Results tagged ‘ Kelly Shoppach ’
Today I want to conclude the photos that I took out at the Rays Spring Training complex on Friday morning. Hopefully each and every one of you will get a chance sometimes in your life to either get out to Arizona or Florida to see this yearly migration and training exercise featuring some of the most talented and fit athletes. No matter what team, or the location, these are our “Boys of Summer”, and to catch them in this energetic elementary state away from the confines of the regular season.
One of the necessary “evils” of Spring Training is the television and media requests for interviews and short sound bytes about the upcoming season. Here we have former Rays Rookie of the Year candidate pitcher Jeff Niemann being interviewed by a local television crew about his expectation for the 2010 Rays season. You can not tell by the photo, but Niemann is growing a ” Abe Lincoln”-style beard that is just beginning to come into its own. He has not decided if he will keep it for the season, but combined with rookie pitcher Wade Davis, they could be the “bearded” back end of the Rays rotation this season.
One of the great things about the way the Charlotte County Sports Park is setup is the short walk across the player’s parking lot before they hit the Rays clubhouse front door. It is an excellent spot to get autographs and also chat with your favorite players. Also, there are some players who are more pat to sign during Spring Training then they do during the regular season, and this is a great time to get those final pieces to your autograph collection.
Welcome to Tampa Bay Kelly Shoppach. I think he felt like a hunted man as most of the Tampa Bay media was waiting for him and the other catchers’ to come in last during the days event and he was kind enough to give and every one of them a sound byte for their nightly telecast.
Shoppach is pictured here in the middle of the media throng with local sportscasters popping microphones in front of his face as they ask about the upcoming competition to see who is going to be the Rays starting catcher for the season. Most people think the competition is going to be fierce between Shoppach and incumbent Dioner Navarro for the Rays starting catching job. I actually think it might come down to game situations as Shoppach is more apt at getting on base, while Navarro can provide some power at times in the lineup. Should be a fun time watching these two go through the Spring.
I remember when I was playing sports, I used to hate hitting the “sharks” as I used to call them. The problem with some media members is they are always seeking the negative items and looking for an extreme angle on the team. People have asked me why I try and take a more positive approach to my blogs and my commentary, the proof is right above in this picture. With all the media onrush, I think a positive spin on even the worst situation can do wonders. But, I do have my own targets ( Hickey, Burrell).
It was so great to see all of the guys out there tossing the ball around and laughing and commenting to each other throughout the workouts. Every pitcher performed drills today in anticipation of the Rays Fan fest on Saturday, in which most of the Rays pitchers’ will take that long trek up to Tropicana Field to participate in autograph signings and photo opportunities with Rays fans.
I was excited to head on down to the far end of the complex after the pitchers’ came in for the day and see the Rays catchers in camp doing time in the hitting cages. One of the guy who caught my attention was Joe Dillon, who is trying to make this Rays roster as a multipurpose player. Last season he was Maddon’s choice as an emergency third catcher, but with a great Spring, he could make the roster as a bench and infield utility man. Plus he was tagging the ball down the third baseline today with some extreme power.
I am always surprised by the new exercises and physical fitness regiment that they Rays include in their daily workouts. No matter if it is the extra large rubber bands to strengthen their calves and legs, or the flex tubing to help stretch out their arms and shoulders, each Spring there is something new in the Rays exercise arsenal.
And it was great to see the guys starting to hit drills during the first day with everyone participating but Rays new closer Rafael Soriano who has been battling some chest congestion due to a vicious cold. He might have only thrown a few long toss balls today, but he was there for Maddon’s meeting and looks imposing in his Rays uniform.
But the “man of the hour” was Rays owner Stuart Sternberg who fielded a barrage of questions from the media on subjects ranging from the Hillsborough County stadium buzz to the Rays possible scenarios to keep Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena for 2011. Another issue that was on the media’s mind was the payroll concerns for 2011 and the rumors of Rays Season Tickets being down for this season.
One of the true sights of Spring. Most of the Rays players came out in their game spikes, but they also brought along their running shoes for their post long toss running exercises and workout on another field. With most of their cleats not broken in yet, using these running shoes might be one of the best options to keep blisters and foot situations under control so early in the Spring Training process.
Rays reliever J P Howell and Rays starter Matt Garza are shown in these two photos ” airing it out” in their long toss portion of the Friday exercises. Howell was throwing with a group that contained fellow Bullpen mates Dan Wheeler and Lance Cormier before Cormier and Garza hooked up and put on a long-toss show with both pitchers throwing consistent balls in the air from the leftfield foul line to almost centerfield before they stopped and moved onto the pitching drills segment of the daily events.
Most of the morning exercises were devoted to stretching and limbering up for the daily grind of drills and activities to see what shape each of the Rays players might be in prior to the team turning up the dial and getting more intense in the next few days. And with every pitcher basically not doing intense workout on Saturday because of their travels to Fan Fest, it was a time to push the envelope a bit.
It was a great turnout of fans both from Charlotte County, and some who came as far as Boston and Chicago for the Rays first “official” day of Spring Training camp. Just another sign that the Rays Republic is beginning to get fans from all over the country excited about Rays baseball.
One of the things I respect most about Maddon is that he leads by example. He is one of the most positive people I have ever met, and he is always preaching and showing confidence and the essence of positive thinking to his players. But something else I have noticed the last few years, he is always the last person off the Spring Training field.
Not unlike Lt. Colonel Hal Moore in the Vietnam War epic “We Were Soldiers”, Maddon has lead by example and been a constant force of steady, confident leadership for his team. And just like Moore would not step off the ground and into a transport helicopter until every last solider was transported or removed from the battlefield in the Ia Drang Valley, Maddon also shows that unity daily in his activities with his team.
So this was my short and eventful day at the Rays complex as pitchers and catchers officially reported to the Rays to begin the 2010 campaign to get back to the playoffs. There will be another 10 days of extreme workouts and drills before game action begins, and less than 45 days until the Rays open their season at Tropicana field against the Baltimore Orioles. Hope you enjoyed the photos, because I enjoyed getting them for all of us to enjoy…
As I glance up at the luminated clock on the kitchen wall, I see that it is just a few minutes past midnight on Saturday morning. Within the next 24 hours, the Tampa Bay Rays front office will be finalizing the 2010 fate of 10 of their players. This is that stressful 24-hour period that every Major League team and their selected players have to endure where offers of arbitration, possible signing of contracts, or non-tendering their players so they can find employment elsewhere, or possibly sign with the team as a free agent (but doubtful).
It is not only a nervous time period for the 10 Rays players the team has up for arbitration this season, but also for the Rays fans who have grown attached to these players. A few of these player’s names might be absent from the Rays 2010 equation within the next 24 hours. And the possible 10 decisions by the Rays will include core players and borderline players who stepped above and beyond, but might be eliminated by numbers and talent rising up from the Rays farm system.
Of the 10 Rays players being considered for 2010 arbitration hearings, only one of them is currently a Rays starting pitcher. And on paper, you have to consider him to be a bona fide “sure thing” to be offered a contract. Rays starter Matt Garza might actually be one of the four possible “sure things” for the Rays within the next 24 hours. Garza has been a key member of the Rays staff, and has upped his game again in 2009, and on paper is a solid choice yo again be with the team in 2010. And Garza will see a nice bump in his 2010 salary (estimated $ 3.2 million) compared to the $ 430,000 he receiveded during the Rays 2009 season.
But during this 24-hour period the Rays front office might be finished crunching the numbers and getting scouting reports while letting their personal feeling for the players disappear from the equation. The Rays Bullpen could look considerably different after this 24 hour period as 5 total members of the Bullpen are up for arbitration. But the first glints of daylight also showed a rays of light that one arbitration eligible player will not have to wait for his fate as left-handed reliever Randy Choate signed a 1-year $ 700,000 contract with a possible $ 25,000 bonus if he appears in 80 games next season for the Rays.
That’s right, Choate is the first Rays player to feel the joy of not having to worry about the anxious stress of not knowing his 2010 fate. But even with one player down, and nine to go, that still leaves Bullpen mates Grant Balfour,J P Howell, and Lance Cormier to wonder about their possible fates for the next several hours.
But of that selective reliever corps, I have to consider Howell the second “sure thing” bet of all the Rays players to again get a clear contract offer from the Rays. He went above and beyond his job description in 2009, even giving the closer’s job a chance before the Rays finally shut him down in late September due to arm fatigue. The progress that Howell has shown from miserable,disgruntled starter to confident, out-going reliever is like a night and day transformation. And with that, Howell might finally get a chance to celebrate with his new wife that fact that he could have an estimated 2010 salary in the $ 1.8 million range during his first time on the arbitration tightrope.
But that still leaves both Balfour and Cormier to be in the “unknown” group based on a few personal observations, and not on their solid pitching performances in 2009. During the late 2009 season, Balfour was critical of the Rays pitching concepts late in the season and might have produced some bad blood between him and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey. Could Balfour’s small episode of mouthing off cost him a chance to continue with the team?
Also considering the Aussie is about to get hitched on January10th, you hope he did not put a wedge between him and the Rays front office and coaching staff in 2009. Could the Rays make him sweat a bit before late in the evening offering Balfour a contract? And if they do sweat him out a bit, could they be possibly motivated by the comments to try and get his estimated $ 2.1 million reduced through the arbitration hearing?
But my biggest Rays question mark concerning the Bullpen might come down to what the Rays will do about their long reliever spot. Cormier was impressive in that role during 2009, and I truly hope he is safe. But the Rays have two other pitchers fighting for their 25-man roster spots who do not have a secured spot for 2010. Might Cormier be the “sacrifical lamb” to give the Rays a possible roster spot to pitcher Mitch Talbot, who has no minor League option left, or Andy Sonnanstine.
Cormier would garner around $ 1.1 million in possible 2010 salary if the Rays offer him arbitration. Sonnanstine and Talbot’s combined 2010 salaries might only cost the Rays around $ 850,000, and could be the main reason the team doesn’t give Cormier an offer. Personally, I hope he gets an arbitration offer from the Rays because the job he did in 2009 was fantastic, but my word means nothing in the final scheme of things.
Now that we have looked into the Rays possible arbitration plans for their 2010 pitching staff, lets look to the five Rays field players who also could receive an arbitration offer within the next 24 hours. I will also make a quick evaluation on their possible chances to remain in the team past December 12th.
Jim Mone / AP
You have to consider both Rays players B J Upton and Jason Bartlett are pretty much another set of “sure things” locks for a contract offer within the next 24 hours. Bartlett has increased both his offensive and defensive worth to the Rays since the first day he lined up at the shortstop position for the team. But considering he might get a huge bump in contract up into the $ 3.3.5 million range in 2010, you can never count out anything until the arbitration contract is faxed to your agent. And everyone, everywhere has their own special opinions on Upton.
I personally can not see this team without Upton in centerfield in 2010. With the flip flopping of people around baseball as to the possible departure of Carl Crawford by the MLB Trade Deadline in late July, Upton is the solid member of the outfield and has increased tremendously over the last two years while learning his centerfield positon “on-the-job”. I truly have a feeling Upton will come into his own in 2010 both at the plate and in the field. Everyone has comments on his running style and his sense of complacency at the plate, but in reality, no one on the Rays is more concentrated and inwardly critical of his own actions as Upton.
But the stark reality is that Rays farm hand Desmond Jennings might just be on the cusp of playing in the Major Leagues, but it will not be in centerfield. Upton will be at the arbitration table for the first time and should get a considerable jump up from his 2009 salary of $ 435,000 to an estimated $ 3.5 million on his first journey through arbitration. It might seem like a good idea by Upton and his agent several years ago to not sign a long-term deal with former GM Chuck LaMar and continue with his norm of 1-year contracts until his arbitration years.
And this leaves us with only three members of the Rays squad still being considered for arbitration to discuss further. The trio left consist of outfielder Gabe Gross and catchers’ Dioner Navarro and newly acquired Kelly Shoppach. I do not think I am going too far out on a limb thinking here that a budget restricted team like the Rays usually do not trade for an arbitration eligible player unless the player could be a solution to a internal problem. And one of the main off season priorities of the Rays this year was their catching situation.
And that is what intrigues me most about Shoppach. Would the Rays possibly go to arbitration with both of their catchers and secure both of them on their 2010 25-man roster, or is one of them(hopefully) being shopped around for a possible new locale right now for 2010? Seriously here,I think Shoppach is a clear power upgrade to Navarro and might possibily be saved by the arbitration alarm clock in the 11th hour. Navarro might not so lucky.
Considering that Shoppach’s estimated 2010 salary ($ 2.1 million) is close in comparision to the estimation for Navarro ($ 2.5 million),I think Shoppach wins a arbitration submission based on his possible upgrade at the plate and his ability to get on base over Navarro. Their catching styles are similar, but Navarro has shown to be a bit lazy this past season behind the plate, or the team would never have traded for Gregg Zaun in the first place late in 2009.
I am thinking that Navarro might be one of the two Rays on the outside looking in after the bell strikes at midnight tonight. And I think there is nobody else to blame here but Navarro. The Rays gave him the steering wheel early in Spring Training by not bringing in a veteran to push him for the first time in his Rays career. But Navarro visually seemed to have gotten more and more lazy on bouncing balls in the dirt and seemed to have lost some concentration and confidence in his game behind the plate. Combine that with his solid decrease in hitting, and you have a formula for possibly being non-tendered tonight.
The lone Rays player left to be considered for arbitration just might be a victim of the Rays farm system and available options that exist within the club. He is a guy I have seen play above and beyond his abilities in his two seasons with the team, but hard cuts sometime have to be made,and Gabe Gross might be the hardest of the Rays decisions today.
You know the team has treasured having him in the lineup for the past two seasons, but youngsters like Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings are knocking at the Major League door to play in rightfield. And if Sean Rodriguez is dominant this spring at second base, it might force a position change for uber-player Ben Zobrist to play in the outfield. The Rays organization is coming to a point where a decision like this is not going to be based on performance, but on an obtainable roster space.
And you know the Rays have tried to find another suitor for Gross, but corner outfielders are a deep position this Hot Stove season, and no one has made a play for Gross. For years Rays fans have know that at some point the team would have an abundance of talented young players in place to force an established player off the Rays roster. And this season, the player elimination hatchet might fall hard on Gross. The Rays decision will not be based on monetary reasons, but on the overflow of talent just below the Major League level.
So within the next 24 hours, there will be cheer and tears for members of the Rays roster. Some players might be faced with the stark reality of looking for another team, while other might be just starting the battle for their positions in 2010. But as the arbitration offer clock winds down, some of the Rays arbitration eligible players will be sweating while others sit calm waiting for calls from their agents and the team. I am guessing that 7 or 8 of the Rays arbitration eligible players will be smiling.
(Fellow Rays blog, Rays Index was the source for my estimated 2010 salarie
s included today on my blog post. You can visit them on their website www.raysindex.com. It was a great help using your sidebar tools to complete this blog…..Thank You).
Gail Burton / AP
In what might be a simple Tamp Bay two-step right now, the Tampa Bay Rays traded the always popular “Player To Be Named Later” today to the Cleveland Indians for experienced catcher Kelly Shoppach. The Rays will probably conclude the trade with a member of their current 40-man roster, and this trade announcement should be made public before December 20th.
The move gives the Rays a solid hitting catcher with a keen eye at the plate, and some much needed power in his bat. Shoppach, who has hit 33 HRs over the past two seasons is tied for second with American League MVP Joe Mauer in total HRs by an AL catcher. Another bright spot for the Rays is that Shoppach lead the American League in 2009 with 18 HBP. He is known to crowd the plate and makes opposing pitchers work hard to get him out at the plate.
And this trade is definitely a physical “calling out” of Rays current catcher Dioner Navarro. For the first time in many years, the Rays did not invite a experienced catcher to come into Spring Training in 2009 to push Navarro for his starting job. But now, this trade to upgrade the Rays offensive power behind the plate makes perfect sense considering that Navarro fell so far off the offensive wagon for the Rays last season.
Navarro’s seasonal batting average quickly dipped from a career high of .295 in 2008, to an anemic .218 this season. And combined with his offensive downfall, Navarro also saw his defensive statistics also take an unexpected tumble. At times, Navarro’s defensive game has been called into question several times during the 2009 season. Navarro’s caught stealing percentage dropped from 35.7 (25-70) percent in 2008, which was third best in the Major Leagues, to only 23.8 (19-80) percent in 2009.
Maybe this downward trend finally convinced the Rays to look somewhere else for catching help for 2010. I personally noticed several times during the season that Navarro was becoming a bit lazy behind the dish at times not coming out of his crouch for simple errant balls in the dirt. Navarro seemed to be not getting his glove down flat to the plate to prevent Wild Pitches or Passed Balls by adequately securing the baseball during games. Even though he was charged with only 5 Errors and 6 Passed Balls in 2009, his defense did take a huge step back in 2009.
Maybe this is a clear message to Navarro by Rays Manager Joe Maddon, an ex-catcher, and the Rays staff that they are about done with trying to fix Navarro’s many defensive woes. It seems to me to be a blatant message that Navarro has regressed and maybe was rested too heavy on his laurels after his 2008 All Star season.
But this is not the first time in the last few months the Rays have not tried to send a message to Navarro. You have to think that when the team traded Arizona Fall League standout Ryhne Hughes to Baltimore for veteran Gregg Zaun, the young catcher would finally get the message. For some reason, Navarro did not read into the transaction that things might not be so rosy under the surface with his game performances in 2009.
And considering Navarro, like Shoppach is also up for arbitration this season, it might be a clear indicator that Navi’s time is about to end in Tampa Bay. With the trade for Shoppach, it is a clear that Navarro is now clearly behind the 8-ball and might not be tendered a contract by the Rays this off season. You have to imagine that the Rays would not trade an arbitration eligible player unless they plan on giving him a contract offering.
And with the Rays not fully disclosing if they might be one of the 8 said teams talking with Zaun for 2010, this is a clear measure by the Rays to get the attention of their 2009 Opening Day catcher. Zaun has made recent comments that within the next week, or before the MLB Winter Meetings, he will announce his 2010 destination.
Another player that could make some noise in this recent transaction is Rays back-up catcher Shawn Riggans, who is currently playing Winter Ball in Puerto Rico for Gigante de Carolina. Riggans is not arbitration eligible, and would only cost the Rays $450,000 compared to a possible $ 2.5 million arbitration ruling for Navarro. The play of Riggans in Puerto Rico might be a key component to the team even considering either Zaun or Navarro for 2010.
Since Riggans did spend 97 days on the DL, and played in only 6 games for the Rays in 2009, his durability is a keystone to any catching arbitration moves by the team.
Riggans is currently hitting .211 average with a solo HR and a .429 Slugging Percentage during Winter ball. Riggans has caught in 5 of Gigante de Carloina’s 11 games this season. His injury situations over the last few seasons could be another factor to securing a solid player like Shoppach.
After the Rays traded for Zaun in August 2009, Navarro’s agent, Kendall Almerico was famous during the rest of the season for sending email and text messages to the Rays front office supporting his clients abilities with direct comparisons to the newly acquired Zaun. Almerico also represented Navarro in 2008 when he was trying to obtain a $ 2.5 million 2009 salary during Navarro’s first run during arbitration.
The Rays currently hold Navarro’s rights for three more season, or until 2011, then he would become a free agent. But after all of Almerico’s 2008 pre-arbitration ” talk” about respect, and the hearing maybe effecting Navarro long term relationship with the team. The Rays might be visually showing Navarro their first move in the chess match towards any possible arbitration for Navarro by the Rays.
Considering that the Indians did pick up a pretty good catching prospect in Lou Marson in the player return with the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Cliff Lee, it might be a long shot that Navarro could be the “PTBNL” in todays deal. So maybe Navarro’s career clock with the Rays is ticking louder and louder right now in his household. Because the Rays might have cast the first stone to bring in a viable replacement to Navarro in the Rays lineup. The next comments by Navarro or Almerico might seal his fate in Tampa Bay.
With only two members of the 2008 roster still up for Salary Arbitration hearings, it was recently reported that Rays catcher Dioner Navarro will have his hearing in Phoenix , Arizona on February 9th . At that time an arbitrator will decide between the two totals, one submitted by Navarro’s representative, Kendall Americo,and the other from the Rays representative and then the arbitrator will submit their recommendation for the players 2008 salary for the Tampa Bay Rays in a few days.
With the exception of Willy Aybar and Dioner Navarro’s arbitration award totals, the Rays are sitting at a round $ 60 million dollars in payroll for 2009. That is a great climb in salary for the Rays. In yesterday’s blog I went over the season for Willy Aybar and my prediction of his chances to increase his salary to around $ 1 million a year. Rays G M Andrew Friedman better have some cards up his sleeves, or he might get his first loss at the Arbitration gaming table when Navarro’s turn comes up.
Today it is Dioner Navarro’s turn, and even thought the catcher lead his pitching staff by example in 2008, it is well known that Navarro has stood up and taken the lead in the clubhouse and behind the plate for the team. His confidence and leadership have skyrocketed since 2007, and he is finally considered a force both at the plate and behind it for the Rays. Navarro has submitted a proposed salary of $ 2.5 million dollars for the year, while the Rays have countered with a $ 2.1 million dollar figure. That is a $ 400,000 difference, or almost his entire 2008 salary ( $ 412,500 ).
To begin with, let’s get to know a little bit more about Navarro, the player before I post my opinion on his arbitration hearing. Dioner Navarro was signed by the New York Yankees as a free agent in 2000. As he rose through the Yankees system there was a day they could see him behind the plate in pinstripes. He was suppose to be the heir apparent to Jorge Posada’s spot behind the plate and was to be with the system for a long time. But as we all know, baseball is a fickle mistress and she can change her mind in a matter of seconds about you and your worth to the club.
So in 2005, after only 5 years in the Yankee system, Navarro was given a second chance as he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers to help behind the plate before prospect Russell Martin would man the dish for the men in blue. Navarro did his best in Spring Training in Florida and actually made the decision difficult for the team in choosing him over Martin as the Dodgers Opening Day catcher. But Navarro got an awful start and soon Martin was there breathing down his neck wanting playing time.
So after a period of time, the Dodgers decided that he would not be as adequate as a back up catcher and traded him along with pitcher Jae Seo and outfield Justin Ruggiano on June 26, 2006 to the Tampa Bay Rays for catcher Toby Hall and pitcher Mark Hendrickson. Navvaro came into the Rays lineup trying to prove too much too soon to the Rays and almost cost him his chance to start with the team in 2006. The team brought in experienced catcher Josh Paul, who had played with Rays Manager Joe Maddon with the Los Angeles Angels to push Navarro to that next step.
Navarro did not hit well in the first half of the season, only posting a .177 average and had the Rays discussing his future with the team. But during the All-Star break, something finally clicked for Navarro and he posted the third best average after the All-Star break in the American League for a catcher ( .285). He also seemed to be able to execute a solid and hard throw to second base on steal attempts. In 2007, he also lead the major leagues in errors by a catcher with 14. Even with his great second half, Navarro was only able to post a modest .227 average for the season.
But good things were on the horizon for Navarro. In a series against Seattle, Navarro gunned down speedster Ichiro twice stealing in consecutive games. Navarro also upped his ante in slugging at the plate, posting a .475 Slugging Percentage, which was the third best total in the majors for a catcher after the break. But in September 2007, Navarro began to experience pain in his right throwing wrist and he batted the rest of the season from the right side of the plate, limiting his switch-hitting skills. 2007 ended on a high note for Navarro, and he finally felt that he could lead the Rays behind the plate.
During the off season, Navarro participated in the Venezuelan Winter League leading his team with a .312 batting average. Navarro came into Spring Training camp in 2008 with a renewed confidence and a slimmer body as he dropped weight while playing in his home country and came into camp in better shape than before for the Rays. He also knew this was the turning point year for him as Maddon and the pitching staff would be taking their keys more from Navarro and he was up to the challenge.
In 2008, Navarro’s batting average was consistently sitting around .300 the entire year. Only during a small slump in August when he hit for a .187 average and allowed his overall average to fall below the .300 mark, before finally settling in at .295 for the year. Still, that average was only 2nd among American League catcher to Minnesota’s Joe Mauer’s American League batting title .330 average. Navarro also had personal bests in almost every category but one. He did not steal a single base in 2008, and was caught 5 times during the year and the playoffs. But his 54 RBI’s were 10 more than he posted in 2007, and his timely hitting did produce amazing results for the Rays. But his greatest hitting moment had to be in Toronto on May 8th, when he came up in the 13th inning with the bases loaded and hit a Grand Slam off ex-Rays Shawn Camp into the right-center field stands to give the Rays a victory over the Blue Jays.
In September. he batted .317 , including a career best 9-game hitting streak. And on September 4th, during the night time half of a doubleheader he tied his career best with 4 hits in the game. He continued to produce for the Rays hitting a walk-off game winning single on September 16th against the Red Sox’s Justin Masterson to give the Rays their 11th walk-off win of the year. And on July 6th, got notice of his selection to the American League All-Star game as a reserve catcher.
In making the All-Star roster, Navarro became the first Rays catcher and the 4th youngest Ray to ever appear in the mid-summer classic. Navarro came in late in the contest and lead the American League to their victory by getting a 15th inning single that was part of the American League’s winning rally. He caught a total of 8 innings in the game, and threw out 1 of 2 base runners. But it was his familiarity with pitcher Scott Kazmir that finally got the win for the American League. Kazmir was the last pitcher out of the Bullpen, and because Navarro was his catcher, it created an instant confidence and relaxed atmosphere to take the game away from the National League in the bottom of the 14th inning.
Navarro also paced the Rays during the playoffs in 2008. He hit a robust .293, with 5 RBI’s and made several great plate blocks to get runners during the post season. He truly showed that he was becoming one of the best catcher in the American League and was learning to take control of this young starting pitching staff. But one adventure on April 4th in New York city almost cost him the chance to lead the Rays. While in Yankee Stadium for the game, Navarro cut his throwing hand on the netting in front of the dugout after slipping on the wet stairs leading to the dugout.
He missed a total of 16 games for the team as he healed, but stayed alert and active working with the other catchers on the bench. This adventure almost took his season away from him, but after that he helped lead the Rays to a record of 88-54 after coming off the disabled list on April 22nd. But that would not be the last time that Navarro would face adversity in 2008. During a televised game in Arlington,Texas on June 10th, the audience and his team mate saw the young, quiet catcher become a team leader.
During the game, Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza got off to a rocky start and beginning to get angry and frustrated on the mound. During one mound conference the television audience could see that Garza was yelling into his glove out of frustration at Navarro and Navarro stood his ground and gave it right back to Garza. After the inning was over, both players had a short tussle in the landing leading from the dugout, but came out for the next inning and performed amazingly as if nothing had happened. That was the day the Rays got a veteran catcher who was going to lead his team to the playoffs.
Several members of the team expressed amazement that Navarro went after Garza with such confidence, but welcomed the sight as the killer instinct taking hold of him and sparking him to action. I know I felt that the event actually did more good for Navarro than he imagined at the moment. But from that point on, it seemed that Garza and the rest of the young staff followed Navarro’s lead and it got them into the World Series. Behind the plate, Navarro also had one of his best seasons as a catcher.
In 2008, he carried a 984 fielding average in 2008, a huge improvement over 2007. And in that span, he did not commit his first error until July 1st, in his 428th chance. He also was ranked 4th in the American League among catcher for the year, and was 2nd in the AL, and 3rd in the majors throwing out runners with a 34.8 percent success rate. Among A L catcher with at least 100 games player, only Cleveland’s Kelly Shoppach ( 36 ), also an ex-Yankee, allowed less stolen bases than Navarro’s 42 in 2008.
So as the statistics and the facts show, Navarro stepped forward in 2008 to help both the Rays lead the American League East champs to the World Series, but also step up as a clubhouse leader. He showed that the promise he had in 2000 was still alive and well in him and he brought it out for the entire league to see both during the All-Star game and in the 2008 playoffs. So is it enough for him to garnish a salary of over $ 2 million a year. In comparison with A L catcher, who have gotten arbitration raises in the last two years, he is in the top of the list.
I can see the Rays losing this arbitration hearing, but it really is not a loss for them. They will still have the services of the young rising star in 2008, and he is ready to go for the Rays. I can see an award of at least $ 2.5 million dollars coming out of his arbitration hearing, and might see more if they arbitrator feels he low-balled his offer. Either way, the Rays will get the playoff experience and confidence to go higher in 2009. Navarro might not be the household name anymore in New York, but in Tampa Bay, he is the shining star behind the plate gleaming and beaming with a smile.
Last night I was sitting on the couch just starring at the big screen checking out the cable listing and flipping by ESPN, MTV, VH-1 and the Food Network when I saw a listing that really caught my eye. With less than 3 weeks now until the guys take the field for the first time, I was excited about the upcoming season, but maybe a dose of the past would get me more than excited for the first official workout on Feb 15th in Port Charlotte, Florida.
What I saw on the screen was a Rays encore game from August 6th, 2008 on the Florida Sports Network ( FSN ) against the Cleveland Indians. At this point in the season the Rays had already won 67 games and were on pace to blast the former wins mark of 70 wins out of the water for the season. The energy was getting more and more intense at the Trop., and the team also could feel it in the air. The night before, the Rays had beaten the Indians the night before 8-4 on 3 homers in the 7th inning. So with momentum on the Rays side, it was time for something magical to happen.
I settled in with a nice cold beverage and a warm bowl of popcorn and again wanted to get caught up in that 2008 Rays-mania again. And the action started even before the first pitch that night. The Rays completed their waiver wire trade for submariner Chad Bradford from the Baltimore Orioles, and had brought another unique weapon into the Rays Bullpen arsenal. No one was sure what kind of pitcher Bradford would be for the Rays, but considering how he dominated against us with the Baltimore Orioles, we were betting for more of the same out of this tall right-hander. Bradford would be meeting the Rays in Seattle as they began their long road trip.
On the screen I had to relive that first inning where Rays starter Scott Kazmir got lead-off hitter Franklin Gutierrez hit a 3-2 count change up into the seats to give the Indians a early 1-0 lead in the game. Then after 2 outs, Jhonny Peralta started again on his roll and hit a single into center field. Tonight would be magic for Peralta, but more on that later. Kazmir got Shin-Soo Choo to foul out to Evan Longoria at third to end the inning.
Then the Rays made this game interesting as they went to work on Indian starter Jeremy Sowers. After an out, Ben Zobrist, who was playing center field tonight because of a B J Upton benching for slowly running out an out in the 8-4 win the prior night, singled center field. Carlos Pena then came up and Zobrist stole second base on Indians catcher Kelly Shoppach before finally walking after being down 0-2 in the count.
Evan Longoria then came up and Rays Manager Joe Maddon tried a double steal on the play and Shoppach this time threw out Pena, with Zobrist sitting on third base with one out. Longoria then threaded a ball into center that was misplayed by Gutierrez and after Zobrist scored, Longoria ended up also on third base with one out and the game tied 1-all. Dioner Navarro then came up and got the count to 2-0 before hitting a 2-run homer to left field to give the Rays their first lead of the night.
The second inning went pretty eventful, but no scoring by either team. Cleveland saw a nicely laced double off the bat of Sal Fasano, but both men were stranded on base that inning. In the bottom half of the 2nd inning, the Rays also had a few chances, but came up empty. Jason Bartlett lead off the inning with a hard hit double to deep right center field, but was stranded on second after three straight hard hit ball right at Cleveland defenders in the outfield.
In the 3rd inning, Peralta cam up and quickly got Kazmir into a hitter count 3-1, before hitting a long homer to center field to bring the Indians within one run 3-2. The Indians substituted Ryan Garko out for Andy Marte, and he hit a low flying single to left field. Marte was stranded on base after Andy Gonzalez flied out to Eric Hinske playing in left field. The only action out of the Rays in the bottom of the inning was a 9-pitch walk issued to Pena. But at the end of the 3rd inning, the Rays still lead 3-2.
The 4th inning saw both team go 3-up and 3-down as the innings went fast and furious. But in the top of the 5th the Indians quickly came out and Jamey Carroll lead off the inning with a 6-pitch walk. Peralta again came up, and this time got a nice ground rule double to left field that just skirted over the short wall next to the foul pole. That put two men into scoring position for the Indians with no outs in the inning.
Choo then came up and hit a single to right that scored Carroll and Peralta went to third, and still there was only one out in the inning. Marte then came up and hit a sharp double right down the line and Peralta and Choo both scored, and Marte moved to third on a error by Longoria. Gonzalez then came up and Kazmir issued him a walk on 4 straight balls after going 0-1 on him. Maddon then came out and got Kazmir and J P Howell took the mound for the Rays.
Kazmir again went only 4.1 innings and threw 97 pitches in the game. Howell did come in and get both of the Indians batters in the inning to stop the bleeding and the Indians were now up 5-4 over the Rays.
Sowers got 2 quick outs before Gonzalez, playing first base misplayed the ball and Zobrist was sitting on second with 2 -outs in the inning. Pena then walked for the third time in the contest to put two men on base for the Rays. On the second pitch he saw, Longoria then hit a single to left and scored Zobrist. The inning ended 1 pitch later as Navarro hit into a fielder choice and the Rays pulled within 1 run of the Indians 5-4 in the game.
In the 6th inning, with Howell still on the mound, Gutierrez grounded out to second base before Carroll singled to left to put a man on for the Indians. Ben Francisco then also grounded out to second and Carroll moved over to third on the play. Peralta then hit a double to deep left center ans was 4-4 on the night for the Indians. Carroll scored on the play and the inning ended with the Indians going up 6-4 on the Rays. The Rays went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 6th inning and only saw 10 pitches in the inning.
During the 7th inning, the Indians went down in order 1-2-3, and the Rays seemed to finally have an answer for the Indians offensive power tonight. Howell went 2.2 innings and got 4 strikeouts on the night for the rays in relief of Kazmir. But the Rays did not capitalize on the situation and only got an infield hit by Akinora Iwamura in the inning. So after 7 completed innings the Rays were behind by 2 runs on the Indians and some in the stands did not see a Rays victory coming today.
In the 8th inning, Trever Miller hit the mound for the Rays, and only a double hit by the Indian’s Gutierrez to deep center was the only hit by either team to go past the infield. Time was running out on the Rays and they only had 3 more outs to try and get this 68th victory of the year. So the 9th inning started with Miller , but after issuing Peralta his 5th hit of the night, Miller knew he had one more batter until he was replaced by Rays closer Troy Percival.
With Peralta on first base after only one pitch in the inning, the Rays were gambling on a bunt, and Choo did end up bunting to Miller who spun around and threw to second base to retire Peralta. Percival then came in to relieve Miller and get the final outs of the inning for the Rays. Choos, who was still on first base after the fielder’s choice then stole second to put himself into scoring position. Marte then hit a sharp ball to Aybar at shortstop. Aybar double pumped the ball and threw from behind second base to throw out Marte for the 2nd out.
On his third pitch to Gonzalez, Percival threw a wild pitch under the glove of Navarro and Choo walked in without a problem to put Cleveland up 7-4. 3 pitches later, Gonzalez hit a long fly to Eric Hinske in left field for the final Cleveland out of the game.
With their back to the wall, the Rays would end up coming up with one of the most impressive displays of offensive power in the bottom of the 9th inning tonight. Edward Mujica cam out for Cleveland with the mission to shut down the Rays offense and give the Indians their 50th win of the season. Bartlett, who was the designated hitter tonight then hit the second pitch he saw into deep left field and put the Rays into early position to try and get at least one run back on the Indians.
Hinske then came up and took the first pitch he saw to right field down the first baseline to post two quick doubles on Mujica. Bartlett ended up scoring on the play and the Rays were thinking they might have a chance in this contest. After 4 pitches, Gabe Gross hit a 2-run 434 foot home run to the base of the right field outfield seats to tie the game up 7-all, with no outs in the inning.
Mujica’s night was over as he was quickly relieved by M Kobayashi. Iwamura hit a ball to the second base side of first base and Gonzalez went over to make the play. Kobayashi was trailing the play to first base and was just short of scraping his foot across the bag to get Iwamura. With Aki now on first base, the Rays had a chance to win the game. Zobrist then walked on 4 straight pitches and set up a man on first and second with no one out for the Rays.
Pena then came up and homered to deep center field right under the windows of the Batter’s Eye Restaurant for a 10-7 Rays victory. With the entire team waiting for Pena at home, the crowd and the team were both screaming and yelling for Pena. As he neared the plate, Pena’s batting helmet went high into the air as he went into the mob standing on home plate waiting for their leader. Not lost in the fact that the Rays scored 6 unanswered runs that night without surrendering an out in the inning.
FSN sideline reporter Todd Kalas quickly brought Pena to the side and asked him to explain what just happened. Pena was quick to say that he could not even describe what had happen and that the energy was fantastic in the Trop. that day. As he was being interviewed, Longoria tried to sneak up on him and give him a cold water shower out of a Gatorade cooler. But he only got the back of Pena, and that was the only cold moment for the team in that 9th inning.
I spilled my soda and was jumping up and down on the couch the same way I did in August during that afternoon contest. It was a feeling I was missing during this off season. I needed that jolt to remind me what we are again going to be fighting for in 3 weeks. But the feelings and the emotions of watching that game will not dampen before we have our home opener and we can see both those banners unveiled in the rafters of Tropicana Field.
Last night reminded me of the sorrows and the tears of 2008, of hard work and sacrifices by everyone on that roster. But it also reminded me of the team that never quit, and of the guys who daily stepped up and made this team the Rays top winning club in their short history. And how great it is going to be to again sit in my seat and cheer these guys on as they try and duplicate their feat against some of the toughest competition in major league baseball.
The Greatest thing a player can learn on a day like today is how much his club loves what he does on the field for them. But sometimes even that get a bit blurred and the images seems to fade a bit before the reality comes that you either have a new start somewhere else, or you contact your old team and see if they just wanted you at a cheaper price.
Every December 12th, the MLB goes through this sadistic tactic of non-tendering and tendering contracts to the arbitration eligible players on their rosters. Some people are shoe-ins to get picked up because of talent or maybe even a low cost towards the next year budget. Others are looked at under a microscope and the decisions might come down to dollar signs and not talent or ability.
That is the sad reality of this date. You could be an up and coming talent, or a veteran that just had an off year and you could be looking for a job in a heartbeat after midnight tonight. Also, just because they decided to offer you a contract doesn’t mean that the wheels stop turning and you might still be dealt to another team and they will make the decision on your fate again, and maybe at a financial disadvantages.
So on and on tonight I will be adding to this blog until I have a final idea of who, what where, when and why might pop up and bite some unsuspecting player on the buttock. Seriously here, there will be some surprises tonight. Some players might be getting held ransom for a financial sacrifice, while other might be rewarded for unforeseen changes in their game or ability. Which ever come about, it is not the end of the world or a career with any of the players tonight.
Everyone will find a place to play in 2009, it might not be the town you are currently playing in, but it also might turn into the best decision of your life. Just because you came up with a certain club does not mean that there are not other staffs or coaches’ salivating that your name is on the list tonight. People always have choices in life. The path we take is not predestined as many believe, but they are earmarked with signs and signals we either adhere to or avoid.
The players on this list still have had the honor to play at a level that few people ever achieve in life, on or off the ball field. And with that in mind, you have to remember the sacrifices and the sweat and tears that got you to this level will be rewarded again.
So as we embark on this night when some believe a dream has ended, you have to remember that through every closed door there is another opportunity maybe even down the hall. Here is the list of the guys who got the love and admiration of their clubs tonight. This list will be in no certain order, but will be update throughout the night.
Tampa Bay Rays:
Gabe Gross ( OF )
Dioner Navarro ( C )
Jason Barlett ( SS )
Willy Aybar ( INF )
Grant Balfour ( RP )
Kansas City Royals:
Esteban German ( INF ) 1-year contract
John Buck ( C )
Mike Jacobs ( INF )
Mark Teahen ( OF )
Brian Bannister ( SP )
Kyle Davies ( RP )
Jimmy Gobble ( SP )
Zack Greinke ( SP )
Joel Peralta ( RP )
Jorge Cantu ( 3 B )
Dan Uggla ( 2 B )
Cody Ross ( OF )
Jeremy Hermida ( OF )
Rick Nolasco ( SP )
Josh Johnson ( RP )
Alfredo Amezaga ( RP )
Logan Kensing ( RP )
Dallas McPherson ( INF )
Shane Victorino ( OF )
Ryan Howard ( 1 B )
Ryan Madson ( RP )
Jayson Werth ( OF )
Eric Bruntlett ( INF ) 1-year contract
Clay Condrey ( RP ) 1-year contract
Joe Blanton ( SP )
Cole Hamels ( SP )
Greg Dobbs ( INF )
Chad Durbin ( RP )
Eric Bedard ( SP )
Aaron Heilman (SP, RP )
Felix Hernandez ( SP )
San Diego Padres:
Scott Hairston ( OF )
Luis Rodriguez ( INF )
Jody Gerut ( OF )
Heath Bell ( RP )
Kelly Johnson ( INF )
Matt Diaz ( OF )
Jeff Francoeur ( OF )
Mike Gonzalez ( RP )
Omar Infante ( INF )
Casey Kotchman ( 1 B )
Boston Red Sox:
Kevin Youkilis ( 1B )
Jonathan Papelbon ( RP )
Javier Lopez ( RP )
Jason Kubel ( D H )
Matt Guerrier ( RP )
Los Angeles Dodgers:
Russell Martin ( C )
Andre Ethier ( OF )
Johnathan Broxton ( RP )
Rob Bowen ( C ) $ 535,000 1-year contract
Justin Duchscherer ( SP )
Jack Cust ( OF )
Chicago White Sox:
Dewayne Wise ( OF ) 1-year, $ 550,000 contract
Wilson Betemit ( INF ) 1-year $ 1.3 Million contract
Ramon Santiago ( INF ) 1-year $ 825,000 contract
Marcus Thames ( OF )
Fernando Rodney ( RP )
Bobby Seay ( RP )
Joel Zumaya ( RP )
Justin Verlander ( SP )
Edwin Jackson ( SP,RP )
Kelly Shoppach ( C )
Chad Gaudin ( RP ) 1-year $ 2 million contract
Ronny Cedeno ( INF )
Reed Johnson ( OF )
Neal Cotts ( RP ) 1-year $ 1.1 million contract
Mike Wuertz ( RP )
Kevin Gregg ( RP )
San Francisco Giants:
Jack Taschner ( RP )
Toronto Blue Jays:
Jason Frasor ( RP )
Brian Tallet ( RP )
Brandon League ( RP )
Jose Batista ( INF )
Nate McLouth ( OF )
Adam LaRoche ( 1 B )
Ryan Doumit ( C )
Zack Duke ( SP )
John Grabow ( RP )
Tyler Yates ( RP )
Paul Maholm ( SP )
St Louis Cardinals:
Rick Ankiel ( OF )
Chris Duncan ( OF )
Todd Wellemeyer ( RP )
Garrett Atkins ( 3 B )
Clint Barmes ( 2 B )
Jorge De La Rosa ( SP )
Taylor Buchholz ( RP )
Jason Grilli ( RP )
Huston Street ( RP )
Edwin Encarnacion ( INF )
Seth McClung ( SP, RP )
Prince Fielder ( 1 B )
Rickie Weeks ( 2 B )
J J Hardy ( S S )
Corey Hart ( OF )
Dave Bush ( SP )
Ryan Zimmerman ( 3B )
Josh Willingham ( OF )
Scott Olsen ( SP )
Shawn Hill ( RP )
Willy Harris ( SS ) 2-year $ 3 million
Brandon Backe ( SP )
Geoff Geary ( RP )
Wandy Rodriguez ( SP )
Tim Byrdak ( RP )
Jose Valverde ( RP )
Humberto Quintero ( C )
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim:
Chone Figgins ( 3 B )
Robb Quinlan ( INF )
Maicer Ituris ( INF )
Ervin Santana ( SP )
Mike Napoli ( C )
As tonight comes to a close at midnight, the name will still be pouring in and this liost might not be totally complete by tomorrow afternoon. But I will do my best to be sure that you all have the latest listing of all players tendered contracts on December 12th.
I will also so a listing of the players who are deemed free agents now that their respective teams have put them on the open market. That listing might be a bit different as I want to block everyone into their respective positions, instead of teams for the non-tender list.
I will have that listing working by tomorrow afternoon and I have not decided yet if I might make prediction on what might happen to those players. As the night grows and the list gets longer, I will determine if that would be entertaining and informative to all of you.