Results tagged ‘ Joel Peralta ’

Could Price’s Success Turn into a Rays Windfall?

This is the time of year when every baseball fan within the Tampa Bay region is anxious. This is the moment when every single fan has the air of an expert, with plots, sidebars and commentary on the team’s direction, points of attack and their own pick list of potential new jersey names to be sewn upon the Rays Carolina Blue unis.

This is that unscripted and unabridged segment of the MLB merry-go-round adventure where even the most popular and productive of names can find themselves not only trade whispers, but packing for new horizons and opportunities. With a mire tick of the off-season clock anyone currently residing on the Rays roster or farm system can not be totally at ease or comfortable because when the bell tolls for the MLB GM Meetings, it is a loud and clear signal that the first round of touchie-feelie wheeling and dealing conversations will commence and someone Rays tenure can be vaporized with a single late night ringtone.

Even someone like Rays ace David Price who has just been announced as 1 of the 3 choices for the 2012 American League Cy Young award, but Price could just as quickly find his name penciled in on a deal worksheet or scribbled on a team’s “wish list”. This is not to say Price is going anywhere, but if the perfect deal with the right talent that could right the Rays sinking offensive ship were to materialize…. Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman might ponder it……for a moment.

Most would think it insane to even talk about Price going anywhere with his successes piling up during the last 4-odd seasons, but sometimes a player, even someone with mega-talent and rising potential can make another team so hungry to hitch their wagon to a player’s rising star they overpay and bring a bevy of goodness to someone anxiously wanting offense like the Rays.

Another odd factoid to remember is that Price has a limited and quickly evaporating fiscal shelf life as a Ray with his second arbitration salary a “gues-timate of around $ 7.5 million for 2013 which would escalate Price into the thin stratosphere of salaries for a player in his second walk down the arbitration process. That would put Price in the second slot in regards to salary only beaten by his fellow co-Ace James Shields who will bank $10.25 million for throwing the rock.

Immediately it comes to your mind the Rays would be insane to even consider trading one of their most popular and productive mainstays, but the MLB is a business and if someone is willing to part with an astronomical package…no one, not even Price is safe from at least a sitdown discussion. And we know all to well that the rest of his MLB peers have mad respect for the Rays southpaw bestowing upon Price the 2012 Player’s Choice award as the American Leagues “Outstanding Pitcher”. And these pieces of hardware that Price is amassing yearly only bring the cruel reality into the sunlight that one day Price will unfortunately price himself out of the Rays fold.

Price is only hitting the second of his 4 trips through the arbitration process and could command a salary above Shield’s $10.25 contract as early as the Spring of 2014 if he keeps moving onward and upwards fulfilling his potential. It’s a pity because Price has a chance to evolve into one of the greats, but this will not be realized wearing the Rays sunburst across his chest. Price’s Rays clock is ticking louder and louder every off-season towards the alarm finally chiming it is time for change.

I’m not forecasting, predicting or even remotely pondering Price’s departure, but the stark and undeniable truth is soon Price even with all his community upside and personality will make a trade decision a fiscal necessity. Maybe I’m being a bit too prudent, too calculated that possibly the Rays could turn Price now while his value is through the Trop’s Teflon roof and gain a top infield prospect, a few near the MLB caliber players that could fortify this Rays roster for the next 5 years with more offense, or maybe even a proven Bullpen arm to join forces with Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta to form a tight 1-2-3 late inning punch.

Some times hard decision have to be mentioned, breached and put out into the open air even if they may be considered unwarranted or mis-guided by their timing. Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann and even Wade Davis will have their names thrown out into the wind this Winter as trade pieces, trade considerations or even sent packing for financial or offensive relief.

Bringing up Price’s name here brings out the reality of the off-season that no one, not even Matt Moore who has a team friendly contract can be considered “off limits” or beyond trade rumors and whispers. Price is probably completely safe right now in the eyes of Friedman and the Rays front office. But you have to wonder, when a player is at their highest career point with them teetering on the cusp of maximum possible return on value, can you ignore the sanity of the situation.

I do not envy Friedman’s job because I would hate to be remembered as the guy who traded Price, even if it did make sense.   

Is Pine Tar a Demon or an Equalizer?

It’s in every bag in the big leagues. We have it everywhere. If you get rid of it, there are going to be hitters getting plucked left and right. When you have adverse weather games, extremely hot, cold, windy humidity;s crazy, sometimes as a pitcher you can’t feel the ball, that’s no good for the guy (at bat).                      – former Tampa Bay Rays Pitching Coach Chuck Hernandez

I’m being to feel that pine tar is a lot more prevalent and in wide-spread use than any of us can imagine. One of the most important assets to a pitcher no matter if he is a starter or a reliever is feeling a consistent and constant grip on the baseball. There have been no reports or experiments conducted to see if pine tar does give you an extra inch of drop, velocity or even control, but even if it is all in the pitcher’s mind only that he has more consistency because of it, isn’t that a good thing for the game. 

Makes sense that pitcher’s might dabble and spot a few dots of pine tar on their mitts during rain, sleet or snow, and humid and hot temperature do produce more sweat and moisture that could effect not only the grip, but final destination of every pitch. Seems like pine tar ( to me) might have a few helpful benefits to keep batters upright and safer at the plate. Former Rays TV Announcer and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joe Mcgrane said he has used pine tar before for it’s gripping properties while current Rays TV Announcer and former Rays/ Indians pitcher Brian Anderson says he never touched the stuff.

I remember more than once pitchers reaching into the Rays Bullpen bag for a green leather sleeve with a darkened element on it, but I never associated it with pine tar. Even though there has never been an adequate test or study to show if pine tar or a substance of that nature effects the flight of the ball, it seems more viable and controllable than other elements that can be applied to a baseball and masked without the darkened spots. In earlier baseball history Vaseline and saliva were commonplace, but I wonder if things like suntan lotion. Extra hair gel or possibly even leaving shampoo or conditioner in your hair pre-game could bring about the same results. 

In the same article Hernandez tells of the plight of former Detroit Tiger starter Kenny Rogers and his unfortunate pine tar incident that played out during the 2006 World Series when Rogers had some pine tar on his hands when he took the hill. Hernandez stated the aging hurler did not use the element to produce more sink or doctor the ball, he used it so he could get a better grip on the ball and not lose control of his pitches. 

In this case, rival Manger Tony La Russa handled it a bit more classier than Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson did recently. La Russa sent a message through the grapevine (Third Base Coach?) Telling Rogers to clean it up, clean it off. It was never made into the huge issue and polarizing issue it has in this recent Rays and Nationals series. Hernandez made a valid point that since they (Cardinals) beat the (Tigers) the issue was swept away without blossoming into a full blown incident.

You have to think MLB Home Plate Umpires reject a few baseball every game that might have hints or flashes of a substance, but do not call attention to it as pitchers “clean up” their act before it gets overly noticed or goes to extremes. I can tell you I’m going to be a bit more curious when an Umpire rejects a ball from now on as possibly having more than scrape mark or a darkened bat mark on the ball. 

I’m not looking to re-write MLB Rule 8.02, but Peralta did not touch the ball to his glove with the pine tar applied to it, the substance was within the finger area of the glove, thus not in direct contact with the ball. Still it was a violation, and a punishment Peralta might just be in the mood to appeal the punishment, possibly being a last thorn in the side of Nat’s Manager Johnson in this last game of the Rays and Nat’s InterLeague dance.  Wonder if Peralta heads to the mound tonight if the “boo-birds” will become a bit louder and crazier?

Maybe it is time for the hierarchy of Major League Baseball to dig a bit deeper into this situation, possibly poll current MLB roster pitchers with full immunity to discuss the issue and possibly find a viable solution everyone can not only live with, but promote safe usage and rules governing it’s application especially in adverse weather conditions. Just because MLB Umpires know it might be used by pitchers doesn’t mean they “look the other way”, it might not be as prevalent in everyday pitching situations thus a blind eye is given on occasion. 

I guess the use of pine tar will be one of those burning issues for a while some consider it in baseball’s “gray area”, and other see it as blatant cheating or dismissal of the rules of the game. No matter what your opinion, maybe this last statement by Hernandez might open a few eyes that maybe pine tar has an application in the game, but within set limitations or application.

I don’t see anything in pine tar that creates an unfair advantage for a pitcher. You make a big deal of it, and all of a sudden guys are going to start, as we call it in the business, pitching naked. More balls would get away from pitchers, and now you’re going to be fighting. We’re going to have more beanball brawls than ever.” 

Don’t know about you, but I hated getting pelted with a 90+ MPH pitch somewhere on my body while trying to hit that small white sphere. Plus I usually did apply a bit of pine tar to my bat…for a better grip.

 

 

Nats, Rats…Has a Nice Ring to It

I remember watching “Mob Wives” on VH-1 this season and one of the characters, Big Ang said these immortal words, “A rat is a rat is a rat.” But here lies the conundrum. It is up to interpretation as to whether you consider Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson the one with the wiry whiskers, or Rays reliever Joel Peralta to be the focal rodent here.

Do you consider a relief pitcher using a product that doesn’t give him a considerable edge the villain, or Peralta who is a former Nat’s pitcher and might have been “outed” by a former colleague, or your old Triple-A Manager who might have felt an obligation to divulge your old glove habit. Here is where the line between good sportsmanship and someone just trying to ruin someone for the sake of it all. To me, the smell permeates more from the Nationals dugout than from the body of Peralta.

Sure Peralta might have used some pine tar hidden within the folds of his black glove on the mound last night, but was there evidence on the ball used during that outing to suggest deception by Peralta, or was the Nationals staff using some long held information from Peralta’s past to discredit and damage his credibility throughout baseball.


I mean you do not have to think long and hard that the Nat’s had to have had this information long in advance as a black colored glove doesn’t give off the air of deception via black pine tar unless you had prior knowledge the event might be unfolding. It is not like any member of the Nat’s roster or staff got a chance to take a intense nasal upload of Peralta’s mitt, or that an odor or remnants of pine tar suggested the element was present before Johnson made Home Plate Umpire Tim Tschida aware of any wrongdoing.

Johnson just played a trump card he had in his back pocket, and got an effective reliever not only out of this game, but possibly the rest of the series between these two clubs. It might be a clever move to isolate one key ingredient that could thwart any late inning heroics by his Nationals club, but was it a rat move by doing it in such a devious and cowardly way. It is not like the pine tar was visible or even someone witnessed the event. Johnson was going on private knowledge he had on a prior Peralta game day tradition/superstition and used it to his advantage, possibly ruining Peralta’s reputation and putting doubt of all of Peralta’s positive career steps in the process.

So is this going to start a bit of a “glove war” in this series? Possibly not, but you can bet Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his squad will use this measure as a energizing polar moment, possibly playing their final 2 games against Washington with a bit more energy and want for victories. Peralta did glide over the MLB lines with his move, but isn’t it common knowledge pitchers use any tools or items at their disposal to get that slight edge?

We have all seen pitchers pick up the resin bag and popped it into their forearms and hands, then do a few hard and suggestive bumps on their uniform leg for possible “future application”. Isn’t this considered a foreign substance since it is not a viable part of either the glove or the uniform and MLB warrants a pitcher rub his hand on his uniform after using the resin bag to extract possible excess materials?

This is one of those unwritten things you know each teams does, but it doesn’t have a direct affect on the game’s integrity or outcome. Players find their own ways to not so much cheat, but get their own slight advantages, but this time Peralta will pay the price through a possible game suspension and unexpected fine and further long glances into his past achievements. Johnson took the “low road” in my opinion here.

It was not a crafty move made on an observation, but on a long held habit of Peralta’s that in evidently got him ejected and under the thumb of the MLB disciplinarians now. Sure some within the Nat’s fan base will stand and applaud Johnson’s move, but I truly wonder how many players in his own clubhouse do not want to be a part of these shenanigans. In the end Johnson pulled his trump card and sent Peralta up the Delaware River without a paddle or a bucket to keep himself from sinking.

I hope whoever divulged that tidbit of information about Peralta on the Nat’s Coaching staff or player roster can sleep well at night now knowing they discredited a former teammate and possible friend. Sad when a former employer has to dig up prior dirt to get you discredited, show doubt and possibly black label you for the rest of your career just to try and develop a scoring opportunity.

I think it is extremely funny that if you go 4 letters to the right in our alphabet, then Johnson is not the Manager of the “Nat’s”, he is the skipper of the “Rat’s”…..I bet none of his 25 man roster would want to put on that jersey….ever. 

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.

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