Results tagged ‘ Marc Topkin ’

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.


Sternberg Speaks Honestly on the Rays Tampa Bay Future

 

 

Stu2011.JPG

It was the Tampa Bay Rays stadium conversation and whiplash response most members of the Rays Republic knew was just peeking above the horizon. The Tampa Bay community as a whole had hoped such a cold water splash in our faces would have a more postmarked expiration date.

Somehow we all knew that the ever present sunshine attitude that surrounds our typical Florida Spring day would suddenly be darkened by an omnipotent comment cloud that would overshadow the usual optimistic banter whenever the Rays future stadium plans have been mentioned.

Just as suddenly the veil of silence has been removed from the Rays stadium debacle, and a few of the comments from Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg paint a more daunting image of an hourglass whose ribbons of sand are constantly spiraling to and end instead of a more optimistic conclusion.

Recently Sternberg told reporter Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times:

“It seems clearer to me by the day that we’re going to be the last man standing (Oakland A’s stadium talks are in a more advanced stage of discussions),” Sternberg said. “And everything I know, and talking to these guys, baseball is just not going to stand for it anymore. And they’ll find a place for me. They won’t find a place here though. So it’s up to us, to everybody, to figure out how to get it right. …


Stu2008.jpg“We’ve come so far with this, with all the people who are interested and watching. I do believe we’ve grabbed into (them) a little bit, and to say it’s a good thing, it’s fun, it’s good for your kids, it’s a nice sport. … And that’s my real concern, that we won’t get to finish the job that I know we were right there to do.”

For the first time I can remember since Sternberg took over the Rays reigns, it seems like a hint of pessimism has crept into his tone when discussing the Rays future home. For the first time, Sternberg has bluntly envisioned both sides of the Tampa Bay region losing out if some sort of constructive movement is not made in the near future.

A good first step might be St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster allowing the Rays a little latitude to venture into other Tampa Bay locales without the threat of harsh legal actions or local repercussions by the Rays landlords possibly letting the process systematically eliminate some of these cost deficient locations from contention.

But that would be a huge leap of good faith by the City of St. Petersburg who has so much to lose not only in possibly losing their biggest tenant, but seeing a reversal in some of the recent positive financial surges in the city’s economically sensitive downtown core. Losing the team would turn downtown St. Petersburg basically into a ghost town again after 9 pm.

No matter how you try and twist, convolute or even manipulate Sternberg’s words, the message is loud and clear now. Major League Baseball with all its omnipotent power hover and circle above the whole stadium process like a lurking Florida vulture has the upper hand.

No longer is this only about St. Petersburg or even Tampa, it is about the future existence of our own Major League team in a town with rich MLB roots, but a transient populous that still has not fully embraced the Rays as “their team”. Even with the recent return of Spring baseball to Progress Energy Field (Al Lang) , the vibe concerning St. Petersburg is beginning to fade a bit more towards black than sunshine.


Stu2010.jpgI am not the only one to notice Sternberg’s particular word usage or possible hidden messages in his statements. Rays Index, another Rays top blog spot also noticed this one particular sentence that might heed this Tampa Bay region to having a few “burning the midnight oil” political strategy sessions. In a perfect world, both sides of the Tampa Bay region would meet in the same clandestine room.

Hidden within the midst of Sternberg’s comments is the small phrasing, “they’ll find a place for me. They won’t find a place here though.”

Immediately you see the unveiled reminder that the upper echelon of Major League Baseball loves the energy and past work Sternberg has done in rebuilding the Rays franchise from the ground up again, and might have some hidden agenda for his future.

The losers here will not be Sternberg, but it could be this region forever cast as a land of Spring baseball only again if the Rays do get harvested like an orange and taken somewhere else.

Contraction with a MLB/MLBPA labor negotiation in the near future is not an viable option, but if this region keeps their minds and mouthes closed for too much longer, it might be too late to salvage the fruit on the vine.


LockTrop.jpgI think the month of April will not only be the beginning of baseball again being played in St. Petersburg, but the beginning of the sands beginning an accelerated pace through the Rays hourglass. Sternberg has been more than vocally adamant that he is not the only person who might view this whole Rays stadium process as being stagnant for too long now.

Something has to be decided soon before the sands from the hourglass become quicksand that devour and destroy that forward progress of baseball in this region over that last 14 seasons.

 

The Tampa Bay community needs to make the first step soon, the first lunge into diluting this dark cloud and again bringing the warmth of the sunlight firmly back into view……or the cloud will overtake the region and when it finally begins to dissipate, the Rays may be gone…forever.

 

 

 

Was Kazmir Andrew Friedman’s First Mistake?

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 After I got home last night after the Tampa Bay Rays  victory, I did my usual routine of switching on the television after 1 am and the first thing to pop on the big screen was the celebration video of the Los Angeles Angels players partying like rock stars after they clinched the American League West. And within all that wild chaos on the video I saw a familiar face enjoying the moment. There among the red and white jerseys of his Angel teammates was their newest rotation member hoisting up a champagne bottle like he had done so many times before in the last year.

There jumping up and down and getting pelted time and time again with a jet stream of the  bubbly sweet nectar was ex-Ray Scott Kazmir. It was a bitter sweet moment for a Rays fan like me to see him getting that chance to again shine on the playoff front. But the silent events that unfolded behind the scenes to complete this trade to the Angels might actually have been the first honest mistake of  Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman’s  Rays career. 

There have been murmurs and innuendo coming from both Rays clubhouse and the 3rd floor offices since that trade transaction. That the Rays trade chattr device known to me as the “cloak of darkness” might have alienated not only fans, but some people within the Rays family. There have been more than idle chatter that the Rays Coaching staff was informed of the primary discussions, but as thing got more heated, they were left out of the loop in the process of this trade. Rays Manager Joe Maddon did have a hint of the Angels interest since they were biting at the bit back at the end of July for Kazmir. But during that latest development, it was thought he was on a “need to know” basis.

That most of the trade parameters were defined before Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s pre-game Press Conference, and the fact it was pushed back to 5:30 pm only heightened the anticipation of an “official” completion of the trade before that scheduled game against the Tigers. But what really showed the “cloak of darkness” in full effect might have been the disclosure by  St. Petersburg Times writer Marc Topkins  when he asked Kazmir in the Visitor’s locker room about the rumors, to hopefully dispel the rumors floatingf around, or get a great first reaction quote on the whole shebang, but Kazmir had no prior knowledge of anything brewing on anything at that moment. 

The media “cloak” has found its way into the Visitor’s locker room, and did not even include the main trade piece knowing anything about the proposed trade yet. Since Stuart Sternberg’s hand-picked group took over the everyday activities of the Rays, they have always employed a complete media “blackout” from discussions or even knowledge of things in the works concerning personnel decisions. It almost brings you to mind the dealings of traders on Wall Street to do not try and let any information out so that they can skirt problems with the SEC, and retain any questions of wrongdoing from the onset of an announcement.

And on that faithful night in Detroit, the Rays were still rock solid in their “cloak of darkness” motif about any sniffing around of any impending situationbetween the Angels and Rays. But the National media was not going to just sit around waiting for Friedman to finally announce anything, so they went to their Plan “B” and quickly consulted their trusted Southern Cali sources to began to decode the impending trade, and stay off the toes of the Rays management. The hunt for this “exclusive scoop” and “first-hand” information out on the deal was there for the picking, and they ran with it without a confirmation from the Rays. 

But even with the numerous reports filtering out of the Los Angeles area of a  strong deal in place, the Rays just remained completely silent. And that is when the real fiasco began to finally get legs of its own and was plastered wall-to-wall all over the Internet by sources like ESPN.com, MLB.com and Sports Illustrated all  throwing out Tweets and web postings reporting without a doubt that the Kazmir deal was going on and that it was entering its final stretch run. And all during this time Kazmir was frantically on his cellphone trying to get a hold of his agent to get some personal confirmation or denial of the event unfolding like a flag online. Becuase if the rumors were true, then he had to quickly get himself mentally and emotionally ready for any timely decision by the Rays.

And credit has to go to Kazmir for staying under control and doing his usual pre-game routine and not falling into the trap of getting baited to give out  false information or any nibblet of quotes about things that were not made public. And that is where I think Friedman made his biggest honest mistake of the night.

Even if the discussion was just in the first chats or coming to the final  tweaking phases, it was would have said volumes if Friedman had taken Kazmir aside and told him some of the parameters so he could at least play along with the Rays usual “cloak” during trade conditions until the official announcement later that evening.

But they left the young leftie out to dry, and even as he was out tossing the ball around with fellow leftie David Price before the game, the wheels were turning somewhere above him to finish this trade before the game. The Rays great idea of moving back Maddon’s pre-game chat with reporters  was causing a flurry of activities to confirm or deny anything before the game. At this time, even a small reminder from Friedman or PR Vice President Rick Vaughn to the media that “Trade discussions and actions are not being played out in the media, and if we have something to say to you……we will call you” might have meant volumes to the anxious media crowd.

And so began a three hour flip flopping of Sports websites along the Internet super highway jockeying for position by both posting and pulling posts concerning the possible trade. The media giants were going forward and backwards at the same time trying to gain  a foothold on this story, but without any confirmation, it was pure speculation at the time. I wish I had saved a bevy of the postings to a MS Word note pad about the hundreds of posting and retractions within that small period of time of credited media journalists that were at the mercy of their weak sources in this transaction.

And all the while, Friedman remained silent and out of sight. In reality, he was probably boxed up in a suite upstairs away from media ears and eyes to finalize this with a minmal of trouble. He might have been aware of the media storm brewing below him, but it was minor compared to the deal he was trying to complete at the moment. The episode took on a huge life of its own for a few hours, and even during the pre-game analysis with the FSNFlorida/ Rays television  announcers, you could see a sense of nervous energy bouncing off of them as they tried to make sense of all the drama being played out on the electronic media sources.

And in the end, it was not even Friedman that told us of the trade, it was Rays “walk-about” guru Todd Kalas after the team issued a formal Press Release on the transaction during the Rays post-game show. I am sorry, but I wanted to hear it from Friedman’s own lips. That Kazmir was no longer a member of the Rays. I wanted to see his reaction to the room when the news broke “officially”. At that time, Kazmir was no longer in the Visitor’s locker room at Comerica Park. He had left to go back to the Rays team hotel and get things sorted out for his next step in the morning.

Even with all the multiple postings and various retractions of comments by the media giants, the deal went on and was completed before the end of the Rays game against the Tigers. But what a circus it must have been in the Press Box between the first to the last inning. You wonder how many of the assembled media people felt slighted, and how many of them were proud of their skills to at least sense the deal and report on it accordingly to the public. But in the end, the Rays silence might have cost them a bit of trust with the public.

People, do forget the true magnitude of getting that deal completed and not waiting until the next morning. The deal had to be sign, sealed and delivered to the MLB Offices in New York so that the Angels could choose the option of putting Kazmir on the post season roster. On September 1st, he would not have been able to be included on the roster. Could this deal have actually taken almost a month to complete? Could this whole thing have been on the back burner since the July 31st Trade Deadline with an eye on how Kazmir would rebounded on the mound, and both teams letting that deadline pass with no resolution on Kazmir, knowing they still had time to work out a deal?

I can understand, and  in a small way admire Friedman for trying to keep the Rays business quiet and uncomplicated until the final results were hashed out completely. But in this odd case of leaked intel, since the proposed deal had flowed through the seams of the Los Angeles Times, I would have thought it merited a little smoldering of the fire before it got out of control. And it quickly festered into a media frenzy that no one could get an honest answer good or bad out of the Rays camp. And in that moment, a simple seed of deception was planted within some people’s minds.

With the episode done and gone now for almost a month, I look back and see the perils and the pitfalls that the Rays could have avoided and not made the Rays fans, and some of their own team feel alienated by their front office. Sure there are still unanswered questions that plague the event of that night. You want to know Friedman’s true reasoning for not even shooting down the untrue rumors or even acknowledging the truth after it was put out in the open. You want to believe all was done to protect Kazmir and the organization from unfounded speculations and rumors.

But the true fact is now it brings Friedman down to earth in my mind. He is no longer the “boy genius” some people have labeled him. Like so many other MLB GM’s before and after him, this is going to be a event that will follow him for a long time. Some things might have been played different, but in the end, some will see this whole episode as a honest mistake in keeping the Rays party line strong and not bending to the media wants and desires. 

Opinions will vary on if the trade was done the right way from top to bottom. My personal opinion is that it made him human, it made him someone who might do it a bit different if he does it again, and that is part of the learning process of his chosen position. Even if he stays solid in the belief of the present “cloak”, he will know the pros and cons now of such a move, and what backlash or opinion might rise up after such a move. Moving a popular player will not be viewed the same by everyone. Some might feel betrayed, other open minded to a change if it is positive.

Sure, you and I might have taken both Maddon and Kazmir aside before Batting Practice that day and just gave them a small “head’s up” on what might go down in the next few hours. What finally told me that the deal was done was the simple fact Kazmir was in the dugout with the team for a few innings, then vanished from sight. If you have watched him at all over the season, he doesn’t go into the clubhouse and sit at all during the game unless he needs treatment. He is always out on the dugout rail or on the bench with the other pitchers watching those games. The absence of Kazmir from the dugout spoke volumes to me at that moment.

So in last night’s video you see Kazmir enjoying the moment, spraying his new teammates and relishing the fact he is going to make another trip to the playoffs. You know on his way home he probably called a few of his former Rays mates and told them he wished they were there with him, and was both excited and upset that he was not in a Rays uniform and celebrating with his old team that night. But what is done is done, and Kazmir now can go on and help his new team try and take the same American League Pennant his old squad hoisted into the rafters in April.

Kazmir might not be here anymore in body, but the smiling good-natured spirit of Kazmir is alive and well in the hearts and mind of Rays fans, who genuinely are proud he has another shot at the big prize. The Rays may stay within their “cloak of darkness” theory involving discussions and trade in the future, but hopefully this event showed them that when another source is openly discussing your business and boldly showing your hand, you have to man-up and also put your cards on the table. Andrew, the media went around you and called your bluff that day and you held the cards tight, but in the process, you might have lost some firm supporters both in the stands and within the organization. And that my friend, is not a winning hand at any time.

Blown Chances and a Lopsided Score

Here is my Trivia nugget before I get to my Good,the Bad,and the Ugly for tonight’s
game.


Richie Ashburn hit the same fan twice with foul balls in the same at bat on
August 17, 1957
.


Eastwood Clint - The Good the Bad and the Ugly          Eastwood Clint - The Good the Bad and the Ugly           Eastwood Clint - The Good the Bad and the Ugly       Eastwood Clint - The Good the Bad and the Ugly           Eastwood Clint - The Good the Bad and the Ugly



Here is tonight’s Good,the Bad and the Ugly following the Rays 7-1
shellacking by the Seattle Mariners.

                                         The
Good

Actually, this is going to be another two-fold “good”
tonight. I want to give kudos to the best offensive,and defensive people
tonight. O
ffense was not
at a  premium tonight as the Rays’ only collected  8 hits.  Tonight’s  two
offensive stars were  third baseman Willy Aybar,and  shortstop Jason
Bartlett. Aybar went 3-4 tonight with two doubles to improve
his average to .292 for the year.  He also made some great diving grabs for
outs and started a pretty 5-4-3 double play for the team. This was also Aybar’s
first three hit game since Sept 26,2006 when he was with the Atlanta
Braves. Bartlett also gets game kudos for going 2 for 2 and
raising his average to a modest .222. The left side of the infield produced 5 of
the Rays 8 hits.



Getting an honorary mention is newly arrived
Right fielder Justin Ruggiano, who was brought up from Durham today when  DH
Cliff Floyd went on the disabled list. Justin got a nice double over the head of
Ichiro in his first at bat of the night. Getting a ball out of Ichiro’s range is
a feat all it’s own.


                                         The Bad

 

The bad was the Rays  hitters combining for
two errors on wild plays. The first was a fly ball misplayed by Ruggiano in
Right field that flew several feet over his head and produced runs for the
Mariners. J P Howell was on the mound and had a ball hit
back to him. He collected the ball and threw to Pena.


Only problem was Howell threw a 55 foot throw
53 feet and the ball had to be scooped out of the dirt by Pena, who could not
finish the play for the out. Luckily, the ball did not get by Carlos and roll
into the Bullpen area for extra bases.

                                      
The Ugly

                       Cliff Floyd doubles in the Rays' 6-2 win over the Orioles last week in Baltimore.



The ugly part is knowing growing for the
second day in a row.  The injuries to starting roster players is beginning to
take a toll on both the teams record and the mindset of the
team.


The Rays, who did not lose a series before
coming home to Tropicana field are now in danger of being swept by the Seattle
club. The team has lost another starting pitcher in Matt Garza, and Cliff Floyd
will be having knee surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus that will sideline
him for 4-6 weeks.  Floyd will have surgery on Friday. This new injury is a
fresh wound and an MRI conducted during Spring Training came up clean a few
weeks ago for him. 


With staff ace Scott Kazmir still a few days
or weeks away from rejoining the team, and Dioner Navarro still recovering from
a freak accident, the injury bug is hitting the team hard early this
season.Before Batting Pratice on Weds., Rays manager
Joe Maddon took the squad into the outfiled and preached the essence of positive
thinking and renewing the vow of upward mobility in the standing and in his
troops morale.


“I felt it was important,” Maddon said. “We’ve got so many major items going
on at the same time. A tough loss Tuesday night, and then you find out you lose
two of your better players in one fell swoop. Plus, Kaz is still not here yet,
and Navi’s down, too. They’re starting to pile up a bit. So, I just thought it
would be wise to bring everybody together and have everybody understand that
this is somebody’s opportunity now to shine.” **


If there ever was a skipper who could right
the Rays ship, it is the always positive Maddon.

“We’ve got some key people out of the lineup, so everybody’s trying to do
more, that kind of a thing,” Maddon said. “Just go back to what we had been
doing, working good at-bats, using the whole field, that kind of stuff. We’re a
whole-field team, more of a line drive team. We have some power, but we just
have to get back in the middle of the field on a more consistent basis.” **


Another “ugly” that Maddon does not want to
bring up is the fact the first four hitters in his order are battling for hits
so far this season. Lead-off hitter Akinora Iwamura is hitting .182,
and went 0-3 Weds. night.


Carl Crawford



Left fielder Carl Crawford is struggling at
the plate hitting .167 and had a single in the game. 2007 Silver Slugger winner
Carlos Pena is handcuffed with a .200 average, but leads the team in home runs
and RBI at this moment. Pena also had two of the Rays 4 strikeouts during the
game and has a team leading 12 for the season. Center fielder B J Upton is mired with a .222
average. a bright spot for Upton is he is leading the team in walks with 7, 
which shows he is seeing the ball well, so maybe he is just in a  batters’ funk
right now.


 

B.J. Upton

 


Former Rays’ players’ of the night is Boston Red Sox starting Shortstop Julio
Lugo, who went 2-3 tonight to bring his average up to .321 for the season. You
might remember that Lugo got in a batting funk in the beginning of 2007, and it
took him most of the season to right his ship. It is great to see that he is
hitting the ball well and doing it on the diamond for the Red Sox.

Another guy who is just hitting the cover off the ball is former Ray, current
Twin Brendan Harris. He went 3-4, with 3 runs scored in the Twins 12-5 win over
the Chicago White Sox. Harris is hitting at a .348 clip so far this season.


Also want to send a few cheers to former Rays Jorge Cantu who hit his first
HR tonight for the Florida Marlins.



Tomorrow is an afternoon affair, and I might have to mail that games recap in
during the evening hours. I will get with all you fine readers and let you know
how Rays pitcher Edwin Jackson does tomorrow.

 

** Quotes from Interviews were obtained by Marc Topkin of the St.
Petersburg
Times.                                             

 

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