed by the New York Yankees as a free agent in  2000. As he rose through the Yankees system there was a day they could see him behind the plate in pinstripes. He was suppose to be the heir apparent to Jorge Posada’s spot behind the plate and was to be with the system for a long time. But as we all know, baseball is a fickle mistress and she can change her mind in a matter of seconds about you and your worth to the club. 
 


So in 2005, after only 5 years in the Yankee system, Navarro was given a second chance as he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers to help behind the plate before prospect Russell Martin would man the dish for the men in blue. Navarro did his best in Spring Training in Florida and actually made the decision difficult for the team in choosing him over Martin as the Dodgers Opening Day catcher. But Navarro got an awful start and soon Martin was there breathing down his neck wanting playing time.

 
 

 

 

So after a period of time, the Dodgers decided that he would not be as adequate as a back up catcher and traded him along with pitcher Jae Seo and outfield Justin Ruggiano on June 26, 2006 to the Tampa Bay Rays for catcher Toby Hall and pitcher Mark Hendrickson. Navvaro came into the Rays lineup trying to prove too much too soon to the Rays and almost cost him his chance to start with the team in 2006. The team brought in experienced catcher Josh Paul, who had played with Rays Manager Joe Maddon with the Los Angeles Angels to push Navarro to that next step. 
 

 

Navarro did not hit well in the first half of the season, only posting a .177 average and had the Rays discussing his future with the team. But during the All-Star break, something finally clicked for Navarro and he posted the third best average after the All-Star break in the American League for a catcher ( .285). He also seemed to be able to execute a solid and hard throw to second base on steal attempts. In 2007, he also lead the major leagues in errors by a catcher with 14. Even with his great second half, Navarro was only able to post a modest .227 average for the season.

 

 


 

 

 But good things were on the horizon for Navarro. In a series against Seattle, Navarro gunned down speedster Ichiro twice stealing in consecutive games.  Navarro also upped his ante in slugging at the plate, posting  a .475 Slugging Percentage, which was the third best total in the majors for a catcher after the break. But in September 2007, Navarro began to experience pain in his right throwing wrist and he batted the rest of the season from the right side of the plate, limiting his switch-hitting skills. 2007 ended on a high note for Navarro, and he finally felt that he could lead the Rays behind the plate.



 

 


During the off season, Navarro participated in the Venezuelan Winter League leading his team with a .312 batting average. Navarro came into Spring Training camp in 2008 with a renewed confidence and a slimmer body as he dropped weight while playing in his home country and came into camp in better shape than before for the Rays. He also knew this was the turning point year for him as Maddon and the pitching staff would be taking their keys more from Navarro and he was up to the challenge. 
 


In 2008, Navarro’s batting average was consistently sitting around .300 the entire year. Only during a small slump in August when he hit for a .187 average and allowed his overall average to fall below the .300 mark, before finally settling in at .295 for the year. Still, that average was only 2nd among American League catcher to Minnesota’s Joe Mauer’s  American League batting title .330 average.  Navarro also had personal bests in almost every category but one. He did not steal a single base in 2008, and was caught 5 times during the year and the playoffs. But his 54 RBI’s were 10 more than he posted in 2007, and his timely hitting did produce amazing results for the Rays.  But his greatest hitting moment had to be in Toronto on May 8th, when he came up in the 13th inning with the bases loaded and hit a Grand Slam off ex-Rays Shawn Camp into the right-center field stands to give the Rays a victory over the Blue Jays.




 

 


In September. he batted .317 , including a career best 9-game hitting streak.  And on September 4th, during the night time half of a doubleheader he tied his career best with 4 hits in the game. He continued to produce for the Rays hitting a walk-off game winning single on September 16th against the Red Sox’s Justin Masterson to give the Rays their 11th walk-off win of the year.  And on July 6th, got notice of his selection to the American League All-Star game as a reserve catcher. 
 


In making the All-Star roster, Navarro became the first Rays catcher and the 4th youngest Ray to ever appear in the mid-summer classic. Navarro came in late in the contest and lead the American League to their victory by getting a 15th inning single that was part of the American League’s winning rally.  He caught a total of 8 innings in the game, and threw out 1 of 2 base runners.  But it was his familiarity with pitcher Scott Kazmir that finally got the win for the American League. Kazmir was the last pitcher out of the Bullpen, and because Navarro was his catcher, it created an instant confidence and relaxed atmosphere to take the game away from the National League in the bottom of the 14th inning.



 


 

 

Navarro also paced the Rays during the playoffs in 2008. He hit a robust .293, with 5 RBI’s and made several great plate blocks to get runners during the post season. He truly showed that he was becoming one of the best catcher in the American League and was learning to take control of this young starting pitching staff. But one adventure on April 4th in New York city almost cost him the chance to lead the Rays. While in Yankee Stadium for the game, Navarro cut his throwing hand on the netting in front of the dugout after slipping on the wet stairs leading to the dugout. 
 

 

He missed a total of 16 games for the team as he healed, but stayed alert and active working with the other catchers on the bench. This adventure almost took his season away from him, but after that he helped lead the Rays to a  record of 88-54 after coming off the disabled list on April 22nd. But that would not be the last time that Navarro would face adversity in 2008. During a televised game in Arlington,Texas on June 10th, the audience and his team mate saw the young, quiet catcher become a team leader. 



 


 

 

During the game, Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza got off to a rocky start and beginning to get angry and frustrated on the mound. During one mound conference the television audience could see that Garza was yelling into his glove out of frustration at Navarro and Navarro stood his ground and gave it right back to Garza. After the inning was over, both players had a short tussle in the landing leading from the dugout, but came out for the next inning and performed amazingly as if nothing had happened. That was the day the Rays got a veteran catcher who was going to lead his team to the playoffs.
 

 

Several members of the team expressed amazement that Navarro went after Garza with such confidence, but welcomed the sight as the killer instinct taking hold of him and sparking him to action. I know I felt that the event actually did more good for Navarro than he imagined at the moment. But from that point on, it seemed that Garza and the rest of the young staff followed Navarro’s lead and it got them into the World Series.  Behind the plate, Navarro also had one of his best seasons as a catcher.

 


 

 

In 2008, he carried a 984 fielding average in 2008, a huge improvement over 2007. And in that span, he did not commit his first error until July 1st, in his 428th chance.  He also was ranked 4th in the American League among catcher for the year, and was 2nd in the AL, and 3rd in the majors throwing out runners with a 34.8 percent success rate.  Among A L catcher with at least 100 games player, only Cleveland’s Kelly Shoppach     ( 36 ), also an ex-Yankee, allowed less stolen bases than Navarro’s 42 in 2008.



 


 

 

So as the statistics and the facts show, Navarro stepped forward in 2008 to help both the Rays lead the American League East champs to the World Series, but also step up as a clubhouse leader. He showed that the promise he had in 2000 was still alive and well in him and he brought it out for the entire league to see both during the All-Star game and in the 2008 playoffs. So is it enough for him to garnish a salary of over $ 2 million a year. In comparison with A L catcher, who have gotten arbitration raises in the last two years, he is in the top of the list.

 

 


 I can see the Rays losing this arbitration hearing, but it really is not a loss for them. They will still have the services of the young rising star in 2008, and he is ready to go for the Rays. I can see an award of at least $ 2.5 million dollars coming out of his arbitration hearing, and might see more if they arbitrator feels he low-balled his offer. Either way, the Rays will get  the playoff experience and confidence to go higher in 2009. Navarro might not be the household name anymore in New York, but in Tampa Bay, he is the shining star behind the plate gleaming and beaming with a smile.
 
 
 
 
 

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