Results tagged ‘ Pat Burrell ’

Great to See Rocco Back in Rays Blue Again

 

            
             SPTimes.com

It was so great to see former Rays outfielder and all-around good guy Rocco Baldelli standing outside the Rays clubhouse this morning underneath the overhang at the Rays Spring Training complex in Port Charlotte, Florida. It has just been over a year and a half since Baldelli last donned the same type Rays blue outerwear during the 2008 World Series games in Philadelphia, and the Rays colors still fits him like a glove.

But it did also had a bit of an eerie feel to the moment as it seems like such a long period since we saw Baldelli roaming the outfields at Tropicana Field. But there he stood this morning just smiling away with great opportunities in front of him and a chance to get healthy and help his former team’s next generation..

 
 

But even with a..that smile on his face, and his constantly shaking hands with Rays players who also gathered under that awning to see him and wait out this rain shower, Baldelli seemed to have that energized look on his face where he is totally excited to again be with this franchise, and around the game of baseball this season. I shouted over to Baldelli and he waved and then I asked him what number he planned to wear during Spring Training?
 
 

Baldelli just smiled and nodded his head and told me “we will all see soon enough”. A bit bummed, but then again, he has only been here a few hours and maybe Rays Equipment Manager Chris Westmoreland did not have his jersey done yet. I am guessing Baldelli will sport number 55 this Spring, since no one else in Rays Major League camp has that number, and it is twice as lucky as his old number 5 currently sitting on Rays DH Pat Burrell’s back.
 
 

But Baldelli was not just standing there waiting for the rain to stop so he could compete again for an outfield slot with the team, or even a part-time Designated Hitter spot, Baldelli accepted a chance today to come back onto the Rays staff as a Special Assistant with the team, and will be assigned to the Rays minor league camp and serve as an instructor during the rest of this year’s Spring Training. He will concentrate his efforts as a roving instructor focusing on base running and outfield play with budding minor league players like Desmond Jennings and 2009 Draftee Todd Glaesmann.


RRCollections

Having someone of Baldelli’s caliber and skills in this year’s minor league camp will be great for a top tier prospect like Jennings so that he has a sounding board with a former top tier prospect who made that quick transition to the Major League level. And the Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman jumped at this great opportunity of having an MLB-caliber player like Baldelli to come into the start of the Rays minor league camp to advise and help mentor the next generation of Rays major league ready players. Plus the ” instructor” situation also helps Baldelli by supplying professional level baseball facilities and medical attention as he rehabs from a unspecified shoulder injury Baldelli endured during his 2009 season when he played sparingly with American League East rival, Boston.

And there were a few Rays fans out in the rain with me today wondering why the Rays were civil and open to bringing Baldelli back into the Rays fold after he played for our “arch enemy” last season. And the answer is really quite simple. This situation helps both parties involved, plus it gives Baldelli a chance to realistically see if he might also be open to taking the same Coaching path of former Rays slugger Jared Sandberg and move into the coaching profession after his playing career.

 
 

It also is a perfect “win-win” situation for Baldelli as able to provide certain nuances of the game to the Rays developing players, plus he will be able to rehabilitate his shoulder injury with a Rays medical staff that already knows his past injuries and medical history, and could be beneficial in providing top notch rehabilitation care and treatments while Baldelli also works with the Rays minor leaguers and eventually works out on his own to see if playing again is in his future. But this is also a way for Baldelli to keep his head in the game of baseball and stay mentally ready to play too.

 
 

Think about it for a second here, you are a Major League baseball player and you suffered through months of pain and anguish to find yourself unwanted by your 2009 team and a free agent seeking a shot to compete somewhere, but people know of your shoulder woes, and pass you by, or tell you to get healthy and then give them a call. Baldelli is in that middle “no-man’s land” zone right now between playing, or maybe having to make a difficult career choice in the near future to pursue coaching full-time and mentoring future ballplayers, or getting the chance to regain yourself and your baseball career. How could you not see this opportunity as a positive step to see what you could or maybe pursue after your playing days are over, but also still have your options open to continue with the game.

 

 
RRCollections


And the Rays have always been open to inviting former Rays players to work with their teams a ample chance to come back into the Rays organization and be a authority figure, or sports mentor to work with other Rays prospects to hone their craft and make them the best they can be in their baseball maturation process. Baldelli is not the first former Rays player to come back to his former club and provide instruction and mentor players. Ex-Ray and current Baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs came back to the Rays in 2001 and served one season as their Hitting Coach before leaving the team.

Dave Martinez, who got the first hit in Rays history came back several years ago as an outfield instructor and is now sitting every game besides Rays Manager Joe Maddon as his Rays Bench Coach. And who can forget that 2009 Baseball Hall of Fame nominee Fred McGriff has spent several Rays Spring Trainings working as a Special Advisor to the Rays. Add on that scenario of the consistent growth within the Rays Coaching ranks of Sandberg through the Rays system from his first stint with short-season Princeton to his current post as Manager of the Hudson Valley Renegades for the2010 season.

And Sandberg might just be another budding former Rays player turned manager to some day patrol the benches at the Major League level within a few years. This Rays Front Office has always been open to hiring former players who understand the Rays system, and also adhere to their team’s mantra. And bringing back Baldelli right now just seems perfectly right to me.

 
 

Having Baldelli working out with the next generation of Upton’s, Crawford’s and maybe even another Baldelli just shows his passion and his drive for the little things about playing this game at it’s top level. And it is important to note here that Baldelli is not “retired”, but basically weighing his options and between jobs. Baldelli might have to take a step back like ex-Rays catcher Toby Hall did in 2009 when Hall was rehabbing a shoulder injury and get healthy before finally making some difficult decisions on his baseball future. But I personally would not bet against Baldelli not being wearing some team’s uniform at some point this season.
 
 

There is presently no talk of Baldelli wearing a Rays jersey besides his current Rays gear on his back while he does his job as a roving instructor. But the Rays and Baldelli both have left that door wide open for a future discussion about his plans. And that in itself is almost a mirror-image to the 2009 Spring Training situation where the Rays brought in rehabbing reliever Jason Isringhausen after his 2008 injuries into Spring Training with an eye to get him healthy, then make some personnel decisions.

Isringhausen eventually got healthy and appeared in a Rays uniform in 2009, but Isringhausen went down with a torn elbow ligament and had to undergo Tommy John’s surgery . Could Baldelli be this season’s “Izzy” and be able to again get back to the Major League level?

 
 

Would Baldelli even be open to taking another limited role situation with the Rays similar to his 2008 status with the team, or could there be an eye towards him being a possible in-house alternative/replacement if Rays Designated Hitter Pat Burrell gets injured or off to a weak start in 2009?. All these questions are streaming through my mind, and I know some of you also have those thoughts coursing through your cerebral cortex. But for now, Baldelli is here to heal and help guide and be a source of inspiration and motivation for the next generation of Rays. But that also doesn’t rule out the possibilities of Baldelli not being able to don a MLB jersey at some point in 2010.
 

 
RRCollections

And there is no guarantee it would even be the Rays classic blue and white, or even a Rays Blue jersey. B ut having Baldelli here is motivation enough for me to feel better about the future of this team. Some web sites have called him the “Prodigal Son”. To some of us, Baldelli never went away, he just was on “vacation” away from the Rays. But in the end, is this the kind of guy you want on your team? Is this the type of former player you want teaching your young players “The Rays Way”?

And can the Rays prospects learn and mature hearing of Baldelli’s past and develop their own pattern to enrich their game before hitting the Major League level? To all three of these questions, I sound a loud and resounding “Yes”. Hopefully in the near future, Rays fans will see Baldelli standing on the side of the field again both his glove and a black bat in each hand, or maybe it will be Baldelli’s arms swaying and pointing a shift to one of the Rays minor leaguers to put him into a better fielding position based on the hitter tendencies, either way, it is great to see Baldelli again in a Rays uniform. Blue just seems to be his color!

Maddon has One More Math Problem to Solve this Spring

         

 

RRCollections

 

With Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon seeming to go (on the surface) from genius to deflated mathematical slogans over the last two Rays seasons, it will not be the last time Rays fans see Maddon hits upon a numerical formula for the formulation of his young Rays squad. Just on the horizon, there will be another call for a numerical sequence to shape and ultimately sort out his final 2010 Rays 25-man roster.

And the final direction this 2010 Rays team takes in 2010 will be heavily based on this mathematical breakdown, even before their Home Opener on April 6,2010. And this simple math problem might say a lot about how solid and confident this Rays Coaching staff, and Maddon feel about the key elements of their 2010 squad before firmly heading into the Rays 13th Major League Baseball season.

 
 

One statistical breakdown remains unsolved, and it will definitely define the early roster of this team. This one still undecided simple mathematical conclusion could become the balancing fulcrum towards the realizations of multiple scenarios for possible failure, or ultimate success going into the 2010 season. For these two sets of simultaneous and sequenced numbers will decide the final set-up of the Rays roster. How the Rays split their 2010 roster into their “13 & 12″ segments will be a huge indicator of how the Rays perceive their team’s strengths coming out of Spring Training, and into the early divisional firestorm with American League East ramifications starting with Game 1.

How Maddon and his staff decide if they want to start the season with 13 pitchers and 12 bench players or vice versa will be an early tell tale sign to the confidence level this Coaching staff has with its roster, and its solution towards early challenges.

 
 

For the Rays can not have a downward spiral in the month of April, like in 2009, when the Rays went quickly towards an unpredictable 9-14 early record, and put themselves in “catch-up” mode for the rest of the season. How this Rays squad separates their personnel into those “13-12″ splits might be a instant indication if the Rays organization believes their pitching will need to get the “upper hand”, or if the hitting/fielding players will get the chance to man that “13th seat” at the table.

But you can count on more than a few players trying to force the Rays hands and have their names put in ink onto that “13th” numbered roster spot this Spring. These young and hungry players will do everything humanly possible to make the Rays staff’s decision tougher, and hope to make it lean towards their names with an impressive performance during Spring Training. And the ultimate reward just might make their first Opening Day MLB roster.

 

If the Bullpen pulls it together and borderline relievers like Winston Abreu and Dale Thayer make the roster, it could tilt that invisible line towards the team ultimately carrying 13 pitchers. And even the addition of former Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine thrown into the pitching mix, either in the Bullpen, or as a possible fifth starter. This could throw the whole equation quickly into the pitching sides favor early on this Spring. But that in itself presents an interesting and complex decision all by itself.

GailBurton/AP

 
With returning fifth starter Wade Davis and Sonnanstine squaring off in the only battle this Spring for a starting job, could the eventual loser of that battle just be sent packing to another team like Jason Hammel in 2009, or could they just be sent down to Triple-A Durham knowing they might be the first call-up of the season?

 
 

I have a feeling right now Maddon and his Pitching Coach Jim Hickey might be leaning towards extending that “13th slot” towards a pitcher, but there are also going to be some tough and interesting decisions to be made in the Rays infield and outfield mix that might make that entire pitching situation moot.

We already know that outfielder Matt Joyce is going to try to prove once and for all to the Rays Coaching Staff and Maddon that he deserves that Rightfield slot going into the season, and maybe for the next several years. And even if Joyce wins that spot (which I think he does), it is small factoring process compared to the highly competitive dogfight that will ultimately decide the fate of the Rays second utility guy between Reid Brignac and newcomer Sean Rodriguez.

 
 
And right now, I am basing this opinion solely on drills and exercises I have seen at the Rays complex, it seems at this moment that the Rays staff’s eyes are focusing tightly on Rodriguez’s defensive abilities more and more every day. But real soon we will see just how slick Rodriguez is at second base when Grapefruit League games begin on Wednesday with the Rays take on the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, Florida.

And maybe Brignac’s roster “pop-ups” to the majors in 2009 might have given the Rays staff more of an comprehensive book on Brignac’s abilities coming into this Spring, and possibly Brignac’s scorecard already has a few penciled-in notes and scratches from the Rays Coaching staff, while Rodriguez is a blank slate with everything to gain heading into the Spring Training games.

Sure Rodriguez was a key trade component of the Rays trading left-handed starter Scott Kazmir to the Angels in late July 2009, but this will be the first time most Rays fans and the Tampa Bay media will get an extended chance to see what the kid can do……now or in the near future for the Rays.

 
 
And if you realistically count the Rays bench players right now, with players like Carlos Pena, Kelly Shoppach, Dioner Navarro, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, B J Upton, Gabe Kapler, Pat Burrell and the injured Willy Aybar, you already have 11 Rays players penciled into that first 11 possible bench slots ob the 25-man roster.

If more than one of these young players like Joyce, Rodriguez, Brignac or even Elliot Johnson makes a lasting impression that they “have to be” on this roster, this could ultimately shake up the preconceived notion of 13 pitchers and twist the equation quickly towards 13 bench players. And that scenario has a very distinctive possibility of happening this Spring. These numbers games for the first time in Rays short history, might effectively come down to total game day performances and not the foresight predictions on their talents, or a daily growing maturity in their abilities to play at the Major League level.

 
 

But, the wrist injury to Aybar might be one of the biggest question mark still unanswered totally into this first set of Grapefruit League games. If he is down and out for an extended time, or even gets put on the 15-day Disabled List to start the regular MLB season, the Rays could keep an extra bench player down with the Rays instead of sending them to the minor league camp or even up to Durham.

So there might be a lot of day-to-day evaluations and recommendations discussed with Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield in the next week or so to see if there is a viable option of Aybar playing before the Major League season begins, or they shut Aybar down from hitting drills and let him effectively rehab back into game shape before pressing this same numbers issue again during the Rays season.

 
 

And if Aybar does go on the D L, it could also be a bit of a last gasp of making this roster for one of the reliever fighting it out to become a Rays Bullpen member, or could evolve into a chance for the loser of the Sonnanstine/Davis battle to be kept on the Major League roster as a possible long reliever like Lance Cormier.

My personal gut reaction is that the Rays seem to want to do everything in their power to try and keep Sonnanstine up at this level, but if he falls into that 13th slot and Aybar comes back, he would be the first to fall from the 25-man roster. You already know that Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Cormier, Dan Wheeler, Randy Choate (leftie specialist), J P Howell along with Wade Davis, James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price and Jeff Niemann take up 11 pitching spots before even considering Abreu, Thayer or Joaquin Benoit as a Bullpen option.

 
 

 
RRCollections

That would leave a possible one viable slots, with a second up in the air right now if the Rays want to carry 13 pitchers. You could pencil in Sonnanstine into one of those two spaces, but with him and Davis both having minor league options, they could always be sent down with the adage that it came down to that “13th ” spot. And even with Thayer and Abreu showing mixed results at this level, you have to think of the two, Abreu would get a longer look based on his 2009 MiLB.com designation as the Triple-A Reliever of the Year.

But not going in Abreu’s favor is his short stint with Cleveland in 2009, when he seemed to imploded a bit on the mound and almost started an all out brawl in a game versus Seattle. But both relievers have paid their minor league dues and could force the Rays hand and send Sonnanstine to Durham, even with great outings this Spring.

 
 

This is only my scenario of the whole situation and is only my personal glance into the Rays possible decision on this issue. I see the loser of the Davis and Sonnanstine battle to be immediate trade bait offered before MLB rosters finalize and if a good trade option can not be found, the loser of the fifth rotation battle will be sent back to Durham knowing they are the first starting pitcher recalled by the Rays.

I think there are a few NL teams that would jump on Sonnanstine if he has a great Spring, but there is still time to see about his 2010 situation. I truly feel that Joyce will win his battle for Rightfield, and will platoon with Ben Zobrist to begin the season until Joyce shows he can hit left-handers with consistency, then it open another can of worms for the Rays as to a final playing position for Zobrist.

 

Out of the infield battle, I see Sean Rodriguez maybe having a slight edge right now, but I feel it is Brignac’s job to lose since he has the confidence and skill level to play at the Major League level. And if Aybar does go on the D L , they both could get a realistic shot to make the initial Rays 25-man Opening Day roster. But I also think in the end, the Rays will shop Brignac and he could be somewhere else either before the 2010 season, or within the first few months of the season.

It is funny how two of the Rays past “utility” guys, Aybar and Zobrist based on their great seasons in 2008 and 2009 will play a part so deep into the Rays decisions in 2010. But that just goes to show you the improved depth and wealth of talent sitting in Port Charlotte right now, just at the Major League camp level.

 
 

 
Steve Nesius/ AP
 

Some people consider the number “13” to be mostly evil with no redemption for any good. But that same number “13” for one Rays player this Spring Training season will be a blessing, and a chance to show they have what it takes to survive and play daily at this level of the game. Whoever gets that coveted “13th” spot in 2010, no matter if they are a Rays pitcher, or field player, they will know internally that they survived one of the most competitive Rays Spring Training camps.

It might not seem so tough to some of the Rays fans watching the workouts and drills, but this Spring’s competition level has been raised very, very high, and the final Rays player to grace that “13th” spot decision has to consider himself lucky indeed, for they get a chance to grow with this Rays team as they again set their sights on games in October.
 

Rays 2010 Fan Fest Photo Blog 2 of 2

 

 


One of the biggest reasons so many fans came out to the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Fan Fest on Saturday was a chance to chat and get autographs from their favorite Rays players in advance of the 2010 season. Also on hand were a few of the Rays minor league prospects invited to the Major League camp that started on Friday. The number of fans seen entering the building on Saturday definitely showed that the enthusiasm and the excitement is very much still alive within the Tampa Bay area for their team.

And there were a few big name players like Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, new comer Sean Rodriguez sent to the Rays in the Scott Kazmir trade in 2009 and Rays 2009 scapegoat Designated Hitter Pat Burrell. The autograph day went pretty uneventful accept for some late arrivals from players, and some people grumbling about the absence of Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett and leftie Jake McGee. I still have not heard a word on Bartlett, but McGee missed the event due to his wife Morgan going to a local hospital, but she has since been released and McGee is back with the team at the Port Charlotte complex.

 

But there were more than whispers from a few of the Rays Season Ticket holder I spoke to on friends not renewing their seats or even people downgrading from multiple seats to singles for the 2010 season. But the reality is also there that a small bulk of that inflated number in 2009 was for people who wanted to secure 2008 Playoff tickets and bought seats in the inexpensive sections of Tropicana Field to get guaranteed seating for the Rays playoff run. But there is a anticipated hope of people getting into the flow after Fan Fest and purchasing one of the many ticket packages or options for the upcoming season.

And there were members of the Rays Sales Department all over Tropicana Field ready and willing to discuss or show seating options to people all during Fan Fest. There are options starting as low as $ 273 (Friday or Sunday plan) and rising depending on the seat location. And beginning this Friday, February 26,2010 at 9 am, individual game tickets will go on sale to the general public for the first time in 2010. Another popular option is the Saturday game package that will include every game for the Hess Express /Rays Concert Series that start at $ 331 for T.B.T. Party Deck or Upper Deck Reserved seating.

And again in 2010, the Home Plate Club prices seems to have gone down a tab, so if you should win the Florida Lotto in time for the Rays season, you could purchase a seat in the All-Inclusive area starting at $ 13,256. And even as the Rays season Ticket numbers have dropped, it had to be anticipated by the local economic struggles and also the 2009 Playoff package ticket holders not renewing their seats for 2010. You can be sure within now and the beginning of the season, the Rays will announce some additional ticket options and also attractive promotions and events to get the Tampa Bay residents to come out to the Trop. for more games in 2010.  

 


And as usual, the autograph lines seemed to begin to get congested almost immediately as people bought their silver wristbands then stood in line almost two hours before Evan Longoria first stepped onto the first table location just after 12 pm. By the time he had stepped into his seat, the line formed around the white plastic chain links and circled out into the Rightfield Street hallway down past the Dipping Dots booth and almost to the Rays Carnival Games for the kids.

And there were all sorts of interesting items brought up to the players to sign this year. One fan, Christin Manfredo actually had new Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach sign her 1,000th autographed baseball during Fan Fest, with Rays prospect catcher Nevin Ashley becoming the 1001st autographed baseball in Manfredo’s collection. And there was the usual oversize baseball bats and  small scale batting helmets for players to sign, but the one item that caught my eyes was the oversize World Series ticket that were given to several players during the day. 


 

 

Everyone always asks who is sitting right there with me in my section. Well, here we see Michael, who sits in Section 138, Row C Seat 1 giving Evan Longoria one of the State Farm Home Run Derby balls from 2008 to sign.  Longoria took some time looking at the ball and remarked that it looked like it was actually hit, possibly by him during the event. It is a great collectible ball for Michael’s collection. Another item that came up just after Michael to Longo was an actual gold-colored fielding glove that looked a lot like the Golden Glove model glove on the trophy that Longoria will be presented at a Rays game in 2010. One of the great things about this event is seeing some of the fantastic collectible items fans have obtained during the past season from auctions, sales and even events like Fan Fest for the guys to sign.
 


 

 

People were complaining all day long about players getting to the Trop. late for their signings and not staying past their times to appease fans. I know that certain players had transportation delays on their travels up from Port Charlotte, while others had logistical situation going on with their belongings and equipment getting to Port Charlotte ahead of them on Saturday. For some reason, B J Upton took a huge blunt of this backlash, but he was not the only player who was delayed and did not stay any additional time to sign for fans.

And some Rays fans were quick to notice he was texting between signatures and also checking his phone a bit not aware of his transportation logistic situation. But then again,
when you are sitting at a table above the general public, they can see you every move and action and can develop negative opinions and reaction quickly based on your overall mood and attitude to the fans. Upton is excited to begin a new chapter in 2010 and is healthy for the first time in a few years. He has reached out to new Hitting Coach Derek Shelton for advice and has seen the errors of his ways in the past with his nonchalant base running and quiet demeanor. I think he is going to have a breakout year in 2010.

 

 

Gabe Kapler to me has become one of the greatest ” at ease” fashion sense guys on this team. And I mean that as a compliment. Here we see him in a great black hat and a pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers that seems to show his laid-back attitude and approach to this team. But he is also one of the guys who get into a “zone” during game day and is a constant figure helping other players both on and off the field. Kapler is one of those guys on the edges of the Rays roster in 2010 who could be beneficial to the Rays return to the playoffs in 2010.

 

Most people know these two guys as one of the best First Basemen offensively and defensively in the Major Leagues, and the other is the Senior Director of Promotions for the Rays. But Carlos Pena and Brian Killingsworth also have another “Kevin Bacon 6 degrees of Separation” moment”. Both were also members of the Wartham Gatesman who won the 1997 Cape Cod Baseball League Championship.  Funny story, Killingsworth actually called me on my cellphone the day we got Pena and told me about the signing. I still marvel at that moment I knew the Rays were bound for the playoffs with a guy like Pena behind the scenes.
 

 

One of the great thing I love about Rays Fan Fest is the way Rays Radio Network guru Rich Herrera gets time with the players to talk about the upcoming season, or even put an exclamation point on some issue. It was great how he started chatting about the limited edition Carlos Pena T-shirt being sold by the American Red Cross and the Save The Children Foundation.

Herrera told the crowd how the back of the T-shirt lists all the accomplishments Pena has accumulated since his arrival here in 2007.  About Pena’s 2007 Comeback Player of the Year Award and Silver Slugger Award, his 2008 Gold Glove, and his 2009 selection to the All Star game. But Herrera was quick to mention the one award Pena is most proud of is his selection as the Tampa Bay recipient for the 2008 Roberto Clemente Award.

Most people know that this award is given annually to the player who combines outstanding skills on the baseball diamond with their devoted work within their team’s community. Pena was actually honored to be presented his nomination by Roberto Clemente Junior during a ceremony at Tropicana Field on September 3,2008. As part of the Roberto Clemente nomination, Major League Baseball made a donation in Pena’s name of $ 7,500 to Fundacion Lumen 2000, a Christian Foundation which provides foster care for children. Pena and his wife, Pamela, also donate school supplies, medicine and equipment to this foundation annually. 

I have notice a weird pattern lately in the family units of players within the Rays roster. It is fascinating to me the number of “twos” associated with Rays players and their children. There seems to be a wild Rays parallel, especially in the Rays Bullpen where 4 players have two children. Included in that list is Dan Wheeler (2 boys),Randy Choate (2 girls), Jeff Bennett (2 girls) and Dale Thayer (see above photo).

But the duo’s do not end there as First Baseman Carlos Pena (1 boy,1 girl), Outfielder Gabe Kapler (2 boys), Starting Pitcher Matt Garza (1 boy,1 girl) and Catcher Dioner Navarro( 2 boys) all celebrate the “2’s”. But it can go one step further as First Base Coach George Hendricks, Senior Advisor Don Zimmer and Vice President of Communications Rick Vaughn also have two children in their broods. 
 

 

 

There was also a another wild moment behind-the-scenes as several members of the Rays showed up wearing some unconventional head gear for the autograph signings. From Rays starter James Shields, who should get the nod for the 2010 Home Opener against the Baltimore Orioles rocking a white cap, to new closer Rafael Soriano coming down the aisle dressed in black and gold and listening intently to his I-pod on the way to the signing table. Some websites around the Internet did not see his ensemble in its entirety. So the above photo is what he wore into Tropicana Field before he took the stage wearing the Rays new “Sky Blue”-themed alternative jersey.

 

 

And most of the Rays were in a really giving mood during Fan Fest. At one point, before Grant Balfour went over to the Season Ticket holder Photo area, he came down from the table and signed for a few minutes with a few more fans before heading over by the Leftfield foul pole to participate in the photo op for the Season Ticket holders only. But even as they were coming and going, several Rays players,including Upton posed with fans for pictures as
they were ascending the aisle to go back into the Clubhouse area following their autograph signing times.

 

Fernando Perez even took a moment out to come by my seat and tell me he read a bit of my posts during the off season, which really caught me by surprise. I had forgotten I told him about my blog following his poetry article back in 2009, and he advised me he likes my “personalized” view of the game and the actions. Got to admit, when you have a graduate of Columbia University in Creative Writing tell you he likes your stuff… I was on cloud nine the rest of the day. Fernando, in advance, got to tell you, I am also a huge fan of your articles and I am still going to push you to join MLBlogs.com and submit some stuff….You can count on that!
 

 

 

But this was also a time for some “old Friends” to reunite as former Rangers teammates Jaoquin Benoit and Carlos Pena chatted for a bit before Benoit and Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos made their way to the stage for their 4 pm autograph times. There were a lot of chuckles and writing down of information between the three of them before Ramos and Benoit descended for their time at the autograph tables. And as was custom for every Rays game since he got here, Ramos gave me a salute as he entered the blue-screened area for the signing. I am a lifetime fan of Ramos, and it is not just for the sideline Salsa displays either.
 

 


And the Rays organization has to be proud of its fan base that still had the roped off areas full and awaiting autographs at 4 pm. This is a great sign of the energy and the commitment this region has towards Major League Baseball. And it is also fitting that Maddon did not leave the signing table until everyone in the “Table 1″ line had their chance to come up and get their signatures. Even as the overhead lights began to dim within Tropicana Field, Maddon and his two Coaches stood their ground until the last fan got their items signed. Maddon did the same thing in 2009, and I suspect he will do it every season he is here with the Rays. And that is another reason to love him as this team’s manager.

  

 

 

 

As you can see by this last photo, the time is quickly upon us to begin our nightly patronage of all things Rays related. And those 45 days will seem to simply fly by as the Rays begin game within the next week or so. Once the team begins their Grapefruit schedule the days will pick up steam until that last Florida Home game at Tropicana Field against the New York Mets. And then with one more trip up to Durham, North Carolina to play the Triple-A Champion Durham Bulls, it will be only a matter of hours before we again assemble for another Major League Baseball campaign, and a drive towards playoff glory again.

Even with all of the outside distractions and riff-raff going on within this Tampa Bay area, the one constant is that the Rays play a brand of baseball other teams are now adapting for their own squads. They always say that imitation is the ultimate form of flattery. If that is true, then the “Rays Sky Blue” jerseys might be a great addition as expectations rise and the sky is the limit in 2010.

Andrew Friedman……Scavenger Hunter Extraordinaire

 

                  
                    Www.Tbo.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

 
 

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

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

 
 

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

 
 

Chris O’Meara/AP


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

 
 

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

Looking Back on my 2009 Rays Resolutions

 


FSNFlorida.com

Sorry I have been able to post anything since New Year’s Eve, but things have been a little upside down in my little slice of the world. Not going to get into it, but if you know me, you know the restricted economical parameters of my lone wolf existence.

I was thinking last night about turning the pages back to my post back on January 1,2009 where I listed my  2009 New Year’s Rays Resolutions blog and see if my quarter-tossing guesses and totally dillusional dreams for the Tampa Bay Rays had either mysteriously evaporated or suddenly materialized for the team.

We all know just how difficult it is sometimes to partition our post-baseball lives  to readjust back into our normal lifestyles with the absence of games nightly. And with my 2009 resolutions coming just a few months off the heels of the Rays first playoff push in team history, I am more than a bit curious to see if now those resolutions might have been a bit over zealous, or might have struck true center and be totally in line with the team’s seasonal performance.

But even if I did get a bit over excited and tranform my hopes and dreams into slight misguided illusions, isn’t that within the vein of the competitive spirit of the fan, who always  wants to see the birght side of life in regards to their team?  We all want to trust and believe that bigger and better things are always on the horizon for our squads, even as the skies turn suddenly dark and the wind begins to howl.  You want to believe in solidarity of the true existence of the team dream. 

You have to actively possess that unrelentless faith that the “much needed” team weapons will somehow materialize like that weird frost upon your car windshield in the morning, or that the Bullpen will again be a brickwall to your team’s lofty and ever-rising ride of success. So lets take a short jaunt back about 365 days and formally check out my bubble-headed prognostications to see if any of my 2009 resolutions for the Rays might have actually had some merit to them, or the whole thing was just dust in the wind.


Mike Carlson / AP 

2009 Resolution 1:

Find a right-handed bat that can help the offense take it to the next level.

Wow! This resolution could go a few different directions at the same time. But the true fact is that it might all actually depend on if you want to throw Pat Burrell’s 2009 fiasco into the pot here. I have thrown Burrell under the bus enough times during 2009 for this resolution to actually take on water and headed for the briny deep waters near Egmont Key.

But lost in the shuffle was  the fact to totally look at the last two prior Rays season performances at the Designated Hitter spot and seeing that Burrell’s stats were really about average for the Rays. But that pure instance doesn’t get him out of Elvis’s locker room doghouse because Burrell was brought onto this squad to boost a sagging offense and  was paid hansomely for his efforts.

I am willing to give him a slight partial pass here due to his neck situation that might have thrown a confidence and concentration monkey wrench into his “game shape” for 2009. Burrell did show some offensive firepower, but we are starving to see it on a more consistent basis, and it will be demanded of him in 2010.  Not lost in all of this negativity is the fact he did produce 14 homers in the season, but they were all hit against right-handers, so Burrell definitely needs to readjust and refocus this off season to come in and conquer in 2010, or he will be considered a huge bust maybe in the company of Vinny Castilla.

Resolution 2:

Find a southpaw reliever to compliment the Bullpen.

This simple resolution might have actually been achieved by the Rays stockpiling a few left-handed  experienced relievers at the Triple-A level prior to the team’s 2009 Opening Day. We did have southpaw lefty-specialist Brian Shouse primarily on the 25-man roster as a leftie specialist, but like Burrell, Shouse had his own series of ups and down via the injury bug in 2009  amd might not be considered a totally successful signing by the team.

And because the Rays hide a few options in their minor league system, when Shouse was put on the diasabled list on May 25th with a left elbow strain, it opened the door for a former Yankee reliever to come up and dramatically change the late inning game from the left-side of the mound. Randy Choate seemed at times to be a man on a mission and gained more and more confidence as the Rays 2009 season progressed. You can not discount his  stellar .141 batting average against left-handers, or even his 5-for-5 perfect mark in save possibilities for the Rays this past season. 

Just when the Rays  were craving a clutch performer after a few unforeseen blown save situations, and a quickly downward spiraling in relief performances, Choate came up to appear in 61 of the Rays final 114 games. To throw a huge exclamation point on Choate’s 2009 performances, before  his call-up by the team in 2009, Choate had appeared in 196 games and had never produced a save. Choate definitely did not choke for the Rays in 2009.


Mike Carlson/ AP

Resolution 3:


Get 1 of the 2 best young players on your team a contract extension.

This was one of the 2009 resolutions that I thought would  definitely get some extreme attention by the Rays front office at some moment in the 2009 season. With the team stressing they are “borrowing on tomorrow” right now with their increasing payroll demands, you thought Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman might chart a clear map on this one as a top priority to supplant a possible unforeseen huge arbitration dollar figure, or a series of multiple arbitration seasons by a number of players to substancially see a rise of ever increasing salary demands without a solid prediction for the Rays future payrolls.

I thought for sure the Rays first comfirmed target here would be to entice Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza  to a contract extension for “services rendered”, and to reward him now for the huge upside he could provide the Rays in the next three years. Sure everyone wants to bring up moments with his emotional and temper situations as fodder to not extend him, but lost in that mumbo jumbo shuffle might be the pure fact he has the ability to be the first pitcher to post a no-hitter for the Rays.

As of today, there is no sign of this evolving into a multi-year scenario before he goes for his 2010 arbitration hearing. Garza’s abilities on the mound in 2009 could easily boost his salary from his $ 433,300. in 2009, to an estimation of $ 3.5 million through arbitration. And you would have thought it prudent and responsible of a money conscious Rays to maybe nip this escalation in the bud and give him a deal comparible to the contract James Shields signed in 2008, but there are no clear signs of that happening any time soon for Garza. And Garza is only the first in a ever increasing line that includes centerfielder B J Upton and reliever J P Howell to secure some financial stability over the next three seasons for the team.

Resolution 4:

Sign Jason Giambi already.

I actually thought Giambi might have been a great addition to the Rays, and we know this whole scenario never materialized, so this might be a short resolution explanation. Even though Giambi did go on to play over 102 games in Oakland before heading onto the Rockies post season roster, the “Giambino” had a subpar season and actually did not even hit the low average plateau achieved  by Burrell with the Rays in 2009.

It is actually funny to think Giambi hit worse than Pat “The Bat” Burrell, but then again, both did do a few mis-timed stints on the disabled list this season and neither seemed to get into a solid flow at the plate. In hindsight, 2009 might actually turn out to be Giambi’s last chance to play full-time with a potential off-the-bench position staring him in the face for 2010 and beyond.



RRCollections

Resolution 5: 


Keep the team chemistry up high and the success will come again.

Here is another resolution that might totally be up to your own personal interpretation on the Rays 2009 season. We all know the stories of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s great inspirational speeches and motivational quotes that are meant to boost and inflate confidence like a balloon, but this Rays team did seem to miss a huge chunk of clubhouse chemistry in 2009.

Some say it was the departure of type-A personalities like Eric Hinske, Cliff Floyd and Johnny Gomes took a huge presence and electric feel out of the clubhouse. But even with the two bigger than life cartoon characters of Gomes and Hinske gone, there still was the increasing confidence and emotional moment stature of “El Presidente” Carlos Pena. And  you have to admire the guy for trying to step it up a few notches trying to fill those big shoes left by the trio, but Pena was only one guy, and could only beat the drum so loud in 2009.

Most of Pena’s teammates seemed to be relying on themselves and their close knit groups formed within the team to boost their confidence and act as support systems throughout the season. The Bullpen definitely had their own “vibe” in the clubhouse, and the Rays starters seemed to have their own “inside jokes” throughout the season. Dioner Navarro took the role of the “shaving cream pie” bandit in 2009, and even got Madddon during one post-game interview on television.

And the Rays did try and promote their road trips like a Carnival cruise night with events like the “White Party” and “Cowboy Up” during roadtrips.  Some had great success, and a few might have been better left in the closet. One idea did seem to backfire a bit on the Rays. Maddon, being a huge Johnny Cash fan, had the inspirational idea of the “Ring of Fire” all-black traveling party during the Rays push towards the playoff in 2009. But from the first moment Maddon came out of his Manager’s office in the Rays clubhouse sporting that jet black hair, the idea seemed headed quickly like lemmings to the cliff.

Not sure why the idea ended up backfiring to produce a loss spiral that quickly deflated the Rays playoff hopes like a lead balloon. The Rays ended up losing 11 out of their first 13 games in September. Adding insult to injury was the disasterious timing of imploding against their American League East foes for the rest of the season. From the first dark-haired moment on August 19th by Maddon,the Rays posted only 3 wins against Boston and New York in their 13 games during September/October.
 

I actually think I went 1-4 in my quest to throw some early logical explanation into 2009 prior to the season. Sure we all want to think that  as fans, we truly have such an underlying persona that we can make people hit the ball or even throw a bit harder, but in reality, we can only encourage and become louder in the stands hoping that more positive results take root on the field.


Chris O’Meara / AP

Even if my 2009 resolutions did fall on hard times, the Rays season was filled with great unexpected moments and showed  more than a few times those glimpses of unforeseen promise that makes you proud to follow the team. Even the best at “predicting” seem to get it wrong most of the time, so my first dive into the resolution pool did not produce a total failure, but did produce a few questions. For we got to see baseball played again in the Tampa Bay area during 2009. We got to again gather as an extended family to root, boo and even console each other after some great games in 2009. 

I have always been one of those firm believers in that you “win some, and you lose some” mentality both inside and outside of the sporting world. I mean if I really believed everything that has been written about teams just in our own division, then I would pack it up after April 1st and throw out that immortal Chicago Cubs line, “We will get ‘em next year!” But I go into day like this first one in 2010 thinking we have as good a chance as the other 30 Major League Baseball teams to hoist that golden trophy to the heavens this October. And who knows……….

 

 

New Years Predictions

 

                       
                         SeattleTimes.com

With the Waterford crystal ball about to fall within the next 6 hours in frosty Times Square up in New YorkCity. I thought it might be nice to look a bit forward towards the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays future and throw a few predictions into the fray. I usually do not like to do this, but for some odd reason I am feeling pretty confident that the 2010 year will hold a mountain of possibilities and a few pitfalls that can be navigated with calm, cool, collected nerves.

 
Fi
rst prediction:

Have
the Rays reviving again in 2010 the old tradition of  the team wearing Kelly Green Rays uniforms during St. Patrick’s Day game against the Minnesota Twins this Spring. The Rays have not had a March 17th contest in their Spring Training schedule since Stuart Sternberg and crew have been in charge of the team. I can see this tradition again being brought back with a lot of excitement.


RRCollections


I am also hoping that with this prediction, the team will again be offering up the game-used jersey tops adorned with autographs online via the Rays Foundation as a great donation source for the Rays charity, and also a nice collectible for the Rays faithful fans.

Second prediction:

 
That Rays favorite scapegoat in 2009, Pat Burrell will come into Spring Training a bit lighter and extremely focused to put his sub par 2009 season behind him. He will become the first Rays Designated Hitter since Jose Canseco to be considered for an All-Star selection. He will not get the honor, but his renewed bat and contagious attitude will give the Rays gain a chance to return to the Playoffs.

Burrell actually did not do as badly as you might think in 2009. When you look at the last three Rays seasons in reference to the DH position, Burrell actually was about the norm concerning his productivity. But considering his high price tag ($ 9 million) this season, it will be a test of his hitting abilities and his inner want to extend his career to succeed in 2010.

Third prediction:

The top 4 money makers on the Rays, which include Carl Crawford, Burrell, Rafael Soriano and Carlos Pena will be among the American League leader boards in productivity early in 2010. The 4 make over 40 percent of the Rays payroll, and are critical to the team again making a playoff push in 2010. With Pena tying with Yankee hitter Mark Teixeira for the 2009 AL Home Run title, I suspect Pena to also make an early RBI run in 2010. Crawford will get an early great start concerning Batting Average and Stolen bases.
 

With Burrell already predicted to rise in 2010, Soriano will be a great addition to the Rays Bullpen and will bring the “W’s” home for the Rays. All 4 previously mentioned players are also possibly free agents at the end of 2010, and might also be playing for their next big contract. Sometimes money can be a great motivator.


RRCollections

Fourth prediction:
 
The Rays will again see a slight rise in game attendance and game packages, but  will not not be near the Major League Baseball averages for 2010. The Rays will again try to fuel the attendance fires with  multiple weekday giveaways and promotions to get the fans into weekday games. But even with a slight rise in the game numbers, you hope that it is enough to give the Rays ownership confidence in the region as a baseball hub.

Considering the Tampa Bay region is fighting off a 12 percent unemployment demon right now, any uptrend should be viewed as a positive for the Rays. With their Concert Series almost guaranteeing sellout crowds, the focus will be on the weak Thursday night numbers, or during home games when an incoming team generally attracts 10,000 or less  fans to the game. I foresee some radical thoughts and ideas coming out right before Spring Training to combat this attendance damper.
 

The Tampa Bay region fans might have been spoiled during the last decade by seeing all three of their professional teams fighting for World/League titles. First came the glitzy Lombardi Trophy that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won during the Super Bowl out in San Diego, California. Then it was the Tampa Bay Lightning turn by streaking through the playoffs and finally hoisting the highly prestigious Stanley Cup on home ice. Then in 2008, it was our own Rays supplanting the Yankees playoff machine and thrusting themselves all the way to the World Series.

I can predict a million things here today, but the best prediction I can make for 2010 is that the Rays fans will again  be crowded into Tropicana Field to see the competitive fires of this Rays team and that their cheers and cowbells will ring loud and proud underneath the Teflon roof of the Trop. For I predict and forecast that 2010 will be the Year of the Rays Fan. 


RRCollections

Not only with  more entertaining pre-game and in-game promotions, but with more concerts and post-game events that will make it a “must-see” destination for tourists and the entire Tampa Bay community. With the Rays addition of Sunburst Entertainment under their wings in 2009, the team will bring more viable options both before and during games to attract and interact with their Rays fan base. I can see going to a Rays game transforming into a  everyday family event that will having everyone in the family eager to attend another game.

Not every one of these predictions will come true. For predictions are like New Years resolutions, they are only as good as the commitment behind them. But I am banking on the Rays organization and the Rays Republic to rebound in 2010 and make the Rays game one of the best entertainment values in this region….
…….bar none.
And with that I will leave you with a New Years toast:

” A toast to Father Time and the Baby New Year. We have no idea where the old man is going, and we’re not at all sure where the new kid came from, but I do have a question: Who is the mother of all this?”


No Tears shed over the Bradley Deal

 


RRCollections

Oh Well, You knew something had to go wrong with the the whole scenario  with the possbile swapping of “bad contracts” scapegoats between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Chicago Cubs. We all had that vivid daydream of the Rays effectively erasing their Winter 2008 decision of  signing their current Designated Scapegoat Pat Burrell. And maybe the Cubs kept the Rays from making a hugely volatile Public Relations nightmare by trading Milton Bradley…..but not to the Rays. 

And maybe the predictability of this deal  finally cracking in half  and sinking out of sight was actually in the cards the whole time, but we all just did not want to see it. Could there have been a possibility that the Rays were more than happy to take one season of Burrell at $ 9 million instead of the distinctive possibility of having Bradley in their system for two seasons. Could that wise decision by the Rays to act like a steel beam and not flex at all in their demands actually end up as a good thing?

More and more it is looking like Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman again drew an Ace from the deck filled with Jokers in standing like a guard at Buckungham Palace and not flinching at all to any change in the course of the deal. Sure the extra influx of capital might have helped put a temporary seal on the leaking piggybank of the Rays salary splurge for closer Rafael Sorano.

Maybe the simple fact that the Rays and their boy genius sticking to their guns turned the Cubs to looking in other directions and not only saved the Rays some possible problems in the future, but actually showed they would not be bullied just to complete a deal. Again, I have to say that the stolic mindset of the Rays boy genius might have been the main reason to celebrate right now.
 


RRCollections

Even if the Rays did take the Cubbies money and run with Bradley, you could already envision the teams trying to tweak the system to find an out clause somewhere within Bradley’s 2011 contract. And how soon tdo all of us who follow the Rays forget how all of us gushed back in the Winter of 2008 about the possibilities of the Rays entertaining  a contract to bring then free agent Bradley into the Rays fold. I know I can admit it now, that at the time,I thought it was a great thing….yep, he even had me at hello.

So maybe the Rays trade cards are not coming up perfect for the team right now. But I am actually glad that this deal went down the tubes and that Bradley is heading somewhere else now.  And maybe it is by the sheer maddness of the Rays not backing down,or even caving in a inch that we got excluded out of this Bradley final equation. Maybe for one of the first times, the hard line by the Sternberg administration/front office to standing tall and not budging worked in our favor to get 86’d from the Bradley resolution.

But now that Bradley is headed for the Emerald City of Seattle from Chi-town, you have to wonder just when did the deal turn towards the Mariner’s favor.  I hate to tell you this, but it really doesn’t matter now. Bradley is out of sight out of mind in both Chicago and Tampa Bay right now. And I do hope that he can find some level of peace within the Pacific Northwest, but right now I am glad to be Bradley-free.


Phillies.com


Some around the Rays Republic might view today’s trade news with some sense of sorrow and dismay of not getting the trade done. But in reality, the Rays standing firm in their trade negotiations might have actually saved the Rays clubhouse and the fan base a load of trouble if Bradley had found fault within the Rays system. Maybe we dodged a bullet by this deal falling through the way it did….. We might not know the real outcome of this “success or failure” until next September.

The Bradley/Silva deal is done and headed for Commissioner Bud Selig’s seal of approval. Maybe for this one instance the fact the Rays did not act or react might end up being the best decision of the 2009 off season. We dreamed of this deal going through. Maybe the reality of it failing will actually be the best case scenario for everyone involved.

Income Outcomes

 

Rob Carr / AP

I know for myself personally, the action of trying to convince and construct a viable financial way for me to mortgage my vested future for use today would retroactively reduce my chances of enjoying my retirement or grant me some forms of comfort in my so-called “Golden Years”. So it is a bit strange to me that the Tampa Bay Rays keep taking bucket loads of money from their financial future reserves and plopping it into their wallets for use now for the upgrades for their 2010 payroll.

Could the Rays prospects of increasing their 2010 payroll to its breaking point really be justified in their minds that it increases the teams playoff chances in 2010?  And even if this team is headed by a pretty savvy and financially rich money Mensa, in an unstable investment market is it really wise to hedge your fiscal future for your present wants and desires? You have to honestly think that the Rays are hedging some of their monetary hopes on the possibility that the Chicago Cubs will eventually cave in and send to them a nice full money bag of about $ 10 million to close out their trade end of the revolving Burrell/Bradley circus.

Might the ending of the Burrell/Bradley sweepstakes be the anticipated fiscal prize the team needs to add a level of firm stability to the Rays 2010 payroll and also safeguard their future payrolls. Or maybe the Rays front office could further amuse and confuse their fan base by continuing to open their pocketbook and signing another reliever or player so far out of their financial means that Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg will be seen modeling a nice wrap-around jacket that buckles in the back, and surrounded by a few new friends dressed in white coats. 

I already think the Rays have gone above and beyond their projected 2010 allowance given to them by Sternberg, and now are scrambling for a every single dollar to find a few needed pieces in the bargain basement for their Bullpen. And their financial situation was not made an easier when the Rays traded for closer Rafael Soriano and then gave him around 7.25 million reasons to play for the Rays in 2010. I am worried that the Rays have might gambled heavily on their present roster concerns with a blind eye to their future Rays plans for the high risk chance to hopefully again hoist a piece of metal high into the air.

And to make the Rays sweat even more, their top two rivals, the  Red Sox and Yankees have not only opened their own bank accounts,but have quickly added some additional pieces to their teams. They have visually thrust their checkbooks into the Rays face to illustrate to the small market team that they will always be just meager spenders in this division. The Rays suspected payroll of around $ 71.1 million might not even put so much as a small dent into the 2010 plans of their two American League East rivals, and that fact should scare the Rays. The Rays will have to firmly adjust their future budget restrictions with their home grown talent hopefully closing the gap between the teams.


Skip Milos

On this side of the financial equation, we can see the Rays financial noose starting to grip tightly around their necks with no clear answer to ease their  fiscal pressure. And I know that in this fragile financial climate, that even a slight decrease, or even a free fall in attendance and revenues could cripple the team in 2011 and might send us back into the pre-2007 spending levels for players and talent for quite awhile.

If I went to a financial planner for advice, he would probably tell me that budgeting and allocating a certain amount to unforeseen problems is prudent and financially-wise for me. But he would also guard me against the dangers of trying to live too far above my own personal means, or obtaining revolving credit woes that would hasten financial ruin to become swift and unmerciful. He would then remind me that the mantra of ” living for today” might be a nice song to sing to the heavens, but in reality it doesn’t pay the bills.

And I know the Rays have a calculated and well formulated plan to borrow from the team’s future revenues and still have an adequate windfall for 2011 budget concerns. But I have seen this team come from some pretty low depths to find early bouts of success. I guess I am just worried that even as I see my own fortunes rise and fall like the tides that the Rays are also feeling this same concern.


FSNFlorida/Skip Milos

And it would be a pity to one day wake up and see the Rays again struggling and trying to find ways to support the team when they had the money hidden away for a rainy day, and a big financial storm was brewing for them with massive concerns. I have a bad habit of forgetting that baseball is a business first and see it as just another single entity struggling in this financial climate. And for the Rays, their “Golden Years” are also ahead of them, and may, just maybe I want them to still be here when I am old and gray for can be the menacing old guy who tells tall tales of the “Good Ol’ Days”.

Let’s add a Player to the Burrell/Bradley sweepstakes

 


Jim Prisching / AP

Blogger’s and commenter’s both around Tampa Bay and Chicago baseball communities have been writing and speculating about the teams trading their two “bad contracts” some time during this off season. Each squad currently has a current roster member set to make at least $ 9 million for the 2010 season, and both squads want to unload that contract for a variety of reasons.

And with the Winter Meeting set to start in Indianapolis soon, this potential deal seeming to be at a stalemate. Maybe it is time to add another piece into the whole trade scenario. Maybe it is time for one of these teams to buckle down and offer a second piece to the puzzle that makes it appetizing to either squad to complete this deal before the end of 2009.

Last night during a massive lightning show from thunderstorms racing through Florida, the answer struck me like lightning in my wet hammock. What if the Rays added a player from their overflowing catcher position to the mix as an tasty add-on to the trade? This would bring  the addition of experience and potential veteran presence to the Cubs currently young catching corps.

With the Rays recently getting veteran catcher Kelly Shoppach as another catching option for the team, the Rays currently have an overflow of catching talent. And this potential problem could be addressed quickly with the addition of one of the Rays rostered catchers being added to the Burrell/Bradley trade. It could be a spicy addition to the deal to entice the Cubs take the deal, as well as remove a catching decision by the Rays.

Flashing into my mind last night was the addition of Rays catcher Dioner Navarro to become a valuable veteran for the Cubs roster. Having Navarro’s presence as a back-up behind the plate should take pressure off Cubs starter Geovany Soto in 2010, and help him rebound after a bad 2009 season. Adding to this possible trade equation the fact that the Cubs current back-up catcher is also arbitration eligible, maybe the Rays and Cubs can include the arbitration eligible Navarro as a  clear upgrade to the position.

The Cubs currently have Koyie Hill as their back-up catcher, and he did appear in 83 Cubs games in 2009. That is over half of the Cubs  162 games where the back-up catcher was needed by the team to provide offense and stability.  With Hill entering his third season with the Cubs in 2010 and a total combined 179 games during his Major League career, he pales in comparison to veteran Navarro.

Navarro has appeared in 490 games during his Major League career and has a career .253 average with 33 HR and 173 RBI over that span.  And in the wind-aided confines of Wrigley Field, those numbers are sure to increase dramatically. Hill in comparison has a MLB career .213 average with 5 HR and 49 RBI.

The potential additional piece of Navarro to the trade brings an instant upgrade in power at the catching position, which is currently missing in the Cubs line-up. And considering that Soto did miss 26 games from July to August in 2009 with a left oblique strain,then came back to hit on .128 in August 2009,. His 0198 average in his 32 games since his return from the Disabled List might be of concern for the Cubs heading into 2010. This might be a clear indicator that a veteran offensive back-up catcher is a clear need for the team.

And with the Cubs adding up to a estimated $6 million to the Rays as salary relief in the deal, maybe the Rays can trim that amount to say, $5 million if the Cubs let Navarro’s name be added to the deal. It can be a great potential arbitration dowry or money chip for the Cubs to consider Navarro in the deal. With Hill making only $ 475,000 in 2009, it is estimated that he could get close to $1 million in arbitration.


Steve Nesius / AP

Navarro, who made $ 2.1 million in 2009, is estimated to maybe increasing to $2.5 million for 2010. With a saving of a $1 million salary chip in the Cubs hands after the Bradley trade, the team could add a valuable piece to their 2010 arsenal in catching power and experience.
And with Soto having a sub-par 2009 after a stellar 2008 National League All Star and Rookie of the Year season, Navarro would provide an instant answer for Cubs Manager Lou Piniella if Soto dramatically regresses or begins the year in another slump. 

The playoff experience and leadership of Navarro can provide instant credibility to the Cubs catching corps. With the Rays having three potential Major League catchers stuck at the minor league level in Shawn Riggans, John Jaso, and Joe Lobaton, the trading of Navarro would provide a chance for one of them to excel and possibly gain a spot on the Rays 25-man roster in 2010.

There will be a trade of Burrell and Bradley sometime this off season. The trade result might not include both the Rays and Cubs unless something is done to make the deal sweeter for the Cubs. This new trade idea gives relief to both franchises of their potential “bad contracts” while also adding another nice trade piece to the Cubs that will strengthen their roster.  For both Burrell and Navarro this trade would/could be a fresh start for both of them.

With the Rays potentially getting Bradley, they will have to make some concessions somewhere down the line to get this deal completed. By adding Navarro, they could bring this trade to a fast conclusion if the Cubs look at the potential of both  Soto and Navarro hitting above their 2009 averages and giving no offensive or defensive slack if either is inserted into the lineup.

Bradley currently has a provision in his Cubs contract where he gets a suite for every road series. And Burrell would get a possible $200,000 if he is traded during the duration of his contract. But those are minor pieces with the big picture of this deal getting completed by either team. In the long run,the Rays could get another shot to see if Bradley, the player the Rays pursued hard during the 2009 free agent season is the missing piece to their playoff formula.


Brian Blanco / AP

If I stand back and look at the possible idea of including Navarro as a trade piece to this puzzle. It really looks like a great solution to this deal happening before the end of the 2009. I know I am not privy to the inter working of the Rays front office, but in my mindset, this addition to the Burrell/Bradley scenario would make the Cubs a potential big winner in the overall scheme of this deal while also helping the Rays subtract a possible problem within their own roster.

And how rare is it for two teams to both come out as winner in a potential trade. In this scenario, both could come away smiling from ear-to-ear.
 

Could Pena be gone in 2010?

 


Mike Carlson / AP

It is kind of weird to think of this Tampa Bay Rays squad without a few of its veteran players gone before the 2010 season. It is not like with the Free Agent market ready to heat up on Friday the Rays are looking to unload or even sign someone of extreme value to replace a current Rays player, but would you see the Tampa Bay Rays in the same powerful light if they were missing a player like Carlos Pena? 

When I remember back over the last two seasons for memorable Rays moments, or game changing plays, Pena’s name seems to be one of the first ones to pop into my mind every time. His style of cool,calm and collected attitude during the game has taken both himself and this team to new heights since the Rays signed him to a minor league deal several years ago. And Pena’s  laid-back style both at the plate and in the field has risen  his game to extreme heights while he has been here. 

He has been the upbeat and soft-spoken leader of this Rays clubhouse ever since he stepped into it back in 2007. Who can forget his finest moment of upbeat personality  when even after he was told by Rays Manager Joe Maddon that he was being optioned to the minor leagues before the end of Spring Training in 2007, Pena remained focused and clear that he would soon see his Rays teammates. And who can ever forget when Pena disclosed his revelation of a premonition during a night time dream of him being on that charter flight with his Rays teammates to New York to start the 2007 season.

That in itself tells me that this Rays team might have been his squad all along, and we were just passengers on his ride to the top. From the beginning of his rebirth in the MLB by winning the 2007 Comeback Player of the Year award, to his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award, the Rays GQ-styled first baseman has gained not only the respect of the fans, but of MLB players throughout the league. And I have a feeling his 2009 All Star selection is not the last time we will see Pena accepting an award…..not by a long shot.

So when a fellow Rays blog mentioned that maybe it was time for the Rays to consider trading Pena before his contract is up at the end of 2010, it kind of shocked me that we might be seeing the end to another era here in Tampa Bay. That after all the growth we have seen by Pena and this team, we might end up seeing him traded away late in the 2010 season, or maybe even packing up and saying goodbye at this time next season.


Bill Kostroun/ AP

And right now both those notions do not seem like a logical, rationale thing to happen, but the reality is that Pena is in the last year of his contract ( $10.125 million), and his agent is Scott Boras who is renowned to being hard pressed to seeing even a dollar squeeze past his clients. That at some point from today on we might have to consider that Pena might not start, or even finish the 2010 season wearing a Rays jersey.

It is an unfortunate fact of baseball life that players leave or get traded at points in their careers. But you got the feeling here that maybe Pena might have finally found a comfortable spot to place his glove and bat every day, and maybe selfishly I wanted him to retire a Ray. But the stark reality is that Pena has a few years left in his tank, and maybe he will not be within the Rays budget restrictions in 2011. Just like Crawford, it might be an instant reality check that the team will have to find options and create fluid change if Pena were to leave the squad.

But is this the right time to be considering such a drastic change like this? I mean the guy is about to finally get that cast and those pins pulled from his hand and begin some initial hitting drills. Can he have any real high-side trade value before he reports to Spring Training? And even if a team did consider him before the 2010 season, isn’t his $ 10 million contract a monetary distraction to most teams?

But considering the offensive awards and the defensive accolades Pena has received the last few seasons, his contract might be considerably an extreme value right now in comparison with his colleagues around the Major Leagues. I would think Boras for one thinks Pena’s current worth is “out of whack” when considering his talent level and potential.

Pena rebuilt his baseball career when he signed with the Rays in 2007. He came to us as a player who was released by the Yankees and Boston farm systems as a secondary player, and maybe both of those franchises at the time felt Pena might not reach his potential again. But the stark reality is the correlation of Pena and the Rays up-surge happened at the same time. Both the player and the team began to excel and blast past expectations.  Ahh, what a difference a year can make in a players career.

I do not want to consider a 2010 season without Pena’s solid defense at first base. No disrespect to Rays players Willy Aybar or Ben Zobrist, but it is hard to replace a diamond with cubic zurconia and feel the same sparkle off the ring. Zorilla could be a solution, and could grow into the position in 2010, but why test fate now? Why would you consider trading the top offensive weapon on your team the last few years when the corner has finally been taken by the Rays.

And hasn’t Pena been a great piece of the puzzle to put in the lineup behind Evan Longoria and make teams pitch to the young star. If Pena was not in the Rays lineup, would Longoria get the same pitches if Zobrist or even Burrell followed him in the lineup? I would think Pena was the perfect piece to put in that spot because of his potential to turn on any pitch and send it deep.


Mike Carlson / AP

I really hope that at some point in the 2010 season I do not have to write a blog telling people why I am going to miss Pena. But we all know with the realities of this baseball business, anyone can be replaced in a moments notice. 2010 is not even here yet and I can feel the winds of change in the air. This coming season is an important one in the Rays development. Changes is in the air, but hopefully it will be later and not earlier in the season.

But in this ever changing business of baseball these days, you never know what will happen. And with the completion of the fast and furious trade of Rays veteran starting pitcher Scott Kazmir right before the end of August 2009, we know that no one is safe, not even an offensive/defensive weapon like Pena. But hopefully we will be able to say goodbye this time. Hopefully if something was to happen and Pena was to leave the Rays before the end of 2010, we will get to see that smile and maybe even see Pena do that dance one more time.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 279 other followers