Results tagged ‘ Stuart Sternberg ’

Rays want Tampa Bay to Show a United Front

Sternberg to Start the Rays “Baby Steps”

Rays Pitchers and Catchers Report…The Photo Blog

 



Today I want to conclude the photos that I took out at the Rays Spring Training complex on Friday morning. Hopefully each and every one of you will get a chance sometimes in your life to either get out to Arizona or Florida to see this yearly migration and training exercise featuring some of the most talented and fit athletes. No matter what team, or the location, these are our “Boys of Summer”,  and to catch them in this energetic elementary state away from the confines of the regular season.

 
 
This is the time of the season where the team begins to forge their team’s identity for the upcoming season, and prepare for their first battle in April 2010. Hope you all enjoy the rest of my photos of the Tampa Bay Rays as they “officially” began the quest to prepare for another enthusiastic and winning 2010 season.

One of the necessary “evils” of Spring Training is the television and media requests for interviews and short sound bytes about the upcoming season. Here we have former Rays Rookie of the Year candidate pitcher Jeff Niemann being interviewed by a local television crew about his expectation for the 2010 Rays season. You can not tell by the photo, but Niemann is growing a ” Abe Lincoln”-style beard that is just beginning to come into its own. He has not decided if he will keep it for the season, but combined with rookie pitcher Wade Davis, they could be the “bearded” back end of the Rays rotation this season. 


One of the great things about the way the Charlotte County Sports Park is setup is the short walk across the player’s parking lot before they hit the Rays clubhouse front door. It is an excellent spot to get autographs and also chat with your favorite players. Also, there are some players who are more pat to sign during Spring Training then they do during the regular season, and this is a great time to get those final pieces to your autograph collection. 

Welcome to Tampa Bay Kelly Shoppach. I think he felt like a hunted man as most of the Tampa Bay media was waiting for him and the other catchers’ to come in last during the days event and he was kind enough to give and every one of them a sound byte for their nightly telecast. 

Shoppach is pictured here in the middle of the media throng with local sportscasters popping microphones in front of his face as they ask about the upcoming competition to see who is going to be the Rays starting catcher for the season. Most people think the competition is going to be fierce between Shoppach and incumbent Dioner Navarro for the Rays starting catching job. I actually think it might come down to game situations as Shoppach is more apt at getting on base, while Navarro can provide some power at times in the lineup. Should be a fun time watching these two go through the Spring. 


I remember when I was playing sports, I used to hate hitting the “sharks” as I used to call them. The problem with some media members is they are always seeking the negative items and looking for an extreme angle on the team. People have asked me why I try and take a more positive approach to my blogs and my commentary, the proof is right above in this picture. With all the media onrush, I think a positive spin on even the worst situation can do wonders. But, I do have my own targets ( Hickey, Burrell).   

It was so great to see all of the guys out there tossing the ball around and laughing and commenting to each other throughout the workouts. Every pitcher performed drills today in anticipation of the Rays Fan fest on Saturday, in which most of the Rays pitchers’ will take that long trek up to Tropicana Field to participate in autograph signings and photo opportunities with Rays fans.  

 

I have always looked at Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer as our own personal “Yoda”. I remember someone saying one time that Zim has ” forgotten more baseball than any of us will ever research or see in our lifetimes”. And I have to agree with that quote 100 percent. He is always willing and eager to sign for fans, and is a true iconic figure that Rays fans are lucky to talk and learn from during times like Spring Training. It is funny, I used to pump his gas back in the 1970′s at my dad’s gas station, and no matter where you encounter Zimmer, he is always a great person to talk baseball with….always.

 

I was talking to Kevin Barr, who is the Rays Strength and Conditioning coach for a few minutes on Friday, and he is as excited as the guys to get back to work in 2010. One of the great aspects of Ray Manager Joe Maddon’s Coaching staff is their positive enthusiasm and their confident approach to situations with the Rays players. No matter if it on-the-field problems, or getting back into game shape after an injury, this staff is centered in positive energy and it feeds off them to the players.

I was excited to head on down to the far end of the complex after the pitchers’ came in for the day and see the Rays catchers in camp doing time in the hitting cages. One of the guy who caught my attention was Joe Dillon, who is trying to make this Rays roster as a multipurpose player. Last season he was Maddon’s choice as an emergency third catcher, but with a great Spring, he could make the roster as a bench and infield utility man. Plus he was tagging the ball down the third baseline today with some extreme power.

I am always surprised by the new exercises and physical fitness regiment that they Rays include in their daily workouts. No matter if it is the extra large rubber bands to strengthen their calves and legs, or the flex tubing to help stretch out their arms and shoulders, each Spring there is something new in the Rays exercise arsenal. 

 

And it was great to see the guys starting to hit drills during the first day with everyone participating but Rays new closer Rafael Soriano who has been battling some chest congestion due to a vicious cold. He might have only thrown a few long toss balls today, but he was there for Maddon’s meeting and looks imposing in his Rays uniform. 


 

But the “man of the hour” was Rays owner Stuart Sternberg who fielded a barrage of questions from the media on subjects ranging from the Hillsborough County stadium buzz to the Rays possible scenarios to keep Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena for 2011. Another issue that was on the media’s mind was the payroll concerns for 2011 and the rumors of Rays Season Tickets being down for this season.
 

One of the true sights of Spring. Most of the Rays players came out in their game spikes, but they also brought along their running shoes for their post long toss running exercises and workout on another field. With most of their cleats not broken in yet, using these running shoes might be one of the best options to keep blisters and foot situations under control so early in the Spring Training process. 

 

Rays reliever J P Howell and Rays starter Matt Garza are shown in these two photos ” airing it out” in their long toss portion of the Friday exercises. Howell was throwing with a group that contained fellow Bullpen mates Dan Wheeler and Lance Cormier before Cormier and Garza hooked up and put on a long-toss show with both pitchers throwing consistent balls in the air from the leftfield foul line to almost centerfield before they stopped and moved onto the pitching drills segment of the daily events. 

 

 

Maddon has a very experienced minor league Coaching Staff, who also were in attendance today to help in the drills and also be his eyes and ears at all five separate drill locations. With the Rays minor league system being considered one of the best in baseball, these Coaches are the backbone of that entire system.

 

 

Most of the morning exercises were devoted to stretching and limbering up for the daily grind of drills and activities to see what shape each of the Rays players might be in prior to the team turning up the dial and getting more intense in the next few days. And with every pitcher basically not doing intense workout on Saturday because of their travels to Fan Fest, it was a time to push the envelope a bit.  

 

Jaoquin Benoit, pictured above is one of the many non-roster Spring invitees to the Rays camp and could make the Rays decision a bit more difficult with a great Spring. Most consider him on the outside looking in, but he could secure a spot in the Rays bullpen with a few impressive outings this Spring. The Rays begin their Spring Training schedule in 10 days. 


It was a great turnout of fans both from Charlotte County, and some who came as far as Boston and Chicago for the Rays first “official” day of Spring Training camp. Just another sign that the Rays Republic is beginning to get fans from all over the country excited about Rays baseball.

One of the things I respect most about Maddon is that he leads by example.  He is one of the most positive people I have ever met, and he is always preaching and showing confidence and the essence of positive thinking to his players. But something else I have noticed the last few years, he is always the last person off the Spring Training field.

Not unlike Lt. Colonel Hal Moore in the Vietnam War epic “We Were Soldiers”, Maddon has lead by example and been a constant force of steady, confident leadership for his team. And just like Moore would not step off the ground and into a transport helicopter until every last solider was transported or removed from the battlefield in the Ia Drang Valley, Maddon also shows that unity daily in his activities with his team.

So this was my short and eventful day at the Rays complex as pitchers and catchers officially reported to the Rays to begin the 2010 campaign to get back to the playoffs. There will be another 10 days of extreme workouts and drills before game action begins, and less than 45 days until the Rays open their season at Tropicana field against the Baltimore Orioles. Hope you enjoyed the photos, because I enjoyed getting them for all of us to enjoy…

 

 

Rays Pitchers & Catchers Report…2010 Edition

 


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**** Within the next few days I will post a extended Photo blog of the pictures I took today after the Rays Fan fest tomorrow afternoon.


I could not sleep a wink last night and thank goodness AMC had a pretty good movie lineup until 6 am this morning. This felt like the first time I ever suited up for a baseball game. I had the butterflies early today and mixed with the anticipated assembly again with Tampa Bay Rays baseball players who I consider “baseball buddies”. And the long hours leading up to this special moment of the Rays pitchers and catchers reporting for 2010 more than lived up to all the previous night’s hype and anxiety.

Sure you would think the hour and a half drive down to Port Charlotte from the shadow of Tropicana Field would seem to take forever as the sun began to rise in the East, but the reality was it seemed to furiously fly by with only the time staring to ebb slower as I began to wait first in line this morning to get into the Charlotte County Sports Park and “officially” begin my 2010 Rays experience. And it was great to not have the over indulgence of the Mosaic Corporation’s name attached to signage surrounding the complex today. And as I was standing there as the Rays media members began to assemble, some just passed by, while others acknowledged me standing their in my Pepsi sweatshirt as I battled the 56 degree weather.

And while I was standing there, a wild figure in pink sweatpants, barefoot and a huge poof of hair began to walk up to the security checkpoint carrying his baseball gear in a Army green dufflebag. He had come to make the team, and Edgar Gonzalez was not going to take “no” for an answer. Sure he might not have had great baseball experience only playing Marine Corp baseball, but decked there in his USF baseball jersey ( but did not play at all for USF), he was energetic and wanting an audition today for a possible slot on the Rays.

 
 

And two assembled security guards were business like and totally professional as they tried to point him towards Tropicana Field and the Rays Front Office to arrange an “official arrival” or even a slot to participate when the minor league camp came in next week. But Gonzalez was persistent and totally seemed to have his wits about him, until he began to unravel his story into a million pieces by saying he was trying to hold correspondence with U.S. President Obama and the world leaders on the curing properties of baseball. So as Gonzalez began to fade to black in the minds of the security force, he was advised to “put shoes on, or vacate the property as a safety precaution”.

 
 
 

Just then, you could see the color drain from Gonzalez’s face and he knew instantly that he had blown his scheme to try and infiltrate the Rays first 2010 workout. But I do commend the security force for doing it with grace, class and not singling him out and making the situation difficult. So as he turned away he said he would rehash it out up in “Tampa” with the Rays officials and be back another day to formally take the field. Well, Edgar Gonzalez, I wish you luck, and I hope you do get that shot, but since you have, by your own admission, never faced a 90+ mph fastball or seen a slider in your life, the audition might last the $ 2 it costs to run the Batting Cage machine at the Mini Golf complex down the street.
 

 

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But as 10 pm came, I strutted in first in the line and was handed a Dioner Navarro and Matt Garza bobble heads and a great present of a Rays Spring roster cardboard placard that listed each invited Rays ” guest” to the 2010 Spring Training complete with the final statistics including every stop during 2009. I scanned up and down it a few time to see the names and former 2009 teams illustrated and saw a few extremely interesting names. Names like Mike Ekstrom who was claimed off waivers by the Rays this off season from the San Diego Padres , or former Ranger pitcher Joaquin Benoit, who might push some pressure on the Rays Bullpen spots, or Joe Dillionaire” Dillon who might push for a bench spot on the team and be an adequate third catching option on the Major League roster because of his versatility.
 

 
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As the guy all assembled around Rays Manager Joe Maddon for his first inspirational speech for 2010, and the brief speeches and chats by Jeff “Ziggy” Zigler, who is the Rays Traveling Secretary, the team got into stretching and began long toss to get their arms stretched out for the first time in 2010 in front of a live audience. Rays starter Matt Garza and Rays Bullpen reliever Lance Cormier put on the show of the day easily topping 200+ feet in their long toss segment before the squad split into three groups and began to start drills on retrieving the ball in front of the mound and doing basic drills like covering first base on a bunt or even shot towards the hole at first base.
 
 

And on another part of the field, the Rays field players were beginning their daily workouts in the batting cages under the watchful eyes of spectators and autograph hounds. Gabe Kapler, Jason Bartlett and a bulkier-looking Rays prospect shortstop Tim Beckham all took their swipes in the cage today before taking time out to sign for some of the fans and expressed excitement in returning to Tropicana Field tomorrow for the 2010 Rays Fan Fest. I took this time to chat a bit with Rays Communication Manager Carmen Molina and St Petersburg Times Rays writer Marc Topkin about the season and to see if I could get a few tidbits.

 

 
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But I was lucky enough to be within a good earshot of the conversation by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to the assembled media when he began to discuss the Rays payroll, keeping Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, and the possible Rays stadium pot that is beginning to boil. He was his usual self showing total commitment to the St. Petersburg market place the team is currently in, but stressed the stadium will not be adequate up until the 2026 lease expiration date. Standing their in his own “Rays Sky Blue” sweatshirt he spoke for about 15 minutes answering volleys at him and providing in depth, complex answers that more than fulfilled the questions thrown at him on the fly. P. T. Barnum would have been proud.
 
 

And as the players began to split into their respective groups for their day ending run in the western-most field’s outfield, several players like J P Howell, Jeff Neiman and Rays prospect Jake McGee sprinted to the Rays clubhouse and shed their sweatshirts and came out again to do their running before taking time to chat and sign for fans before leaving for the day. I had a chance to talk to Howell, and his eyes lit up when I asked about his off season trip to Bora Bora for his honeymoon, or when I asked if we could do an interview sometimes during Spring Training about it.

 
 

And as I was asking that, Grant Balfour slapped me on the back asking if I was keeping my same seat. I quickly told him I was, and told him he better keep his same seat also ( on the Rays Bullpen bench) for 2010. He just smiled from ear-to-ear and told me he was going to do everything possible to stay put. Or when Randy Choate came up with his new facial chin hair and asked why I did not yell “Randy” when he saw me. And I began to tear up a bit. This is hard to explain, but over the past three years while I have been battling employment issues, these guys have been the solid foundation and the people I made sure to say something to before, or during every single Rays game.

 

 
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So today was special to me in a different way than most of the people assembled to welcome the Rays back from cold Winter snow-scapes, or even trips abroad with their new loved ones, this is my personal rite of Spring passage. Baseball is back, but better yet for me, Rays baseball is back. Even as I stood there talking with baseball buddy’s Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos or Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi, I could feel that inner fire kicking up again and was eager for the upcoming season.
 
 

Maddon did not bring out any mathematical equations this season, but offered confidence and a yearning to remember those steps made in 2008 to again get back to that ” special place”. For the Rays to revisit their 2008 roots, it will take sweat, blood and commitment by each and ever member of their 2010 roster. In the next month and a half guys will come and go from the Rays clubhouse either to the minor league camps, or even towards other opportunities in baseball, but Maddon stressed that they had to regain that passion, had to redefine and re-energize to again do things “The Rays Way”, and make those steps to again claim a top spot not only in the American League, but in their ever present difficult Eastern division. But for today, it was just great to see my buddies again.

 
 

Rays Should give Crawford an Extension

 


Mark Carlson / AP

On September 30,2009 Carl Crawford, the veteran player of the Tampa Bay Rays made it be known through the Tampa Tribune in an interview with writer Marc Lancaster that he would be open to discussions of an contract extension past the 2010 season. The news was viewed with excitement in the stands of Tropicana Field as it was made known by one of the Rays most popular players that he basically sees an upward change in the franchise and would love to further explore where this team is heading in the coming years.

We are very pleased to hear C.C.’s comments,” Tampa Bay Rays Executive Vice President Andrew Friedman told the St. Petersburg Times  on September 30th when Crawford announced he would be willing to discuss a possible extension to stay with the Rays. “Consistent with our policy, we do not speak publicly about contract negotiations but obviously we have a tremendous amount of respect for Carl both on and off the field.  He has been a big part of our past success and I expect he will be a big part of our future success as well.”

Andrew, you bet your sweet booty you want to keep one of the most exciting players in baseball right  where he is right now. Considering the Rays have a $10-11.5 million club option to consider before the beginning of the 2010 season, you can bet they will exercise that option and possibly make amends to keep C C well beyond the 2010 season. And if for some reason the deal does go sour in any way, you can expect an endless bulk of boos and article written until the cows come home about the Rays biggest PR blunder of your administration.

But first off, most Rays fans have to heed a bit from getting overexcited by the comments knowing that the pace at which Crawford performed in 2009 hitting both personal and club record in several categories during the season, he might have to give the Rays a bit of a ” local discount” to have the Rays retain him past the 2010 season. And right now, without knowing the expected payroll amount set by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, Crawford might be the biggest question mark right now.


Gail Burton / AP

Granted he has made comment showing an olive branch out to the Rays organization, and wants to stay here and hopefully be a part of another winning team that thrust hard into the playoffs, but can the Rays retain him without damaging their payroll expectations and  fit him perfectly into the team plans all the way through to maybe 2014?

Because of his upward mobility daily in the Major League Baseball All-Time charts, he is quickly establishing himself as a potential Hall of Fame caliber player, with a long career still in front of him. And if you were to compare him with the best active players at his position, he would surely command a $15 million plus a year salary in the big cities like Chicago or New York. So would Crawford be willing to give the team that deep of a discount to play for a potential winner, while also adding to his own reputation in the American League.

Crawford finally got to experience that winning feeling with the Rays in 2008, and it just might be in the Rays best interest to surround him with the  best talent they can afford to again hit that plateau before the team hits a wall and might have to cut back, maybe as soon as 2014. I know that is a long time away, but it is micro-seconds in baseball years. The career of a Major League player is long in comparison to some sports, but the risk factors are extremely higher considering the daily grind of 162 games a season.

But would the Rays use his “leg fatigue” as a bargaining tool, when in reality he has appeared in 150+ game for his fifth season of his career.  And if you consider what he can do once he hits the base paths, well Crawford might leave this game as one of the best who ever laced up a pair of Nike’s by the time he calls it a career.

Crawford is only the third American League player in this decade to reach the 60+ steals mark joining Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury ( 69/2009) and the Angels Chone Figgins (62/2005).  To further illustrate what he can do on the base paths, you only have to look at the May 3,2009 game against the Boston Red Sox to see how he can command a game all by himself. His 81.9 percent stolen base attempts rank first among active MLB players. He also became one of only 25 players since 1900 to steal 60 bases and get 60 RBI in the same season. And he is 1 of 6 to accomplish that in the last 20 years.

Crawford currently has the 6 highest stolen base totals in Rays history, and has hit the 50+ steals mark a record 5 times, which is the best among active players.  And he is only the 16th player since 1900 with 5-50+ steal seasons. And he has been clocked going from first to second in 3.1 seconds, which is a bit faster than recent Hall of Fame member Rickey Henderson in his prime.


Jeff Roberson / AP

But Crawford is not a one-dimensional player. He has also made some incredible plays on defense and might be one of the most under rated outfielder in the game since the Golden Glove are not awarded by  just his field position( leftfield) but by the outfield in general. The best example of how Crawford can turn a game around might be in the May 6th contest against the Boston Red sox where he stole  a total of 6 bases, and became only the fourth player to ever accomplish that feat. He was even the first to do it since June 30, 1996, when Eric Young of the Colorado Rockies was the last to hit that plateau.

These statistics might even make the Rays job harder to consider that he has just turned 28 this August 5th, and his 353 stolen bases rank 7th best since 1900. His 92 triples ranks him 12th since 1900, and the most since Cardinal Stan Musial. His 1,244 hits rank him 8th best since 1900. Such feats have seemed to come easy to the young outfielder who played in his 1,000 Major League game on June 27, 2009 against the Florida Marlins.

Hard to believe that the Rays All Time leader in runs, runs scored, hits, at bats, stolen bases, doubles and triples, games played and RBI has only played in 1,000 contests.  And let’s take a look at his triples for a moment, he is currently third among active players with only Yankee outfielder Johnny Damon (95) and Philly shortstop Jimmy Rollins (94) having more than Crawford’s 92 triples. But he was also 4th in the American League with 41 infield hits in 2009.

And if all of the above information was not mind boggling enough for Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations and Silverman to consider, here  are another few facts that point to the special place Crawford is heading in the coming years. He has now hit above .300 for the fourth time in the last five seasons for the Rays. This season he had a career high 51 walks and his 2009 On-Base Percentage of .364 is 34 points high than any other time in his career.

Add onto that package the fact he hit his 500th RBI on September 20th against Toronto’s Roy Halladay with a 2-run homer.  At the end of the 20
09 season, Crawford was 10ht in hits (185), 9th in multi-hit games with 54 this season, and 5th in triples with 8 in 2009.  Crawford has become the quintessential Rays player, and a good foundation for the club both in character and in his on-field behavior.

The 3-time American League All Star even took fans and players breath away in this season’s All Star game in St. Louis with his catch high above the AL Bullpen fence to rob the National League’s Brad Hawpe of a potential go-ahead home run in the 7th inning of that game. As Crawford stood there with MLB Commissioner Bud Selig that night, you  saw the boyish charm of Crawford, and so did the rest of the MLB community.


Jeff  /  Tom Gannam /AP

I guess the best thing right now is to let Crawford’s comments to Lancaster om September 30th  begin to close out this blog:
I don’t like worrying about it,” Crawford said to the Tampa Tribune, “
and you can sit there and say you’re not worried about it, but to not know what your future’s going to be in the next five or six years or so is definitely … it makes you scared at times.”

“I just hope we can do something. It’s uncomfortable worrying about it. I don’t like playing cautious. You’d be a liar if you say you didn’t play cautious when you have to go through contracts and stuff like that. I want to just be able to play baseball, don’t worry about nothing else.”


So it is your court now Rays front office. This is your time to shine and to make this contract extension a show of good faith and prosperity you hope this team embodies for the next 5 or 6 years. Crawford should be the backbone of  the Rays squads in that time period, and if he is not, it might be a clear indication of the team desire to scale back and let the next generation of Rays players get their shots. 

It is so hard to  for someone like me to adequately decipher and assess a monetary value to Crawford since his stock has risen every season since 2003, and he just might be hitting his prime right now in his career. But if you look at the numbers he has obtained in a period of 5 full seasons now, the numbers are staggering, even without the addition of dollar signs to his name. And if the Rays can get his at a reduced price and regain that winning feeling, it is a huge plus for the Rays franchise to have a player like Crawford at the forefront leading these Rays onto the field.


Are the Rays Finished Adding Pieces for 2009?

 

 

 

So after the latest signing of former Phillie Pat Burrell to the roster, are the Tampa Bay Rays going to stand pat for the 2009 season, or is now when the real magic is going to happen for the team. You want to believe that the Rays holy trinity of Stuart Sternberg, Matt Silverman and Andrew Friedman have not closed the coffers and still might have a few tricks up their sleeves for 2009.

 


You have to believe that the recent activity by the team is not the total resetting of the roster. That there are still a few deals sitting in the corners gathering a bit of dust, but not without merit here. I see the roster as 75 percent complete, with some Spring training signing recently maybe pushing it to 80 percent done for the season.

 

 


With the signing of former Marlin Joe Nelson before the New Year, the Rays did more than just get a qualified reliever for their Bullpen. They got an upgrade to the Trever Miller or even Gary Glover or Scott Dohmann additions in 2008.  Nelson can carry a bit more of the load than either of those three guys by actually closing games if called upon to do so for the Rays. And with the health of Troy Percival basically being that only he knows EVER if he is healthy, and even then still wants to pitch in games.

 



There is a time when being a  strong competitor can actually weaken you ball club. If you need any examples of that, just look to the mound conversations that Rays Manager Joe Maddon had with Percival during the season in Boston, Oakland, and even at Tropicana Field. You have to admire the bravery and the commitment to your team, but the sacrifice has to be mutual. You do not give up yourself if you also upset the balance and the strength of your Bullpen, which Percival did for a short period of time twice in 2008.

 

 


Some people have already called out the  signing as Pat Burrell as mediocre at best for the Rays. I do not understand how you can even signal such a sign to the nation when the guy has been consistent with his bat almost his entire career. And also has been a key member of his last squad and not a replacement or second tier player. The signing of Burrell will help protect Evan Longoria, and it is a role that Burrell knows well from doing the same job with the Phillie’s for years.

That is right, Burrell’s numbers might be a bit weaker than you might want, but after years of sitting in the order behind Ryan Howard and giving teams the option of who to pitch to in games, he might actually see more of those meatball pitches this season because of the two guys in front of him. With Longoria and Carlos Pena penciled into the lineup in front of Burrell, he will see more pitches, and considerably more fastballs than he has seen in recent years. And to top that off with the fact that Stat guru Bill James thinks that with Burrell added to the power grid in Tampa Bay, the Rays “Big 3 ” might top 100 homer in 2009.

 

 


But what about the other holes in the Tampa Bay armor that need to be addressed. The two mentioned above are upgrades on the 2008 model without a doubt. But people are still pointing to right field and saying that the team did not get better there in any shape or form. Again, that is your own perception, and to forget about either outfielders’ Gabe Gross or even new Rays Matt Joyce is an insult. Both of these guys could be great parts of the Rays puzzle in 2009. Both are great professionals who work hard and hit the ball with power.

 


You never know, Joyce could surprise everyone on the Rays coaching staff and come away with the starting nod in Boston for the first game. I actually loved the trade for it’s youthful side, plus the added feature of Joyce played well against the Rays in 2008, so there is a track record of the guy rising to the occasion. If this was to happen, then you have someone like Gross who could fetch a good level player in return in a trade, or even maybe two if a team is desperate for a great outfield addition.

 

 


2009 will have more surprises before the guys clean out their Spring Training lockers in Port Charlotte. I actually think that there is about 2 more trades that need to be addressed even before the beginning of the season.  Another guy who might not be a member of the Rays when they head to Boston is reliever Chad Bradford. He did exceptionally well in 2008, but his over $ 3 million dollar salary might be a problem more than a solution in 2009.

 


Bradford is a extremely unusual pitcher in his style of pitching and also his way of inducing those ground ball outs for the Rays. I remember when he played for the Baltimore Orioles, I could not imagine watching his pitches come in and actually rise towards you instead of break away from you. The adjustment and the concentration needed to hit that kind of pitch is extreme indeed. So Bradford might not have a different home in 2009, but it is not like the Rays do not have options in the matter.

 

 


We actually have a guy invited to Spring Training who might equal Bradfords ground ball numbers, and if the both make the roster, it could be a two-fold gift for the Rays. Randy Choate has played in the American League before, and is another guy who throws sidearm with gusto. Most of the Rays fans might remember him as a member of the New York Yankees, who was a leftie specialist, and also a great ground ball pitcher. With both of these guys on the Rays roster, the Rays defense will see more possible plays in the infield, which translates into more possible outs by that stellar group.

 

 


So the Rays might need to hope that Choate makes the squad to boost that percentage up to 90 percent prior to the 2009 Opening Day. One piece that I still fell might be missing from the Rays actually might be their own device right now. Rocco Baldelli has been approached and swooned by a few clubs this past off season, but they have not gotten him to sign. I think the Rays need to open the coffers just a small bit and sign him as soon as possible. You know he will give the team a bit of a discount because of everything the team has done the last few seasons.

 

 


Truly, do you think if you matched an offer from Cincinnati or even Boston, Rocco would not sign with the Rays?  You have to know that the team must have been thrilled to learn the news that the first prognosis of his illness was incorrect. The Rays must have been jumping for joy in the aspect that Rocco maybe could become an everyday player again in the league. And if that happened, doesn’t that also open the door to him taking right field as his own and truly pushing the naysayers away with gusto that the Rays upgraded themselves in every position that was weak in 2008.

 


The Rocco possibility is just that right now, a possibility, but it gives a new light and a new direction to the team that was not there a few months ago. The only weaknesses on this team to the eye was at Designated Hitter, Right Field, and another possible “lights out” reliever. With the past two signings, and the possible addition of Choate as a left-hander to the Bullpen, the team might have improved  even more than in 2008.


 

 


And it is what the Rays will need to do in 2009. They must improve in a few areas to even try and make a run at a post season bid again in 2009. The Yankees have loaded up and will have a few kinks during the season as always, but then Boston is retooled in their pitching to stop people in their tracks in 2009. The AL East will be a battleground in 2009, with maybe the winner of the division only winning 90 games this coming season. 

 

 

 

Also do not forget that Toronto and Baltimore will have a lot to say about who gets the crown in 2009 for the American League East.  All 5 of the squads in this division know that it is “put up, or shut up” time in the division. Teams are beginning to look at the Rays method of success and will try and build their team in a shadow of that image in 2009.  It is not a question of “Who will be the Rays of 2009″. It is more a question of, “Are the Rays batter in 2009?”  If the answers come out right, there will be more champagne celebration in our future. And a lot of second guessing by other teams.

 

 

 

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