Results tagged ‘ Rays Renegade ’

Say It Ain’t So Joe!

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I so want to pop on one of those hipster caps, clutch a bundle of newspapers and wander outside Ava’s in South Tampa right now and mimic that great cinematic scene and scream: “Say it ain’t so Joe, say it ain’t so!

imagesI wasn’t a firm believer in Maddon when he was announced as the Tampa Bay Rays Manager almost a decade ago. But then I did not want that other “Joe” either who wears pinstripes to manage my then D-Rays.

I was uninformed of his love of computerized stats, reports, graphs and believing in the numbers as much as a hunch, feeling or a spur of the moment stroke of genius.

But I quickly became a follower.

images (7)So yeah, it irks me a bit today when I heard the Rays will lose their in-house musical and entertainment savant who decided his tenure with the Rays will cease now rather than extend his stay or do a “farewell” year as a lame duck Rays skipper.

I was on pins and needles the first few times I heard Maddon during interviews and as my resistance to his style of baseball waned, I began to march to the beat of his drum and began to stand solid behind this new essence of the Rays with this Mad Man with his black-rimmed glasses at the helm.

images (3)From his want to “give back” to his adopted Tampa Bay community with his “ThanksMas” innovative program that fed and let struggling and homeless individuals around this region know that the Rays, their employees and Maddon believed in them through their culinary show of love.

Maddon quickly won my heart by his charity, intelligence and want to make his Rays teams not only successful, but a benchmark of how to evolve and transform players and veteran into a victorious hodge-podge of inspiring and aspiring Tampa Bay sports icons.

20141024_140329I was one of the first to pop my name and money down for the inaugural first rendition of the  “Maddon’s Mad Men” that quickly reformed as the “Maddon’s Maniacs” and became a spirited group of Rays fans who voiced and showed their support for the Rays main guy.

Maddon  grew on me. From his courage to bench a disgruntled Delmon Young, then sending the ROY candidate to Minnesota. It showed courage, but it also showed that he was not above jettisoning a promising player if he felt it might poison the Rays clubhouse, or provide unneeded drama.

images (24)What was really amazing was how when Delmon returned 6 years later in the final month of the 2013 season there was a level of respect shown towards Maddon that was not there in 2007. It was never said aloud, but you got to know Maddon was pleased Young had matured, developed and could again help the Rays cause, now as a veteran.

a3I was amazed at the way the “Magical Summer of Baseball” transpired this franchise and energize not only the Rays, but the whole Tampa Bay community. That process started with Maddon chatting with the guys on the turf of the Namoli Complex in St. Petersburg, transformed during the season peaking as he accepted the American League Championship Trophy from his former boss’s wife and ended among the rain puddles in Citizen Bank Park.

But that 2008 success only made you want to root for him more, want to again see him on the post season stage ready to pull a wily play out of his notepad, or pop up his palm for a enthusiastic high-five as a Ray returned to the dugout.

images (23)It saddens me we will not see Joe hoist a World Series trophy here in Tampa Bay. Bothers me that this happens now when the sting and bite of Andrew Friedman leaving for western pastures in Chavez Ravine and his team maybe again on the verge of something special.

PajamaI’m going to miss the team head cheerleader who brought fun back to road trips via planned events, the manning of T-shirts, jerseys or even PJ’s to bring some comic relief and energy into leaving the confines of home for 7-10 day ventures around the country.

I mean Maddon was a man who embraced our region for its positives and negatives, became a R V owner, a local restaurateur and somehow during all of this got some of us (even me) back on a bike wandering this great area on trails and back road rediscovering our region.

images (4)He helped transform the Rays culture on the field, in the stands and even might have instilled the first healthy clubhouse in the MLB when fresh food, healthy options and smoothies intertwined into the Rays pre and postgame lifestyle.

But most of all I’m going to miss the guy who truly had become the Captain of our Rays ship. Taking us to places no one else had, be it post season, managing an All-Star team or even giving us all cause to further embrace our community be it through humanitarian or even social efforts.

images (18)While some are going to have to take some time to come to terms with this, get over their confusion and angry moments, we all knew this day was going to come. We all knew that one day you would take that Rays hoodie off for the last time. Hang up the Elmer Fudd winter Rays cap and venture on with your life somewhere else, but we had envisioned that years away.

But even if the time was only 9 season, it was a true pleasure knowing you Skipper. Was a treat to hear you take, to see what antic or item might show up at a press conference or be presented to your players in the Club house (my favorite was Cliff, the penguin).

images (25)Joe, where ever you go, whatever your next destination I want you to know I still cherish, relish and embrace all the “Maddon Maniacs” knickknacks, T-shirts and photos taken with you over your Rays tenure.

But seriously Joe……..”Say it ain’t so!”

Big Game James Adorns the Big Stage Again

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I swear I wish I could have been a bug in Kansas City Royals P James Shields ear when he was handed the American League Trophy tonight because I would have had him scream, “Hello Gorgeous, Did you miss me?  I sure missed you?”

images (8)Has it really been 6 years since Shields last grasped this golden lady as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays.  It seems like oh so long ago that Shields and one of his team again ventured into the Fall Classic.

But this is one of the reasons Shields plays this game. To be a part of the team that elevates their game to the highest level of style and play to showcase their young and veteran talents on the World Series stage.

Sure this time around Shields might have a few more miles on his arm, but with his added bonus of being on this stage before, he can inspire and show some of his younger teammates how to harness the energy and bottle it up for game time.

download (1)For a long time some within the Rays Republic knew Shields would get back to the World Series and were truly stunned when the Rays traded him and RP Wade Davis to their small market brethren.

Some have even wondered recently which team got the better end of that deal, and at this moment if you ask anyone….You might imagine the scale is tipped in the Royals favor. How ironic was it that the main player in that Rays and Royals deal was one of the first people to take to Twitter and show his enthusiasm and joy for the Royals team that drafted him not so long ago.

Wil Myers ‏@wilmyers  2h2 hours ago

“Congrats to the #Royals! Happy for everyone in that organization.”

images (7)I am so happy for Shields. He is one of the former Rays players I hoped would again grace the biggest stage in baseball. I wanted see “Big Game” again get a chance at collecting another bit of baseball immortality by winning a World Series.

I know his 2008 Tampa Bay Rays teammate Jonny Gomes got his piece of bling first, but you know Shields will cherish it, caress it, possibly design some sort of epic new fashion statement around it. (I’m wearing his 1st Rays T-shirt creation as I write this post).

download (2)Seriously, how awesome is it that Big Game James get to once again toe the rubber in Game 1 of a World Series and possibly set an early tone in who could possibly be the last team standing in 2014.

images (3)I can see it now with my 162 stitch crystal baseball as Royals ace Big Game James taking the hill on 3 days rest in Game 7, all tied at 3, winner takes all.

And you know who I want to win….and thrust skyward the World Series MVP Trophy.

Now it’s up to Shields and the Royals to finish the season on a grand scale on a year that can never be tarnished.  

 

I Love That Guthrie Ruffled a Few O’s Feathers

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Come on Orioles faithful, I always thought you had a thicker skin.

I mean seriously, you are going to get all hot and bothered about a T-shirt won by a starter that beat you in a competitive fight for who gets to host the first 2014 World Series game? 

downloadAre these the same O’s squad that thumped their chest mightily upon the Camden Yard grass after sweeping the mighty, mighty Tigers and proclaiming the “ best was yet to come”.

Doesn’t sound like the same team, or the same confident fan base right now. I should not matter one iota if the O’s are not royalty outside the friendly confines of the Charm City, you knew there were  going to be peril ahead, but letting a cotton blend T-shirt be your albatross……Did not see that coming.

I mean this is a city that boasts such nicknames as Mobtown, Monument City, The City of Firsts and my personal favorite, The Land of Pleasant Living.  Hate to say it, but being down 0-3 in a 7 game series doesn’t project pleasant images or optimism to me at this critical juncture.

imagesSeriously, you got to give it to the imagination of your mid-West foes to come up with something like this that got so deep under your fan base’s feathers that it bothers you to this extent. I always thought the Balti crew had thick feathers, but now maybe we have seen someone show a crack in your 2014 armor.

Just chalk this one episode up to the creative juices possibly flowing from the fountains of Kauffman Stadium and hope your team doesn’t see a raven, but an oriole perched upon their visiting dugout during your 4th chance at trying to break the Royal’s ever tightening grip and choke out your 2014 black and orange hopes and dreams of getting to the World Series.

I actually applaud wearing the T-shirt to a winning post-game presser. I was not done to directly humiliate the Baltimore team, your squad has humiliated themselves quite nicely being down 3-0 and currently losing Game 4, which would be a bit Poe-etic.

2663963Heck, I would have made a celebratory Royals tongue-in-cheek T-shirt for your possible elimination featuring a Royal with a mason’s trowel in hand placing bricks with a bound and sweating Oriole within the wall……My own twisted ALCS head tilt to your homegrown macabre master Edgar Allan Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado”.

Jeremy Guthrie was just having fun in the moment. Chill out, or this series will be quickly over and we might not be able to “Quote the Oriole…nevermore…nevermore!”

From Bait to Predatory…Friedman Leaves a Grand Rays Legacy.

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I’m going to miss Andrew Friedman.

I think we all kind of saw this coming whether you wanted to admit it or not. Friedman was truly that proverbial fish thrown into the deep end of the Major League Baseball pond where money ruled and stockpiling talent and expecting grand results was but a pipedream.

images (2)He was a part of a franchise where other teams fan bases flooded Tropicana Field and branded it such names as “Fenway South”. He inherited a job that had broken more experienced men and because of the Rays formidable financial restrictions, a team payroll that basically tied his fins together until he found his own unique way to swim alongside and eventually surpass the once omnipotent MLB sharks.

images (1)I mean the guy started out as a optimistic minnow learning to swim in infested waters that could have easily made the Rays into consistent seasonal fodder for the large market sharks, but Friedman brought his experience and innovative tactics he honed as a rising star in the financial field and evolved it into a solid and marketable foundation for a small market franchise to find success in these infested waters.

Friedman used the essence of risk management combined with largely successful algorithms and processes that turned a franchise once mired in a losing persona that emerged within a few years into the 2008 American League Champions.

And that my friends is one glorious legacy to pen onto your baseball resume.

download (1)Sure Friedman was but one sharp point of the Rays successful trident during his tenure that also contained Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg and then Team President Matt Silverman, but Friedman was the  man out front of it all taking the good and bad hits, being the confident and consistent soldier.

Silverman will now man Friedman’s old VP of Baseball Operations chair and Brain Auld will take a step up and become the Rays new Team President, but do not expect too much of a backslide as Friedman, Sternberg and Silverman it is said could finish each other’s sentences.

Some will be quick to point out that Friedman is vacating his seat as the Rays saw their 6 consecutive winning seasons and 4 post season appearances since 2008 come to an unexpected end.

images (2)It is easy to point to another’s person’s faults as they leave to embark on another challenge especially with a large market franchise that is the total opposite of the Rays organization. But no matter your personal opinion on Friedman’s departure, ponder for a moment where this franchise might of ended up without his ideas, guidance and up-tempo perseverance.

ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian once said of Friedman: “ His emphasis on scouting and player development, his ability to piece together a contending team each year despite limited financial resources and his astute use of sabermetrics have made the Rays an organization that others try to emulate, though usually without nearly as much success”.  

Say what you want about Friedman’s departure, but realize he has grown so much from that small minnow in the pond surrounded by hungry predators that commanded the other 20-odd M L B franchises.

imagesFriedman has definitely matured within the game in his years with the Rays, brought targeted innovations as blueprints for other small market teams successes as well as brought the Rays out of the deep darkness within the MLB pond to become a consistent antagonist to the rest of the MLB fishery.

Guess it is time to admit for one last time the once defensive minded minnow that was Friedman has now fully evolved into a species of the same predatory animal that commanded the MLB for years.

Maturing from a minnow to a shark, now that’s the Rays Way.

Would Any of the Rays be Heroes or Zeroes During a Zombie Apocalypse? ?

 

Ever wonder who among your friends, family or even those you might not care for too much would be victims, victors or conscientious observers if there was a Zombie Apocalypse?

The Tampa Bay Rays media zombinos’, who really do not have much Rays baseball right now to produce or edit right now came up with a great little Q&A clip asking some of the current Rays how they thought might be the first tasty nugget, be oblivious or might even volunteer to partake in the Zombie lifestyle.

Zombies-In-FLSome of the answers were quite interesting, and a few of them unfortunately were a bit obvious.

But seriously, if something were to transpire, would anyone on the Rays squad or staff have the supplies, courage or gumption to stave off a possible invasion of pinstriped or zombies speaking a crazy New England accent?

You bet there are a few I think might have thought this out ahead, possibly using the University of Florida Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide devised by the college a few years ago.

The thing that might worry me most is if it would happen during the season or during the team’s time off? I mean if the team were spread all over the country without their Rays resources, I suspect it would raise the percentages of players like Chris Archer, Wil Myers or maybe even Drew Smyly being devoured as they would not have the support and resources of the Rays as they both like to be outside supporting their causes with the masses.

downloadI know for sure Rays Travel Sec/Clubhouse Zombie Survivalist Chris Westmoreland (a Gator lover) would have supplies and maybe even a few nifty tricks of his own hidden among the many storerooms and darkened spaces underneath Tropicana Field.  I mean the guy goes everywhere prepared for the best and worst scenarios, so you know he has something planned out, even if it never happens (or so they say).

And we all know Rays Manager Joe Maddon, Third Base Coach Tom Foley will organize a eat-in possibility for the zombies featuring a buffet meal made by the Rays skipper and Rays staffers serving brains, entrails and other delicacies every zombie craves along with a T-shirt so they can show others they were at the “Zom Nom Nom” event.

As for guys on the squad, I agree Jeremy Hellickson would surrender, possibly offer himself as an autograph signer and early appetizer for Maddon’s Zom Nom Nom as the guy already has the perfect zombie nickname ”Hellboy”.

images-cropI know Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi, Video Coordinator aka “Wichita” or “Chico” Fernandez will have Cursi’s back as they seem to always be a team effort off the field. Seriously, with the gear Cursi wears for games and Chico’s cunning and skill set, these two might be the guys to be around if it ever hit the fan.

But there are a few other who might not go down so easy such as Grant Balfour who might just scare the zombies away with his blue-streaked verbal altercation followed by a nice stiff fastball to the cranium. If I was a zombie I do not think I would mess with the “Agitated Aussie”, or wear the 162 stitch reminder of the encounter on my forehead forever.

images (1)Kevin Kiermaier and Vince Belnome who love the outdoors and are avid hunters and fisherman might just crack back their crossbows and let a few fly long and hard into an unsuspecting zombie hoard.

Along that same line you might see  Rays VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman transform his inner want to not be a part of the “walking dead” , but give the Rays every opportunity on the battlefield to be successful. Possibly get a few players from the Las Vegas Area 51 minor league squad or the Albuquerque Isotopes for a few Bowling Green Hot Rods prospects.

Seriously here folks with shows on the air like “The Walking Dead”, “The Last Ship”, “The Strain” and possibly many more in production, are the people in the entertainment world trying to tell and warn us  of something currently just beyond our horizon?

maxresdefaultWho knows what the answer is, but if there is just such an event and you see that Rays players James Loney, Jose Molina and Jeremy Hellickson are signing for fans……Be wary, be very wary of them being used as bait for that always hungry pinstriped mob.

Wonder if Luke Scott would be willing to sign a Zombie incentive-laced contract? We know that guy can shoot, plus he has the right mental aptitude, but he has to wear the Chewy mask….That would be a moral imperative.

Who do you think among the Rays squad would survive, be devoured or just plain go bonkers on some undead rival fans?

 

 

 

4 Former Rays in the Fight for a A L C S Ring

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This weekend  as teams in the American League made their final pushed to secure a American League Divisional Series crown, several former Tampa Bay Rays had their own imprints on who and how these ALDS series would end.

By966ImCYAAkoPbWith regards to hurlers, we saw 2 American League Central division rivals who on Sunday took to their pitching mounds on opposite sides of our nation’s shores battle it out to either extinguish or extend their team’s post season dream.

We all sat and witnessed early on Sunday as Detroit Tigers southpaw David Price provided his team an ample chance to extend their A L D S series, their once potent bats went suddenly silent and with it the Tigers were swept by the Baltimore Orioles.

images (5)Price only made one untimely judgment during his 8 inning, 5-hit, 2-run appearance on a lone pitch that Baltimore DH Nelson Cruz sent to right field for a 2-run Home Run that also secured all the runs the Orioles would need to sweep their A L D S series against the Tigers in away confines of Comerica Field.

And as Price and his team gathered their packed their gear for the last time in 2014 , another former Rays pitcher was to write himself into the M L B history books.  

Just a time zone away as the Orioles celebrated their A L D S conclusion with their home fans, James Shields and his Royals teammates were in the midst of securing their own ticket to the ALCS and provided yet another unique story line to the Royals ever-expanding Cinderella storybook postseason.

download (1)Shields might have given up an early Home Run to Mike Trout to spot the Angels a 1-0 lead, but his teammates had his back on this day.  The Royals provided their own 3-run barrage in the bottom of the 1st to give Shields some much needed run support and with additional 2-run bursts in the bottom of the 3rd and 4th innings, provided all the offensive firepower needed for the Royals.

The Royals did not only defeat the heavily favored Angels on Sunday, but finished off their A L D S sweep of the Angels in front of their home fans.

Shields provided an adequate 6 inning,  6-hit, 2-run outing that were only tarnished by Home Runs by Trout and Albert Pujols. The Angels 2 most powerful hitters could of changed the series landscape , but their solo HRs were the only runs given up by Shields.

Interesting side note, the only other Angels run was given up by former Rays RP Wade Davis who came on in the top of the 8th inning when former Rays farm hand Josh Hamilton scored Howie Kendrick from Third Base to plate the last run of the contest for the visiting Angels.

images (1)The Orioles also boast two other former Rays in INF Kelly Johnson and DH/OF Delmon Young. Now I’m really happy to see Johnson get a chance at the post season and especially as he has been on the roster of almost everyone in the American League East at some point in the last 2 seasons.

Johnson deserves this kind of celebratory goodness as the guy is a team player who just enjoys the game and still gets excited when he sees his name on the line-up card.  

My personal feelings aside about Delmon Young, I’m glad he got to see his former team, the Tigers, leave the field as he enjoyed celebrating a A L D S title with his new O’s squad.

Johnson was an intricate pick-up for the O’s near the end of the season bringing in the versatile Johnson to play wherever needed, and providing a stop-gap at Third Base that was left vulnerable by Manny Machado’s late season ending injury.

Johnson’s only appearance in the A L D S was as a pinch-hitter for Caleb Joseph in Game 2 in the 8th inning and he flied out to center field. 

downloadYoung however did not only get a chance to shine in Game 2 himself, but his pinch-hit 3-RBI double into deep left field for Ryan Flaherty  plated the games winning run in the Orioles 7-6 victory.

Young’s heroic pinch hit during game 2 got him a start in left field for Game 3, but he was lifted for David Lough in the top of the 9th inning after going 0-3 on the day.

Still, Young and Johnson should be on the Baltimore A L D S roster when the A L C S contests begin Friday, October 10th in Camden Yards with the Royals sending Shields to the hill to try and give the Orioles their first defeat of the 2014 post seeason.

Going to be interesting to see if Shields or Davis get a chance (or two) to face their former teammate Young, or Johnson during the A L C S.

By9r9YVCcAAYjttNo matter who’s squad ends up winning the 2013 American League crown,  I am proud as heck of Shields, Davis, Johnson and even Young for being parts of their team want and hope to raise not only banners, but champagne on their quest for a World Series journey.  

And lest we forget, because the American League defeated the National League in the 2014 All-Star Game, the World Series will ultimately begin soon enough in either Baltimore or Kansas City.

Never would have envisioned these two teams fighting for the right to represent their league in the World Series. Proves once again there is no such thing as a “sure thing” in regards to baseball, and I would not have it any other way.P

 

 

 

Tampa Fires First Rays Stadium Volley

 

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Boom!

First savoy concerning the Tampa Bay Rays future home has now been ceremonially sent over the city of  St. Petersburg’s bow.

No warning shot, no cautionary parlay, just plain old pirate warfare at its finest.

The cannon ball pierced the daytime sky and cut to the chase the St. Pete rivals wants and desires for the Rays franchise. Sure this first volley was not a direct hit by the larger metropolitan city who seems to have money to burn, and a populous eager to fill the seat of a still invisible stadium somewhere among their vast and ever expanding city limits.

download (1)It is the first move by our rival city to steal yet another sports franchise from St. Petersburg. I know some of you who have not lived here all your life might not know the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning and Arena Football’s Tampa Bay Storm used to play under the tiled roof of Tropicana Field known back then as “the Thunderdome”.

Sure those two teams might have envisioned their stay in the Trop. as “layovers”, but Tampa has never really gotten over the fact St. Petersburg, before John C Williams and Peter Demens bought their tracts of land and laid their tracks was part of Hillsborough County.

In fact, before Demens won his bet to name the city after his own birthplace, St. Petersburg, Russia, this little oasis bordered by water on 3-sides was called Hillsboro Point.  Sometimes I truly feel the reason for such hostility among the residents of these two cities is such a childish case of peninsula envy.

imagesSo the Hillsborough County Commission (HCC) voted on Weds to let the region’s top sports management icon, the Tampa Sports Authority (TSA) to act as their proxy in initiating a up front assault on poaching the Tampa Bay Rays from the clutches of St. Petersburg.

Come on, that is right in line with the thought processes of a quasi-pirate city to evoke a cannon fodder attack, send in the mercenaries from the riggings and let them take the pure frontal attack and counter measures themselves without the Hillsborough County Commission getting any blood or grime on their Sunday best.

And in a way it is smart. The TSA is a regional sports heavy hitter who has the monetary coffers to rebuff financial penalties that could be imposed by the city of St. Pete as well as a slew of Barbary lawyer types who have fought this type of battle before within the scope of sports relocation and providing adequate advance piles of legal paper that would choke even the most enthusiastic St. Pete counter attack.

download (2)Since TSA is only acting as an agent of the HCC, they are not a city trying to poach or do a classic snatch and grab of the Rays, they are a proxy agent of St. Petersburg’s neighbor to the west trying to entice and entertain the Rays voluntarily packing their suitcases and making a move knowing they have a legal ammo and financial booty in their treasure chests to stave off a St. Petersburg cloak and dagger move of their own.

With one of the Rays biggest early supporters, former St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster now job-less and bobbing in the briny Tampa Bay deep, his Mayoral predecessor, Rick Kriseman has recently approached the Rays to sit and institute a mutual parlay of sorts and with that, the H C C and  Tampa saw their chance to evoke their will and appoint the T S A as their own envoy to parlay on their behalf in regards to a future Rays home in their vista, not in the haven of St. Petersburg.

download (3)The H C C also on Weds. Appointed a small group to scout out stadium locations, seek out viable ways of funding such a venture as well as possibly begin working out some sort of agreement between the Rays and the HCC and Tampa.

Believe me the Tampa group has the population, corporate numbers as well as the financial ingenuity to evoke the Rays gaze from the St. Petersburg or Pinellas  County possible stadium sites. On their side also was the well-known opinions of Major League Baseball that the region would never be host to World Baseball Classic contests or a potential All-Star game as long as the area’s only baseball vista was Tropicana Field.

Within the volley over St. Petersburg’s bow was this comment by H C C Commissioner Ken Hagan: ” I’am cautiously optimistic that the time is very near. The message that we want to send today to Major League Baseball and the Rays is that Hillsborough County is ready, and we’re ready to hit the ground running when that time comes and I am hopefully it is imminent.”

images (1)It is going to be interesting to see what St. Petersburg, or for that matter, the St. Pete. City Attorney and City Council decide in a counter attack to this sly but well executed verbal volley by their regional rivals.

Will St. Pete send a legal counter, a frontal attack showing Tampa and Hillsborough will have to raise their funds via a tax hike or possibly legal referendums, to fight back that any region wanting this team will not only have to pay the Rays lease amounts through 2027, but will pay mightily if they want to steal this gem from the clutches of St. Pete’s hand.

And do not think for a moment the Rays fans in Sarasota, Manatee, Pasco and the rest of Pinellas County are not watching this battle with some concern. If the team went East, some of most of these fans would not be Season Ticket holders as their commute would double in some cases and their Rays ventures might be limited to weekend packs or limited visits.

images (2)This battle is not only about St. Pete versus Tampa, this whole region and the scattered Rays fan base all have to be both worried and happy someone has finally thought to beginning the discussion again for a Rays future home and that the first volleys have been fired.

Believe me, this is going to get really nasty and downright costly to one party before it is all sign, sealed and delivered.

May be best city win (as long as it’s St. Pete/Pinellas County).

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.

 

 

Peering Through the Rays Looking Glass- Hurlers

15Rays

 

Rays “Man about the Stands” Todd Kalas has informed us all that with a Kansas City or Oakland win tonight (9/19/14), the Rays will be mathematically eliminated from any more post season banter in 2014.

With that in mind, it is time for the second installment of “Peering through the Rays Looking Glass” and focus today on the Rays pitching corps for 2015.

057Going into the spring of 2015 this has to be one of the most secure spots within the Rays organization, but there are some changes that could, should or will happen before the boys again unpack their gear in Port Charlotte in February 2015.

So let’s start with the obvious first here. The Rays rotation might need a few tweaks, but there also might be an omission or deletion before the team again assembles for that yearly pre-Spring pep talk by Joe Ma on the green grass.

I definitely have been hearing great things on the progress of Matt Moore in his rehab and come spring, I consider him 1-L on the Rays starting rotation chart. Sure that might seem funny to some, but has been the case here in Tampa Bay for some time, there are 2 starters who deserve that # 1 position heading into 2015.

thI1Y37WIMOf course I have already assigned one half of that equation to Moore, and it only seem appropriate and totally earned that Alex Cobb will be the Rays 1-R or top right-handed option heading into next season. I’m not going to attach either to a #1 or #2 slot basically because I’m not sure yet which kind of order the Rays Front Office and Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey envision to be the best fit.

That being said, these two names will be at the top of the chart no matter the decision, and that decision will also fully decide the 3-5 slots also.

Just as the Rays #1 and #2  Rays pitching matchups are probably months away from being in some sort of concrete mode, the Rays # 3 and #4 spots might also be a total guess work right now and are totally interchangeable at this moment.

But even with that in mind, Rays left-hander Drew Smyly and Chris Archer should definitely be more than penciled in as the Rays middle rotation guys with either taking the #3 or #4 slot possibly based on a L-R-L-R rotation mix or Maddon could go L-R-R-L giving the Rays possibly a southpaw in every series being blanketed by a tough right-hander.

thILL9QYITEven though Jake Odorizzi produced a very respectable 2014 season and popped out great starts throughout 2004, I suspect he will face a nice dose of competition this spring to hold onto the Rays 5th rotation spot.  I can easily imagine Merrill Kelly, Alex Colome and possibly a veteran being signed by the Rays on the cheap to battle it out in spring training for this last rotation slot.

As Maddon always says, “Pitching sets the tone” again in 2015 on just how far or how low the Rays end up early or late in the American League East standings.

You might notice I did not include Jeremy Hellickson this rotation list. I think that this winter the Rays will definitely offer him up as a trade piece not only because he seems a bit injury prone, but because his salary is only going to rise and he might not be the solid investment for the Rays he was just 2 seasons ago. I would not be surprised if a change of scenery sparks Hellboy back into a frenzy quite possibly to the heights experienced by former Rays P Scott Kazmir this year in Oakland.

thG080DJ9VUnlike Price, Hellboy has not seen his stock rise in value the last few years and it might be time for the Rays to let Hellickson try another vista and re-establish himself.

Some have labeled 2014 a disaster year for the Rays because of their less than .500 overall record and their lack of offensive excellence, but the Rays found out in 2014 that this young staff will step up, will compete and will produce wins even with a less than desired run support by the field players.

But there is also another set of hurlers who will have a say in 2015 and just how far and fast the Rays can rebound again to regain their winning ways.

Leftie Jake McGee has more than shown us in 2014 that he has the right stuff to be our last line of defense, but some of the other pieces of the Rays Bullpen puzzle might have bigger question marks after lackluster 2014 seasons.

Bruce Boxberger’s pitching arm definitely will get him another shot in 2015 to stay at the M L B level, and if he can stay consistent, his spot on the Rays roster can only grow more secure with each great outing.

th02DTSMX8Even though Grant Balfour has another year on his contract with the Rays, he might be a nice piece of bait to wiggle out there for a team that needs a veteran closer who never lets his baseball fires burn out. I like Balfour and his fire, but the money spent on him could be used to bring in 2 relief pieces and with a team that will be pinching pennies ‘til they scream, Balfour is  a cautiously expendable commodity that could be in high demand somewhere else this winter.

You might think the Rays might have an easy decision to make this winter on Joel Peralta, who has been a fine set-up piece for the team. Starting this winter, the Rays hold 3 different club options on Joel in 2015-17. I do not see Peralta going anywhere, but depending on the size of cuts the team will have to make on payroll heading into 2015, his worth to the Rays teeters more on the good side than bad.

thXVN39TTLAlex Colome, who is now out of minor league options could be key pieces to any 2015 realignment of the Rays bullpen. Colome could easily be either the Rays 5th starter, spot starter or just inherit the long reliever slot in the bullpen. Colome has at least 2 more starts in the Rays rotation in 2014, but an impressive 2015 spring could hoist his name easily as a 5th slot contender.

With young relievers like Steve Getz, Brandon Gomes, Jeff Beliveau, Cesar Ramos, Kirby Yate and even C J Riefenhauser getting time this year to impress the Rays in extended looks and chances in 2015, one of the Rays next waves of players being selected from the minors might have a definite reliever flavor.

Some might think the name of the Rays Reliever of the Year and current Durham Bulls closer Adam Liberatore should be pushed onto this list. Sure he will get a spring major league camp invite, but the Rays still  have a hand full of minor league options on him and could bring him in more for seasoning and extended work with the M L B staff than promote him before quite possibly September 2015 or a more realistically during  2016.

248An extended injury to McGee before 2016 could escalate his chances to gain a quicker M L B chance to impress during the regular season.

Sure the Rays will sign a few veteran and even productive name to spring camp, but I do see the Rays current young and hungry relievers fighting them off tooth and nail to be a part of the Rays machine come late March 2015.

Each of the above relievers should get a chance in the latter stages of 2014 to make impressions and even get a longer look this upcoming spring in the major league camp and it would not surprise me if more than 3 of them break camp with a 25-man secured spot.

The pure unadulterated strength of the Rays heading into 2015 is their great pitching and the depth of said commodity in their farm system.

th37PB61VFThis is a time where the Rays could find more than a few intricate pieces of their 2015 puzzle with very affordable and team controlled contracts that could help the team survive and thrive through the lower payroll expectation of 2015.

It is possible the team might look to shave $20-30 million this winter and if that does come to reality, Hellickson, Balfour and quite possibly Peralta might be the viable and most costly options that get more than a few long and hard looks as to their worth in the Rays pitching corps.

 

 

Peering Into My Rays 2015 Looking Glass-Position Players

2015

 

Well, Dandy Don has sung and the large but svelte woman in that Viking cap has vocally acknowledged the Tampa Bay Rays have lost that final grasp on any chance at an October date with destiny. So the chase is now over, but a few games still remain.

Over the next 2 weeks I think we will see a few slices of what might and could happen this winter in regards to our hometown Rays.

th3JODA4XGWe already know we will not see any fashion of a  $80 million payroll in 2015, but the Rays have a lot of pieces to consider this winter, some expendable, and some they have to keep at all costs. Might be a interesting winter as the Rays have a chance to push out another cycle of truly young pitching talent, might dangle a few names on their hook, and possibly be seeking a consistent power bat that could awaken an offense that rises and falls more than the tides in Tampa Bay.

From behind the plate to down the First Base line in the Bullpen, the Rays have some important work to do to not only up their offensive firepower, but also to shore up a reliever corps that did not have that secure level of consistency we have grown accustom to here.

I truly suspect the Rays will not only dangle but seek out a possible trade partner to take on veteran backstop Jose Molina’s 2015 salary. With the solid emergence of Curt Casali behind the dish in 2014, it makes Molina not only an extra body behind the plate, but a large salary that could be used to possibly secure a power bat for the Rays lineup.

thAWBZUW96In Casali’s favor right now is that he is showing great command of the Rays pitching corps and currently hold the best catcher’s ERA of 2.0 in the majors. He has caught Alex Cobb 6 times this season and sports a 1.09 ERA with Cobbster on the hill, including framing pitches during Cobb’s recent no-hitter adventure.

I think Ryan Hanigan is on solid ground, but people in Cincinnati probably thought the same before the 2013 offseason. Helping his cause for 2015 is definitely his current .306 average in 11 starts since coming back off the DL on August 26th.

Now in regards to the Rays infield. It would seem that 3 of the 4 slots are already occupied by players who should be rubber stamped in as starters for 2015.  Sure anything can happen, but these 3 players also have contracts inked with the team, some long-term, some with quicker expiration dates.

James Loney seems secure at First Base especially since he signed that 3-year #21 million contract in 2014 and should man the Rays 1B bag possibly until someone on the way up in the Rays farm system pushes him off it.  But also making Loney an easy name to pencil in is his superb bat skills and being great at GTMI (Get The Man In). Heading into Sunday’s contest Loney has 66 RBIs, second only to Evan Longoria.

thEFVI841BDo not be surprised if the Rays possibly show Sean Rodriguez a bit more at First Base in 2015. There is no guarantee the Rays will keep S-Rod, but he has been one of the most consistent pieces of the Rays utility corps right alongside Ben Zobrist.

Speaking of Zorilla, could this offseason be the first one where the Rays ask Zobrist to possibly take a few more turns at First as a possible fill-in should the team not re-sign Rodriguez? We all know Rays Manager Joe Maddon is S-Rod’s biggest supporter, but his salary is climbing and with less dollars in the till, could Rodriguez be one of the Rays biggest question marks going into the winter.

Third Base is all Evan Longoria’s until health or just plain age ripe him off the hot corner. People forget Longo is itching close to that big 3-0 that sometimes robs a player of agility and quickness needed to prevent screamers down the line. I do not see 2015 as the season Father Time begins to creep up on Longoria, but if he does we could possible see Tim Beckham or Logan Forsythe as guys to pencil in with spot starts.

th2I88KN6BLongoria did have what many consider a sub-par season in 2014, but he still leads the team in most offensive categories and is still the Rays Clubhouse figurehead, and that will not change for some time. His tear in offense since the All-Star break might just be to him finally finding that mechanics groove we have been waiting for all this season.

Shortstop is also a spot that seems secure, but has also been a spot of ups and downs in 2014. Now I like the spirited play of Yunel Escobar, but I think a healthy Hak-Ju Lee could press Escobar with a outstanding spring. You know subconsciously the Rays Front Office would love this kind of competition considering one would command a MLB minimal salary (Lee), and the other $5 million.

You might wonder why the Rays did not bring up Lee or Beckham in September or after Durham finished their postseason run. Both have 2 minor league options left and if neither fights nor gains a 25-man roster slot in 2015, that gives the Rays some flexibility to hold onto them at least in Durham.

thNYXYJESCSecond Base might again be a “insert here” space in the Rays infield. With names like Nick Franklin, Forsythe, Lee and Beckham possibly fighting for a chance to line up at 2B, this might be one of the most contested spots during the spring of 2015.

Sure you could put Zobrist firmly in black ink in this spot, but I think Maddon still loves to tinker and place Zobrist and his many gloves wherever he sees a possible weakness. I truly think we will see Zobrist either swapping gloves a lot again in 2015, or he will be gone. I think a lot depends on the Rays evaluation of what they could obtain via a winter trade for Zorilla while he still has ample value to a team looking for a players who has a command of his offensive and defensive skills.

The Rays might end up coming out of 2015 spring training with their youngest outfield trio since their inception. I have an odd feeling this might be the other place where competition will be strong and possibly we see a name or possibly 2 change uniforms in direct response to possible 2015 salary as opposed to their overall value to the team.

thNOJJ6HYGOutfielders Matt Joyce and possibly Desmond Jennings might also see their names in print a bit more during the Rays off season. Not because they are not valued or important Rays pieces, but there is a younger crew of Rays outfielders led by Wil Myers and Kevin Keirmaier who can provide the same offense and defensive excellence at a more modest price.

The Rays also need to make a valued judgment on Brandon Guyer who doesn’t have any minor league options remaining. This whole Guyer situation might come down to a mirror image evaluation that the Rays had to make on Sam Fuld before the 2014 season. Believe me, if the Rays find value in keeping Guyer, he could definitely slot in as the team’s 4th or 5th outfield option without a problem.

I will no discuss the DH position since I think that will be a hired bat or possibly more Longoria and Zobrist in 2015 if the team can not find an adequate stick that can elevate the Rays offense.

In addition Maddon could use any variety of bench selections to insert or delete at his leisure. Designated Hitter might be a revolving door for the Rays if a valued bat is not found before the spring of 2015. 

thVSZNTP0FI have a feeling we will see a leaner and more stat-infused Rays team over the next 2 years. The Rays will again possibly show a “youth movement” as most positions will be secured by vets, but the younger corps of the team could mature into the offensive pieces the Rays lacked in 2014.

With a slimmed down payroll and some veterans nearing the cusp of free agency, the Rays might call upon their striving younger core to provide a cohesive and focused 2015 nucleus.

 

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