Results tagged ‘ Joel Peralta ’

Rays Emerging as Modern Baseball Gladiators

A Gladiator is deemed one who is an armed combatant who entertained the audiences in the Roman Republic with violent confrontations and engagement with both fellow warriors, animals and in some cases, condemned souls. The term gladiator is actually Latin in origin meaning “swordsman” from the original word “gladius” or “sword”.

The first sighting of the rejuvenation of this classic Roman warrior reared its head on Monday evening when Rays closer Fernando Rodney (Maximus Savous Gameous) and his partner in battle Joel Peralta (Setus Gameous Maximus) donned the headgear of the Roman Centurions. It was quite a sight to see the pair of Bullpen comrades in arms sitting there stoic in the Rays dugout before their quest to the Bullpen.

Seems kind of apropos that the Tampa Bay Rays have taken on the historic persona lately of these grand entertaining warriors of old as the game of baseball has always been about the attack, the mano-on-mano engagement of pitchers and hitters and the ultimate entertainment ebb and flow that pulsates throughout the stadium on any given play or action.

Like their Roman counterparts, the end result is to gain the victory or die trying. Gone are the menacing lethal weapon of yore that combatants use to eliminate and produce pain and suffering upon their victims. Today clubs made of ash, maple and pine replace the menacing swords,and deadly weaponry. Leather padded fielding and batting gloves and other assorted protective gear aimed at diverting blows and direct hits have replaced heavy and restricting chain-mail, shields and armor. A sphere of white leather is the fondest tool of their trade. It can be thrust, scuffed and even propelled to heights and distances beyond the arena’s turf and into the hands of the new (Rays) Republic.

But today just as it was so long ago, the men who partake in these games do it as much for the adulation and cheers of the crowd as they do for their fellow combatants. For it is the cheers or jeers of the assembled masses that energize, vitalize and make these men want to fight to the last out, cursing a loss as if it was the admittance of an open wound. The Rays Republic have always been vocal to the cause and effect of their combatants, showing praise even in the dire times and pure adulation in the moment just after securing victory. In that manner, the two societies inter-mingle with grand clarity.

Then after last night’s heroics, 2 more legionnaires of Rays descent Carlos Pena (Hittus Ballus Longous) and Luke Scott (Wolerinous Magnus) made their on-screen appearance bearing the same garb and distinctive helmet accessory as Rodney and Peralta a day earlier. It really was a great interview, with the crowning touch of Scott looking deep into the camera lens possibly scaring a few young kids ( hopefully not).

But that goes to show the character of this team. They are a true band of comrades battling it out in a 162 game war that has seen its share of casualties and heroic moments. I always thought the 2008 team had that special something, possibly that extra sports chromosome that would bring them victory in November, but we all know of the Fall of the Rays 2008 Empire. This season’s team feels more energized and bit more prepared for the long journey again possibly into those cooler night when victories are savored and cherished for eternity.

This Rays team does bode well with their Roman counterparts as each fought to preserve their way of life or process. Both have brought innovative ideals and procedures to fill their arsenal and each reincarnated past winning strategies and forgotten maneuvers and thus them up for all to see and bask at as they take their victories. Like their Roman counterparts, these modern combatants live a better life compensated for their grand actions and reveled by the throngs of the Rays Republic for their game day deeds as well as their action off the field of battle.


And their mentor and Field General Joe Maddon instills the truth and balance that makes this whole unit stand united as well as loose and ready to change their battle plan at a tip of the cap. Fine tuned plays, signals and the rhythm of playing together as a single unit has strengthened their resolve and boasted their confidence as they strut onto the turf, just like the gladiators of old.

I think the Roman Emperor Commodus would give a robust “thumbs up” to these modern Rays gladiators.

 

“Closer by Committee” to Rise From the Ashes Again

I admit, when Tampa Bay Rays reliever/closer du Jour Kyle Farnsworth gives you that patented stare down…the intimidation factor leaps from 0-100 in a microsecond. And now that Farnsy will be on the shelf to begin the season, it takes a huge chunk of the visible confidence you might have in the back-end of the Rays Bullpen.

Now we just have to visualize Maddon going back to his old trusted and proven method of “closer by committee”, or the guessing game of stats and probabilities…Rays style. Even with Farnsworth’s absence to begin the 2012 season, the fall-off is not as extreme because the Rays have the right guys already in position ready, eager and willing to face the challenge.

We know “Goat Boy 2.0” or better known as Joel Peralta has the internal fortitude to be the last guy standing on the hill. Heck with his impromptu “Matt Garza-ish” adult billy-goat chin follicle formation, he could possibly channel a bit of the hardcore style of Garza. Who knows if Maddon will go to a match-up based 9th inning mash-up, or hand the reins to someone “qualified” without giving them the stamp “closer”.

Fernando Rodney used to be the guy who hit the hill after Farnsworth in Detroit, and maybe Rodney will get a chance to again show he can dominate that last frame of the game, effectively silencing critics instantly, possibly getting his first moment to shine in the Opening Game this Friday against the dreaded pinstripes. Peralta could easily be mixed into the last frame soup of relievers with his velocity and breaking stuff up there on par with both Farnsworth and Rodney, but I consider Peralta a “closer-in-training”, possibly getting the gig himself for good with the Rays in 2013…if he wants it.

The again, you can go the southpaw route also into the 9th inning with former leftie closer J P Howell looking healthier and more confident since his blow-out season in 2008. Of course surgery and an off-season should not hinder Howell possibly getting at least a handful of chances, especially if Maddon go by his mathematical equations instead of just giving the job to someone until Farnsworth can try to reclaim the slot.

But this was also something the bothered me at the end of 2011. We knew Farnsworth had elbow situations after throwing career numbers both in saves and pressure situations, but the old adage “out of sight, out of mind” might have crept into all our minds, especially Farnsworth thinking a little rest might do his elbow more good than surgery or even intense off-season rehab and check-ups to validate no lingering problems rise up like his DL move to start the 20121 seasons.

Farnsworth going on the shelf to mend even before the season begins does showcase a crack in the Rays late inning armor, but Peralta, Howell, Rodney and just called-up RP Josh Lueke should have the same grimacing facial expression and inside pitches to bring to life the Rays usual intimidation factor. Some have stated this feels like “Troy Percival 2.0”, and I get it. Believe me, I had a distrust for Percival you would not believe, but I do not get the same vibe from Farnsworth.

Maybe this is a perfect time for Maddon to thrust out his 2012 mantra: “Fortune Favors the Bold”. This is where the Rays depth and off-season positioning to sign Rodney, trade for Lueke and hope for a full recovery of Howell will pay dividends. The level of experience in the Rays 7-8-9th inning options should eliminate a lot of worry and lack of confidence outside the clubhouse.

These 4 guys can convert, they can stymie the opposition, and they will bring their own levels of intimidation to the Rays late innings along with a huge bushel of saves and wins. Heck we might even see a smile from Farnsworth knowing the Rays are stocked and ready in the late innings, even with him on the mend.

A Glimpse into the Rays 2012 Media Guide

This one publication I always await its arrival with great anticipation. This Spring I also had the great option of downloading a version so I could always have it at my fingertips for research, analysis or just gazing upon its 434 pages. I get excited the first time I open its cover. Not for the special freshly printed paper smell, but for the factoids, entertaining sidebars and information that makes it click, breathe and be a cherished item for any true Rays Republican.

Of course I am talking about the 2012 edition of the Tampa Bay Rays Media Guide. I remember just a few weeks ago standing in the Rays media front desk awaiting my Spring Training daily credentials and overhearing a Rays staffer chat about their “ all-nighter” to get this season’s guide off to the printer. You had to be there to see the excitement in his eyes along with a hint of sleep deprivation, but within his voice you could hear the pride and resolution that a great product would soon grace our hands.

So let’s go on a little fact-finding mission shall we to seek our some new and interesting factoids about the men who don the Rays white and blue, plus maybe even a few odd facts that none of you knew about some of our current Rays players. It’s now time to feast on the bytes and bits about our roster of Rays players.

Kyle Farnsworth, an avid hunter does a lot of stalking during the off-season on his 2,500-acre plot of land in Georgia. Farnsy plans to so something original this season during Rays games as he will don a special pair of camouflage-style Oakley glasses on the mound this season. Talk about escalating up the intimidation factor to 10 as he stares in for the signs late in games.

We all know already emphatically that 3B Evan Longoria can play the drums. He is known to hit the skins before games, is the Rays in-house drum master during the video game Rock Band performances and even got a lesson from Goo Goo Dolls drummer Mike Malinin before the group’s 2011 Saturday night post game appearance. No word yet if Joyce and Longo might sit in with Z Z Top, 3 Doors Down or Gretchen Wilson during their post game trio this June at the Trop.

In another great and fantastic twist to the ever-expanding world that is the “Legend of Sam Fuld”. When  Sam had a sore shoulder back in 2007, this prompted Super Sam to  investigate possibly throwing right-handed. Although his left shoulder did recover, he never had to rely heavily on his new-found ambidextrous talent. Still, Fuld borrowed a friend’s glove after the injury and practiced throwing right-handed against a wall of a Phoenix, Az elementary school after his morning workouts with the Chicago Cubs. Later that same season Fuld made his MLB debut….left-handed.

Did you know Rays reliever Joel Peralta began his professional baseball career as an outfielder back in 1997 in the Oakland A’s system. He converted to pitching 2 seasons later prior to the beginning of the 1999 season with the Los Angeles Angels. But his prior hitting skills came in handy on May 20, 2007 when Peralta, then with the Kansas City Royals hit a 2-run RBI double in his first ever MLB plate appearance off Colorado Rockies RP Ramon Ramirez in the 12th inning of an Inter-League contest.

As if Minnesota Twins C Joe Mauer needed another reason to hate facing Hellboy. This off-season Rays SP Jeremy Hellickson was chosen by the Twin Cities Chapter of the BBWAA as the winner of the Dick Siebert Award given to the Upper Midwest MLB Player of the Year. Hellickson’s win in 2011 broke a 3-year reign by Mauer.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon must think SS/INF Reid Brignac is a human rabbits foot. During his 8 professional baseball seasons, Briggy Baseball has seen 11 of his 13 teams advance to the post season, including his last 8 stops in the minors. Brignac only played for one losing team, in his short season pro debut back in 2004 with the Princeton franchise.

Rays RF Matt Joyce began taking guitar and piano lessons this past off-season. Joyce is now versed in Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” on the piano and “Wonderwall” by Oasis on his Yamaha acoustic guitar. I wonder if Joyce is a left-handed guitar player since he does everything else right-handed like eat, write play golf and throw, but hits left-handed.

Another player trying to secure a spot on the Rays roster as a catcher this season Jose Lobaton had to pick between 2 sports at a young age. Lobaton an avid and skilled swimmer had to make a hard decision at age 14 whether to pursue a chance to play with a traveling water polo squad, or play baseball. Although Lobaton chose baseball, he frequently hit the pool to keep in shape during the season ( and hopefully beats the Florida Summer sweltering heat).

Luke Scott, the Rays new DH/OF has traveled over the past 3 Winters to Valencia, Venezuela bringing supplies, medicine and baseball equipment to the local residents. Scott is giving back to his adopted community after spending several Winters in this region playing Winter ball and practicing his Spanish. No word yet on if this is the place Scott hatched the idea of taking down a wild boar with a spear…..to be continued.

This past January, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment used Tropicana Field to film live cheetahs for a segment of ShamuTV, an environmental educational series distributed all over the country. Upton, a fan of big cats, was filmed with a hight intensity camera showing the speed of an elite athlete compared to that of a cheetah. No word yet on if the cheetah was caught trying to steal second base…or Upton’s glove.

Seriously, I joked on a few of these small snippets because we have a truly amazing assembly of athletics and civic leaders that go above and beyond both on and off the turf for the Rays. There are plenty more great facts within the covers of the Rays 2012 Media Guide including photos and history of events surrounding this great franchise as it enters it 15th MLB season.

You can get your own copy of the Rays 2012 Media Guide at the Rays Fan Store inside Tropicana Field during the upcoming 2012 season. It is well worth the investment and holds so many additional treasures and history.It is worth every penny of your investment.

One last fact before I conclude. Of the 934 players to appear on a MLB roster in 2011, Rays INF/OF Ben Zobrist was dead last in the alphabet. Even more amazing is the fact former Rays 1997 Expansion Draft selection Bobby Abreu ( 1st Round, 3rd D-Rays selection) heads this list of players. Amazing how from A-to-Z, this Rays club finds a way to set themselves apart in the MLB.

Are The Rays Currently in Ghost Protocol Mode?

On Wall Street, the Trades and Acquisitions Department of large investment firm have the covert mentality of the CIA and other branches of International intrigue that use initials. Knowledge is power, and with that, secrecy and the movements under that umbrellas come at a premium.

So far this Winter we have heard and seen some of the clandestine targets and near misses of the Tampa Bay Rays, who operate under their own initialed powerful and might organization, the MLB, has taken the art form of gliding amongst the darkened halls with silent whispers to a new level. As we have learned in the past, the Rays have a circle of trust within its Fourth floor domain that no constants, syllable or even grown are visualized or voiced when the always alert media comes a-callin’ with trade rumors and whispers in the wind.

Some moves might be counter-moves, made to seem directed towards a general target, but suddenly change direction, showing a more devious and unimagined alternative plan. Take the recent movement by the Rays to get the services of free agent outfielder Coco Crisp. That’s right, the same Crispy critter who almost walked into a James Shields hay maker in 2008 that might have shattered Shield’s pitching hand.

Who in their right Rays mind could have seen this one coming? Of course Crisp decided he like to stay on his dock by the bay and rejected the Rays advances. We know Crisp and Shields have buried their hatchet, but have all the bad blood been drained within the Rays Republic in regards to Crisp? That, my friends is blowing in the wind now, and great fodder for Happy Hour discussions. But the outfielder chatter did not stop with the Coco one, there was another attempt, or stab at Seth Smith, and adequate fielder and hitter in his own right to possibly be a Plan B to the Crisp covert ops.

But you got to ask of there is a problem within the Rays outfield we do not see, or are we possibly looking 4-moves behind the mind right now of Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. I was content to think we might see Desmond Jennings in Right field this season trading spots with Matt Joyce who I thought made his presence known for the full-time gig, even against southpaws. I had come to terms my myself that B J Upton might wear a question mark on his uniform instead of the # 2 this season as his tenure in Rays Center field is more rental than lease with an option to buy. Was starting to think someone named Damon might have the only true answer.

The moves towards Crisp and Smith have me wondering just how much confidence the Rays have in Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer or even Justin Ruggiano to be that 4th asset in the OF puzzle…or if their own Rays existence is also under the microscope as possible trade fodder? It is almost as if I should think of 20 of the 25 names on the Rays roster not named Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Joel Peralta, Evan Longoria or Ben Zobrist are stapled to the Trop turf, but everyone else is up for discussion at some point. And now comes internal gossip the Rays might not have held onto Smith if they had signed him, but used him as more enticing bait for another morsel….How quickly the tides turn in Tampa Bay.

But that is what the Winter Hot Stove season is all about right? Making the waters boil and seeing who rises to the top of the pile and who settles to the bottom, possibly there until the late July Trade Deadline timetable. Early this Winter we had the Ivan Rodriguez, Josh Willingham, Carlos Beltran and finally an afterthought of a Anthony Rizzo acquisition spinning in our head’s before the new year. Sometimes I wish I had a mouse with a lipstick camera or a house fly with a video feed to give me something tangible and substantial to write about before it hits the general airwaves.

I’m beginning to think we need to contact the modern Sherlock Holmes I saw on BBC the other night, he sees in that altered universe realm, and can be perfectly comfortable thinking 6-8 moves ahead of the rest of us mortals. For some reason I think a MI-6 License to Kill might be easier to obtain than a Rays trade whisper. Sure there are still cracks in the Rays armor, but it is in the field personnel and not on the front office lines. Questions abound around the infield now with the Rays inquest towards trying to secure Brooks Conrad and Ryan Theriot.

I had the notion to think it might be a slip up, a showing of their cards that possibly Sean Rodriguez is penciled in at Shortstop and Second in a platoon, and Zobrist again will carry at least 5 gloves to every Rays contest. I thought for a moment I might have cracked a hidden code, possibly being 1-move ahead of the pack with the Rays inquiring about Conrad and Theriot, but their talents were to be as bit players not starters in the proposed Maddon 2012 Tour. Foiled again just when I thought I had inched forward with something of substance again left with poached egg on my grill.

But one day. Ahhh, one day someone will crack the code, bring about the wheeling and dealing to the surface, not with the realm of full disclosure, but with hints, smatterings of intel and possibly make us all giddy again about what really lies behind the Rays Carolina Blue curtains. But I am left right now with the pure facts I will never be in the Rays circle of trust, never be an intricate part of the Rays always unfolding covet machine, finally realizing with crystal clear clarity my best guesses at trades are just those…guesses.

I guess I will have to be content that the powers that be that invisibly move within the 4th Floor sanctum is hard at work making the Rays a better oiled machine. A more precise instrument to take into the 182 battles that make up an MLB season. That I can sleep better at night knowing Friedman is out there somewhere already in work mode to answer those question we have not even asked yet.  Still, the Ryan Madson rumors have me curious….I wonder if there is a motorized mouse online I can buy, or what time is it in London?

Where Do We Pencil in Rodney’s Name?

Photo: Rays Index

On paper, the signing of experienced closer and set-up man RHP Fernando Rodney seems like a solid investment for the right coinage to solidify the back-end of the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen. Rodney’s contract leaves the Rays 7-8 and 9th inning possible options with a combined commitment of just over $ 7 million and the clarity that they do not have a huge reliever contract lingering over their heads. Somehow I think Rodney is of the opinion the closer role is wide open and he wants toi take a huge step towards claiming it this Spring.

Rodney will take home $ 1.75 million for 2012 with a club option kicker of a $ 2.5 million dollar question mark for 2013 (with a $ 250K buy-out), which seems within the guidelines of what the Rays value their relievers. Current closer Kyle Farnsworth will pocket $ 3.3 million and the new contract by Joel Peralta will net him a cool $ 2 million. Just under $ 7.1 million for the Rays possible 7th, 8th and 9th inning slots, which is considerably less than the $11 million the Philadelphia Phillies will pay for just their new closer, Johnathan Papelbon.

Here is where this signing by the Rays can become a bit hazy and gray. Is Rodney being brought in as an insurance policy in case the elbow tenderness that wrecked havoc for Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth this past September rears its ugly head again and promotes an angst that will remind all of us of the 2008 Troy Percival debacle.

Do the Rays see Rodney possibly as a “situational closer”, but more in tune with being a 8th inning set-up guy pushing Joel Peralta back to the 7th inning or into his own situational black hole. For some reason I have a sneaking suspicion the Rays are wanting a little competitive spirit and competition tossed into the Spring, and Rodney and Farnsworth have history as  a pair of late inning guys. But there are still a few things that worry me about Rodney, and it is not the fire in his belly or his experience.

Sure Rodney has posted 87 career MLB saves, but only 17 of them have come over the past 2 seasons while he was with the Angels. 87 career saves over his 9 year MLB tenure with the Tigers (7 yrs) and Angels ( 2 years) doesn’t leave me with a true air of confidence he could be the guy to set in if Farnsworth does have an elbow setback or is lost for a prolonged hiatus from the Rays. Rodney did post 26 K’s in his 32 innings of work in 2011, but he also tacked on 28 walks and 26 hits during his 2012 Angels season.

Still there is a great similarity between Farnsworth and Rodney that they both take care of their bodies, and can throw some extremely hard stuff at times, but can this former duo who used to work together in Detroit find that magic again in Tampa Bay? For Rodney is dominant on the hill when he has control over his change-up.

Could the Rays be a great matching for Rodney considering Rays starter James Shields has one of the best change-up in the game and is constantly tinkering with his grips and release points. Possibly the two hurlers could get together and find a better change-up in the mix for Rodney and bring him back to the top of his game. Rodney also employ a decent slider that tops out at around 86 mph, which can be greatly effective when his fastball is sitting in the high 90’s.

The problem I am having here is the inconsistency during 2011 of Rodney in his limited role and if the off season will produce amazing results or will he remain within his present flux state when it comes to his pitching. What effect could this have on Peralta considering he might have thought the 8th inning slot was his to lose, and now the Rays bring in competition. It could be a blessing or a curse for either player, but I still have a boatload of confidence in Peralta possibly pushing Rodney into a 7th inning slot by late March.

Some have already brought up the old baggage in regards to Rodney and his high and outside fastball up towards the Rays Press Box back in 2009 when he was a bit over excited during a save opportunity in Tropicana Field. Rodney ended up getting a 3-game suspension on the heels of a letter sent to MLB by Tampa Bay Times Rays writer Marc Topkin. I would love to be a fly on the wall on the first day of Pitchers and Catchers reporting and see if Topkin and Rodney shake hands. Still, as far as I’m concerned, he did the crime, the time and it is in the past.

Still, the signing of Rodney did not break the Rays piggy bank, and it filled a void left when they did not re-sign Juan Cruz. The final determination of the usage of Rodney has not been revealed yet, but you can definitely pencil in his name in the late hash marks of the game. It could end up being another blessing in disguise for the Rays in 2012 just like the unexpected signings of Joaquin Benoit in 2010 and Peralta in 2011. I have an odd feeling Rodney knows he has a chance to be with a contender and will come out fighting for his slot this Spring. 

This signing of Rodney could end up being the huge exclamation point the Rays Bullpen need heading into the Spring, or a demise in waiting. My money is firmly on Topkin and Rodney burying the hatchet and Rodney throwing so much heat a few of the Rays catcher’s mitt will need flame retardant materials sewn on them. In the end the Rays reliever corps will be a better unit with this competition, and who ever wins out and claims the closer role, well the other will probably be the first one to shake his hand. ….I hope.


2011 is Almost in the Books, but What a Season to Remember.

Usually around this time of the year Tampa Bay Rays blogs begin to countdown their top moments of the season. It was a historic season by many aspects. The team posted their third trip in four seasons to the October party, but also we saw so many of the Rays post their own moments of wonder and amazement it has to have all of us giddy with emotion knowing there are less than 100 days before the fun all begins again for 2012.

We saw the emergence of “the Legend”( Sam Fuld), the formulation of the “Magic of Kotch” (Casey Kotchman) movement, and also saw the further maturation of the Rays top tier players David Price and Evan Longoria. We saw Sean Rodriguez move across the diamond to the 6-hole and show why he has always been a prized reward of the Scott Kazmir trade. Desmond Jennings came up and proved once and for all he is not a “Crawford”-clone, but has his own power, style and base-stealing magic.

Matt Joyce proved he had the stuff to hit left-handers, and Ben Zobrist again show the “Zorilla” style traits we all fell in love with during the 2008-2009 campaigns. From starters to Bullpen the Rays hurlers showed promise, unexpected magical moments and the durability of the staff graybeard as James Shields merited Cy Young consideration.

2011 was suppose to be a rebuilding season, but the only rebuilding the Rays did was on their reputation and solidarity to fixate on that post-season goal and drive towards it with vigor and vitality. This season will not go down in Rays history as the most productive on paper, but the 91 wins posted by this squad were 1 better than their rivals the Boston Red Sox and produced another champagne moment within Tropicana Field.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon instilled a “Find Another Way” mantra on his troops early this Spring and several players in the Rays fold responded by showing their abilities are on par with this league even if their MLB service clocks show minimal numbers. Jennings might have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt in 2011 he should be the heir apparent to the Rays lead-off hitter the Rays for 2012. Joyce finally got the at bats to prove he can be the Rays everyday right-fielder and run producer.

All five members of the Rays 2011 posted over 10+ victories with Shields leading the field with a 16-12 record. Not only did Shields lead his young Rays comrades in “W’s”, he also topped the squad in innings pitched (249.1 innings), strikeouts (225) and ERA (2.82 ). Filling in gaps within the season the Rays saw the promise of brilliance of Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and the late season relief pitching of Alex Torres.

Pitching definitely defined so many of these great Rays moments, but the bats did not remain silent during the carnage. We saw new closer Kyle Farnsworth struggle but post a career high with 25 saves, but we also saw the season toll takes it effect on one of the most intimidating players in the game. But the Rays Bullpen which featured 3 lefties for most of the season closed down offenses with RP Joel Peralta providing his own brand of set-up brilliance as well as posting 6 saves. From inning 1 to 9 this Rays team’s pitching tried to set the tone and bring home a win on a nightly basis.

Who will forget that Home Run hit by Longo to seal the Rays post-season against the Yankees on the season’s last day in extra frames about the same time ex-Rays LF Carl Crawford missed a dying quail in Baltimore to propel the Rays into the October party.

With that singled out win on the last day of the 2011 campaign, the Rays ended up posting their only winning September ever with a 16-10 record. It also secured the squad’s third straight 90+ win season, How pale does that starting 1-8 record look now in retrospect as corks exploded within the Trop’s confines and players and fans celebrated together.

Rookies earned their Rays letters this season at an alarming rate as Moore, Brandon Gomes,Torres, Jake McGee and Jeremy Hellickson combined to bring home 8 of those 16 September victories among them, further showing the promise and prosperity that should bring about more moments of celebration and excitement in 2012 for this talented 5-some. Each of these 5 hurlers definitely earned their Rays letterman’s sweaters complete with a shaving cream pie.

But even with the emergence of the rookies, some of the Rays players saw their season as constant reminders of the ever-changing MLB environment. Pitchers J P Howell and Andy Sonnanstine began the 2012 Spring Training with high expectations and a want to show their abilities for this team. Sonny ended up in Triple-A Durham for most of the season, and Howell who came on later in the season never seemed to find the right groove or positive upward momentum. But that is the joy of the New Year, resolutions can be made, and the past is just that…past.

The 2011 season has long been put into the record books, but 2011 is slowing winding down towards it’s last tick of the clock and should be remembered as a season of true fortitude, ever-present resilience and a combined team-wide confidence stemming from the veterans to rookies that this team could win on any given night.

But still if I had to pick a moment of clarity for the Rays, a scene that showed the drive, commitment and determination of this squad it was on the 180th day of the season, in the 12th inning Longoria proved once and for all he is the man to follow on this squad even before his 31st Home Run made human contact in the right field stands. So as we begin to enter the 15th season for the Rays, Sonny has found a new home with the Cubs, Maddon has darkened his hair a few shades.

Changes are still in store for this team before they cross the Port Charlotte, Florida threshold this Spring. Some players have solidified their spots on the roster while others have the Rays scouting and Coaching staff wearing out the erasers on their pencils trying to mesh and mold this squad to take that next step. Can’t wait for that crystal ball to fall in NYC soon because that will symbolize that 2012 is squarely upon us, and the memories of 2011 are just that…fond and precious memories.

Pondering the Rays Pending Tender Decisions

This is one of those times that Major League Baseball players who are within the salary arbitration process either dread or look forward to with glee. It is the time that their clubs either shower them with confidence and acknowledgment Spring. The Tampa Bay Rays are no different, they will have to decide within the next 24 hour period who is worthy, and who has put on a Rays jersey for the last time.

You might think the process is easy, but with 6 players et to enter the arbitration pressure cooker in this 2011 off-season, I truly think only half of this group which includes LHP David Price, CF B J Upton, RP Joel Peralta, RP/SP Andy Sonnanstine, SP Jeff Niemann and former closer J P Howell can rest easy.

Two of this group could be non-tendered on Monday, while a third could possibly be tendered with a quick resolve to trade them before the arbitration process unfolds this Spring. Only Peralta seems on completely sturdy ground with an impressive 2011 campaign, and an estimated $ 2 million arbitration salary. A great set-up man like Peralta would easily set the Rays back possibly double what Peralta could get in arbitration, and that makes him a safe bet to be with the team this Spring.

Instantly members of the Rays Republic will be scratching their heads wondering if I had taken a hallucinogenic or have lost my friggin’ mind because I did not include the Rays ace, Price in this category. I would think the team is already in closed-door discussions with Price and his agent possibly trying ti iron out an extension, or possibly a viable financial situation that would keep both Price and the Rays smiling beyond his arbitration years.

Price has always been a “team-oriented” player, and if he and the Rays can come together on an extension, then we could see Price blossom in a Rays jersey for a long time. If not, some team would unload their farm system for a guy who is still evolving and is a left-hander. With an estimated $ 7.8 million salary for casted via arbitration for Price, without some sort of unilateral agreement between himself and the Rays, his future will become cloudy within the next 2 seasons, which would be a shame for both sides.

B J Upton is another guy who could easily vault past the $ 7.5 million hurdle with estimates ranging from $7.4-7.6 million for the Rays versatile CF. Upton is one of two players currently in the Rays arbitration process who could see himself being offered arbitration, and possibly be dealt before the team reports to Spring Training in Port Charlotte, Florida in mid-February. Still, Upton has the unique distinction of being “affordable” by Center fielder’s price points, but with several emerging candidates, including Sam Fuld or Desmond Jennings already bursting through on the MLB level, Upton has to feel he is not on stable footing.

The other player who could have pulled on a Rays uniform for the last time is RHP Jeff Niemann. Even though Niemann could only cost an affordable $ 3.1 million through arbitration, the Rays have a budding stable of pitching ponies behind the Tall Texan, and his health concerns and in juries over the past two seasons could make him an instant trade candidate and the least likely player to still be with the team this Spring.

Even though the other “silent assassin”, Wade David is also being mentioned in trades chatter, Davis has an extended contract with the Rays already in hand and that makes his situation more stable compared to Niemann. The Rays could still offer arbitration to Niemann knowing they will also explore trade situations and possibly use his salary arbitration as a key point in their trade talks, maybe even including a minor league prospect or money to another team to take Niemann.

So far on the arbitration forefront we have seen a “sure thing” and another arbitration eligible player who can be included in that category, but who might become expensive in the next 2 years. Also we have explored 2 players who might be on the top shelf of trade chatter, and who could even with salary arbitration attached to them be dealt even before their Spring hearings. Also to consider either of these 2 players could also be involved in a sign and trade situation giving their new squad a bit of financial relief, Niemann seems to be the one definite player on the cusp, but he has value on the trade front, so arbitration might be in the cards on Monday for Niemann.

There are still two player who might have pulled on their Rays uniforms for the last time, and it hurts me that both are baseball friends of mine. Both of these guys have sweat bullets for the team and been “company men” for the Rays enduring heartaches, surgeries and even unexpected trips away from the Rays that might have secured their destiny.

Andy Sonnanstine has done everything ever asked of him by the Rays, but with most of the 2011 season in “arbitration purgatory” with the Triple-A Durham Bulls, Sonny might be an easy candidate for the Rays to non-tender. This is a guy who has been comical, serious and multi-dimensional his entire Rays career, but with the current young guns pushing the ceiling for a shot in the majors, Sonny might be expendable. Even his affordable $1.1 million arbitration estimate might be more than the Rays would be willing to fork over for middle-of-the-road starter/reliever with the huge surplus of young talent on the cusp of being MLB ready.

This pains me, but LHP J P Howell took a huge step backwards in 2011, and that could cost him more than money. Sure he was trying to get back into the seasonal flow coming back into the Rays Bullpen towards the middle of the season, but his numbers and velocity took a tumble even with his mechanics at times plaguing his performance. His favor is an affordable $ 1.4 million estimate for his arbitration, and that could possibly push him over the hump and get an arbitration offer from the team.

But you have to consider Howell has stiff competition this Spring with fellow southpaws’ Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos again manning the hill for the Rays. It might come down to the intangibles like leadership, potential and if Howell can regain his velocity and trickery in 2012. You have to think an entire off-season to prep and regain his command and composure would benefit Howell, but could it be too late to impress the Rays brass that he will come back stronger in 2012.

I would love to see all 6 eligible players get a chance to go through the arbitration process for the Rays this Spring, but the numbers might not support such a move. With an early estimated $ 52.1 million payroll for 2012 with arbitration eligible figures included, that poses a 27 percent raise in the Rays payroll projections, and possibly 11 players topping the $1 million salary mark for 2012, any of these 6 arbitration eligible players could be gone to further lower the projected payroll before a single free agent to signed.

This is a critical year for the Rays with the Boston Red Sox’s recent contemplation of staying under the luxury tax threshold in 2012, and the possible addition of a second American League Wild Card spot anticipated, and all financial decisions on Monday could play into the Rays final position come the end of September. The arbitration process has a way of being cruel or kind depending on your position at the end of the day, but it is a viable way for teams to keep themselves solvent and reduce personnel during the off-season.

Peralta, Price and Upton should be on terra firma on Monday while Sonnanstine and Howell might be chin-deep in a puddle of quicksand without any rope or long branches to save them. Still, the one player who might be in the most vicarious position might be the 6′ 9” Niemann. He has the ability but not the sustained health for the Rays to confidently say without a hint of remorse he should get an arbitration hearing. Niemann will certainly get a hearing, but it might be a precursor to his eventual trade from the Rays.

No matter what happens on Monday, these 6 players have brought instances of joy and memorable events to all of us in the Rays Republic and I hope not matter what the outcome they know they will always be Rays in our eyes. Thank goodness the Rays do not have upwards of 10+ arbitration decisions that teams like the San Francisco Giants (13), Oakland Athletics (10),  San Diego Padres (11) and Red Sox (10) on Monday. Those arbitration decisions could dissect half of their roster in one day. Talk about a stressful day.

More Answers than Questions (Thank Goodness) This Rays Offseason


At the precise moment on Friday night as the St. Louis Cardinal’s barrage of champagne corks began their ascent towards the heavens, 29 other Major League Baseball franchises heard only the undeniable audible signal that announced the beginning of their own rebuilding and tweaking process. These MLB clubs did not watch in awe and admiration as Cardinal fans and players took their ceremonial baths in bubbly, that precise moment beckoned each and every club to begin to unveil and move towards their own dreams of celebrating in November, 2012.

As the city’s faithful began their dancing beneath that mighty arch, baseball vistas from Seattle to Miami began their own quests to become the club’s to do that same celebratory display in November, 2012. With the first cork came the realization that the 2011 MLB season is in the books, and 2012 is there for the taking.

This morning as the Sunburns off last night’s celebration haze, the Cardinal faithful are rushing to outlets throughout their city for their World Series title mementos while the rest of the MLB is sprinting to possibly gain a sizable lead in retaining, replacing or reconstructing their squads to have the same experience in 2012. The off season folder have been plucked from their secretive hiding places and already things are in the works both behind the scenes and in plain view. The off season for everyone in Major League Baseball has officially begun.

Here in Tampa Bay, the Rays should have an pretty abbreviated laundry list compared to their 2011 off season “wish list”. Still a few additional key components have to be found, possibly tweaked or invited to re-sign with the young club to give the Rays that same competitive fire and drive that send them from bystanders to Wild Card darlings. Key decisions have to be made about certain rotation members tenures with the team. Certain arbitration-eligible players may find themselves without a team, and a few unexpected free agents might get an Spring Training invite to become a part of the Rays 2012 nucleus.

Already there is both optimism and pessimistic waves and valleys growing within the Rays Republic. Should the Rays offer another contract to DH Johnny Damon with possibly a $7 guaranteed payday plus the same attendance bonuses? Or should the club enlist the outside help of another high priced bat-slinger to bring a bit of intimidation and power to the Rays universe?

Will a few slots open up in the Rays rotation, or will pitchers like Matt Moore and the “Alex” duo of Cobb and Torres be shipped back to the minor until mid-May to stammer their arbitration clocks? The Rays scouting system and front office is bound to have to endure more than a handful of stressful and thought provoking skull sessions to decide if the Tall Texan (Jeff Neimann) or WD-40 (Wade Davis) have better talent and potential than the pitching trifecta punching their way through the thin glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the St. Petersburg clubhouse.

Will the Rays catching corps rebound with authority both at the plate and behind it with John Jaso possibly showing the same power and ability that made him a Rays darling in 2010, or will a bevy of Rays farm hand backstops like Jose Lobaton, Robinson “Honeynut” Chirinos, Nevin Ashley or the powerful bat of Stephen Vogt make Jaso possibly a Rays “dead man walking?

The glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the clubhouse in St. Petersburg could be broken by several players of these players and more this coming Spring. Could veteran C Kelly Shoppach’s September and post season heroics gain him another shot behind the plate with the Rays, or will the Rays decline his 2012 club option? I have a feeling one of these catchers will not be with the Rays come the mid-February report date.

Then there will be an endless bevy of flowcharts and statistical evaluations and scouting critiques to decide if Reid Brignac is the heir apparent at shortstop, or if infield journeyman Sean Rodriguez will be given a chance to unseat Brignac who was the Rays 2011 Opening Day SS. Some have said S-Rod gives the team more power and a consistent bat in the line-up whereas Brignac might have the deeper range and potential coming into Spring Training 2012. With a hot Rays SS prospect like Hak-Ju Lee and INF Tim Beckham still pushing their way up the Rays farm ladder, the current shaky foundation of Brignac will open discussions towards possibly having Rodriguez get more time in the 6-slot with the future only a phone call away in Durham come late season.

Then there is the biggest hot spot of them all, who will man the First Base bag for the Rays in 2012? Most might think current 1B Casey Kotchman will get a nice bump in pay from his $ 750,000 2011 salary to re-sign with the Rays, but that is pure speculation until the contract is sign, sealed and delivered. Even with First Base power behemoths like Pujols, Fielder and possibly Votto dangling on the lines, the Rays will not have a salary deviations to land a high priced acquisition, and Kotchman could be a bargain both in his defense and in his renewed vigor at the plate.

Possibly we will see the end of the “Sonny” era with the Rays. Andy Sonnanstine spent most of 2011 in Triple-A, and being arbitration-eligible again in 2012, might have worn the Rays colors for the last time. RP J P Howell also will enter the fray again, possibly also with the Rays on the fence to his ability to rebound from his surgery and again be the needed force in the Rays Bullpen. The Rays for once seem set at “leftie specialist” as both Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos should end any discussions of the Rays needing another hurler in that category.

Kyle Farnsworth seems destined to again shore up the back end of the Rays Bullpen with a $ 3.3 million 2012 club option on the books. But could the late season elbow stiffness possibly have the Rays a bit anxious of a possible Deja Vu circa 2008 “Percival” scenario? More Bullpen concern might be to see if Joel Peralta might like to remain a Ray, possibly with a extended 2-year deal.

From top to bottom, all 40 of the Rays current roster members will undergo a evaluation soon. With free agents making visits to the Rays complex, and some packing their gloves for other vistas, this Rays off season has begun. Fortunately there are more answers than questions this season, but that will not hinder Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and his staff as they find ample offense and suitable replacements for a few departing Rays. The 2011 season is officially in the record books, now comes the real fun for Friedman and his staff to bring the brilliance.

If You Don’t Believe Now, Better Check Your Pulse



Words would just ruin the moment. Here is a photo essay of complied photos from the great AP photographers Mike Carlson / Chris O’Meara and Getty Images Photog  J. Meric  on the field and deep within the bowels of Tropicana Field  tonight. 




 

Last, but not least, the Home Run trot that began the celebration!



I Have Great Empathy for Relievers

I want everyone in the Rays Republic to think about something for a moment, then decide for yourself if you could handle this same zany job description day in, and day out.

You start off by sitting and watching a baseball game unfold in front of you while sitting in one of the best seats in the house, down in the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen. You are not stretched out at all, possibly having thrown the night before and have a bit of a soreness to your body. Suddenly the Bullpen phone rings.

Someone points to you and the mound and you suddenly have to escalate your velocity from an initial soft, loosing throw to full bore heat in less than 20-25 pitches before you are whisked into the emotional swirling dervish of the game, possibly thrust head-first into an inferno hoping initially in your mind you do not get burned.

One wrong placement, one slight variance from the norm and you are standing there waiting for another ball from the Home Plate Umpire. That is the Topsy-turvy always unnerving world of relief pitching. I consider it one of the worst job in baseball. In no other sport can you go as quickly from hero-to-zero faster than being an Major League Baseball reliever. No other position on a baseball team mentally asks you to omit the previous day’s events and start a-fresh immediately with confidence and swagger.

Because relievers do not get extended outings, their ERA ‘s tend to balloon faster than Kobayashi’s stomach on the 4th of July. Their pitches are subject to Talk Radio fodder even if the previous pitcher left the bases loaded with no outs, it is that “reliever’s fault” someone hit a “Texas Leaguer” into the outfield. He inherits the trouble and his pitches are analyzed by everyone no matter if it brings a strike or a Home Run

Sitting on that Bullpen bench is the ultimate emotional and mental roller coaster which has to be re-programmed nightly, forgetting the previous game’s events and finding a new individual focal point for yourself, bringing a sense of renewed clarity and vigor for that next contest. No where else is Rays Manager Joe Maddon mantra of “thinking about a game for 30 minutes then forget it” have more intense daily mental rotational pull than the Bullpen.

Talk about stress. A reliever is usually not granted a 3 or even 5 run lead on most nights when he hit the pitching rubber. He is more apt to be glaring down a pair of runners in scoring position with a single out than have the luxury to pin-point three nice breaking balls, then take a comfy seat on the dugout bench.

People wonder why relievers have more meltdowns than field players, consider that a game usually hinges on their skills and when the bad things happen, they can not hide, they are bare to the catcalls and fodder of the fans as they walk to the dugout either after a pitching change or in the middle of an inning. It doesn’t carry the glamor or the prestige of being a starter, the reliever is the “housekeepers of baseball”, coming on to clean up a mess more than to accent a great pitching performance.

It almost seems like if you were an MLB reliever you would have a sports psychologist on your speed dial, possibly on-call 24/7 to vent, speak or exorcise the potential nightly hazards of a meltdown of epic proportions, or the annihilation of an opponent with a 9-pitch half inning. Relief pitching is where extreme opposites in game action tend attract. Every action has a reaction, even some that are not pleasant.

Think about this for a moment, as you walk, strut or sprint in from the Bullpen, every eye in the stadium is on you trying to dictate on an insane celestial plane if game day magic or horror awaits the masses during your performance. In one throw, one swing, one moment stamped in time, you can go from the penthouse to the basement, and then you have to throw another pitch.

Maybe that is why I never try and purposely throw relievers “under the bus” when something bad happens. Considering most of the time they are summoned because a bad thing is about to happen, how can you thrust all that guilt and judgment for an impending loss upon a pitcher who is just trying to produce an easy way out, get the perfect pitch to ruin a rally, who’s every pitch can potentially swing the momentum back and forth like a pendulum towards his squad and away from their adversary.

Relievers do seem to hold the balance of a game in the palm of their hand. One false move can change the course of a game,can provide a key moment of clarity for either side, and leave at least one person shaking their head in disbelief. Maybe that is why I vent, release but never blame or condemn a reliever.

Some have mocked this breed of pitcher for his zany actions, bi-polar like transformations from being so friendly and sweet before a game and then turn into a classic son-of-a-boitch when he needs to pull from his dark side on the mound. Acting like another person, possibly even cursing at the ball like former Rays RP Grant Balfour is his unique way to cope with the impending doom or glory.

For it is an extreme slippery slope from great outing to implosion, and as a reliever stands on that mound, he is alone. That is why I do not speak in anger ever to theses guys, not for fear of backlash, but because I know they do a job more difficult than hitting a round sphere going almost 100 mph. Take a special breed of player to let a game wash off their backs like a duck.

Maybe that is why I like relievers, maybe that is why I hold them in high esteem even when thing go terribly South for they are their own sculptors of the flotsam and jetsam surrounding this game. Without relievers this game would take on such a different dimension. That and they chew the best bubble gum. 

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