Results tagged ‘ Mitch Talbot ’

Zorilla 2.0

I am starting to believe in this full circle train of thought. That all things go into circles and come back again new and improved and somehow modified in their simplicity. I guess we can say the same for Tampa Bay Rays newly annoited SS Ben Zorbrist, or should I call him Zorilla 2.0?

It was exactly 6 years and 33 days since the first time a young and lanky SS prospect was traded to the Rays from the Houston Astros for a gruff and grumbling Aubrey Huff. Along with Zobrist the Rays received P Mitch Talbot, who we all know wears Cleveland Indians garb now. Zorbrist came to the Rays as a infield specialist, but his true specialty was playing the deep hole between second and third base both with range and a cannon attached to his shoulders.

Some say that his ability back then worked B J Upton around the infield from Third to Second before he finally found his home in Centerfield. But 2006 was a memorable season for the defensively maturing Zorilla as he spent only 18 games at Triple-A Round Rock and when Zorbrist and Upton were recalled by the Rays on August 1st after the Rays felt secure enough with the tag team of Upton and Zobrist at SS that they sent starting SS Julio Lugo to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline.

All Zorilla did was start 50 of the final 56 games….all at the Short Stop position. How good was the new acquired defensive neophyte? Well not 31 days later did Zorbrist and Rays catcher Dione Navarro stamp their own brand on Major League Baseball history when they recorded the only 2-6-2 triple play…EVER.


Many might have forgotten Zorbrist was the Rays Opening Day SS in 2007 starting 13 of the Rays first 17 games, then something happened and he fell out of favor and started only 2 of the team’s next 17 games before the Rays sent him down to Triple-A Durham and subsequently claimed SS Josh Wilson off waivers from Washington. Most see that as the memorial moment that the Rays might have set their sights on Zobrist being a key figure in the Rays scheme, just not front and center in their future infield.

Still, I think this is a great idea that has been kicked around for quite a while by Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who wanted to see Sean Rodriguez take ownership of the spot, but little things have de-railed the S-Rod experience for the Rays along with Rodriguez’s enemic .209 average with only 6 HR and 30 RBIs. Zobrist has a great first move towards the hole, and even with a few years of rust to shake off before he again find his optimal rhythm, I hate to say it, he is a vast improvement at the plate as well as in the field.

There are going to be a few rough patches as he again gains the trust in his abilities on the opposite side the the second base bag, but if anyone can do it and provide the leadership and positive mindset needed to be a consistent and agile SS, it has to be the Rays # 18.

It is a lot to ask of a player who doesn’t even make the Rays all-time Top-5 SS list in any category, but this is also the same stellar fielder who garnered a .989 fielding average and is not listed on either the SS or 2B all-time errors Top-5 list (Upton is #5 @ 2B with 12). So far in 2012, Zobrist has 8 errors in 961 total innings all around the Rays infield, and outfield. As a whole, the trio of Rodriguez, Will Rhymes and Elliot Johnson have combined for 31 errors with Zobrist tied with Rhymes for 3rd most on the team.

This is not to say errors will cease and life in the middle of the Rays infield will be a bed of roses. There will be challenges, possibly multi-error contests, but the leadership and offensive confidence of Zobrist should emulate enough so that the rest of the infield can feed off of Zorilla and grow tighter and stingier over the last portion of the season. The Rays have not put Zobrist’s finger in the dike hoping to stave off the total flooding of potential errors, but the maturation of Zobrist and his “can-do” persona should do miracles in a position in the field that was looking more like a gaping hole.

Seriously, to me it is a long time coming, and a position change that will not only get Zorilla consistent starts in one spot in the Rays field alignment, but it can finally give him a chance to possibly not have to lug around the huge equipment bag with 9 different gloves inside it. Who knows, if Zorilla takes to this position like he did in 2006 and makes it his own again…..It would be hard not to vote him again as the Rays team MVP like in 2009. Zorilla 2.0…….I like the sound of that more and more.  

Time to Push Navarro From the Rays Nest


 
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Sometimes I can visually see vividly in my mind a few of the Tampa Bay Rays staff inside the dugout tunnels or near the clubhouse during games banging their heads against the wall in regards to the antics and misadventures involving Rays catcher Dioner Navarro over the past two seasons. The mire fact that Navarro is still on the Rays 40-man roster even at this moment just baffles me to no avail.


Navarro in my mind is one of those professional baseball players who just seems to be more of a heavy albatross around the neck of this franchise than any measure of a good omen. It just seems to me personally that Navarro must have had a few unflattering photos or video of someone somewhere within the Rays organization. I guess that is the rationale I have to put into my mind to explain how Navarro still has a coveted spot upon the Rays 40-man roster.


Soon the Rays front office could end all of this mind boggling insanity and possibly non-tender Navarro, thus setting set him free upon the rest of the MLB. Or could the Rays be hoping and praying for someone to be willing to trade even a few minor league prospects for their catcher who now seems to have his Rays days numbered.


Why in heck is this guy still got even a hint of possibly securing another year with the Rays after his blatant disregard for his own club after he walked away from the Rays on October 7th because his name was omitted from the American League Divisional Series 25-man roster. How in his mind could Navarro really think he deserved a ALDS roster spot over the more productive pairing of current Rays catchers Kelly Shoppach and rookie John Jaso?


Could his agent have possibly diluted his mind to such a state that Navarro took the omission as a disrespectful move by the Rays instead of the right personnel move considering Navarro’s 2010 track record? Might that roster omission by the Rays fueled Navarro’s frustrations and made him implode and pack up catching gear and leave the Rays clubhouse for maybe the last time?


Or was this another visual outburst of denial by Navarro of the ever increasing valley between the team and himself after Navarro spent his time from June 24th until his call-up on August 31st with the Rays Triple-A affiliate in Durham, North Carolina. The fact that Navarro openly told the team on October 7th that he was “going home” instead of staying with the club and working out in case of an injury to any of the Rays catchers’ should have pushed him beyond the confines of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s doghouse and given Navarro an instant exit from the Rays 40-man roster.

 

But still, the Venezuelan catcher still sits upon the 32 names currently resting on the Rays 40-man roster this off season. Isn’t this the same Navarro who became certainly expendable in the Rays minds back during Dec 2009 when the Rays first had thoughts of trading away Navarro, but the return was not considered beneficial to the team’s future. Wasn’t Navarro the figure on the Rays roster who should have been more aware and concerned for his job when the Rays traded one of the Rays top farmhand pitchers Mitch Talbot to the Cleveland Indians for Shoppach.
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Shouldn’t that transaction by the Rays during the off season been a clear signal to Navarro that his Major League job might be in deep jeopardy? Instead it just seemed like Navarro, who had seen the Rays bring fellow backstop Gregg Zaun late in 2009 did not seem to heed the warning signals. Instead it seemed that Navarro just tried to do just enough to again hold onto one of the Rays two catching positions.

Even during the Winter of 2009 when teams like the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays were hunting for catching options, the slow-footed Navarro did not peak anyone interest farther than a casual phone call to the Rays. During the 2009 off season the Rays did think long and hard about non-tendering the arbitration eligible catcher, but again he somehow had enough believers in the Rays staff to fend off his departure.


More and more in 2009 and early 2010 the Rays faithful had to witness the extreme casual attitude behind the plate when Navarro basically saw balls hit the dirt in front of him and he mysteriously missed the balls and had to chase them around the Tropicana Field backstop. It was if Navarro had stepped into a hole defensively that he could not get himself out of in time to save his starting job.


But now as another arbitration time is quickly approaching it is time for the Rays to send a loud and clear message to their one time All Star catcher. It is time to cut the string between Navarro and the Rays and set him along towards another team. With the emergence of Jaso and the stability of a contract with Shoppach for another season, it would be ill advised to hold onto an arbitration eligible Navarro who could demand a $ 2.9 million salary even with his demotion during 2010 to the minor leagues.

It is time to let the slow-footed catcher makes his way out of the fold of the Rays and into the glaring sunlight to see his true worth around the Major Leagues . They say a mother bird sometimes has to push a baby bird out of it’s nest to make it realize it has to fly. It is time for this bird to definitely get pushed out of the Rays fold. Some might call it a reality check for Navarro, but I consider it more a relief of catching albatross from around the necks of the Rays. Fly away little Navi, Fly away!

 

 

 

Talbot was the Perfect Choice for Cleveland


AWinner@Flickr.com

Every once in a while a trade is consummated that  instantly makes you see that it might be the best thing to happen to that minor leaguer. You do not want to see him leave your system, but you know that he might be legitimately stalled within your farm system by a logjam within your system. And it is a shame to see a player stand still instead of moving forward in their  maturation process to becoming a Major Leaguer.
 

So when the Tampa Bay Rays announced that they had made a trade with the Cleveland Indians for catcher Kelly Shoppach in early December, you had the immediate feeling that the “Player To Be Named Later” would be plucked from the Rays 25-man roster, or be a top prospect from a Rays farm squad. So it was no real shock to me that the Rays took their time finalizing and whittling down the choices with the Indians and finally deciding “officially” late Monday night to send pitcher Mitch Talbot to the Indians.

And the final decision on Talbot was a very intelligent and completely necessary move for the Rays. But it was also a great pitching pick-up for the rebuilding Indians who  will be using young pitching talent in 2010 to build a strong foundation for the Indians future. And this decision actually saved the Rays from having to make a difficult decision this Spring for the second season in a row.
 

Talbot, who was out of minor league options, might not have even been considered for a 25-man roster spot for the Rays and in all likelihood would of had to change the mindset of the Rays Coaching staff  to make the team reconsider a spot for fellow pitchers like Andy Sonnanstine or Wade Davis in 2010.  And it is not unheard of in recent Rays Spring Training history for a pitcher to  come into Spring Training Camp in mid-February and sweat and battle his way the entire Spring, and the team ends up not having him on their final 25-man roster.


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But with Talbot going down in 2009 with injuries while with Triple-A Durham Bulls, he ended up throwing only 54.1 innings, which could of had the Rays losing a bit of confidence in one of their top pitcher prospects. How soon it slipped the minds of the Rays to forget that in 2008 Talbot posted his second consecutive 13-9 record for the Bulls. 

Talbot even had to endure a brief 24-hour call-up with the Rays on July 2,2008.  All this from a guy that Baseball America  selected in 2008 as having the best change-up in the International League. How soon  a player could fall from grace with an organization, and they forget you were their selection as Triple-A Pitcher of the Year in 2008, and had the best change-up in the Rays system for the fourth year in a row. Throw on top of that being a member of the Bull 2009 Triple-A Championship team, and you get a pitching prospect who’s future should be bright in the eyes of his organization, and not  shaded by clouds of doubt.


Rob Carr / AP

But with the Indians selecting Talbot as the final piece in this deal, it actually opens up a different career path to the Majors for Talbot. He will report  with the other Indians pitchers’ to Arizona this Spring, and could be firmly in the mix to secure a spot in their 2010 rotation. This should give Talbot a early dose of confidence that he can get his name muttered by the Cleveland Coaching staff this Spring. And because the Rays included his name for consideration in this trade,Talbot will be given a fair chance to make his first Opening Day roster in the Major Leagues.

They say that sometimes things happen for reason. Well, this trade actually might be just the extra push forward Talbot needs to secure a spot on a Major League bench. He is a hard worker and deserves this chance, and hopefully we will see his name listed on the roster on 2010′s Opening Day. And  with the added experience of serving in the Rays Bullpen in the past, Talbot could also bring a nice secondary piece of the puzzle for the Indians. Talbot  in his personal life enjoys flying during his off times from baseball. Hopefully his  renewed chance in Cleveland will finally give him a chance to fly high and secure a spot in the Major Leagues. And I am think he is the right guy to have at the controls.

Zobrist is the Rays MVZ (Most Valuable Zorilla)

 


Chris O’Meara /AP

Before the 2008 season, Benjamin Thomas Zobrist was considered a possible “Super Utility” player for the Tampa Bay Rays future. He was one of the players the team acquired back in July 2006 when the Rays sent disgruntled rightfielder Aubrey Huff to the Houston Astros near the MLB Trade Deadline. When the Rays made that deal, Zobrist was being sought after as a back-up and not a starter, even though he had the talent to start in the Major Leagues.

And even if the Rays did throw that “utility” moniker on Zobrist  when he arrived, at that point the Rays had not given him a fair amount of time to shine at the Major League level until  the end of 2008. But then again, Zobrist has always seemed to be in that different group of player who’s game beats to a different drummer, but is in unison with the team’s goals and aspirations.

But Zobrist has always been strong silent type who used his glove and bat to do his talking. And even then he still got pigeon-holed into a small finite group in the MLB. Zobrist is only the ninth player in MLB history to ever appear in the regular game at the shortstop position, joining Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer in that exclusive club.

Zobrist is only the second Rays player to have a “Z” at the beginning of his name, joining Victor Zambrano in that club. And only Tiger’s pitcher Joel Zumaya is lower in the alphabetical listing in the MLB entire active roster than Zobrist. So as you can see, Zobrist has always seemed to be at the back of the class by alphabet, but on the field, well that is a different story.

But how valuable is a guy who in 2008 played 6 different positions for your squad? During the Rays 2008 season he jumped back and forth from the minors to the major leagues four times before finally sticking with the Rays on August 5,2008 and played every field position but pitcher, catcher and first base during the season. And this season, he added first base to his playing resume’ when he started playing the position after a late season injury to All-Star first baseman Carlos Pena.
 

And who knows, after  the Rays let go of Joe Dillon, maybe Zobrist was the Rays designated “third catcher” option  in case of a unfortunate injury to Dioner Navarro and Gregg Zaun during a contest. But that is the reason Rays Manager Joe Maddon think so highly of his fielding handyman who brings four different types of fielding gloves into the dugout during Rays games. I can still remember a game during the 2009 season where he started the game in rightfield, moved to second base in the middle innings of the contest, then finished out the game at third base subbing for Evan Longoria.

I know there are only a handful of players on any roster in the Major Leagues who can hop, skip and jump from position to position like Zobrist. And that is one of the reasons I keep looking at players like Mark DeRosa and new White Sox journeyman Mark Teahen and can ultimately see Zobrist developing into that same mold of player who will do whatever the team needs to win every game.

So am I upset that Zobrist did not end up in the top 5 in the MVP voting? I am a little surprised, but I also know that it sometimes take more than a splash on the scene to convince the tunnel visioned BBWAA guys in the press box who never played the game that you are a special breed. And that is  honest truth to why I feel he did not post any higher vote totals in the American League MVP race because the BBWAA voters are more geared towards their own teams player selections and other regional and divisional guys they see all the time.

But I can understand some of the BBWAA voters for not getting so excited about Zobrist this season. But if he still puts up the same numbers in 2010, and even posts higher numbers, will they still see him as a reliable utility player or as a full-time field player?  

And the fact the Zobrist began this statistic campaign actually during the last 4 games of the 2008 season when he hit four home runs and won co-AL Player of the Week honors after the Rays season ending series in Detroit. Sure in 2008 he might have only appeared in 62 games ( 49 starts), but people forget Zobrist might have actually made the Rays 2008 Opening Day roster if he had not gone down with a left thumb break. So you have to wonder, if Zobrist had gotten more playing time in 2008, would this season’s MVP total have been different.


Steve Nesisus / AP

And of course, this has to be speculation, but sure, his number would have been dramatically different, and considering he lead all Major League middle infielders with a 16.5 At Bat per Home Run ratio finishing ahead of players like Marlin Dan Uggla (16.6), Hanley Ramirez (17.9) and Phillie infielder Chase Utley (18.4). Considering each of these players is an All Star caliber player, doesn’t that make you think the potential might have always been bubbling under the surface in Zobrist.

And also in 2008, he hit is second Gram Slam of his career during a September 13th game against the New York Yankees and was the last visiting player to hit a Grand Slam in the old Yankee Stadium off starter Sidney Ponson in the nightcap of a doubleheader.  So as you can see, his 2008 numbers gave Rays fans something to look forward to in 2009.

And if you have even looked towards the outfield grass beyond first base before a Rays game, Zobrist is always out there stretching with the starters even if he is not in the lineup. That is part of his game day prep, and one of the reason I truly feel he is a player to watch over the next few seasons.


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And considering he is not even arbitration eligible yet, Zobrist becomes a huge double-edged value to the Rays both in payroll and in his playing ability. Zobrist’s projected 2010 salary might only be around $450,000 before he hits arbitration for the first time after the 2010 season. And how valuable is that right now with the Rays looking to stabilize their payroll and find needed money for possible Bullpen help. Zobrist is not only helping the Rays on the field already, he is heaping them in their fiscal bottom line too.

So even if Zobrist did not get an additional votes in the MVP race to post his name up there with the American League heavyweights, his day might still come in the future. People always love to root for the underdog, and you know Zobrist definitely fits the bill for that title, even in 2010. And you can be sure that in 2010 there will be more than a few Fantasy Baseball team owners who will take Zobrist onto their rosters. I have to admit, I took him in the 10th round last year because I have seen his potential over the last two years and have always liked what he brings to the game both on and off the field.

So Benjamin  Zobrist, we are proud of what you have done in 2009. And we salute you and hope and pray that the off season keeps you safe and ready for Spring Training in 2010
. Starting this spring, when your name appears in the lineup people will begin to check your stats and watch your development to see if you are a flash-in-the-pan or the real deal. We already know the answer here in Tampa Bay. We already know you are our MVP.


Chris O’Meara / AP

So what if the American League’s other BBWAA voters do not give you the respect yet, or even the courtesy of a 10th place vote on every ballot. You can be our little secret for another year. You can be the guy that opposing fans look at each other and wonder who you are after you launch one into the stands. Sure we might hide you around the outfield and infield again, but getting you on the field is the main thing, because a lineup with Zobrist in it is a ticking time bomb ready to launch an offensive explosion.

So as we begin to go towards the bulk of the off season, it is okay if the rest of the countries media want to forget about Zobrist. It is fine if they do not want to honor a year to remember from a guy who stepped up and accepted the challenge and propelled his team. We know your value and we know your potential. Tick,tock…..tick, tock. Spend the off season resting, relaxing and playing with your son Zion. For in the Spring of 2010, you can again get your determination and intensity scale set to “10″, because some people forgot who you were. They forgot you were “Zorilla”, but that is fine. Even Godzilla had more than one film, and he did pretty well for himself.   

Benzo, Zorilla, Zobrist for All-Star Hybrid

 


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You have heard all the hype and the  high brow accolades being thrown his way recently on countless Fantasy shows.  And the country is just getting to know the awesome offensive and defensive abilities of a player Tampa Bay Rays fans have been watching develop since 2006. He might not have seemed to have such ‘ambidextrous” promise when he was traded to the Rays from the Houston Astros on July 12, 2006 along with current Rays Triple-A pitcher Mitch Talbot for Aubrey Huff, but his numbers and playing time has risen just like his persona to an almost cult like status at Tropicana Field. 

Such a player might not even be a glint in a manager’s eye come All-Star time.

He was originally brought in to be an insurance policy for Julio Lugo, who was a streaky shortstop for the Rays at that time, and because  former First Rounder, B J Upton, who was going to be the Rays heir apparent to the shortstop position was considering other options within the  Rays future concept. He ended up garnishing a utility role on the Rays from 2006-2008. But it was after he came back from a broken left thumb sustained in Spring Training in 2008 that Rays Manager Joe Maddon finally sensed he might have found a special athlete and key component to his lineup in the young “Super Utility” player.


A spot on the All-Star team honoring such a player would be akin to the NBA’s “Sixth Man” awards.


Before the 2009 season, Zobrist had always been listed among the infielders on the Rays 40-man roster, but beginning in April 2009, he was listed on the outfield section of the teams 40-man roster for the first time in his career. He had grown into that hybrid role so well he was now going to be roaming any of eight positions in the field for the team, and with his emergence with a bat, Maddon was toiling daily on where to put the budding star.

So, because of his new found glory on the field the Rays were in a pickle about where his new natural position might be for the team. Maddon basically decided to leave him as a hybrid player who will play any position needed, and Zobrist has responded beyond even Maddon’s expectations. 

Shouldn’t a valuable member of a team as the 10th man be included on the All-Star ballot no matter what is position?

All he did that last portion of 2008 is give us all a sweet taste of what he would do in 2009. He only went to the plate 198 times in that season, but he posted 50-hits and 12 homer runs. More impressive was the fact he also hit two Grand Slams in that short period to send the switch-hitters stock skyward among utility players.  His Slugging Percentage of .505 was remarkable for a player who did not play every day. But what he seemed to lack at that time in offensive number he made up for in defensive skills. He played four different positions for the Rays in 2008, participating in 190 total chances in the field and only committing 7 errors. What is more remarkable is that all 7 errors were at his old position, shortstop. At the other three positions for the Rays, he was flawless in 2008. 

Shouldn’t both defense and offensively superior players be included on the All-Star team in a new ballot position?

So as 2009 came around, the Rays and Zobrist were retooling the young player into a hybrid player that could be inserted anywhere in the line-up at anytime to either produce offensively, or be a competent backstop to end defensive laxes late in a game. So far the defensive numbers have been consistent for the budding star as he has posted only two errors in 135 chances this season. That comes out to two in the infield to go along with his two outfield assists so far in 2009.  His play in the outfield has been a breath of fresh air to the Rays fans, and his bat has been a godsend to the offense that has struggled at times this season getting key runs in close games.

        
         Steve Nesius / AP

His offensive numbers have proven he is a needed member of this offense and he is extremely gifted at both sides of the plate.  He is currently tied for third on the team with go-ahead or tying runs  with Carlos Pena in 2009 with 9 runs. You might not have seen his 2009 numbers on the MLB Leader board this season based on the fact he is still under the numbers of at bats needed to qualify for the big board, but his numbers are consistent with the leaders in a lot of categories in 2009. His current average of .296 might not grab your attention, but he is currently tied for second place with Nick Swisher of the Yankees for home runs by a switch-hitter, and he is not even a starter. 


A Hybrid player is among the Big Boys in Hitting, can you say…Impressive!

He is currently tied for third among the big boys in RBI (33 ), just behind  the Yankees Mark Teixeira (50) and Indians slugger Victor Martinez (41). He is in a three-way tie with 33 RBI with everyday players Swisher, New York Met Carlos Beltran and Dodger infielder Orlando Hudson.  Every player mentioned on this list so far has a good chance to be on the 2009 All-Star roster, but Zobrist. 

In his last 5 games he has homered three time, including his new Rays team record fourth Grand Slam of his career.  He has joined Swisher as the only player to hit a Grand Slam from each side of the plate in the same season. In his last 24 games he is hitting .338, with 6 homers, 3 triples and 19 walks.

Defensive Gold Gloves never go to Utility players, maybe an All-Star nod?

His .662 Slugging Percentage would lead the would lead the American League and be third in the majors behind Cardinal Albert Pujols and Philly Raul Ibanez but he is 11 plate appearances short of qualifying his OPS of 1.070 would only be bettered by Red Sox Kevin Youkilis in the American League. As a pinch-hitter this season he leads the major leagues in RBI with 9 and is tied with the Phillies Matt Stairs with 3 home runs.  To put a final exclamation point on his 2008-2009 season, he has 23 homers in 340 plate appearances or 14.78 At Bats per Home Run, which is an astronomical number.

Shouldn’t  the utility player also get an All-Star spot?

So here is my problem fans. As the 2009 All-Star balloting is starting its stretch run we know that a utility player like Zobrist might not have a chance to make the final list. He has played in too many positions to qualify for the ballot in even one spot. For that reason we have a simple problem, MLB needs to make a decision if all his votes will be counted as a whole instead of as his Write-In position.

I know I have made out over 1,700 ballots that put him in the outfield position, but I also know of people who have given him the nod as an infielder. Since he is such a hybrid player, maybe he should have all his votes counted not withstanding what position they come in as on the ballots.

           
            Steve Nesius / AP


This is a huge change of policy for the head honchos at MLB, and might spark a change to maybe add another position to the ballot. I mean why would you not want to reward the 10th man on your roster the way the NBA celebrates its “sixth man” awards. That one guy who can do it all, and doesn’t complain and produces at the plate should be the same honor as another player on the turf.

But so far there is not “grass roots” or even written acknowledgement that a change should occur. I proposing right now that the MLB take into consideration the fact that this 10th man is as vital to the league’s success as the other nine guys on the lineup card. It might be a defensive change, or a change based on the late inning hitting match-ups with pitchers, but this hybrid position is expanding every year. Shouldn’t they also get a change to celebrate at the All-Star break with the rest of the league?


Could we see a change on future All-Star ballots MLB? Just let us know……

I am hoping that Maddon uses Zobrist this year as an example of what that 10th man can do for an All-Star roster. We are playing in the National League park, and a bench player such as the hybrid could be a huge plus for either team’s roster. It might be a gamble right now of “too little, too late,” but I am making the campaign promise that I am going to try and get some sort of result out of this.

Every team has a guy of this caliber who sit on the bench waiting and hoping to change the outcome of a contest. Why not reward that kind of player?


The utility player/hybrid has changed the way we have played baseball. It was usually just a guy on the bench who could hit, but now it has transformed into a player who can take on multiple roles for his team. This position deserves a spot on the All-Star roster. Every team has one. The Red Sox have Jed Lowrie who would fit into this category perfectly with Zobrist.   It might be too late for 2009, but with consideration and thought, it could make an appearance in 2010 if we, the fans really want it to be on the ballot.


Steve Nesius / AP

Sure it will take away an additional spot on the roster right now reserved for a bench player, but why would you sit a usual starter and bring him off the bench when you could have a utility/hybrid player selected by the fans to come off the bench in any situation and be completely comfortable in the spot. Madness I tell you, progress is madness. Now where did I put my straitjacket?

Rays Rotation Spot might be Down to Hammel and Niemann

 

 
 

The most anticipated fight this spring has finally shown some wear and tears, and a few true contenders are beginning to fall by the wayside. When the Tampa Bay Rays camp began back on February 15th, you knew that 5 members would be fighting and clawing to gain some type of leverage for that fifth slot in the Rays rotation. You knew the usual subjects of Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel would be at the top of the pile trying to keep their respective major league uniforms on their backs in 2009. But you had the questions about two minor league prospects who wanted to make that leap into the majors this spring. With weeks still ahead of us here in Spring Training, this assessment could change at any moment due to injury or even a change of heart by the Rays staff. But these are my opinions, and they usually pan out pretty good in the long run. So let’s take a look at these great pitchers and see if we can honestly gauge their chances this spring at grabbing that fifth slot in the Rays rotation.

 

 
Wade Davis and Mitch Talbot both covet that spot in the rotation and their first real spot in the Rays plans for the future. Both have been discussed multiple times, with Talbot actually coming up on July 1, 2008 for 2 nights before again going back to Durham back on July 3rd when the Rays optioned him back and brought up Reid Brignac. Both have been listed in the top 10 of the Rays prospects lists, with Davis being the only one of the two to never put on a major league uniform during the 2008 season.  But then a odd figure gets thrown into the mix that upsets the balance between the regulars and the minors leaguers battling for this spot.



 

Former Houston prospect Carlos Hernandez, who the Rays picked up during 2008 after the Astros let him go, is also being considered for the spot. Hernandez spent most of his time in 2008 down in the Rays minor league system still trying to shake off the cobwebs and adjust his mechanics after a two years absence from the mound because of injuries and surgery. The fifth spot would be an open tryout for these 5 players, with the added bonus of the top two maybe getting a slot in the Rays final 25-man roster. Even if one of these five did not get that coveted fifth rotation slot, they might be considered for the Rays Bullpen, which would keep them within the Rays eyes and they could still maybe get a shot if an injury occurs or someone starts off slow in 2009. 
 


This spring, one pitcher in this group seems to have stepped it up a bit in the Rays eyes. There has always been the hint of promise and even major league dominance in his swagger, but before this spring he did not act like he belonged here long term. Wade Davis might be the guy who could have secured this spot if not for the fact that two of these guys do not have any minor league options left. He has improved his change-up and slider control to be more effective and dominant around the plate. But during the last series of the year when the Rays invite their minor leaguers to Tropicana field for their year end awards, Davis received the Montgomery Biscuits award as the Pitcher of the Year. He seemed genuinely upset he did not get a call-up to the Rays this past September, and that might be some added motivation in his stride this off season to improve on the mound.


 
So this spring he came on and dominated early on in his first two starts before having a faltering moment this weekend against the Boston Red Sox. As of today, his spring numbers are  3 starts for 8.1 innings while allowing 9 hits and striking out 7 hitters. His 6.48 ERA is not a great illustration of his early dominance as he was tagged for 6 runs in his last start. But maybe the fact that the media and maybe now even Davis himself believes he will be in the minor league camp sometimes this week. But make no mistake, this kid is a major league caliber pitcher right now, but his shot to impress, at this level might be over right now.He has the confidence and the ability to be on this staff right now, but the limited spots will affect the ultimate decision here.  But you can be sure that his early efforts have awaken a few eyes in the Rays pitching staff. He will be with the team again at some point in 2009. He has developed enough to take that leap up to the majors, it just might not be in April this year.
 

 
Mitch Talbot is another of the Rays prospects that will be surely doing battle in the minor league than at the major league level to begin this year. Talbot also made huge strides in the last year, but his inability to make adjustments on the mound might be his downfall this spring. He had gained some more break on his curve and slider and they both are just below the norm for the majors, but his mental adjustments and conditioning might just be a bit off for now. He too will see action sometime in 2009 with the Rays, but it also will not be in April.  Talbot just needs to gain a bit more knowledge and skill at changing his game plan on the fly, then he can take that last step to becoming more effective on the mound.


 

Carlos Hernandez was a huge question mark coming into the Spring Training workouts on Feb. 15th. The Rays liked what they saw out of his limited pitching down at Class-A Vero Beach last year, but did he still have the stuff to be a major league pitcher. Rays Manager Joe Maddon thought he might and the team penciled him
in as a long shot to make the fifth rotation spot. Hernandez has gotten a few good outing, he has pitched in 3 games this spring, starting 2 of them. He is the only one of the Rays starters who still sports a spotless 0.00 ERA, even after he has thrown 8 inning and given up 0 earned runs on 7 hits. 

 
 

His strikeout and walk ratios are low, but he has also not shown that killer instinct that will be needed for that fifth slot. He did start the first game of the Spring for the Rays and has been impressive this Spring. But he still might have an outside chance of making the team’s 25-man roster, but in reality he might be another of the guys down in the minors itching for another shot at the major league level.  I actually like the way he pitches, and can see him up here contributing for the team. Barring a trade, or even a injury before the team heads to Boston for the regular season, I do not see him making a move onto the major league roster. But, the team will take a long hard look at him, with his name being maybe one of the last ones to be plucked off the Spring roster.
 

So that leaves two pitchers who will be fighting for this spot in the rotation. Both of them have major league experience both starting and pitching from the Bullpen. That is two of the obvious reasons I think these two guys will break camp with one of them winning the fifth spot, and the other winning a spot in the Bullpen. Both have been dominant at times this year, with one setting the bar high so far this spring. Everyone knows Jason Hammel from his smile and his lanky walking style. But when he gets on the mound this spring, he has been all business for the Rays. Having made a late 2008 charge in the Bullpen both in confidence and in performance, he might be the guy to watch all year long no matter what spot he earns with the Rays. 
 

 
This spring tho, Hammel has again shown he can rise up and take whatever the Rays want to dish out at him. He also dominated in the early stages of the spring and got rocked a bit in his last outing. But he has rebounded and  has shown some amazing ability in 2009 of getting out and adjusting on the mound. His versatility both as a starter and a reliever serves him well. But his late season save in the close of a severely contested game in Fenway Park might have made Maddon a believer in him. Hammel has take the mound 3 times this spring, with 1 start. Some people might read into this as the Rays showing their confidence in him coming into the game after the first few innings as a reliever more than a starter. 
 

 
But as we all know, during the spring sometimes starters can be inserted after the first few innings of a game. But a part of Hammel’s game that has improved this year is his ability to get strikeouts.  His 9 innings pitched are tied with Niemann for the team lead this spring, but his 10 strikeouts show that he has developed his killer instinct and is setting batters down more this year. Some might say that his team high 10 hits might be an indication of some troubles, but half of those came in one bad outing this past week. His control is better this season, which can be best illustrated by his 1 walk this year. The fact that he is versed both as a starter and a reliever sits well with him getting his slot in the 25-man roster this spring.  Barring any type of pitching disaster or injury, he should be the team’s long reliever, and first option as a replacement starter in 2009.

 


 

That leaves one pitcher still in the mix who has a shot at the fifth slot. Jeff Niemann has been successful before he even got to the Rays. His pitching ability in college has set him apart, but early injuries while he was coming up through the minors set back his development until 2008. Last year, due to the early spring injury to Matt Garza, Niemann showed his ability to start at this level and produced some impressive results.  He won his major league debut on April 13, 2008 against the Baltimore Orioles and only surrendered one run, a homer to Nick Markakis in the game. Neiman was finally sent back down again on April 20, 2008. But with the Triple-A Durham Bulls he went 9-5, with a 3.59 ERA. But his 133 inning and 128 strikeouts showed that he was finally healthy and throwing strong.
 

 
They Rays called him up right after the Bulls were eliminated from the International League playoffs, and he joined the team again in St. Petersburg following their road trip on September 13, 2008. Even though his last stint only lasted 2 starts for the Rays, his job this time around for the team was out of the Bullpen. Niemann seemed to have made the adjustments needed to come out if the Bullpen and made his first relief appearance on  September 18th, against the Minnesota Twins. He retied all four batters he faced, and it was only the fourth time in his career ( 3 times in Double-A ) that he had worked relief in a game. He again took the mound on September 23rd during the     game of the double-header and went 2.1 inning and got the win in the come-from behind victory for the Rays.
 

 
But this Spring, he seemed to have a new focus and determination knowing that he no longer has the chance to go back to the minors. He was out of options and the Rays would have to sneak him through waivers for him to even report to the minors. The reality is that he would not go unclaimed and would no longer be in the Rays system if they tried such a move. So with his last chance firmly in front of him, he had emerged as my favorite for the fifth slot in the rotation. His spring has been impressive. His ball seems to have great control and his velocity has increased a little to give him more of a tool on the mound.  He has appeared in 3 games this year also, and he has started two of them. But the true measure of his improvement might be  the fact that he has thrown 9 innings and has given up a team low 5 hits. His control is spot on, evident by his 8 strikeouts and 2 walks this spring. But his ERA of 1.0 has opened a few eyes that he is ready to take the next step and be successful for the Rays.

 

 
But even with his previous outings, his 4 innings of work against the Twins on Monday might have sealed his spot in the 25-man roster. He worked 4 innings at the back of the game and gave up only 2 hits. The start might have been a double-edged sword as it proved he could work both ends of the game and could be used in either role with confidence this season. By shutting down the Twins offense, he showed he can handle the pressure and the pace of the game as either a starter or a reliever for the Rays. I truly think he is the guy who will get that fifth spot in te rotation, and I think he has shown a mountain of change over the past year and deserves a shot at proving to everyone  he is a major league pitcher. And at 6 foot 9 inches, he is only 1 of 6 guys that tall in the MLB right now. Pitching downhill has never been so much fun to Niemann before today.


Photo Credits for today’s blog go to: http://www.TBO.com, http://www.theStPetersburgTimes.com

Rays get Blasted by the Long Ball

 

 
 

Boy I can tell you that it was a beautiful day in Clearwater, Florida today for at least one team. But the atmosphere was electric and the Tampa Bay Rays kept looking in the stands during Batting Practice smiling and waving to some of the Tropicana Field faithful who came up to Bright House Networks Field to see the boys on their first trip back to the home county. Most of the team’s starters did not make the trip up, but a few of them were greeted and applauded all the same. Ex-Phillie Pat Burrell made sure that he and Elvis, his English Bulldog/Security Guard made the rounds in the Phillies locker room before the game.
 
 
But to Burrell’s amazement and his astonishment, the loud clap and screaming for him as he came up for his first at bat simply took his breath away. That was a very classy move by the Philly fans, and I loved the he was given the accolades he deserved today. Something I also found amazing was the changes at the old ballpark since I was there last Spring. When I sat in the Tiki Terrace last year, millions of kids could stroll down and snag foul balls and B P  fly balls then scamper up to a player and get them signed. This year it would take a wristband and a bright red stamp on your ticket to get you even into this section.

 
 
I took my little spot at about 10:45 am right on the rail near the Bullpen door and got two quick balls, but I gave them both to people beyond the netting near the Tiki Bar. I get about 5 balls a game at the Trop.,  and I seem to always give two away minimum, so why mess with tradition in some else’s ballpark. I also got to chat with a few people on the Rays about some thing that were going on in the franchise. Usual Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos and Pitching Coach Jim Hickey were traveling together to the game today and did not get there in time to see Mitch Talbot warm-up. But Bullpen catcher Scott Cursi and Assistant Pitching Coach/ TV Announcer Brian Anderson got everything under control and there did not even seem like there was a missing cog in the works.

 
Before I talk about the game, let me tell you that there was an amazing breeze that seems to keep you from sweating or even consider a hint of sweat. I was an amazing breeze coming out if the south and was blowing an easy 10-15 mph during most of the game. Now I am not complaining about it, it kept me nice and cool the entire game and provided a great conversation point later in the day. But before I start I have to say that I had a fantastic time chatting with a Bachelor Party that was attending today’s game. Their ” Down Goes Frazier” T-shirts were amazing, and the guys even talked to a few Rays fans during the game. Except for the odd Pina Colada or Margarita, these guys were having the time of their lives. So I wanted to thank them for being so cool and really making my day feel better after looking at the scoreboard.
 
 

The Philadelphia Phillies sent pitcher Kyle Kendricks to the mound today to stake his claim on their fifth rotation spot for 2009. You might remember that in 2007, he was the subject of an incredible practical joke thought up by the devious mind of pitcher Brett Myers. They had poor Kendricks convinced he was being traded to a Japanese team in exchange for a player named Kobayashi Iwamura. When the practical joke finally fell to it conclusion, you could hear Meyers yelling, “You got traded for a Hot Dog eater!” If you have not seen it, be sure to check it out on www.Youtube.com. I still check it out when I am in a bad mood.  The funny part is both the media and the Phillies front office played along with it until someone could not help but laugh out loud and the gig was up.  Classic Spring Training fun!

 
 

 

So, Kendricks took the mound and had a bit of a rough time in the first inning. Justin Ruggiano, who was playing center field today got on the board in the first inning on a error by Phillie Miguel Cairo at second base.  Ruggiano then tried to steal second, and Phillie catcher Ronny Paulino cut him down for the second out of the inning. A few pitches later, second baseman ( for the day) Willy Aybar hit a ball that one-hopped to the wall in center field for a double. With Aybar is scoring position, Pat Burrell came up for the first time today to an explosive ovation and proceeded to pop out to Cairo to end the inning.  The Rays sent minor league prospect Mitch Talbot to the mound. Talbot, who was making his second appearance of the spring, is still in the running for the Rays fifth rotation spot.

 
 

But after the first inning against the Phillies normal starters, he might have hurt his chances a bit because of the wind. Talbot has a very heavy sinker ball that usually produces some great fly ball outs. But in today’s game, those pitches were added by the up force of the wind and made for an interesting afternoon. Jimmy Rollins came up first today and hit a soft floater that was heading for the third base foul line before falling in between left fielder Ray Sadler and Ray Olmedo. Shane Victorino then came up and stroked a nice ball down the third baseline that Gabe Kapler could not get back into the infield in time to catch the speedy Rollins from scoring. This was an interesting point because Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel wants to use Victorino in the second slot in the lineup. One of the main characteristics of this spot in the lineup is hitting to the opposite field to help get the man in front of him into scoring position. He did a prefect job today of that in his first at bat.
 
 

But that was not the end of the inning. After Raul Ibanez hit a nice long fly to Ruggiano to left-center, the fun was only about to begin for the Phillies. Ryan Howard then came up and hit a 2-run shot into the chair area of the Rays Bullpen for a 3-0 Phillies lead. The opposite field homer was never in doubt once it left his bat. John Mayberry Junior then came up and slapped another ball 5 rows above me in the Tiki Terrace to add another run in the inning. But that was not the end of all the fun yet either. After Greg Dobbs hit a nice fly ball to Kapler in right, Miguel Cairo came up. Cairo was brought into camp to fight for a utility position, and might get added playing time until Chase Utley comes back into the Phillie lineup. Cairo hit a long towering ball that cleared the Tiki Bar for another homer, and staked the Phillies to a 5-0 lead.

 
 

 

Kendricks came out again in the second inning and got Chris Richard to hit a foul pop-up that took third baseman Jason Donald into the stands, but he held on for the first out of the inning. Morgan Ensberg, who is trying to get some exposure hit a grounder to Howard at first and he took care of it unassisted for the second out. The Sadler came up and hit a monster into the Phillies Bullpen to give the Rays their first run of the game. Shawn Riggans then hit into a 4-3 to end the inning with the score 5-1 Phillies.  Talbot might be guilty of not making the correct adjustments during the innings, and because of it, got hit around pretty good.  Talbot did come out with a better mindset in the bottom of the second inning, and he sent down the Phillies 1-2-3 to finish the inning with no more damage.

 
 

In the third inning, Kendricks started the inning by giving up a infield single to Olmedo on a ball hit to Cairo. Olmedo then tried to advance on a hard hit ball by Kapler that was caught by Rollins, and got doubled up on the play to produce two quick outs. Ruggiano then came up and hit a nice dropping ball to center field that eluded Mayberry and ended up with a triple on the play. Kendricks was then replaced by reliever Drew Naylor, who got Aybar to hit a grounder to Cairo, who threw to first to get out of the inning. Rays Manager Joe Maddon let Talbot take the mound for the third inning and he got Ibanez first with a sharp fly to Sadler in right for the first out. Howard then came out and beat out a throw from deep shortstop by Olmedo for an infield single. The Talbot produced two straight ground ball outs from both Mayberry and Dobbs to end his pitching day.
 
 

In the fourth inning, the Rays again has Naylor on the mound and Burrell put a slicing ball down the third baseline to the corner for a lead-off double.  But Burrell got not help this inning as Chris Richards flew out to Ibanez, Ensberg popped out to Howard, and Sadler was caught looking for a called third strike to end the Rays rally. Rays reliever Lance Cormier then came on to replace Talbot and Cairo quickly took advantage of him for a double down the right field line. Donald then hit a nice looper to center that scored Cairo. Cormier then hit Paulino with a pitch, and Rollins put down a nice bunt that Cormier picked up the threw to Richards for the second out. Victorino then struck out, and Ibanez hit a grounder to second to get Cormier out of the inning with no problems.

 
Naylor still remained on the mound for the fifth inning and the first batter, Shawn Riggans hit a sharp liner to Cairo, but he held onto the ball for the first out. Olmedo then hit a single to center field. Naylor tried to pick off Olmedo, but the ball went off Howards glove and he went into second base on the error. Olmedo then stole third base and put himself in scoring position. Ruugiano then produced his second hit of the day to drive in Olmedo for the Rays second run. Adam Kennedy and pinch-hitter Fernando Perez quickly produced the last two outs to get Naylor out if the inning with only one run scored on him.  Cormier again came out and got the Phillies 1-2-3 to finish off the 5th inning. At that point, it was the Phillies leading 6-2
 
 

The Phillies then  sent out non-roster invitee Mike Koplove for the sixth inning. Richards got a walk to lead off the inning, and after  a fly out to center field, Sadler hit into a 6-4-3 double play to make quick work of the Rays in the inning. The Rays countered with sending reliever J P Howell out and he quickly got Donald to hit a grounder to Ensberg at third who threw him out easily at first base. Howell then  tried to sneak a curveball by Paulino, who hit the ball beyond the Tiki Terrace for a solo home run. Ozzie Chavez then struck out to end the inning for the Phillies.

 
 

 

The seventh inning saw reliever Scott Eyre come out and get a quick out from catcher Michel Hernandez. Olmedo then came up and hit a soft grounder to third base that Donald could not handle in time to get the quick runner. Elliot Johnson them got a quick out and give the Rays little hope in the inning. But Jon Weber hit a double down the left field line and scored Olmedo to bring the Rays within 4 runs. Kennedy popped out to third base to end the rally for the Rays. The Rays then sent prospect Dewon Day to the mound and Eric Bruntlett got a quick single off him to lead-off the inning. Bruntlett then stole second base and got into scoring position for the Phillies.  Geoff Jenkins and Andy Tracy both struck out to give the Rays hope with two outs. But Mayberry hit a broken bat single that scored Bruntlett and put the Phillies up 8-3 in the game.

 
 
 

In the 8th inning, the Phillies brought on reliever Clay Condrey. He quickly got Perez to strike out looking, then got Chris Nowak to hit a grounder to third that was easily handled by Donald for an out at first. Ried Brignac then hit a soft grounder to second that was thrown to first to end the Rays inning. Dewon Day stayed on the mound for the Rays after a single by Pablo Ozuna, Donald hit a long fly ball to Nowak in center for the first out. Then Phill
ies catcher Lou Marson hit a sharp grounder to Brignac, who quickly got the throw off to first base.  Chavez then hit another sharply hit grounder to Brignac that handcuffed him and the Phillies quickly had two men on base. Bruntlett then hit a low liner to center field that scored Ozuna. Jenkins then hit a fly ball down the left field line that Sadler took his eye off and it fell to the ground for an error, but both Chavez and Bruntlett scored on the play. Tracy then hit an RBI single that scored Jenkins and gave the Phillies a 12-3 lead.
 


 

 
 

Jake Woods came out for the Phillies in the top of the ninth inning and made quick work of Sadler getting him to hit a high fly ball to center field. Hernandez then hit a hard ball deep and over Bruntlett’s head for a double to start a Rays rally in the inning. Olmedo then struck out to give the Rays only one more out in the game.  With the end in sight, Woods left a breaking ball over the plate and Johnson crushed it for a 2-run homer into the Rays Bullpen. But the Rays rally ended as quickly as it began as Weber struck out to end the game and begin the celebration in the Phillies dugout. It was their first win in the Grapefruit League this spring, and it came against the team they had beaten just a few months ago for the World Series title.

 
 

I was trying to find our MLBlogger Phillies Phollower before the game, but I got mobbed by a few fellow Rays fans that I knew from the “Maddon’s Maniacs” group at Tropicana Field.  Yes, I did hear a few cowbells in the stands, but it was not the loud and vocal group that usually owns the Trop during the season. I know I was not hassled for bring mine in, but I only hit it during the home runs and scoring chances by the Rays and did not abuse the musical instrument.

 
 

 


But I did have to explain the origins of the cowbell and why we use them in games. People know the reasoning that our Owner, Stuart Sternberg is a devote SNL fan, and loves that Christopher Walken skit where he wants “more cowbell”. That is the primary reason, but there are secondary reason that make total sense too. An additional great one is that it tends to frustrate and drive the Boston and New York fans in the Trop. nuts. They can not finish their chants or even do their New York “name roll call” during the game without being interrupted by the blanky blank cowbells. And third, it give the Rays fans a audible image. I am sorry, I really can not see over 25,000 fans blowing on kazoo’s making more noise than those pesky Latin percussion cowbells.

 
I just want to take a second to let local Rays fans know that the Team USA squad that will be reporting to Clearwater, Florida on Monday morning have opened the first practice to the public at Bright House Networks Field at 11:30 am. So if you have nothing planned, and might want to take in some sun and maybe get some autographs or just come cheer for Team USA team before they leave for Toronto. So come on down to the field and show your spirit on Monday. I am thinking of coming on down and seeing Rays reliever J P Howell, who told me he will definitely be here on Monday. Also, the Rays will be without the services of Willy Aybar starting tonight since he will be leaving to report to the camp of the Dominican Republic squad.
 
 

The Team USA will face its first test against Team Canada on March 7, 2009 in the Rogers Centre, in Toronto.  The Dominican Republic team will face the  Netherlands team on the same day, but in Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. But they will not be the first teams to take the field for the 2009 World Baseball Classic. That honor will fall to the squads from China and Japan, who take the field on March 5, 2009 in the Tokyo Dome, in Tokyo, Japan.

Photo credtis today go to: RRCollections and Eric Mencher of the Philadelphia Inquier.

 
 

I Would Love to See Michael Young with the Rays

 

 
 

When Jon Daniels signed Michael Young to a five-year, $80 million extension two years ago, he said he hoped it would help the Rangers keep his good friend Mark Teixeira. Big Tex is long gone. Michael Young could be on the way. Young revealed over the weekend that he asked to be traded after a breakfast with Daniels a few weeks ago turned ugly when, Young said, Daniels gave him an ultimatum to move to third base

 

As a brand new third baseman, Young probably wouldn’t be the league’s best any time soon. And whereas Young committed 11 errors at shortstop in 2008,  heir apparent to the shortstop position, Elvis Andrus committed 32 in the minors. Throw in second baseman Ian Kinsler’s error totals, and the Rangers might give up even more runs this year than they did in 2008. 
 
 

I personally love it sometimes when great baseball players are asked to change from their All Star positions because they are blocking the path of some upstart rookie ( Elvis Andrus ) who is the future star of the franchise. But what is most upsetting in this situation is the fact that Young is being viewed as an afterthought even though he is  one of the best at his position in the American League. I have heard a few people say that current Texas Ranger Michael Young is being a baby for complaining about moving further to the left in the infield and now playing third base for the team. Hey, the guy has established himself on a team that fights to hit .500 every year. He has moved before for a player, and might just consider it a way for the team to get him close to the dugout, then out the door in Arlington.

 

 


 


Now let me see here, the guy was an All Star at second base and he was holding up Ian Kinsler from being able to play in the major leagues, so he moved over to shortstop to make the transition and the  second base spot opened up magically for Kinsler to move  faster through the system to the majors. Now that is the sign of a great team-first attitude guy. He moved over to another position to get another big bat to the lineup. That is the kind of guy you want on your squad, right?

 

So  here we are in 2009, and the Rangers are again trying to convince Young to move a little more to his left and become the team’s third baseman. Is this an indication that they are going to give up on the Hank Blalock at third experiment and hope that Young can find happiness at his third position while he has been in the majors. Now I agree that the first time he was a perfect gentleman in moving over “for the good of the team.”  But it seems like this time he has every right to not want to move over for another guy again.


Something to take into consideration here, Young has played a total of 8 innings, not even an entire game at third base in his career. So by asking a player to switch his position just before the season, or a trade happens is rare, but in Texas there is a previous action that can be deemed for the move. People tend to forget that 8 years ago, when Alex Rodriguez agreed to switch to third base to be traded to the New York Yankees, he also was not familiar with the position for an extended time. Considering he was a better defensive shortstop that Derek Jeter, A-Rod did the team oriented thing and manned up and switched to the Hot Corner.


If you remember right, the Rangers kind of forced out Rodriguez late in the off season, and the Yankees made his position switch a prerequisite to the trade.  Why would you move a guy who has been an All Star at his position for the last 5 years to another more skilled and reflex-oriented position and bring up a 20-year old rookie who has only played below double-A ball. Let’s not forget that when A-Rod was traded for Alphonso Soriano, it was thought that Soriano would be the Rangers everyday shortstop, and not go to the outfield.  Because Young switched to shortstop at this moment makes the idea that he is not willing to move an inaccurate statement considering his history in the past. Or could it be that when Young signed that $ 80 million dollar extension, there were already seeds planted to make this move and were not brought up in the negotiations at all. 

 


 


Come on, the guy is an All Star at his position and is considered one of the best shortstops both hitting and fielding in the American League. Put the fact that he finally got some real recognition this past season by getting his first Gold Glove and you want to move him? Are you serious here guys. You want to bring up a rookie and pop him into the shortstop position and are not aware of the growing pains you are going to place not only on your first baseman, but on your entire team concept.
 

Well, I have a solution for you Texas. Since you do not seem to know what you want to do with Mr. Young, why hot trade him to the Tampa Bay Rays for a few missing pieces in your lineup and pitching staff.  I am here to offer you  a starting pitcher who has already pitched at the major league level, a infielder who can play third base, and an outfielder to make the deal an all around success. Now with the starting pitcher, you have a nice selection of ex-Rice star Jeff Neimann, tall reliever/starter Jason Hammel, and Mitch Talbot. 
 

All come with their own fantastic positives, but all have been to the big club level and need  more appearances to make their presence know in this league. With your young staff, such a luxury of getting a young savvy starter  would help Ranger G M Nolan Ryan move quickly to transform his rag tag pitching staff into a well oiled machine. I am willing to throw in a great up and coming infielder who I think will be a great star for you this season. Willy Aybar might be under arbitration right now, but the guy has pure upside and is one of the most underrated infielders in the league.

 
 


 


His ever increasing power and his ability to play the hot corner give you an instant solution to the “Young” situation, and he can play there for years until you develop or sign a young third baseman in the future. I do think tho, that Aybar could be your man for the next 5 years in that spot. And to round thing off, let’s include a young outfielder with a lot of intelligence and major league ability. Justin Ruggiano is a outstanding fielder who is currently stuck in his own logjam at the major league level with the Rays. By acquiring this young star, you can have an ample fourth outfielder who can play the corner positions without a problem.
 

If this is not enough, we might be able to include or exclude or even piece together the right package to get this deal done as soon as possible. Just be sure to let me know where your thinking is on the matter and we can respond accordingly.
 

Seriously here, this deal would be a total plus for the Rays. Hey, we might even be able to just give up a pitcher or Aybar and then give them current Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett as a throw in so they can trade him to Boston or another team looking long and hard for a able shortstop. This is not to say I think that Bartlett is not the shortstop for the Rays, but if you can make a major upgrade like this, in a year that will be faced with more pitfalls and holes than in 2008, then why not make the move.

 


 

 

To put an All Star like Young next to a young gun like Evan Longoria makes that side of the infield almost the Great Wall of Tampa Bay. The power solution is almost off the charts here too. Think about the offensive firepower of such a move.  You could have 3 guys who could hit 30 homers in a season in 3 of your 4 infield positions in the tightest division in baseball. And you would not be paying New York Yankee prices to get that offensive firepower. Young is on the hook for $ 16 million a year, but wouldn’t the offensive fireworks be worth the effort?
 

And let’s not forget that Young would be flanked by Akinori Iwamura, who might just be coming into his own in 2009 at second base. After 1 season getting used to the position, Aki might just propel his defensive numbers again skyward and prove to be the next All Star for the Rays at his position. And combined with his speed and clutch hitting, makes a great pairing in the lineup. 
 

But the biggest piece is that Gold Glover at first base for the Rays. Not only is he a offensive power, but he was a defensive marvel in 2008 to help Bartlett look even better on paper by leaning, jumping and blocking everything throw within range of him.  Not only can Pena do it with his maple bat, but he is the best option at first base in the American League. Think of the nice defensive numbers Young could put up with a guy who sacrifices his body for the ball and will go above and beyond for the team and his team mates.

 


 
 

Seriously think about the possible firepower and the defensive grip such an infield could have on the American League East.  Every team in our division has a solid third baseman, but non have a shortstop except for the Yankees who could even reach the potential of Young.  He could come into a situation with this team to be a major winner in a short period of time. Young has never been to the postseason while with the Rangers. If this trade were to somehow manifest itself, could he be holding up a nice gleaming piece of hardware in October?
 

I know this is pure fantasy. The Rays have already committed about $ 60 million to their payroll for 2009. Such a trade would have to be a wish list offering by Andrew Friedman to owner Stu Sternberg as the final piece of the puzzle to repeat and take that next step in 2009. I can not see Friedman make that kind of request first off, but then again, he has pulled off a few under the radar trades that have been internal blockbusters to the Rays. In comparison, if they would pick up Young, the Rays would be paying him the almost the same as the combined salaries of left fielder Carl Crawford and Pena ( $ 16.25 million).  But in all reality, Young might end up in the American League East, but not with the Rays. There are a few teams on the horizon who could scoop up Young without a problem with their 2009 payroll.


 

 

 

You have to know that by now,  Red Sox G M Theo Epstein is burning up Nolan Ryan’s cellphone minutes offering what he can to fulfill a nice trade to bean town. But the fact might be that Young might not want to go to Boston. But the nice part of who ever gets Young is that he is signed until 2013. That give a huge amount of security to whoever takes his contract. It might mean a set $ 16 million is gone every year upfront, but it also gives you the stability to know what you payroll will be even after your last game in 2009 for the following year.
 

I would love to see such an infield in Tampa Bay, but I know that it is illogical for Friedman to pull off such a great trade. The money involved with Young would be the deal breaker, but just for a moment, think of the offensive juggernaut that would make the Rays coming into 2009. It would put the team firmly up there as the team to beat in 2009, even without consideration of their young and talented pitching staff.



Rays Send Jackson to Motown for Young Outfielder Joyce

 

          

 

 

To say that this trade took me by surprise would be a total understatement. I did expect to see Rays number 4 starter, Edwin Jackson maybe traded closer to the reporting date, but sometime baseball can sneak up and trick you sometimes. To say I will miss chatting with Edwin on the sidelines down by the Bullpen Cafe on Sundays.

 

 

 

 

When he first got traded to the Rays I made sure to chat with him while he was in his street clothes about this team and it might be the best thing to happen to your career to come here. He has grown alot as a pitcher, and I wish him nothing but the best in Detroit. And you know you better come over and shake my hand during Spring Training dude. 

 

But what really amazed me was the sly and calculated measures that Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman pulled off this caper. No one is baseball can say they saw this one coming at all. What Friedman did was trade away a sure thing starting pitcher, who is under arbitration this season, for a  young defensive right-fielder we will control for 6 years.

 

 

 

Holy Cow! You mean we actually traded for a guy who will be fighting for a roster spot this spring and if he still needs some seasoning, we can send him to Durham without recourse. That is simply amazing and well outside the usual Rays thinking of the past. It is a pretty calculated mis-match that we got a guy who will only get better, while giving up the same in Jackson.

 

The only problem is, Jackson would hate to be the long reliever in the Bullpen and the trade was a blessing for him.  Considering how far Edwin Jackson has come in 2008, you have to admit, the Rays could have asked for more and been well within their rights. But the trade answered questions and provides key answers to situations that would be difficult to achieve in March or April of 2009.

 

By doing this trade now, it actually benefited both teams even before decisions are being made for 2009. Jackson will move into the Tigers’ rotation with a good spring and will continue to grow as a starter in this league. People forget he posted 14 wins this season, which was a personal high for him, plus he had some of the best command of the season on his pitches late in the year.

 

The bad thing for Jackson is that the Tigers ex-Pitching Coach was Chuck Hernandez, who worked alot with Jackson when he was here with the Rays. Jackson has been developing and inproving on his off-speed pitches and we will see him again early in 2009 when the two teams meet on March 26th in Lakeland during Spring Training. It will be the only time these two teams meet in the spring this season.

 

 

 

On the other side, we get a player who is also a Tampa-born and raised player. He attended Armwood High, just outside of Tampa and then moved over to Florida Southern University in Lakeland for college. Joyce was selected by the Tigers in the 12th round of the 2005 Amateur Draft. Following the 2007 season, he was selected as the 7th best prospect in the Detroit farm system.

 

In 6 games against the Tampa Bay Rays this season, Joyce played left-field and  went 3-18 against the team during late season series as the Trop and at Comerica Park. He batted .167 against the Rays, with  a .286 On-Base Percentage. He played extremely confident outfield for the Tigers, and actuallyt gunned down Jonny Gomes at second base in the last game of the season in Detroit.

 

 

 

For the year, Joyce batted .252, with 16 doubles and 12 home runs and 33 RBI’s in only 92 games. Joyce ended up 6th among AL rookie with 12 homers.  He hit a career best 2 homers in a game against Texas on August 19th in Arlington, Texas.  He had a career high 4 hits on July 3rd against the Mariners at Safeco Field. Also of note, he drove in a career high 5 RBI’s on July 21st against the Royals in Kansas City.

 

On paper this trade looks like one done to actually minimize the confusion and the stress in the spring of having to find a destination for a starter to make a spot for rookie sensation David Price. With Jackson now out of the mix for a spot, that will leave Jeff Niemann, Andy Sonnanstine, Wade Davis, Mitch Talbot and Jason Hammel to fight for the 5th rotation position.

 

But the true measure of this trade is in the advantage the Rays now have with a young and improving outfielder under their control for 6 more seasons. This will give them stability and confidence to maybe evn use Gabe Gross as trade bait to get a right-hand bat for rightfield before the reporting date. It is a win-win for both the players and the team for a change. Both get a change of scenery and a chance to fight for a top spot right out of spring.

 

I will raise my bottle to you Edwin this weekend, and hope that you find success and happiness in Motown.  And I will be seeing you on the visitors’ side when the Tigers visit the Trop on September 4-6th, 2009.    You can count on it!!

Rays General Manager for a Day

 

 

 

One of the hardest jobs in all of  baseball is not the Managers’ position, but the title of  General Manager. I think that more GM’s have taken a bullet for the failures of their teams than any of baseball field mangers. It is said that the stream of blood runs downhill after a slaughter and usually that blood starts at the scalp of the GM, who is the first sacrificial lamb for the public and the media. 

 

The position has a bit of give and take from the bottom to the top, but for all intentions, can be the lonliest post when things are going bad for your team . You have to dictate and slice through all of the BS coming out of the clubhouse and the publics mouths, plus select the  most rightious information and  sage advice from scouting to make a calculated and educated gamble on a player or a team situation.

 

For Rays General Manager aka Boy Wonder of 1 Tropicana Drive, Andrew Friedman, so far in his tenure in the position, the scale has been weighed heavily in his favor. Considering that less than 3 years ago he was not even involved with the Tampa Bay Rays, and his name was no more known in public circles than my name. But in three years  with help from  wily old veteran G.M. Gary “Obi Wan” Hunsicker he has built upon a solid core of players and  eager staff members to reign  alone on top of the G.M. mountaintop. 

 

Decision after decision went wrong for him in the beginning. He stayed silent and towed the line on trade talks that could have meant the world to the team, and moved on ones that might have dealt them a death blow in the past.pile  But with a few years of plus and minues calculations, the Rays G.M. has eliminated the risk management portion of his position and is seeing only sunny skies and rainbows right now.

 

 Well, on today’s front page, MLBlogs asked a simple question that will either rock the nether worlds or simply go down as more Internet babble and ramblings by people who love to play God behind a keyboard. I am one of those ramblers, but I can atest to countless hours of thinking about this ( 2 hours) and entered debate after debate during the morning to strengthen my fortitude and latitude to accept this challenge. I am to become the G.M. of the American League champions for a short time and plot the course for the Rays cruiseliner. Hopefully I will not need a toll for the river Styx after I am done with my opinions and raw mental brainfarts. But in the office of the G.M., even ordering coffee can be met with critcism and  second-guessing.

 

 

                    

 

 

I am not sure if I want to play a higher power, but I would like a crack at a few             situations I would consider if I was the Rays GM for the next few days in Las Vegas. With that in mind, I am going to put myself in WWAD ( What Would Andrew Do ) mode and trya and make a few educated guesses as to the betterment of the Rays  roster and their minor league system. I even have a play that should be added to their 40-man roster before Friday, or lose him to another team is a sure bet.

 

 

 

So, here we go, I am acting GM of the Tampa Bay Rays for about an hour. My  first round of business will be to get minor leaguer Rhyne Hughes on the 40-man             roster. Hughes had a monster Arizona Fall League and might be going the route that current Rays pitcher James Shields took a few years back. Hughes made                       the All- AFL selection squad and hit the cover off the ball in Arizona.

 

He has been at the Double-A level in 2008, but might start there then move up to Triple-A depending on the Bulls need for a power first baseman. But getting  this kid hidden on the 40-man roster is a vital cog that has to be done ASAP. The Rays took care of a roster spot on Monday evening by assigning pitcher Chad Orvella, who is coming off of shoulder surgery outright to the Durham Bulls.

 

 

The Rays might not have as many holes as usual this coming year, which actually plays well into their hands during negotiations with players. There are several key             guys up for arbitration like Dioner Navarro, Jason Bartlett, Edwin Jackson and Jonny Gomes. In the next several weeks a few of those guys might not be here by trade or being released by the team. I would put more money on the trade situation than losing all value for the players. Even a guy like Gomes, who had a miserible 2008, has value to a team looking for a 4th outfielder or even a DH for hire.

 

I am going to cut to the chase in this blog and attack the two main needs for the team in 2009.  The right-field slot and the DH position are highly publicized and ‘must need’ positions on the team. I have a few ideas about each and will explore them in two ways. First to list the free agent solutions, and then by trade.

 

 

               

 

 

First off, let’s tackle the need for a DH or bench player for the Rays via the free agent market. With the recent lunch date with Milton Bradley going so well for  the Rays, the only thing standing in the way besides a contract is if the guy is worth losing your first round pick for him.  With Bradley being considered a top tier free agent, the team would have to forfeit a draft pick to secure his signing.

 

 

                            

 

 

Another plus about Bradley that the Rays can build on is his ability to protect hitters in front of him bcause of his .324 average last season. To add onto that is the fact he also hit 22 home runs and struck out only 112 times last season. He is also an on-base guy, posting .439 On-Base Percentage, largely because of  his 80 walks. His sttitude and personality quirks have also mellowed with age and he has become a calm force in the locker room. He might not be Cliff Floyd, but  the guy commands respect and leads by example.

 

 

                  

 

 

The second alternative to a DH via the free agent wire is also a very  attractive one for the Rays.  Mostly  because this player can still contribute in the field at some lengths and could be a valuable asset to the club. Also considering some of the milestones he is approaching, he could be a great PR tool for the team to attract fans. If you have no figured it out yet, it is Ken Griffey Junior. I have been  a huge Griffey fans since his Mariner days and would consider him in a second  for the DH position.

 

Junior might have slipped a bit in production in the last few seasons, but he also has been playing the field almost every day while in the National League, and took over center for the Chicago White Sox after being traded at the trading deadline in 2008. If he was to be a DH, with an occasional stroll into the outfield, he could protect his knees and still hit daily for the team.  Griffey hit only a combined .248 between both leagues in 2008, but his low amount of strikeouts ( 25 ) shows that the plate discipline is still there and he can rebound off a bad 2008.

 

The Rays might be able to get Griffey at a Florida discount becuase of his home being in Orlando, but still might command about $ 4-6 million a year. Griffeys’ 2008 salary was set at about $ 8.2 million, which would put him out of Tampa Bay puse strings if he commands the same salary in 2009. 

 

Bradley made about $ 5.25 million last season. If Bradley wants to play on a competitive team for 2009, he also might be into giving the Rays a discount on base salary with some incentive bonuses tied to production. I would think a $ 4 million dollar salary with up to 2 million in incentives might do the trick for Bradley.

 

 

           

 

Let’s now consider the right-field  slot. I honestly feel that the team can  find a suitable player who is right-handed without breaking the bank in 2009. Alot of names have been tossed around lately, but there is aslo one that has not come to the surface yet in refference to the Rays. Brad Wilkerson has been playing right-field in the majors for a long time. He started 2008 with the Seattle Mariners, then moved onto the Toronto Blue Jays and provided great relief and power from the right-side of the plate.

 

Most of baseball has not even considered him after a sub-par 2008 while both rehabbing and trying to fit into a tight outfield situation in Toronto. But he might be a low cost alternative to the high priced guys seeking positions through the MLB. His sub .250 average for 2008 was mostly covered by his injury that he tried to play through before going down and finally getting healthy.

 

 

                              

 

 

This is the one position on the Rays that I think they can make a great trade that can help both ballclubs. In the past, the Rays have been linked as the third team with the Chicago Cubs for Jake Peavy. But the real factor is that they do not need the Cubs to make a trade with San Diego. The Padres are seeking a shortstopn and a pitcher to replace two players currently either treaded or deep into discussion to part the Padres.

 

Tampa Bay was eager to pout in a claim for Brian Giles on the waiver wire in 2008, but got one-upped by the Boston Red Sox. The Sox blocked the attempt to claim Giles to keep him off the Rays roster and maybe get him for themselves. Giles did not want to go to the Red Sox, but might be open to a Rays attempt at a trade because they have a true opening for him in right-field.

 

 

 

 

One problem with this trade off the bat is the amount of salary owed to Giles in 2009. The Rays might not be willing to take on the entire amount of the 2009 salary and would want to offset some of it by having the Padres eat a bit of the contract. The players’ that the Padres could get for Giles could be a nice smorgasboard of up-and-coming pitchers and a infielder.

 

The Rays have a abundance of pitchers who are log-jammed at the minor league level and might be willing to part with a MLB level pitcher and a Triple-A starter. The pitchers in question could range from Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel to Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot. All have been at the major league level and have proven to be quality pitchers.

 

 

The Rays also have a few infielders who could be packaged in the deal, which includes Reid Brignac, Elliott Johnson, who have limited major league experience to Ben Zobrist or even Jason Bartlett who have MLB experience. Zobrist is actually a player who could play any role for the Padres and is still under contract for 2009. Bartlett is arbitration-eligible, but might only cost about $ 2 million a year fater the hearing.

 

Giles is my trade target for the team in 2009. I think if the team packaged Jeff Neimann, Jason Bartlett and maybe another reliever, Dale Thayer or a Double-A player, plus take on  $ 2 million dollars of Giles salary, we could have a great deal for both teams. But that is just my opinion here.

 

 

So here we go, I have taken on two trouble spots for the Rays in 2009 and tackled them my way. How do I think I did as GM for the Day for the Rays?  That depends on if I can get these guys signed sealed and delivered for Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the boys by Febuary 2009.

 

 

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