Results tagged ‘ Johnny Damon ’

Dynamic Duo Make Their Rays Debut

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RaysRenegade

Got to admit to all of the Rays Republic, in the beginning I had a few doubts and even reservations about a Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez duo signing. Maybe it was the aspect that they have been associated with the 2004 Red Sox “Cast of Idiots“, or maybe I was afraid they might not be able to “Cowboy Up!” one last time.

After witnessing the magic and pure adrenaline rush permeating through that Tampa Bay Rays Press Conference media room, my doubts and worry suddenly melted off like Ramirez’s pounds during his workouts in Arizona. From the moment their agent Scott Boras led them into the room until Rays Vice President of Communications Rick Vaughn yelled “Is that all?” This was a glorious ride to see in person.

I was not suppose to be in this room nestled near the darkness with my little camera, but the entire Rays office was poised at noon today to see the next chapter unfold and I tagged along for the ride. From the media buzz to the clicking of camera’s and live video feed both locally and from MLB, this quickly became a love fest, not just for Tampa Bay, but for the two men seated in the middle of the large table.

Instantly you knew both guys were on the same page, had the same intentions and wanted to the guys to help usher in a repeat American League East title. Like Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein so eloquently said recently, “The demise of the Rays is greatly exaggerated.” I am not climbing the flagpole just yet, or marching fully to that beat of triumph again, but this duo instantly make me hunger for that chance.

Both said the right things too. Ramirez flexed his right arm to show his muscle when asked if he was “fit” ,and Damon said insistently this was not the “last chapter” of his baseball career. Instantly the void that grew immense when former clubhouse guru Carlos Pena vacated for Chi-town became smaller. Suddenly I could see the Rays clubhouse leader ship not come from one speaker, but act in stereo with their actions and observations going to make this team competitive every game.

Suddenly I remembered why I hated these two so much. Their competitive nature just seems to ooze from their confidence levels, and that used to scare the death out of me. But there were comments from both that instantly brought me back to why they were signed, Damon called the Rays his “Dream Team” or Ramirez saying while putting on his number 24 Rays jersey that he ” looks good in white“.

Integrity, confidence and ability all joined hands in that room today. Manny was his usual joking self, but did not shy away from questions on if “Manny might be Manny” in Tampa Bay, but a guy who has hit almost .300 lifetime in this dome knows what is expected of him. Possibly Manny even threw out a nugget for the Rays to consider in 2011 that he thinks he can play “five more years”. Not making any predictions, but if Manny is right he has already made his money….maybe a Tampa Bay discount knowing this team can compete might be in the future.

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 The love fest we saw between these two today was incredible. You can tell they are more than happy to be playing with each other again, and the respect level is very high between them. Several times during the Press Conference I expected both to rise and do an Ari Gold (Entourage) “hug out“. Not since Baseball Hall of Fame member Wade Boggs and HOF hopeful Fred McGriff put on a Rays uniform have I been excited about such a veteran duo. Some in the assembled crowd made predictions of a possible 70 Home Runs between the pair while other were optimistic of a great meshing of the duo with the young Rays corps.I left that room running for my laptop in the car wanting to write this. Eager to let this feeling flow from me today of this incredible moment. Some say defining moments in a franchise’s history never reveal themselves until later, but today the moment just felt perfectly right for a half hour. So the signings are official, the jerseys have pressed their backs for the first time and the media got to shake their verbal hands with Damon and Ramirez. For some reason the comment from Ramirez to Damon of “You play 100 games, I’ll play 62” (referring to LF) is still ringing in my ears…in a good way. 

I snuck in to see this magical moment mush like a kid who sneaks under the canvas at the circus. I expected to see a sideshow event. Once that propped both of them up in a definite light. What I got was two men who had extreme confidence and respect for each other pass compliment after compliment not just to themselves, but to the young team they will embrace in 2011.

I really do hope that Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce and the rest of the Rays budding hitter pick the brains of these two baseball icons. I hope the competitive nature and confidence level showed by Damon and Ramirez today fills that Rays Spring Training clubhouse. But most of all I am just glad I got to see the magic happen….firsthand.

Tampa Bay’s Own Casey Kotchman Added to First Base Mix

 

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Zimbio 

Anyone who has attended a Rays game in the past knows that when Casey Kotchman came into town for a series, there was a line at the Visitor’s dugout. Former teammates, Kotchman Baseball School students, coaches and even friends have been known to surround the dugout rails for a moment with the former Seminole High School star before Rays games. Now the Rays dugout might be feeling that pressure as the Tampa Bay area product is coming home to play for his hometown Rays.

The addition of Kotchman today to a $ 750,000 minor league contract with incentives could become another fine tooled feather in the cap of Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman as he pieces together another contending ball club. It instantly fills a need for the Rays, plus provides another ounce of proven ability to a club most thought was going to roll over and die for a few seasons.

The signing of Kotchman shows the Rays value ability as well as staying within the limits of their thin pocketbook, and might be another off-the-radar pick-up by the frugal Friedman. Bringing in local star Kotchman could also have a clear double-edged sword effect on the Rays roster this Spring.

In one clear instance, this move will automatically raise the level of corner infield talent and ability at the First Base bag and provide a great measure of not only healthy, but needed competition between Kotchman and Dan Johnson this Spring. On paper, this signing might look a bit one-sided with Kotchman winning by a landslide the defensive side of the overall 1B equation, but as we already well know, the mind of Rays Manager Joe Maddon doesn’t always follow common baseball logic.

Kotchman has appeared at First Base 581 times in his MLB career with Los Angeles/Anaheim, Atlanta, Boston and Seattle. Johnson has only manned the First Base bag only 21 games total in his Rays career.

You automatically see Kotchman as a key defensive replacement for departed past Gold Glover Carlos Pena. Even though Kotchman, who sports a .998 lifetime fielding percentage including only one error in 116 games for the Seattle Mariners during the 2010 season, it isn’t as clear cut on the offensive side of the numbers.

With both Rays First Baseman taking their swings from the left-side of the Batter’s Box ( same as Pena), the ultimate winner of this Spring battle might come down to a few more intricate pieces of either players arsenal such as OPS, RISP. And possibly strikeouts. All First Baseman indications prior to the signing of Kotchman seemed to be focused on a Ben Zobrist and Johnson platoon, but the addition of the sure handed glove of Kotchman might actually provide a bit of outfield controversy this Spring.

The Rays Brian trust must have a plan in mind prior to this signing, and possibly a platoon action could be configured also with Kotchman and Johnson in mind. Looking at their offensive numbers, Kotchman has not produced as fluidly as he did from 2006-2007 when he was with the Angels.

Then again, Kotchman has been kind of pigeon-holed offensively over the past few years in platoon action while with the Mariners, Red Sox and Braves. If Kotchman can prove that his .219 average and 75 points fall off his slugging percentage was a fluke, he could see significant starts at First Base for the Rays. Kotchman actually on paper looks a bit like Pena in that when he gets into a solid rhythm at the plate, he can turn on the magic.

I still think it is Johnson’s spot to lose. The Rays have kept Johnson close to them for a few years for some reason that defies some of our own logic. Possibly the Rays have the gut feeling that with extended playing time and at bats, he can return to his pre-2007 offensive numbers he held while a member of the Oakland A’s. Back then, Johnson hit 42 Home Runs in 3 season and produced 162 walks.

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BleacherReport

I want to wax poetic here and think that Johnson’s 2008 Home Run against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon was the greatest HR in Rays history, but some think it was the right guy at the right time only. Personally I would love to see Johnson get an extended 2011 try at first for the Rays, but considering his batting average against right-handed pitchers hovers below .200, but Kotchman only get a slim lead based on his own .239 average against righties.

An interesting tidbit is that Kotchman went 1 for 10 (.100) on turf in 2010 while Johnson only went 13 for 63 (.206). But if you look at a factor like On-Base Percentages, Johnson has a slight leg-up on Kotchman .343 to .280. It might just come down to something as simple as run production and game day match-ups to decide who out of this pair might get the nightly starting nod.

With runners in scoring position, Kotchman sits closer to .300 against both left-handers and right-handers while Johnson sits under .200 against right-handers. The numbers tend to bunch both of them close into a possible platoon situation with Maddon again possibly tinkering with his line-up nightly to get the slight edge. It might ultimately come down to plate discipline. Johnson’s posted a 25-to-27 walk to strikeout ratio while Kotchman leaned more towards the strikeout 35-to-57 in 2010.

By no means does the signing of Kotchman signal the end of the Johnson idea at First Base for the Rays. It just muddles the waters a bit and provides each player with a dynamic where they have to produce to get a shot at manning the bag full-time. But each player seems even in regards to right-handed pitching, so neither has a solid chance to cement their name on the line-up just based on which side the pitcher lines up on the mound.

2011 has been a year of surprises so far for the Rays. The addition today of Kotchman has to be viewed as a positive move by the franchise to give the Rays more depth and defensive ability going into Spring Training. Going into the February 20th report date for all players to the Rays Spring Training Camp, I am going to give a slight edge to Kotchman at First Base. I still think it is Johnson’s to lose, but I got to support and root for the hometown guy…Sorry D J.

Have You Tried the Rays NEW D&M Sandwich?


pbj.jpgExaminer.com photo file

 

Got to tell you, when I first heard the signing rumblings recently about Florida-born Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez possibly signing with the Tampa Bay Rays, it made me ………extremely hungry.Yes, you heard that right, I became famished, and eager to sit down and digest this whole enchilada bite by bite. Not sure why this idea of “food” as an analogy point crept into my mind, but the more I focus in on the Rays Republic’s knowledge on these two iconic aging stars, the more my thoughts seem to melt into an ever expanding culinary direction.

The extremely wild part of it all is tat I instantly imagines a homemade Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich when thinking about these two players signing with the Rays. If you really look deep into this equation, the two of them were brought in to be a cohesive bonding agent for the Rays offense. Both have strengths and abilities that will benefit each other, and with their confidence and leadership, could mesh this unit into the perfect PB & J.

Of course Damon is the Peanut Butter with his smooth stroke at the plate and good running style. Coming to a team like the Rays that use the stolen base as an additional means to produce scoring opportunities, Damon will get more than a few chances to stretch him self from the heel to the crown of the bread loaf, and smother himself. Most might think I would pick Ramirez for the peanut butter since he does have his “nutty” tendencies, but the P B is all Damon.

Not the crunch variety either. I honestly think this was a great move that will actually streamline the Rays running game and produce some great numbers for Damon in 2011. Most people are downplaying the positive aspects of Damon coming here, but remember, the Detroit Tigers were not known for their love of the stolen base last season. Now the big question might be where to insert Damon into this line-up to take advantage of this speed-based offense.

That brings me to another reason why Damon is peanut butter. You see, it is not jelly and peanut butter, but peanut butter and jelly. With that culinary distinction, Damon should hit lead-off. Some might suggest B J Upton there with his speed and power potential, but I see Upton actually hitting second and give Damon chances to not only score runs, but possibly put pressure on the opponent’s defense to make the hard plays.

But you can’t have PB & J without the jelly. Ramirez is still a great hitter. Just because some of his power numbers have taken a spiral downward since his 50-game in-season vacation while with the Los Angeles Dodgers doesn’t mean it was “juice-induced”. Jelly is all about the preservatives, pectin and the ultimate fruit tastes that push this classic sandwich to the next level.

Living in FL, I have gotten to know odd flavor concepts in jelly from orange to guava escalating into my new favorite mango. Ramirez is like a ripen mango, and ready for the picking. He was not happy in La-la Land, and at times his play on the field showed brightly to the fans that if Manny is not happy….Manny takes to playing the game on his own level. Hence the mango jelly.

It is an acquired taste. Some people would be repulsed by it while others savor the exotic nature of it all knowing the difference is what makes it special. Hence, Ramirez is the Manny Mango in my jelly-based opinion. Ramirez was brought here to protect the Rays golden asset, budding MLB hot shot Evan Longoria in the line-up. Ramirez’s ability to hit it long and hard, or just produce period makes him a great protector for Longoria in the Rays line-up.

Playing mostly at DH for the Rays ( except during Inter-League), it is a chance for Manny to show the rest of the American League that he can make the transition from everyday field player to Designated Hitter. This is a chance for the Rays and Ramirez to desperately inject a new tangy and intoxicating bit of favor to the DH position without the bitter aftertaste of the Burrell DH era. In short, it is Ramirez playing for a possible 2012 audition as a AL DH.

I really feel deeply that Damon and Ramirez aka Dam-Manny come as a unique flavor profile package, not unlike the mentioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Heck, the idea that the Rays lost out on signing Andrew Jones is muted instantly by the basic premise of the BOGO (Buy One, Get One Free) situation where the Rays produced a “win-win” situation by getting two prolific scorers for one low price. That kind of grocery savvy reminds me totally of the Rays favorite grocery chain (Sweetbay).

When in your wildest notions would you have ever expected to see these two players EVER in the Rays Carolina blue jerseys. But coming within a month, when they report to Port Charlotte, Florida for Spring Training,. Waiting for them will be a young team with a hearty appetite for winning, and a want to succeed.

Most people expected me to possibly throw this deal under a microscope and find fault, blame or even a dab of sarcasm at the expense of the new duo, But this deals makes me extremely hungry for a pure fact that it feels like the perfect sandwich. Together both Damon and Ramirez give the Rays a two headed approach at American League hitting this season, where if they had signed Jones, it would have been one flavor all season long.

With the addition of these two talents, we will definitely see either Damon or Ramirez at times camped out in the Rays outfield with the NEW AstroTurf II under their tootsies hopefully performing amazing plays. The addition of the two hitters also give the wheeling and dealing line-up machine of Rays Manager Joe Maddon two more weapons in his daily arsenal to take down the Red Sox and Yankees from their predestined podiums.

Damon and Ramirez fit together like peanut butter and jelly. Together they can make a tasty treat that will make you smile and get you excited. But apart, they become two different taste platforms that do not go well on their own merits. I am still feeling a bit hungry, and I think it is time for me to venture into the kitchen for a hearty snack. Maybe I will conjure up a special D&M sandwich, better known to people outside Tampa Bay as a PB&J…..

 

 

 

Andrew Friedman……Scavenger Hunter Extraordinaire

 

                  
                    Www.Tbo.com

Have you checked out the new show on the History Channel on cable called “American Pickerswhere a pair of average looking guys venture out around the country rummaging through people storage spaces, weed-infested backyards and barns on that endless quest to find the perfect pieces to put an accent on their collections or for a possible resale money bonanza.

Well, the guys on this show do seem to find some incredible items, and also seem to dig deep and find a few unforeseen treasures, but the show sometimes comes off as so analytically calculated, and borders on the outer realms of eccentricity, but the action does reminds me of the “digging beneath-the-surface” player searches and untapped player explorations that Tampa Bay Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman has become famous all around Major League Baseball for since he took over that spot with the Rays.

It has become the norm around the Major Leagues that Friedman always seems to be on the phone doing so-called “courtesy calls” to check-out every single player ever put up on the trade block, or any free agent that could potentially be a instant “plus” for the Rays. You only have to go back to 2007 when Friedman might have shocked a few people by signing First Baseman Carlos Pena to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite.

Friedman took a guy with such great potential when he was drafted by the Texas Rangers back in and made it to the MLB when he played for years with the Detroit Tigers, but had been hidden amongst the weeds in the minor league system and Friedman and his scouting staff could see the potential.The way he seemed to pick Pena out of that situation and we all quickly saw him rise again to MLB stardom is a testament to Friedman’s scavenger hunt mentality when seeking out players for the Rays. By Friedman keeping a watchful eye, and ear to the ground to aggressively seeking out that prized piece of personnel who could improve the Rays has become a trademark of his tenure with Tampa Bay.

Another great example might be the trade a few years ago with the Minnesota Twins where he sent a disgruntled Delmon Young, infielder Brendan Harris and minor leaguer outfielder Jason Pridie for the package of pitcher Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and reliever Eduardo Morlan. And it is still amazing that of that group, two members of that trade have formed the backbone of this team, and Bartlett has exploded to become one of the best shortstops in the American League.

But it is this scavenger mentality that maybe sets Friedman apart from his peers. That extra sense of looking deep and maybe even stepping back and then looking at a player again to find that special piece of the chemistry that might solidify the Rays roster. Friedman really reminds me of those people who weekly flock to the local Flea Markets or stroll around your own neighborhood feasting on Yard/Garage Sales and seems to find that one item just kind of loitering around the table, then he picks up at this item for a bargain basement price much our amazement.

But Friedman has also been laid out to dry a few times trying to sneak a player or get a bargain and then have it blow up in his face. All you have to do is mention the name Josh Hamilton to him and you see a bit of the fire die behind his eyes. That was an early wake-up call to Friedman that not everyone else was in awe of him, and if he made a mistake, there were more than a few people who are willing to pounce on his errors. With him trying to sneak Hamilton through the Rule 5 Draft with no one noticing might seem manic, but it was a calculated risk, and one that will haunt Friedman, but also made him wiser about the whole process.

 
 

And then you have the current bloodbath concerning Rays designated Hitter Pat Burrell, who came to the team with maybe some over blown expectations, but still did nothing to subdue the anger and frustrations of the Rays faithful to Burrell or Friedman with his abysmal hitting and injury concerns in 2009. But there is still another chapter to be written in that story, and if all the reports are true, Friedman is still actively trying to be another suitor for Burrell. But this one might stick to Friedman the way the “Hit Show” fiasco stuck to former Rays GM Chuck LaMar. And sometimes people forget that it is what you did just yesterday that people remember, not what you have consistently done during your entire time with a club.

 
 

And for that, I do consider Friedman one of the true great assets of the Rays. He might not get a chance to hit a walk-off homer like Friedman 2008 early pick-up Gabe Gross, or repay the Rays for their confidence in him by pitching a one-hitter like Garza, but this team is a constantly evolving and revolving sphere that is Friedman’s world. There was a recent article by Josh Fisher of “The Hardball Times” baseball blog that Friedman might be one of the best assets in baseball for what he does behind the scenes to improve, orchestrate and also balance this Rays franchise 365 days a year.

And it is real easy to throw stones at the ivory tower on the third floor of the Trop., but Friedman actually has an outstanding track record if you add all of his player moves and removals up on two sides of a sheet of paper. And maybe that is his best quality. Because if you do add some items to Column A or to Column B, you would ultimately see in front of you the true essence that he might be way ahead of the curve and has actually done some amazing things in such a short time. But it is the timing of some of these things that tend to stir the controversy pot for Friedman. Some hate the player discussion comment blackout where the team will not discuss any possible deals in the works until they are finalized, or tossed away.

 
 

And even if the Rays front office formulated a solid strategy to end all active arbitration figure exchanges at a predetermined point and it got some well focused anger from the new MLBPA head honcho Michael Weiner. But missing from those raging comments by Weiner is the actual facts that fellow MLB clubs, the Washington Nationals and Florida Marlins also put arbitration time limitations on their arbitration exchanges between the two parties. It is a bit unrealistic that Friedman is solely being hung out to dry on this factor, but that is the reality of the process. Sometimes the “hot name” or the “Golden Boy” get the shaft while the others scramble to do their own form of damage control before the heat hit them square in the jaw.

 
 

Chris O’Meara/AP


People around baseball are always looking for the next big name, or the hidden gem within the minor league systems of your competitors. And right now, Freidman and the Rays Scouting department might be a bit ahead of the curve. So the next time you hear a rumor about the Rays checking in on Chan Ho Park, Orlando Hudson or even Orlando native Johnny Damon, remember that it just might be a courtesy call from Friedman just checking on the status or asking price and nothing more. But with the Rays code of silence imposed until the signature is on the contract, there could be a few deals sitting on the shelf for consideration especially if there is deferred money involved right now.

 
 

And could today’s signing by the Rays of former San Deigo First Round Draft pick(2004) pitcher Matt Bush be another chapter of Friedman finding a talent buried within the minor leagues that could one day produce for the Rays. So if within the next 21 days a player like Damon, Park or another unseen player does fall into the Rays hands, you can be sure the Rays did their homework and poked and analyzed every angle of the equation before Friedman ever steps to the podium to talk about……..anything.

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