Results tagged ‘ Nelson Cruz ’

What If………..

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What if……..

Some say that is the first phrase uttered by those in denial or left wanting for an answer. Two words shouted to the heavens asking for some divine or intelligent intervention into how their beloved team could have fallen this far from their past grace and the lofty expectations transposed on this team even before they began play in April.

imagesNo one who follows, plays for or works with the Tampa Bay Rays could of possibly imagined this stark reality that would be evident about this team’s 2014 campaign 5 months later. No matter the Rays rise or fall during these terse 6 months, no one envisioned the team not playing for anything in the last 10-odd games of their season.

So maybe it is time to possibly throw out some opinions, rely on some facts and maybe come to terms with a season that sent us on a pure emotional rollercoaster ride to the greatest heavens and at time tumbling right back down to Earth with the stark realization that sweat, talent and confidence are not the sole catalysts to winning games.

Remember as you read this, it is only my personal guesswork and not a certification of the direction the team will take, should of taken or will entertain this winter….It is just my humble words thrown out for everyone to dissect into a million characters. Enjoy.

What if the Rays had signed free agent Nelson Cruz as their Designated Hitter? Would he have duplicated his 2014 season in Carolina Blue?

images (2)This was actually a question someone asked me on Sunday and it does have merit, but I think besides the steroid residue that would have followed Cruz here to Tampa Bay, the $8 million the Orioles paid Cruz might have been a bit steep for the Rays to handle financially. Plus the Rays Clubhouse culture might not have been a good fit for Cruz, but we also will never know if he could of adjusted and been a key component of this year’s squad.

Who knows, Cruz should be a free agent after the season, and with him showing he can still power the ball as well as be steroid free, the Rays would kick the tires, but even with Cruz’s current ‘14 resume of 39 HR and 106 RBI (as of 9/22) it might not be enough as a ‘15 salary seeking $ 9-10 million and someone wearing his favorite #23 jersey (Jake Odorizzi should quickly end the Rays interest.  

What if Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore had stayed injury free?

images (3)Wow! Without a shadow of a doubt this team would have been different. Would it have been enough change to possibly change the end of the season outcome…..Without a doubt, but I’m a card carrying optimist.

But that doesn’t mean I would be calling out another revival of rising to the Rays 2008 level, or anticipated the backward tumble of 2009. I hate to admit it, but a few good things did happen for the Rays rotation because of those setbacks.

We found out the true fire and nature of Chris Archer, Cobb when he got healthy took the reins and never let go possibly posting one of the 6 best ERA (with possibly 2 starts to go) in the American League….And we saw the maturation process that beset Jake Ordorizzi from rookie nerves and indecision to transforming into a true 5th starter for this team.

What if we had held onto David Price instead of trading him to Detroit?

downloadThis is a question that will take a few more seasons before we know the true essence of this trade. I am also one of those anxious to see how young prospect Willy Adames advances in the Rays farm system. Also a post Trade Deadline Price has produced a 3-4 record and a 4.09 ERA (possibly 2 more starts) since the trade, the Southpaw sent as a left-handed option for the Rays rotation has been pretty Price-like. Drew Smyly posted a 3-1 record with a 1.70 ERA while also putting up 44 K’s on 47.2 innings.

I think this trade worked in the Rays future favor as Smyly is a salary friendly option and Adames is already viewed by some as a future Rays SS and he is still at the Class-A level.

What if Wil Myers had not missed 81 games with his wrist injury?  

images (4)My ESPN Fantasy League stats predictions for Myers showed him posting numbers like: 81 runs, 25 HR, 91 RBI and a .267 average. At the beginning of 2014 he was owned by a majority of the teams in the leagues, but today only 35.3% of people have stuck with Myers.

His offensive output was missed extremely by the Rays, but his absence also got us a great introduction to some future Rays “Outlaw” ways. If you had to find any shining moment out of Myers pain it was the pure fact we got to see over 103+ games with Kevin Kiermaier on the squad. With them both playing together here in the latter days of the season, we might be witnessing transformation of the Rays outfield to a bit more speed and aggression in 2015.  

What if Grant Balfour had retained that same fire and not lost some of his edge?

download (1)When Balfour signed that 2-year contract everyone was on his bandwagon. After a few stellar years showing his stuff on the West Coast with the A’s, the Rays envisioned Balfour taking the back end of the Bullpen and stabilizing it while Jake McGee slowly moved his way to that spot.

Balfour’s falling from grace and possibly a bit of “dead arm” for a spell pushed McGee into the spotlight and for a guy doing the closer’s role for the first time, his game was more hit than miss. With Balfour taking a step back into a set-up role now I can see the Rays using him as bait to a team that might need a proven closer and potent rally killer. This is not to mean the Rays will accept small fish for Balfour, but he could easily be in another uniform if the right return can be found for him.

images (1)Okay, that is just a few of the “what If” trains of thought that were thrown my way during the last home stand.  After these final 6 away games the Rays will conclude their season, return to the Trop and pack for home.

At that moment the questions will immediately change from “What if” to “What can we expect” as we begin another off season with question galore and many 2015 answers to ponder.

What direction can we expect the Rays to go?….T B D.

 

 

My Tweak to the Home Run Derby Selection Process

Everyone might remember I had some reservations on the new “Captains” format for the State Farm Home Run Derby. After thinking about it for a day, it might have some legitimate merit, but maybe it can be tweaked a bit, just like the selection process. Hopefully today I can outline my ideas, and maybe some day M L B will take credit for it ( just kidding).

The Captain format did take the selection process out of Major League Baseball fingers, but it ended up being a collection of “buddies” taking turns hitting a baseball more than a competition that let fans from all over the country, and other countries outside the United States see our budding stars. Sure American League Captain David Ortiz made an overall very impressive four-some, but even Ortiz made sure to mention several times that he picked his “boys”.

So why not make the American League and National League leaders at the All-Star Break the Captains in the future? That would give more of a guarantee to the assembled baseball fans the best long ball hitters from both leagues at the top of the equation. In 2011, that would have made Toronto Blue Jay Jose Bautista and St. Louis Cardinal Lance Bergman the first 2 players selected for the Home Run Derby. Combined the pair have crushed 55 balls into the stands heading into the All-Star Break.

From there I would love to trash the current “Final Vote” premise and re-institute it with 8 names from each league to have a week’s worth of voting to decide the final 3 candidates to stand with Bautista and Bergman as members of both the American and National League squads. Sure there is still the horror of the large market teams stuffing the ballot box, but I have a solution to keep multiple players from each squad off the final selection team.

To keep the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Cardinals and possibly the Dodgers from stuffing the ballot boxes, there can be no multiple players selected from the same franchise. That ruling would have split up the 2011 pairings of Adrian Gonzalez and Ortiz, plus would have made either Rickie Weeks or Prince Fielder the Brewer possibly selected to the team. This rule would have also eliminated Matt Holiday since Bergman would have been the Cardinals representative.

Such a regulation would keep an unbalanced Home Run Derby squad that should of included players like Cincy’s Jay Bruce, White Sox Paul Korneko, Ranger Nelson Cruz or even Oriole’s Mark Reynolds.

This system also has a flaw or two that need to be ironed out, like this year’s winner Robinson Cano might not have been picked with this format since Mark Teixera and Curtis Granderson had more Home Runs heading into the break than Cano.

Sure there are thing to be worked out, and holes to fill by players not wanting to participate, but M L B could get those “Yeahs” or “Nays” at the conclusion of the All-Star voting and hype up the Home Run Derby selection process with an entire week of plugging certain players, or maybe even trying to get a up-and coming player most of the country has not seen hit the ball like the Marlins Mike Stanton a chance on the big stage.

M L B made an honest effort this season to correct some past Home Run Derby wrongs, and they are steps in the right direction. Now by also involving the fans in the process, we can get a more suitable and diverse selection that will have people again excited about the event.

Watching Bautista and Weeks struggle last night was painful at times, and there is no doubt some people changed the channel……With a few slices and dices, the Home Run Derby can come back in Kansas City for the 2012 All-Star game lean, mean and pounding balls after ball into those fountains. That would be a pure joy to watch.

Options for Broadcast changes to the Home Run Derby

 

Here we go again people, eight hours until all the fun starts all over again. But hopefully tonight;s game will not have that rambling and prognostic feel of last night’s State Farm Home Run Derby. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching a home run as much as the rest of us, but it did not have the same flavor this season for some reason. Not to say there was not a few majestic swats into the outfield caverns there at Busch Stadium.  There were a few blasts that evoked an awe factor from me watching on my big screen, but for some reason the anticipation and the true spectacle of it all was dulled for some reason.

I sat there and tried to remember, or even fathom why I felt this way until I heard the “back, back back!” thundered over my television screen by ESPN legend Chris Berman. It was then that it all finally began to click and fall into place. The event was not falling by the wayside for me, it was the stale and predictable audio coming out of the mouth of commentators Berman, Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, and former Met GM Steve Phillips. Sometimes I think they should instead maybe pick some of the great voices of the Major Leagues to come out and broadcast the Home Run Derby as a tribute to their announcing chops.

Locally here with the Tampa Bay Rays we have been blessed with a pretty good broadcast crew on both the television and the radio. But then again every city has that distinction. But maybe MLB can regenerate the enthusiasm and the bravado of the Home Run Derby by instituting a chance in the on-the-field staff to cover the event to maybe include  a member of the MLB family who usually only does their own local broadcasts. Not that I would not like to see Joe Buck maybe pop down there like he did last night, but he is reserved for the big game. I  am all for maybe one of the voices being from the home stadium crew, which would replace Phillips and do a better job just by sitting down in the chair.

I hear too much of Phillips just on “Baseball Tonight”, do I have to be subjected to him again during a fun event like the Home Run Derby?  So with that in mind, even thought the event is now over, we could have gotten  Al Hrabosky, who is not only a St. Louis folk legend and former  Cardinal player, but a pretty good broadcaster in his own right.

Hrabosky has been up in the television booth for the Cardinals now for his 13th straight season for FSN-Midwest. He started with the team back in 1985 doing broadcasts on several different venues before finally finding his home on FSN-Midwest.  “The Mad Hungarian” would have been a instant hit for the fans watching at home who used to watch his antics on and behind the mound during his playing career. But also of note would have been the telling of stories by fathers and grandfathers to the kids watching about this great  reliever legend.

That would bring a spark to the Home Run Derby. To bring a local figure onto the broadcast team for the entire event. It will also add a air of local pride and resources as this is their domain, and they know the nooks and crannies of Busch Stadium as well as the men who built it. They are there every day and would have additional stories and ad libs that would keep the audience interested even during a lull in the action at the plate. Do not fret Phillips, I do not instantly dislike you banter on the panel, but I want to All Star game to be about special instances and situation, not the one guy I get to hear 162 games a year and beyond every night on ESPN.

By me picking Hrabosky is no slight to the other broadcasters like Mike Shannon in the radio booth ,or even Jay Rudolph or Dan McLaughlin. I am only trying to find the diamond-in-the-rough that most people do not get to hear during their team’s broadcasts. Who knows, maybe in the 2010 event hosted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim we can get ex-player Rex Hudler or Mark Gubicza to come on board and bring some special Angels flavor to the Home Run Derby panel. 

And Joe Morgan, well I love your stories sometimes, but maybe you need to go for someone else who can keep me doing more than re-twitting and pausing away hoping for a break in the action to see some more exciting commercials than your re-hashed speculations about the Derby hitters. I am beginning to see a pattern in your observations on the hitters. I have heard the same lines, but tweaked a bit left or right about hitters for the last few years by you on the ESPN Sunday Night games, and it is growing old to me. So my idea to replace Morgan might be the best one yet.

You see, I am not voting for myself or another fan to replace Morgan, that would be too easy, but maybe MLB, which is spending millions on this 3-day festival can get ESPN to waiver a bit from their mundane announcers to let a current MLB legend or newcomer take the reins from Morgan. I am going to use the Rays Dewayne Staats only because I have some familiarity with him. He is someone who will be the in the broadcaster wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame before it is all said and done and would be a breath of fresh air not only for the fans to get another perspective, but to hear a voice that has called some of the most remarkable and memorable games.

To let the youth, and the older generation like me enjoy some of the voice around the league at that table would be an true All Star experience. Maybe if not Staats, then Seattle Mariners voice Dave Niehaus, who was admitted into the broadcasters wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.  He is a voice that people on the east coast of the United States do not get to hear, and would bring about more energy and substance to the game knowing it is their national time to shine.

That is not to say I would not like to hear others like Arizona’s Daron Sutton, who is in his third year with the Diamondbacks. Each of these guys, even at their opposite points in their careers would be another taste of the MLB for each of us to savor during the All Star week. To bring about the change where the MLB audience gets to hear some of the voices and charisma that fans throughout the league and America get to hear each night might be a great influx of new energy and enthusiasm at the broadcast table during the Home Run Derby. They are voices that do not get to be heard unless it is below a clip on the Internet or ESPN now. Or their voices get echoed around the playoff times for substantial calls or historic moments.

The third change might be the hardest for ESPN to imagine, but it might also be a great springboard for their broadcasters. Each segment of their network seems to have their gems, or up and coming guys/gals who have displayed their talents and the crowd has warmed to them during that season. Maybe the broadcaster who is considered their number one person that year, be it a newcomer or an old veteran gets a shot at the big time stage by sitting in Chris Berman’s chair.

I have loved Berman for year and years, but in that statement is the problem. Years and years I have also heard the same phrases rolled over and over until they should have a toe tag attached to them. How many time last night did Berman try and elevate Pujols to cult status during the broadcast even though he was involved in a 3-way tie in the first round.

Josh Hamilton last season deserved that praise, Bobby Abreu a few years ago also garnered that respect and attention, but Pujols was not the giant that night. After his first round 11 home runs, you really did not get the feeling the panel really was going for Prince Fielder until his semi-final round was complete. But the worst thing about last night was the odd comment getting thrown around left and right to fill air time.

There could have been better stories about players like Carlos Pena or even Nelson Cruz that would have made you root for them. Like the fact Pena had a dream before the end of the 2007 Spring Training with the Rays, where he was a non-roster invitee, about getting on the plane with the players for the first series against the Yankees. About how and injury in the last Spring Training game to Greg Norton opened the door for Pena to hit 101 Home runs since that moment in the major leagues.

Or maybe a short stint to show he went from a scrub and almost a non-issue minor leaguer with the New York Yankees system in 2006 to the 2007 Comeback Player of the Season, to a 2008 Silver Slugger in the American League, to a Gold Glover last season. The elevation of his game was the reason for his All Star selection, not just his current home run total. It was the mythical rise of the phoenix of his career from the bottom to the top.

Heck, I even got a few people twitting I should do the broadcasting of the Derby. First off, I am honored, and I did take a aptitude test back at Eckerd College in 1976 that told me my two vocations that stressed my strengths was law and radio in that order. But that is another chapter to discuss at another time. I have  some ideas to maybe invite  fellow fans who love to broadcast to maybe be invited to participate in the on-air duties during the Taco bell celebrity and athletes softball game to give it a different flavor. Maybe that is the stage for me to  see the MLB break out of the norm and have a good time with it all.

I have to admit, I did have more fun watching Nellie make diving catches and Shawn Johnson doing her rendition of Ozzie Smith’s flip. It made me want to watch the softball game. And that is new for me. I usually watch about 10 minutes of it all then click to something else, but last night I got interested. And no, it was not because I fell in visual love again with Jenna Fisher from “The Office”. I have had a TV crush on her since I first saw her, but that is fantasy people. Anyways, the Home Run Derby was based on a 1959 show with the same title. That show evolved into the present day model we see during the All Star game.

For this event to again evolve might take some hard stances by MLB with their broadcast partners, but for one night shouldn’t the event be about the broadcasters of the MLB and their premier hitters. A combining of the two forces both vocal and physical could bring about a renewed interest in the viewing of the Home Run Derby. The All Star game is still going to be the focal point of the three days, but to elevate the Home Run Derby a bit would only bring more money and more exposure to other facets of the MLB.
 

By letting their league broadcasters showcase their talents during the event would make someone in San Diego, California, or even another country want to hear a game called by Boston Red Sox’s  Jerry Remy or maybe the Chicago White Sox’s Ken Harrelson or Steve Stone. It would mean more revenue for the MLB through the MLB.TV packages, and also retain some interest of fans outside their current markets.

To expand the minds of baseball fans is not always an easy task, but for us to enjoy hearing some of the legends and growing talent around the league maybe call the Home Run Derby would be a deep, deep shot into the night. It is now your choice MLB. You can take this advice and use it as your own, or you can just let the Derby stagnate until the viewership goes down and you do not know why. It is time for a change, and here I listed a few easy solutions, the rest is up to you. Do it for the fans. Do it for the International viewers. Do it for the expansion of the sport around the globe. Or like Nike loves to say………”Just Do it!”

2009 State Farm Home Run Derby thoughts

 

Most people call it the “most exciting play in baseball.” I am talking about the one play that can make even a visiting crowd stand up and rise to their feet and cheer and celebrate the true nature of the play. No, it is not a around-the-horn ( 5-6-3 ) double play but the always exciting home run. It doesn’t matter if it is a solo shot or a Grand Slam, people love seeing that ball take its extreme flight path from home plate to its final resting place hopefully in someones hands in the stands.  It is a play that in one swing of the bat can take a game and transform it in so many different directions for the two teams involved in the contest.

It packs the essence of power, of skill and of will power all compacted  in that one solid swing against that little white ball. But it can also hold the hopes and dreams of winning with it’s majestic path towards the outfield walls. There is no other play in baseball that is held in such a high level of respect and admiration when it comes to hitting. 

So we have come to that point just beyond the halfway mark where we celebrate everything that is great about the long ball for one long night. The stage and the players have been set, and their game faces will be different tonight because they will get to also celebrate with fellow teammates and All Stars from both leagues sitting right there within eye sight of the participants.
 

At today’s media day, there will be a million questions thrown at the participants in this seasons State Farm Home Run Derby.  Some asking about totals, distance, or if they can hit the Mastercard banner and win someone some extra spending money for the week. But hopefully someone will remember to ask this one question, this one simple thing that could bring a bold smile to each of their faces. ” What is your motivation for tonight’s event?”

Some of those questions will merit unique answers that might take a player back several years into their past. Others might speak of recent injuries or events that have shaken their core and made them a better player.  And other might just see it as an opportunity to introduce themselves to the world’s audience as both a player and as a person.

The event had grown into a  huge precursor to the All Star Game itself. To say the  Home Run Derby event has taken on a life of its own would not be too far fetched at all. E Bay will be full of 2009 Home Run Derby balls on Tuesday morning, including the gold-colored balls used to escalate the fortunes of charities tonight. For some to be at the event is enough, to celebrate the act of the Home Run and see the cheers of the crowd will be like drinking 5 Amp energy drinks in a row. Sparks will fly, minds will wander and kids will fall all over the outfield trying to catch these hit balls.

Heck, I even took a gander over there today and saw a ball from the 2008 Home Run Derby signed by Hamilton up for bid right now at $ 169.99. But then again that is a “Buy now” option that might not be met. But there is a smattering of about nine past HR Derby balls from 2001 to 2005  all running under $ 40 right now.  It is great that this event has  elevated itself to its current stature in the 3-days events surrounding the All Star Game.

It is hard to even remember that this event might have been made possible by a simple television program stated in the 1960’s. The black and white “Home Run Derby” show was so popular in the 1960’s that it had to have spawned the current event. Even though these shows only pitted two of the best home run hitter of that season, it  did have a huge impact on the future of the art of hitting the long ball. I remember seeing a few dozen of these shows as a kid and trying to copy the swings in Little League. But you did try and copy them because they were your heroes and you wanted to see them blast the ball into the stands with every pitch.

And the Home Run Derby did not hurt its image last season when the world got to see the re-emergence of Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton. From the  great personal story of Craig Counsel, his former AAU coach and personal Home Run Derby pitcher, to the struggles and demons Hamilton had to wash away to get back to this stage, it set up a heroes return to the game that impassions him from top to bottom.  And  his shattering of the events record books only goes to show that anyone can take the stage. But how many people remember that he did not win the event?

And America ate it up like a hot, creamy plate of mac & cheese. But it was also the kind of message that needs to be delivered to the youth of this country. That even if you hit rock bottom and the depths of despair, with a little faith and the courage to change, the world is at your feet.

But what will be the story this year?  Will it be another coming out party for another one of baseball’s stars. You know one of the great “feel good” stories will be the coming back from injury of Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer, which  also rhymes with power, this season. The young catcher has been known for his scattering of hits and his placement of the ball in achieving his current AL leading .373 average. It will be exciting to see him bend his back and thrust that bat to produce some power tonight in the Home Run Derby.

It might also be one of the “coming out” parties I eluded to in the beginning of the blog. Most people associate him with hitting in general. With a good showing in the H R Derby, he will also put his name on you mind when you think of Home Run potential. It is another aspect of his hitting game that might not get the attention it deserves, before tonight’s event.

Then you have someone like the Tampa Bay Rays Carlos Pena, who had been tossed around the league for a few years from teams from the Rangers,Oakland A’s, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees before he got a non-roster invitee invitation to Spring Training in 2007 from the Rays. Pena  has always had the great glove, awesome power and the ability to pull a team together, but they had not all combined together at the same time before his stint with the Rays.

That spring in St. Petersburg, Florida his game came together and his power numbers have been impressive over the past 2 1/2 seasons. Pena has hit 101 homers with 282 RBI  since his Opening Day start for the Rays in 2007. To even hear the story of him dreaming he was going to be on the plane to New York for the opening series after Rays Manager Joe Maddon informed him he was going to Triple-A to begin the season is amazing. 

An unfortunate injury to Greg Norton opened the door for Pena to fly with the team to New York, and he has been with them ever since. Pena has a very natural home run swing, and the rightfield fence in Busch Stadium, which is 335 feet down the line, could play a major role in how he does tonight.  But when you see him lean back and swing through the ball you have the thought in your mind each hit could go over the wall. He has the ability to take any pitch and drive it, so tonight might make people remember his name.

Brandon Inge, here is a guy I have been pulling for all year long for the Detroit Tigers. He has more homers and RBI than Miguel Cabrera, but most people outside of the American League do not even know his name. Because of his pairing with Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino in the All Star Game Sprint Final Vote, he has been dubbed the front part of the “Bran Torino” pairing.

This former catcher, turned third baseman has been doing the same thing for years without the acknowledgments, but tonight he can also get his name out there for future shots at the All Star team. Hidden beneath the names of Magglio Ordonez and Cabrera, Inge has been the consistent power monger on the Tigers this season. With 21 homers and 58 RBI, he is showing his numbers fit right into the program for the Home Run Derby. He even hit two on Saturday night to maybe get some extra momentum going into tonight’s event.

The reason you have seen only AL names listed here is because of the recent video by Harold Reynolds that put all the focus on the NL first baseman getting ready to participate in the event tonight. I am not taking Adrian Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder or Ryan Howard for granted at all, but to single out the four first baseman and not even chat about the AL competitors is just wrong.

It is for that reason I want to see Mauer,Inge,Pena and Ranger Nelson Cruz slam the door shut on the National League guys. That is right, I want to see a barn burner where the AL comes out on top…again. I am sorry if it is Albert’s house, but it is our event to win tonight. By Reynolds putting that video out with so much emphasis on the NL and not a word about the AL is good old fashioned bulletin board fodder that will be eaten up by the AL participants.

Let the balls fly where they may, but I am going to throw out my final round prediction here: Mauer versus Inge for all the marbles. And if you want a great story, either one of these guys could win it all tonight. But the best part is all of us get to witness some awesome power tonight, and maybe another player will step from the shadows tonight and become another favorite of the world and of your kids.

 

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