Results tagged ‘ Joel Peralta ’

Silverman Restoring Faith in the Rays, One Trade at a Time

 

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Matt Silverman, my cap is tilted to you.

Got to admit, I thought the Tampa Bay Rays might make a few moves to fill holes and bring competition into Spring Training, but I never imagined we would see the bodies fly this winter.

And that’s a good thing.

Sure I will miss the likes of outfield duo of Wil Myers, Matt Joyce and several of the Rays pieces that have left this team via trades this off season, but what you have brought back to the Rays with these trades will immediately make an impact on the Rays offensive and defensive alignments for many seasons to come.

images (2)That is what a true leader does. They go out and make a team better without a dollar spent or a moment of sleep lost. Right now the new President of Baseball Operations is healing the Rays Republic’s gaping mental and emotional wounds left by Andrew Friedman leaving for Chavez Ravine and bringing up morale and cohesion among the Tampa Bay fan base.

It took a lot of internal guts and fortitude to hire a first time Manager like Kevin Cash, but the guy has the energy, passion and baseball smarts to not only do the job, but have the rest of us want success for him right out of the gate.

An oversight most people are not connecting with is Cash will be an instrumental piece of the puzzle for the Rays young catchers as they come up and develop in the system or at the MLB level.

635542469625690263-Still1215-00001 (1)With Cash only a handful of seasons away from wearing the backstop gear, his insight and knowledge of the needed skill set of an MLB starting catcher cannot be taught or duplicated. It might not have been the most popular choice, but it will be one that works cohesively with the Rays style of play and should bring immediate results to this team.

For that, I want to say “Thank you”.

So many times when a team has the type of high level personnel changes the Rays have had since October, there is a shock and awe period where things stay the same and change is not aggressively embraced or executed. So far this off season, that has not been your game plan.

Instead you have shed several bulky salaries like Jeremy Hellickson and Joel Peralta and gotten enough in return to satisfy not only your bottom line, but let the system restock itself and possibly build a few more trade assets heading into the not so distant future.

SBJ200703121901-32Even more impressive has been you commitment that no one on the roster or system is safe from trade, and by not only making that statement, but showing it by trading Joyce and Myers, you have made a great statement to the rest of Major League Baseball that the Rays might not have the biggest payroll in baseball, but they will have the talent to stack up against their AL East foes.

As Boston, New York, Baltimore and Toronto re-stock and re-focus for 2015, the Rays have aggressively looked for stop-gaps and talented individuals to fill holes, provide added strength and stay competitive without rewarding a single player with a contract that could cripple the Rays chances of being the Beasts from the East again.

images (3)I have said for a while that the Rays are at a proverbial tipping point in regards to talent, payroll and their fan base. Moves and trades like the ones completed by Silverman and crew will go a long way into enticing the Tampa Bay community to embrace the Rays and show the rest of the baseball nation that Tampa Bay is a place where baseball can survive after the spring thaw.

Again, thank you Matt for taking positive steps so early in the off season to bring back so many and so much to the Rays fold.

Myself, as a long-time Rays fan am extremely grateful for the job you have done so far this offseason.

Joyce for Jepsen Trade Immediately Makes Rays Better

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It was written in the Florida sands that the Tampa Bay Rays might trade their left-handed outfielder Matt Joyce before spring training. 

Some would say it was out of the Rays usual character to trade 2 player’s straight-up for one another. But then again, until this afternoon we did not know of the Rays heightened want to find an immediate stop-gap to fill an early 2015 seasonal void left by an unforeseen pitching injury and subsequent surgery.

imagesSo the swapping of Joyce and reliever Kevin Jepsen takes on a far different hue than the usual off season trade of two players as Jepsen will be called upon immediately fill a late inning void left by the injury of Rays closer Jake McGee.

McGee who had been previously diagnosed with loose foreign bodies in his left pitching elbow and has undergone surgery and should not return to the team until possibly late May or early June. This leaves the Rays with two players, McGee and SP Matt Moore who both might not hit the mound until a third of the 2015 season is complete.

c2s_joyce092811_193072a_8colAn interesting side note to this trade by the Rays and Angels is that both players will be leaving their hometown teams and journey across the country to play in 2015. Matt Joyce of course was born in Tampa , Florida and Kevin Jepsen was born in Anaheim, California.

Another similarity between the two players in this trade is Matt Joyce (May 5th  with the Tigers) and Jepsen (September 8th ) both made their MLB Debuts in 2008.

So what kind of reliever did the Rays get when they traded for Jepsen?

If his stats are any true indication, the Rays will get a solid competitor who could be slotted in the Rays late inning 7th, 8th inning roles without hesitation. The injury to McGee and the previous trade of Joel Peralta would already redefine the late inning roles of the Rays Bullpen, but this injury takes one more talented and experienced arm out of the equation and demanded a direct sub sequential move to eliminate this hole in the Rays reliever corps.

A little background on Jepsen’s career with the Angels:

images (1)He come to the Rays after appearing in 315 games with the Halos, which ranked him 5th All-Time on their Career Appearance list.

Jepsen is only 1 of 4 relievers ever to play at least 7 seasons with the club. Interesting factoid, former Angel and Rays closer Troy Percival leads that list overall with 10 seasons playing for Angels.

He ended his Angels career in 10th  place on the Angels All-Time list with an career mark of 8.69/K’s per 9 innings.

Jepsen is currently under salary arbitration this off season with him projected to receive a salary of possibly $2.6 million and Jepsen will also be under team control for another season.

images (3)The trade could also have some financial relief for the Rays as the swap could save the Rays $2.4 million as Joyce was estimated to receive possibly $5 million for 2015 through salary arbitration.

2014 was Jepsen’s best season in the MLB appearing in 74 games with a 2.63 ERA with 75 strikeouts and .05 HR per 9 innings mark.

His 74 game appearances in 2014 ranked 4th in the American League and was bettered only by fellow Angel Joe Smith (76) and the Indians duo of Cody Allen (76) and Bryan Shaw (80).

Jepsen also ranked 8th in the AL in Holds with 22 and he earned 2 saves in 2014.

He throws a 4-seam fastball(95-99 mph), a 2-seam fastball (94-97) a cutter (89-93) and a curveball (83-86 mph). His cutter is usually reserved for right-handers while his 2-seam fastball is used primarily against left-handers. Jepsen also uses his curve in 2-strike counts on hitters.

images (2)Oh, and he is not related to former Rays Concert performer Carly Rae Jepsen  who was born in Mission, British Columbia. That is a good thing, remember Carly’s First Pitch.

With the injury to McGee the Rays had to act quickly to find an experienced relief option to plug right in fill the relief corps void. Jepsen has the statistics and experience to come right in this spring and compete for a Bullpen spot as well as be a viable and consistent option to place in the late inning role previously held by Peralta.

Rays were swift, did their due diligence and quite possibly got the guy who could be an extremely valuable asset to the Rays late inning machine for the next 2 seasons.

S-Rod Designated for Assignment by Rays

 

 

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There was just a blot on Twitter that Tampa Bay Rays former jack-of-a-trades Sean Rodriguez was “definitely surprised” that the Rays would designate him for assignment today.

Well, personally, I kind of saw the writing on the proverbial wall.

imagesMain reason not being that S-Rod was to possibly garner $2 million in salary through arbitration, it was clearly a fact he is one of the last “pets” of former Rays Manager Joe Maddon that was left on the Rays 40-Man roster.

This is not to downplay the timely hits and run scoring escapades Rodriguez brought to the forefront during his Rays tenure, it is just we have more than a few multiple minor league and  M L B caliber guys currently on the roster who can do it for less, possibly play more and do not have a lingering Maddon tie.

images (12)Some have whispered over the last few off seasons and during the extremely stressful Trade Deadline periods that S-Rod could be send a-packing. Of course those moments never reared their ugly heads until today.

Rodriquez is a capable M L B player who could like so many others on the Rays be plugged in wherever he was needed or take a bat and hit the batting circle with visions of RBIs dancing through his head.

images (10)Of course all of this came about as the Rays signed veteran reliever Ernesto Frieri to a 800 K contract with performance bonuses, someone had to be removed from the Rays roster.

With Brandon Guyer, Logan Forsythe able bodies who can handle S-Rod’s old tasks at a considerable lower salary, the choice surely was made easier when the Rays aw they could save around $2 million in salary with this one swift move.

images (11)Sure his .211 batting average last season left a lot to be desired, but his career-best .443 slugging percentage in 2014 showed he could be a great versatile position guy and his career-high 12 Hrs in 2014 might just make him a wanted man off the bench possibly well suited for a National League squad as a fill-in situational # 9 guy.

Joel Peralta was the first of Maddon’s preferential guys to get the Rays heave ho when he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers not so long ago.

images (13)Now with Rodriguez set to hit the open market, or possibly being traded to another team, it is going to be interesting to see who among the other 29 M L B teams will call and ask about S-Rod.

Wanna bet a certain someone will call and at least check in on what the Rays want for Rodriquez, and I bet they call from a 847 area code.

 

Familiarity Made Both Sides Winners in This Trade

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Gosh, that did not take long.

We all knew that one day the possibility would rear its ugly head that the Tampa Bay Rays recently anointed President of Baseball Ops Matt Silverman would have to one day deal mano-on-mano with the analytical and crafty Andrew Friedman, who fled the Rays and landed with the Dodgers wearing a more historic shade of blue.

download (1)Personally, I felt it might last at least until possibly December 7-11th when “America’s Finest City” , San Diego played host to the 2014 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings.

During the last minute prep before the Rays were to submit their names for their 40-Man roster by including a few prospects names to guarantee their omission from being plucked during the upcoming Rule 5 Draft, the Rays had conversations with several teams like the San Diego Padres, Houston Astros plus the Texas Rangers before Silverman was left with just one option……Friedman.

images (2)So before the strike of midnight the deal was sealed that sent veteran reliever Joel Peralta and Triple-A reliever Adam Liberatore westward to the dodgers in exchange for right-handers Jose Dominquez and prospect Greg Harris.

The trade on the surface between the 2 former 4th Floor Rays officemates seemed to ultimately compliment the Dodgers as they got a low salary Bullpen option in Peralta and a player who could be on the cusp of earning a spot in the L A Bullpen this spring.

Sure this trade helped the Rays solve some of their payroll concerns as well as make it easier for the Rays to complete their 40-man roster moves while getting some of value for Liberatore who quite possibly would have been left off the Rays final 40-Man roster.

download (2)Without question, Liberatore would have been plucked quite possibly in the 1st Round of the upcoming Rule 5 Draft if left unprotected by the Rays and all the Rays would have garnered was the $50,000 fee.

Ultimately Friedman knew the stats and abilities of each of these garnered trade pieces and knew of their inherent risks and liabilities firsthand because he scouted and watch them play when he was the Rays VP of Baseball Ops.

But let’s not be naïve here to think Friedman might have gotten one over on his former team, this trade has its own high points for the Rays with one significant power option that might bring the Rays dividends as early as when Pitchers and Catchers report in February 2015.

Dominquez could quite easily be the early great return on this trade. Sure he did have some stumbles and rumbles while in the lower levels of the Dodger system, but his stock has risen greatly in the last few seasons, even getting tastes of life at the MLB level in both 2013 and 2014.

Dominguez-pitches-4Some might say he still has some control concerns after allowing 10 runs in 14 2/3rds innings over the past 2 MLB seasons, but his 12/6 K/BB ratio shows he has strikeout abilities that will be needed by the Rays with Peralta now gone from the Rays Bullpen. Dominiquez, who has been clocked throwing as hard as 103 mph might be a piece honed and sculptured this spring to be a cog in the Rays 7th or 8th inning playbook.

Also playing into his favor is the fact even with his not so stellar MLB stat line, he has averaged 10 strikeouts per 9 innings at the minor league level and if the Rays can fine tune his natural power talents, he could be one to watch even on the first day this spring.  He mainly throws heat with a slider that is more known for its velocity than movement, but you know the Rays will show him a few new grips or pitches and expand his arsenal before he makes his Rays regular season debut.

And maybe Dominquez’s power is hereditary as he is a cousin to Rays prospect Alex Colome and former Rays RP Jesus Colome.  For now I’m going to call him Smiley #3 (some people will get that reference). Both Harris and Dominquez also are from San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic.

Kyle-Farmer-SigningHarris was drafted by the Dodgers in 2013 and posted a good season in 2014 during his stint in Class-A ball in the Midwest League and has solid strikeout numbers and throws in the mid-to-low 90’s.  He is still 2-4 years away from possibly being near the MLB level and Harris should develop a few secondary pitches before he gets nearer to a possible stint with the Rays.

He also has a really interesting historic Rays tie-in as his father Greg, who was a former MLB pitcher (75-90 record) as well as a D-Rays minor league pitching coach with Rookie-Level Hudson Valley Renegades back in 1996-97.

images (3)Sure some will instantly put a check mark next to Friedman’s name with this trade as he garners a low cost Bullpen arm, and possibly 2 for 2015, but Silverman got an explosive arm that could be an impact as soon as 2015 as well as shed $ 2.5 million off his payroll.

But the real benefactor at the end of this might be Rays 2B prospect Ryan Brett who was a late addition to the Rays 40-Man roster right after the trade was completed. If Liberatore had not been traded, quite possibly Brett would have been left off the Rays 40-Man roster and subject to the Rule 5 Draft.

Conclusion: Everybody won in this trade. Now and in the future.

Peering Through the Rays Looking Glass- Hurlers

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Rays “Man about the Stands” Todd Kalas has informed us all that with a Kansas City or Oakland win tonight (9/19/14), the Rays will be mathematically eliminated from any more post season banter in 2014.

With that in mind, it is time for the second installment of “Peering through the Rays Looking Glass” and focus today on the Rays pitching corps for 2015.

057Going into the spring of 2015 this has to be one of the most secure spots within the Rays organization, but there are some changes that could, should or will happen before the boys again unpack their gear in Port Charlotte in February 2015.

So let’s start with the obvious first here. The Rays rotation might need a few tweaks, but there also might be an omission or deletion before the team again assembles for that yearly pre-Spring pep talk by Joe Ma on the green grass.

I definitely have been hearing great things on the progress of Matt Moore in his rehab and come spring, I consider him 1-L on the Rays starting rotation chart. Sure that might seem funny to some, but has been the case here in Tampa Bay for some time, there are 2 starters who deserve that # 1 position heading into 2015.

thI1Y37WIMOf course I have already assigned one half of that equation to Moore, and it only seem appropriate and totally earned that Alex Cobb will be the Rays 1-R or top right-handed option heading into next season. I’m not going to attach either to a #1 or #2 slot basically because I’m not sure yet which kind of order the Rays Front Office and Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey envision to be the best fit.

That being said, these two names will be at the top of the chart no matter the decision, and that decision will also fully decide the 3-5 slots also.

Just as the Rays #1 and #2  Rays pitching matchups are probably months away from being in some sort of concrete mode, the Rays # 3 and #4 spots might also be a total guess work right now and are totally interchangeable at this moment.

But even with that in mind, Rays left-hander Drew Smyly and Chris Archer should definitely be more than penciled in as the Rays middle rotation guys with either taking the #3 or #4 slot possibly based on a L-R-L-R rotation mix or Maddon could go L-R-R-L giving the Rays possibly a southpaw in every series being blanketed by a tough right-hander.

thILL9QYITEven though Jake Odorizzi produced a very respectable 2014 season and popped out great starts throughout 2004, I suspect he will face a nice dose of competition this spring to hold onto the Rays 5th rotation spot.  I can easily imagine Merrill Kelly, Alex Colome and possibly a veteran being signed by the Rays on the cheap to battle it out in spring training for this last rotation slot.

As Maddon always says, “Pitching sets the tone” again in 2015 on just how far or how low the Rays end up early or late in the American League East standings.

You might notice I did not include Jeremy Hellickson this rotation list. I think that this winter the Rays will definitely offer him up as a trade piece not only because he seems a bit injury prone, but because his salary is only going to rise and he might not be the solid investment for the Rays he was just 2 seasons ago. I would not be surprised if a change of scenery sparks Hellboy back into a frenzy quite possibly to the heights experienced by former Rays P Scott Kazmir this year in Oakland.

thG080DJ9VUnlike Price, Hellboy has not seen his stock rise in value the last few years and it might be time for the Rays to let Hellickson try another vista and re-establish himself.

Some have labeled 2014 a disaster year for the Rays because of their less than .500 overall record and their lack of offensive excellence, but the Rays found out in 2014 that this young staff will step up, will compete and will produce wins even with a less than desired run support by the field players.

But there is also another set of hurlers who will have a say in 2015 and just how far and fast the Rays can rebound again to regain their winning ways.

Leftie Jake McGee has more than shown us in 2014 that he has the right stuff to be our last line of defense, but some of the other pieces of the Rays Bullpen puzzle might have bigger question marks after lackluster 2014 seasons.

Bruce Boxberger’s pitching arm definitely will get him another shot in 2015 to stay at the M L B level, and if he can stay consistent, his spot on the Rays roster can only grow more secure with each great outing.

th02DTSMX8Even though Grant Balfour has another year on his contract with the Rays, he might be a nice piece of bait to wiggle out there for a team that needs a veteran closer who never lets his baseball fires burn out. I like Balfour and his fire, but the money spent on him could be used to bring in 2 relief pieces and with a team that will be pinching pennies ‘til they scream, Balfour is  a cautiously expendable commodity that could be in high demand somewhere else this winter.

You might think the Rays might have an easy decision to make this winter on Joel Peralta, who has been a fine set-up piece for the team. Starting this winter, the Rays hold 3 different club options on Joel in 2015-17. I do not see Peralta going anywhere, but depending on the size of cuts the team will have to make on payroll heading into 2015, his worth to the Rays teeters more on the good side than bad.

thXVN39TTLAlex Colome, who is now out of minor league options could be key pieces to any 2015 realignment of the Rays bullpen. Colome could easily be either the Rays 5th starter, spot starter or just inherit the long reliever slot in the bullpen. Colome has at least 2 more starts in the Rays rotation in 2014, but an impressive 2015 spring could hoist his name easily as a 5th slot contender.

With young relievers like Steve Getz, Brandon Gomes, Jeff Beliveau, Cesar Ramos, Kirby Yate and even C J Riefenhauser getting time this year to impress the Rays in extended looks and chances in 2015, one of the Rays next waves of players being selected from the minors might have a definite reliever flavor.

Some might think the name of the Rays Reliever of the Year and current Durham Bulls closer Adam Liberatore should be pushed onto this list. Sure he will get a spring major league camp invite, but the Rays still  have a hand full of minor league options on him and could bring him in more for seasoning and extended work with the M L B staff than promote him before quite possibly September 2015 or a more realistically during  2016.

248An extended injury to McGee before 2016 could escalate his chances to gain a quicker M L B chance to impress during the regular season.

Sure the Rays will sign a few veteran and even productive name to spring camp, but I do see the Rays current young and hungry relievers fighting them off tooth and nail to be a part of the Rays machine come late March 2015.

Each of the above relievers should get a chance in the latter stages of 2014 to make impressions and even get a longer look this upcoming spring in the major league camp and it would not surprise me if more than 3 of them break camp with a 25-man secured spot.

The pure unadulterated strength of the Rays heading into 2015 is their great pitching and the depth of said commodity in their farm system.

th37PB61VFThis is a time where the Rays could find more than a few intricate pieces of their 2015 puzzle with very affordable and team controlled contracts that could help the team survive and thrive through the lower payroll expectation of 2015.

It is possible the team might look to shave $20-30 million this winter and if that does come to reality, Hellickson, Balfour and quite possibly Peralta might be the viable and most costly options that get more than a few long and hard looks as to their worth in the Rays pitching corps.

 

 

Peralta’s Skeeter Bite Might Force a Painful Ending

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In tropical regions like Florida, the Caribbean or the Dominican Republic, outdoor activities are anticipated and welcomed with each rising of the Sun. Doing things in our yards, beaches and even in our neighboring parks and backyards is a godsend of living in the splendor of this tropical oasis.

Even among our slices of paradise here within the Dominican Republic or in Tampa Bay where one of the smallest creatures, airborne by design could have possibly placed one of our own Tampa Bay Rays in harm’s way of possibly contracting a virus that could forecast months and possibly a lifetime of pain to Rays reliever Joel Peralta.

imagesIt is still simply amazing to me how something as small as a skitter (mosquito everywhere else in the World) could take down something 1,000 times larger than itself like a human. Even more amazing is the sheer minute possibility that a lone mosquito found Peralta during his stint back home in the Dominican during the recent All-Star break.

Peralta has been sent back to St. Petersburg, Fl to undergo a few more blood tests under the guidance of Rays Team Physician Dr. Michael Reilly to confirm that a lone mosquito might have given Peralta the infamous Chikungunya virus. Peralta’s blood work will also be reviewed and double-checked by the CDC and other governmental agencies tasked with investigating the virus within the United States. 

downloadChikungunya was first discovered in the Caribbean back in late 2013.  With the Dominican Republic being within that prime location within the tropical Americas island chains, it has been listed as a possible nesting point for the painful virus. Peralta believes he was either bitten once or twice while visiting his home back in the Dominican, but could he have possibly contacted the virus even before heading back to his home in Bonaro?

Florida where there have been 82 confirmed cases, including 2 victims locally who might have contracted the virus on their travels.

The virus is not considered initially life-threatening, but even if Peralta gets through the incubation period and gets through the symptoms with minor effects, it could saddle Peralta with arthritic joint pain that can be extremely painful, possibly lasting for weeks, or for a long time period.

images (1)The Rays did the right thing by erring on the side of caution and placed Peralta on the 15-day disabled list as he seeks treatment and a firm diagnosis of his fever, headache and joint pain. There was no mention of if Peralta was in the possible febrile or elevated body temp (possibly as high as 104 degrees) format of the virus, but this phase can last typically from 2-3 days before the onset of other symptoms.

Other symptoms can be a rash on the extremities or trunk region of the body and severe or nagging joint pains comparable to those felt by arthritis sufferers. Headaches, nausea, possible “pink eye”, eye sensitivity to light or even experiencing a loss of taste which could last as long as 5-7 days.

But until Peralta completes a battery of blood tests that will expose certain cell lines to samples of whole blood. He will also have his blood analyzed via RT-PCR can confirm a definite diagnosis of Peralta contracting the Chikungunya virus.

images (3)If Peralta did become infected, there are no approved vaccines available at this moment to fight the virus, but there is a phase II vaccine trial currently being tested that has provided a virus resistance in 98% of those tested after 28 days and 85% showing resistance after 1 years’ time. But the doctors could prescribe napoxen, paracetamol and fluids to his regiment.

Even if Peralta comes out of this with minimal time and effects there is a chance he could experience a extended bouts of joint pain. In some past cases, people who have contracted Chikungunya had joint pain symptoms as long as 2 years after their initial diagnosis.

images (2)The worst thing that could happen within all of this is the fact that any prolonged arthritic or joint stiffness after completion of his required rehab could possibly derail Peralta’s baseball career.

I’m personally hoping that a simple bite from a mosquito cannot and will not ultimately change Peralta’s physical gifts and allow him to further fulfill his baseball dreams .  

Rays Inspired World Cup Squad

 

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It is the World’s game. Only in our country does the sport heard ‘round the World take second, third or maybe not even a fifth fiddle. The globe embraces the sport of football, or as we Americans have dubbed it, Soccer.

With our own United States men soccer team showing their grit and glory by winning their first matchup against Ghana in this year’s World Cup last night, I thought it might be fun to pencil in my own Rays World Cup squad based on the current members of the Rays 25-Man roster.

Instantly most of you would wonder why a Baseball blogger would want to write and create a Soccer squad. From the age of 10 to 21 I played either as a Sweeper or on the left-side of the turf on local Men’s leagues (FSSL), on the All-South select U-17 travel teams and spent my 16th summer in Malmo, Sweden working out with that vistas reserves team.

Heck if you look over at the blog photo on right you will see a photo of me playing indoor soccer, so I have the knowledge and know what it takes to play the game.

Of course the Club Rays team’s Managers slot is already taken as you cannot discount the philosophical and game day rhetoric of Joe Maddon. Heck in a lot of ways he might even be a better communicator and guru to young minds than the current USA Manager Jurgen Kilinsman.

downloadI decided this Rays Club needs to play a 4-3-3 alignment which is 4 defenders, 3 midfielders and 3 forwards. We all know the Rays claim to fame in the last few years have been defense, so a line with a left, center, right fullbacks and a sweeper manning the gaps seems as a perfect lineup to help keep games close and with minimal scoring (hopefully).

So let’s start at the last line of defense, the goalkeeper position first. I am going to pick Ryan Hanigan as he has shown he has the ability to block balls in the dirt, move around with grace under pressure and will come out of goal and sacrifice his body for the team. Most people would think I might pick Jose Molina as a back-up, but I chose Alex Cobb as much for his leadership as for his attention to the little things and would be a great communicator back there.

That being said, my defense will also have a few wily Rays vets manning key spots, and even a few surprises to some people. My left fullback has to be someone committed to defense as well as have good sprinting speed to defend an opposing winger who is usually the fastest guy on the team with the ball.

For some reason Jake McGee fits that spot for me. He is a big body guy who should be able to keep his shoulder square to the ball and ride a winger off the ball if he wants to proceed towards the touchlines or the goal box. On the right side I’m going with a gut feeling that Yunel Escobar will be a mirror image of McGee and keep the crosses from getting to the goal mouth and has the closing speed to thwart long passes into the box.

images (4)Center fullback is a tough one. I want to get a big body in there, but more in height than in weight. For that reason I chose Grant Balfour who at 6’2” has a bit of a nasty streak, highly competitive and if he chats to the ball, that might scare a few opposing forwards from going up the middle of the pitch. As long as he keeps his back to the goal, I think the snarling Aussie should shut down any middle of the field dribbling and long range shots.

As for the sweeper position I wanted to give that slot to someone who can be both an offensive and defensive weapon. Someone who can be that 4th utility defender as well as crash up into the offensive zone for corner kicks, help take free kicks and set a few boomers toward the goal. Perfect weapon for this Rays Club squad would be Sean Rodriguez.

Now onto midfield, or the engine room of this team. We already know Evan Longoria will wear the Captain’s band and has the grit and stamina to man the center midfield slot and his ability to give out orders and command respect will have opposing defenders marking him tight, so I want my outside midfielders to have a burst of speed and great ball skills.

soccer_300x77My selection for left mid will be James Loney. I picked him as much for consistency as for his bursts of power which on free kicks or fouls way outside the box his kicks could free Longoria and the forwards to jockey for inside position on the opposing defense. My right midfielder would have to be Ben Zobrist. I do not know if Zorilla is ambidextrous on the soccer field, but if he was he would be a great fit to the usual attacking side of the field and could center passes or do flanking moves or U-runs down the line for crosses into box.

That leaves the forwards line. Here I’m going for the tall man in the box and shifty runners down the outsides or who can change directions and do crafty diagonals into the box for short chips, passes or provide ball in the air for headers.

So with me wanting to capitalize on speed, it is no secret the left wing has to be Kevin Kiermaier who seems to have a sixth sense to getting into position for the right play and who is one of those players who brings a new level of excitement to the team.

download (1)Right wing has to be another speedster as I pencil in Desmond Jennings for this slot and will call upon his quick first burst for great offensive moves and set plays. Add to the fact Jennings did play in that other brand of football, I think he will be a great target in the air for headers and taking a defender out of his position for scoring opportunities at the top of the goal box.

That only leaves the center spot. I had to go with someone here who has leadership, respect and plays on a different level at times. The obvious and clear choice for this spot was David Price.  One of the glaring reasons is his 6’6” frame can rise a good 3-4 inches above most defenders for headers and I think he has the foot skills and dexterity to pull off picture perfect passes and provide 110% throughout the contest.

Of course this Rays team will have great and skilled substitutes on the bench like Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore,  Joel Peralta, and I might add Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi to the mix as we all need a true “enforcer” on our soccer team.

images (2)I know there will be debate about my choices, but I think this squad could do some real damage on the pitch, provide some spectacular scoring chances and picture perfect goals as well as keep the score low and within reach of the Rays offensive unit.  Well it’s time for me to set the ball on the middle dot and get this Rays Club team going. Besides, you can always vent your thought at Rays Soccer Night Friday, June 20th.

What? I wasn’t going to sit on the sidelines and watch this team, I would make the perfect Referee plus I want to see this match at ground zero, not in the stands. And besides, St. Petersburg,Florida like the Rays is home to the 2-time North American Soccer League Champions, the Tampa Bay Rowdies who play on the Rays old Spring home. Florida Progress/Al Lang Field.

Now if I can just get the linesmen to keep Jonny Gomes from running onto the turf, we would be golden. 

 

Tasty 2014 Rays Media Guide Tidbits: Rays Bullpen

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As I have mentioned before, the day I get to check out the Tampa Bay Rays new edition of their Media Guide is a day filled with adventure, intrigue and maybe even a little whimsical fun. Glancing over the awesome moments of our brood of baseball buddies always bring to light moment uncaught by our eyes and ears in the stands and produce stats and figures we never really realized for our guys who battle upon the turf.

ku-xlargeSo I decided to stay in the hurler mode today for my 2nd installment of the special career notes and humanitarian efforts of our firemen down on the First Base line who we affectionately know as the Bullpen. Depending on the type of relief corps your team possesses, they can either give you a warm feeling or outright panic when a starter begins to show fatigue.

Lucky for us here in Tampa Bay our relievers have shown more pluses than minuses over the last few season, but glitches do happen. Also we do not know yet if the Rays will carry 11 or 12 pitchers going into the season, so I’ll just take a coin flip and list the 6 guys I think might comprise the ‘Pen and a few names to possibly watch this spring.

th (6)Jake McGee: Jake and his wife Morgan went a bit “Italiano” this past November visiting Venice, Milan and George Clooney’s hangout Lake Como. During Christmas Eve this past year, Jake and his wife also visited local foster families in Reno, Nevada and provided the kids with Christmas gifts.

McGee is 2013 ranked second in the M L B among reliever southpaws with an average fastball velocity of 96.3 mph. The mark was the highest among American League leftie relievers. McGee also posted up second among all M L B relievers with throwing a fastball on 93 percent of his pitches. Makes sense McGee has been working on a few additional pitches this off-season to keep hitters guessing in 2014.

th (7)Brandon Gomes: Took the LSAT after graduating from Tulane and if he wasn’t playing professional baseball, Gomes would have attended Law School and pursued a career in law or finance.

Even though Gomes only appeared 26 times in 2013 due to a right lat. Strain which sidelined him for 88 games, he did go 3-1 last season and split his season almost down the middle 14 games before/ 12 games after returning) between his injury stint. Could be a pitcher to watch this spring as he wants to show the Rays he is durable and consistent.

th (8)Cesar Ramos: He learned English at a bilingual preschool in Los Angeles, Calif. His parents immigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico 34 years ago seeking a better opportunity for their family. Cesar also has sister named Elena.

16 of Ramos 47 appearances in 2013 were 2 innings or longer which was the 4th highest number in the American League and most by a Rays reliever since J P Howell’s 23 in 2008. Ramos also secured his first M L B save after throwing 3 scoreless innings in Cleveland on May 31st.

th (9)Joel Peralta: Considered quitting baseball in 2002 following a demotion from Double-A Arkansas to Class-A Cedar Rapids while with the Angels. His older brother Frank persuaded him to stick with it and Joel responded by going 5-0 with 21 saves and a .95 ERA with the Kernels (THANKS Frank!).

Peralta led the majors in 2013 with 80 relief appearances, which puts in 2nd overall in Rays history behind Randy Choate (85 in 2010). It was Peralta’s 3rd straight season of 70+ appearances (227 over 3 seasons) and the cherry on top is Peralta led all M L B relievers with 41 Holds in 2013.

Rays-Heath-Bell-2014-600x337Heath Bell: Who knew the All-Star closer was also such a force in the kitchen? Bell made 24 gingerbread houses from scratch for his kids school. Heath hopes to meet Duffy, the Ace of Cakes this year when the Rays travel to Baltimore and would like to compete on the Food Network pastry competition show Sweet Genius someday.

Pitched in 69 games last season for the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was his 7th consecutive season of 60+ appearances. Ranked 3rd among M L B closers in saves (166) over the last 5 seasons. With Mariano Rivera now retired, only Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon (173) remains in contention for the overall top spot.

th (10)Grant Balfour:  Most people might not know Grant’s father after completing his rugby career became a leader in developing and promoting Australian baseball and served as the G M of the Sydney Blue Sox before retiring last August.

Grant saved a career high 38 games last season with only 3 blown saves. Over his last 24 appearances in 2013, Balfour had a 92.7 percent save percentage, 4th best in the AL and in A’s team history. He beat out his own 92.4 percent mark set in 2012 for the 4th spot. Converted 62 of 67 (92.5 %) save chances over the past 2 seasons.

th (11)Juan Carlos Oviedo:  He might be one of the biggest question marks this spring in regards to the Bullpen. The team took a gamble on 2013 by signing him while he was rehabbing after a Tommy John’s surgery. They released him in the off-season, but quickly resigned him and invited him to spring camp. If healthy and firing on all cylinders this spring, could be a factor in the team’s Bullpen makeup and possibly send someone above away in a late spring trade.

Oviedo logged 92 saves from 2009-11. That total was 8th best in the M L B at that time and ranked him 3rd on the Miami Marlins all-time save list.

His last time pitching in a professional games was July 14, 2013 while with the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs. 

pageAs always, do not discount the names of Jeff Beliveau, Brad Boxberger, C J Riefenhauser, Josh Lueke or even Kirby Yates of not making noise in supplanting one of the above pitchers for a spot on the Rays 25-man roster. Even if none of these names make the final roster before Opening Day, their names will again be heard possibly at some point within Tropicana Field in 2014.

Also worth circling might be the name of Erik Bedard who might have a chance to fill the Rays long reliever role with their 2013 hurler. Alex Torres traded in the off-season. Bedard could also be a great fill-in starter in-house option for the Rays if he were willing to accept a non-starter gig in 2014.

Tomorrow we will hit the factoids concerning the players who should be deemed the starters in the Rays infield for 2014. 

Papa John’s Also Rewards Fans at Home for 10 K’s

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It is one of those moments that everyone within Tropicana Field await with grand anticipation. Once the Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff get to that lucky number “7”, the assembled Rays Republic begins that count down towards double digits with an increased excitement an increased cheering decibel level and that awesome thrill of knowing that something amazing happens when the Rays Center field Strikeout sign clicks to “10”.

oakland-athletics-v-tampa-bay-20130419-195943-980The moment has become symbolic and synonymous to illustrate both the Rays pitching staff’s strikeout proficiency as well as the benchmark for a free morsel of edible goodness that can only be redeemed when that numerical plateau is finally achieved. It seems like forever, or at least since the Blimpies Sub promotion hit the trash can, that Papa John’s has become a part of the Rays late inning fun with such honored events such as the 7th inning stretch, or watching that invisible arrow pierce the sky after a Fernando Rodney save.

So far during the Rays 2013 season this event has transpired only once back on April 5th against the Cleveland Indians when Rays starter Matt Moore combined with relievers Jake McGee, Brandon Gomes and Joel Peralta to post 11 K’s on the Centerfield lighted strikeout board.

The Rays 10- Strikeout Challenge has become a part of our Rays in-game culture, but all that is about to change a bit as everyone within the Rays Republic can now taste the joy and excitement, even from your own couch or comfy recliner. ow, even as you sit at home watching the game on television or your computer or even listening to the contest on the Rays Radio broadcast within Tampa Bay and select Central Florida market locations can also celebrate this feat both home or away with discounted munchies and cold beverages?

That’s right Rays Republic, no matter if you are at home, at the game or even on the move within select Tampa Bay and Central Florida you can benefit from the Rays striking out 10 opponents in a game. All you will have to do is either call or go online to PappaJohns.com submit your order for their tasty products and use the promo code: “RAYS” on your carry out or delivery order and you will get 50% off your total for that order. Of course you will have to use this special code online only the day
AFTER a 10-K game and this offer is not valid with other discounts or offers and is only available at participating Papa John’s locations.

tampa-bay-rays-v-boston-20130413-123341-228So far this season the Rays actually hit that double-digit mark in 2 of their away games, both in Boston on Saturday, April 13th and Monday April 15th when the Rays pitching staff posted 12 and 11 strikeouts respectfully during their weekend series. That would have been 2 additional times we could have utilized this food offer to the extreme joy and excitement of our families and friends. So now whether home or away you can utilize this special offer the next day after the Rays pitching staff hit the double-digit mark in strikeouts. 

unnamedI actually did not know of this new Rays promotion with their corporate sponsor Pappa John’s until I recently bought a pizza and chicken poppers from my local franchise here in Northwest St. Petersburg, Florida. There upon the hot and extremely fragrant cardboard pizza box was attached this new Rays strikeout special offer.

Some might say it is only a 50% discount on your entire order, but considering that could be a nice $15.00 windfall on a $30 usual order., but it is another small way you can bring the excitement of watching the Rays strikeout total elevate and get something fantastic even while not sitting within the tilted cap of the Trop. I know I’m hoping the Rays hurlers today post 10 K’s so I can use this special offer knowing that 10 strikeouts by the Rays can get more some great food and beverages as I sit at home hoping for another 10 K result.

Moore Finds His Groove and Posts a Beautiful Shutout Win

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If Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Moore who is usually a slow starter to begin the season as he gains velocity and control gets even a tad bit better for his second start, he might throw the Rays second No-Hitter. Seriously though, the fact Moore seems to have found a nice balance against the Cleveland Indians on Friday night and allowed only 2 hit to go with his 8 K’s and took home the “W” in his first start of the young season.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-172823-107Maybe we can attest this change of routine to the fact Moore looked a little scruffy on the hill, not his usual clean-cut All-American cover boy self. Possibly Moore has taken a page from fellow southpaw David Price and just go with the flow and what the hitters give you and not stress the small stuff or missed borderline calls.

Or maybe it is really as simple as Moore took the mound during his Spring Training gigs like it was already the season and he used those 4 starts as his “early season” roller-coaster starts. No matter what the true reasoning is, it was great to see Moore showing great control, eliminating his walks and going6 innings while throwing an even 100 pitches. The pure fact Moore got to the 6th inning and helped the Bullpen is huge as it gave newly called-up reliever Brandon Gomes a chance to shine as well as give Jake McGee a solid outing to get that huge ERA starting it free-fall towards some sort of normalcy.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-192808-9463 times during his 6 inning stint Moore set the side down in order with only three hitters coming to the plate. And only during the top of the 3rd when Cleveland had 5 hitters come to the plate and advanced Mike Aviles to Third Base did a hitter reach third base. Moore even helped his own cause by pitching inside to Indians SS Asdrubal Cabrera who hit a weakly hit ball right to Evan Longoria who rocketed the ball to Jose Lobaton stationed at Home Plate to gun down Cabrera and keep the shutout intact for Moore.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-172837-183That is the kind of pitching that will elevate this team and keep them in ballgames. Playing to the oppositions weaknesses and strangling their run scoring opportunities by keeping the ball in the park, and on the ground. Of the 10 balls hit and put into play last night, 6 were on the ground and were converted with no problems at all. If Moore can keep playing to the Rays strength of a solid and well-oiled Rays infield defense, this is only the first of the wins for him in 2013.

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