Results tagged ‘ Russell Branyan ’

Filling the First Base Hole is Crucial for Success


It is no secret among anyone in Major League Baseball right now that the Tampa Bay Rays are in need of a First Baseman. Be it from a trade, a free agent or maybe even a budding star caught between a rock and a potential All-Star, the Rays will find their man, but at what price?

Heck just for conversation and a few giggles, can Andy Sonnanstine play First Base? Seriously I am not applying Sonny name to the 1B fodder list, it is just he has done everything else for the Rays, plus he will finally get a gig where he can hit daily.

You can immediately take names like Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Jorge Posada and Derrek Lee out of the think tank mostly because of the fear it would cause instantly to the Rays payroll situation. Even past Rays familiar names like Russell Branyan, Eric Hinske, Brad Hawpe, Jorge Cantu, Adam Kennedy, and Carlos Pena might give each of us a wonder if they can again be monster at the plate and huge pillows in the field, but their tenures have come and gone for this team.

Dan Johnson, the Rays 2011 Opening Day starter refused a assignment and is also within the free agent wading pool. His exploits, especially in the latter weeks of the season have made him a folk hero in Tampa Bay, but his dismal early season slump in 2011 made in more than expendable. Johnson has unfortunately had a yo-yo existence with the Rays from his plucking off the waiver wire, to a year in Japan courtesy of the Rays, to being a part of this team by proxy in Triple-A Durham then emerging with memorable Home Runs and spontaneous eruptions of power. If only he could get that power spurt to last 180 days during the regular season.

Interesting name do pop out at you from the list of potential young free agents like the powerful ex-Yankee Juan Miranda. The former Cuban baseball star signed a reasonable $2 million contract with the Yankees in 2006, and like former team Cuba team mate and current Rays farm hand Leslie Anderson, Miranda has not shown the verbosity yet to possibly warrant more than a casual look by the Rays. That and a limited MLB experience which mired Miranda with a .226 career average, this might take him out of any Rays consideration.

 Michael Cuddyer might be an interesting name to associate with the Rays in their 1B quest, but his Type A status, which could cost the Rays draft pick might be a huge stop sign to any advancement towards his name. We all know how the Rays value their draft picks, and accumulate them like canned goods to weather any impending payroll storm. I actually would love to see what Cuddyer would do with his photographic talents if given a few extra months of Trop photography….but that is not a reason to sign him (bummer).

There might be a few young tradeable names to ponder for the Rays, but then again it might come down to the “want “ list by the other franchise, possibly killing the deal in the initial chatter phase. If the Miami Marlins do indeed get Price or King Albert to guard their First Base bag, it will be interesting to see how the team positions Gaby Sanchez for relocation. With the Marlins pretty set with at least 3 starters on the books, there is room for rotation adjustments and improvement, but would someone like Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann or an Rays prospect on the cusp plus a young catcher like Jose Lobaton or Nevin Ashley be enough to land the powerful Marlin?

Or could the dangling of Cincinnati Reds young hitter Yonder Alonso be the morsel that tempts the Rays into digging into their roster and farm system possibly bringing Alonso to Tampa Bay where he will have a free range position in front of him unlike in Cincy where Joey Votto is cemented at 1B for the immediate future. The problem with Alonso is not his value, but the deal it would take to possibly separate him from his Reds jersey and into a Rays uniform.

Would Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman be willing to possibly delete SP James Shields from his roster even before Spring Training, or can be package a deal possibly including some middle infield talent, plus a budding pitcher and possibly another player to get this deal done and put a solid body with a few years of flexibility at the corner position for the Rays? Alonso might be a power upgrade over the Rays 2011 First Base corps, but will he be the fielding gem the Rays need to keep their defensive fielding advantage intact?

Even though other First Baseman names out there like Lyle Overbay and Jason Giambi might tweak a bit of Rays interest as potential platoon members, their salaries definitely might be out of the Rays comfort zone, immediately dissecting their name from the 1B Carousel.

In my honest opinion, I am still hopeful the Rays can plug in Rays 2011 First Baseman Casey Kotchman as a exclamation point into this pondering question. Still there are questions within this easy solution to the Rays First Base dilemma. Kotchman’s biggest stumbling block to him possibly getting a multi-year deal might be his ponderance for low power numbers. Still, if the guy can get the needed hits, place himself up near .300 and produce scoring opportunities and drive in runs, does that vault him over a guy who might hit 20+ HR and have a average glove?

This decision on the immediate horizon for the Rays has to have their direct and undivided attention. This current opening that the Rays need to fill this off season is the keystone of their defensive alignment. Get the right glove and bat into this slot, and the Rays could see their offense suddenly pull a Rasputin and emerge from their slumber with their lumber. Whatever happens, this one move will send immediate signals on the way the Rays want to do business in 2012.

Sure you would love to possibly see someone like Cantu come back, or possibly entertain a Pena reunion, but those scenarios might not be in the compromised deck of cards the Rays have for 2012. Possibly a Alonso or Sanchez could fall into the Rays hands, but at what cost, and is Rays pitching really such a high point that losing a Shields, Davis or even a emerging Cobb or Torres not produce a few shock waves?

This one movement by the Rays front office this Winter will be watched closely by the Rays Republic because First Base is just that critical a spot for the Rays, and only a solid corner man will fit nicely with the square peg shape of First Base.

Burrell is beginning to Heat Up!


Charles Riedel / AP

Sometimes the National and local media can do some of the weirdest and funniest things in print without them even realizing it at the moment.  We all know about the typos that can make someone else’s life a living hell for a while until they issue a retraction/correction to hopefully make the issue go away, or at least lessing the glares and stares. But then there are times like after Friday nights Rays come from behind win over the Kansas City Royals that might just set the tone for the squad during the second half of the Rays 2009 season.

About 2 am this morning I wandered online to check out to see how my MLBloggers Fantasy team did during the first full night of games since the All Star break (I am leading division 1). I then decided to go to www.raysbaseball.com and check out the game’s headlines. I am not sure what I was expecting, maybe some journalistic man crush love towards Rays Designated Hitter Pat Burrell, who went 2 for 5 with 3 RBI and a run scored in the Rays victory. Maybe I was hoping for a glint of respect thrown Burrell’s way because his home run started the run back towards the victory.

But instead I was greeted with a headline that read, “Longoria’s homer caps Rays’ comeback”. Maybe I was hoping that the webheads were about to do what I was considering in my own mind, that Burrell needed a media “hug”. I must have been dreaming to think that Burrell might get some much needed attention after his early season struggles with his neck injury and some very weak hitting in the first half. Maybe I was hoping they might show some props towards the guy. We, the fans always knew his bat would go on a streak at some moment this season.

Well, honestly, I am not the biggest Burrell fan, but I loved his initial signing by the team. It was a positive upgrade to the position, and the sky was the limit on that day.  I enjoyed the fact we were getting someone who had more speed than  ex-Ray Cliff Floyd on the bases. And I was enjoying the fact we got someone who did not need to swing for the fences like  current M’s HR stud Russell Branyan, who had only a few more hits than homers when he was the Rays DH. I guess what I was expecting was a Rays rendition of former M’s great Edgar Martinez.
 

But I think after the way 2008 went for us, someone like Burrell coming to the Rays was a blessing, not a curse. If I had faith in former Rays players Randal Simon and Vinnie Castilla as hitters, Burrell could rest comfortably I was not going to jeer him either. I understand that coming from playing every day in leftfield to just sitting on the bench and hitting 4 times a day is an huge mental and physical adjustment in your mind as well as your body. I get that part, and maybe that is why some great hitter make lousy DH’s.

I get the fact he was coming to the American League and would need a bit of time to adjust and scout some of the league’s best before he hit his stride again. But his injury time could have been spent studying  pitcher’s video provided by Rays video honcho Chris “Chico” Fernandez.  And he might have done just that, but are not privy to that information. Heck, he could have bought a subscription to MLB.TV and watch any game in the AL or NL this season at any time. He could have done home study on his big screen of any AL pitcher while he was rehabbing his neck situation. It was time for him to begin to piece it all together.


Brian Blanco / AP

And finally the moment came during the Rays last home stand . It began to seem like he was transforming himself at the plate. It seemed that all  of the sweaty work in the cages and behind the scenes were about to come to maturity and we could again cheer Burrell without any doubts. Hey, the guy was beginning to hit solid long ball out and  you could hear the different sound in the bat when he struck the ball now with renewed authority. He was beginning to look like that same guy that played in leftfield in Philly for so long.

He looked at home in the batter’s box again. During the Rays last home stand, Burrell went a combined 7 for 23 with a homer and  5 RBI. But  what came to prove he was waking up at the plate was the fact he added 5 doubles during those six games to showcase that the power was coming back in his swing. Pat Burrell was beginning to fulfill the DH role with attitude and power, just like the Rays envisioned when they signed him during the offseason.

Burrell might not have shown great numbers over the span of the 27 games since his return to the Rays line-up. And he might only be hitting .207 since his return, but  his bat has been on fire lately. During this 27-game stint he has hit 3 HR, 11 RBI  and walked 15 times before Friday night’s game. He is seeing the ball better, and his rising batting average is showing it. But the real sure fire statistic that his hitting is starting to bubble is the pure fact he hit two doubles in two of the three games against Oakland right before the All Star break.

What was so remarkable about that feat is it was his first multi-hit games since the April 13th Home Opener against the New York Yankees. Add that to the fact he hit only his fourth career walk-off homer against Toronto’s Brandon League on July 7th, which also was his first Rays walk-off hit this season, and you see a hitter finally hitting his groove. The power is coming back into his game. Last night’s home run got overshadowed by the late inning 2-run blast by Longoria, but it was Burrell’s shot that made the run for the victory possible.


Brian Blanco / AP

Without his homer, the Rays were not within striking distance of the Royals in that contest, but that was mentioned a few paragraphs down in the story online. You see, Longoria and Burrell each went 2-5 last night with a key HR in the win. Who do you think the media thinks he more of an attention draw right now….Burrell or Longoria? Maybe it is good that he is giving him the low profile treatment. Maybe this is just the thing to force him out of his hitting comfort zone and make him take some chances at the plate that will propel his  bat, his batting average and the Rays skywards.

For the team to have a solid c
hance at defending their title, Burrell has to stay hot and produce like he has for the last two weeks. We all know about his past exploits. How Burrell has averaged 31 HR, 99 RBI and 105 walks in the last four seasons. We get the idea that great things can come from his bat.  But this is the time for him to show the Rays fans why he was brought here.  I am again happy to add the middle name “the Bat” to Burrell’s name. He is getting hot at the right time to not only salvage his season, but to be a key component to the Rays charge to the postseason. 

Pat “the Bat”. That has a nice ring to it. I know we have to thank the Phillies fans for that moniker, but it is fitting right now for him. He might have only gone 2 for 5 last night, but in retrospect, that makes him hitting .400 since the All Star break. And those kind of numbers will not only help the Rays fans breathe easier, but also give Burrell some room to feel comfortable at the plate.
 

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