Results tagged ‘ Tim Wakefield ’

My Review of the 2009 Boston Red Sox

 
 


Okay, now that we are getting near the end of my review of the American League East teams for 2009, you do not have to fret. I am not doing any other division in baseball this spring. The Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays area the only two left on my list to ponder for 2009. I will not have my Rays blog review up until maybe Sunday afternoon or evening. It will depend on how good a time I have at the game on Saturday, so be sure to peek real hard at the seat to the left of the Bullpen gate and you just might see me on that little screen of yours.

 

With that said, it is time now for me to review the team that I truly think will be the top squad in the American League East this season. I am not trying to divert or even blow any smoke here, but I truly think that if the Boston Red Sox can maintain their rotation and do not have a few odd injuries during the season to a few of their bats, it will be a long 2009 for everyone in baseball. The Red Sox have been the top dog for the last few seasons in the American League East before the Rays had to force them out of the playoffs in 2008 in seven games. I have to admit that the Red Sox did show a mountain of determination after the Rays took it to them in Fenway Park in Games 3 and 4 of the American League Championship Series.
 

The fact that it came down to the last few innings in St. Petersburg, Florida to even crown the divisional champs is a testament to the fortitude and the tenacity of the Red Sox last year. They did try and go out and improve parts of the club that they deemed weak to their divisional foes in 2008. But some of the planned additions did not sign with them and put a crimp in their off season plans. But the team did finally find a few odd pieces to fill those question makers and those players could be the play makers they will need to again succeed in 2009.
 

So without further ado, lets get into the Red Sox starting rotation for 2009. The Red Sox will again give the ball to Josh Beckett on Opening Day against the Rays in Fenway Park on April 6, 2009.  He will try and improve on his 12-10 record. Beckett did have bouts during 2008 of a bit of control issues because of an arm injury. Reports have said that he is feeling great this spring and should be ready to again be the ace of the Red Sox staff.  On top of his off season last year Beckett only tossed 174 innings, which is his lowest totals since his Florida Marlin days.  But he is still one of the guys that Boston will count on in the clutch, and that is just the way he likes it. Beckett is also one of those pitchers who can mix up his pitches from a variety of delivery points and types. At last count, he had one of the best 12-6 breaking curves in the league.

 


 

Manning the second slot in the rotation will be leftie Jon Lester, who posted a 16-6 record and 210 innings in 2008. Lester, a survivor both on and off the field, is also know to throw about four different pitches in a game.  His fastball gets some amazing tailing action, with a last second  sinking at the plate.  His cutter is very tight and can bend the knees of right-handers watching it at the plate. But his curveball is the mystery pitch that can beat you on the corners.  Lester will be counted on more in 2009 to get some of those hard victories against divisional foes that used to  escape the Red Sox.
 
Japanese  pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka , who posted a 18-3 record with a 2.93 ERA has made a name for himself since coming over from Japan.  It has been confirmed that he throws a total of six different pitches during games. Besides the usual fastball and curveball, he has been known to include a splitter, cutter, changeup and slider to hitters.  His cutter usually comes in around 88 mph and he will use it to either side of the plate.  His splitter makes a very unusual shift as it nears the plate and can fool hitters. But he is also got great movement on his fastball, which is thrown in the 90-95 mph range.
 

The fourth member of this rotation should be recent signee Brad Penny. He signed with the Red Sox in the off season, and should provide some additional experience and  leadership to this squad. Penny did not pitch much in 2008 after injuries, and his spot might be based on his development back into shape and form for the Red Sox.  He was a All-Star in both 2006 and 2007, and if he can regain his pitching form, he will be a great addition to this staff. Penny is a big, ugly dude on the mound, and I mean that in a good way.  One of his signature pitches is his 12-6 curveball. Also a weapon in his arsenal is his mouth. Penny has been known to smack talk a bit with opponents, which is accompanied by his nice off-speed splitter.
 

I think the fifth slot in this rotation might come down to what Red Sox Manager Terry Francona wants to do this year. He will again have the services of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, but at what extent will he use him since he doesn’t have a great knuckleball catcher anymore. Current starter Jason Varitek has been vocal about not wanting to catch Wakefield, and back-up catcher Josh Bard might again get this duty in his second tour with the Red Sox. Wakefield, who went 10-11 in 31 starts last season could be put in the Bullpen, but with his 56-67 mph flutterball he can mess with hitter’s rhythms like no other pitcher in the American League at times.

 
       
 

Another option for the Red Sox will not be available until maybe the middle of the season. When the Red Sox signed former Brave John Smoltz, they knew he would not be available for Opening Day in 2009. But with the recent pitching woes about the middle to the
end of the season, it will give the team another option to use instead of bringing up someone from Pawtucket. Smoltz still has some gas in his tank, and with his experience and off speed pitches, he could be one of the best pickups by the Red Sox by playoff time.  Smoltz uses a sweeping action on his slider that seems to miss bats, and has always been know to have a dominating 95 mph heater in reserve.  Smoltz may of had some health and injury troubles, but he can be counted on for great outings almost every time.

 

Another player who might even make the Red Sox team as a long reliever is Clay Bucholz. How many teams can boast that they have a guy in their system who came up and threw a no-hitter while basically a minor leaguer. Bucholz did that in 2007, and still is highly regarded in the Red Sox system. This might be his year to make a move and finally  get a set spot in the roster in April. This starting lineup is on paper the best in the American League East, but its health will be the tell tale sign of what it can accomplish in 2009. If they do not have multiple injuries like the New York Yankees did in 2008, they could be the cream of the crop in 2009.
 

And even when the starter leave the game, the Red Sox Bullpen actually got better in 2009. They added a few extra pieces to further cement a lineup that would be the envy of any team in the league. Hideki Okajima will again be in the Bullpen for the Red Sox. He will again bring his deceptive splitter that seems to drop right out of sight before hitting the plate.  His fastball became more recognizable in 2008, and he might have to adjust or go to a four-seam fastball to again fool hitters. Also in the Bullpen again in 2009 will be Manny Delcarmen. He  throws a 95 mph fastball that also seems to dip and miss bats in the zone.  Delcarmen also throws an overhand curveball that can fall like a classic  “drop” ball that was popular over 40 years ago.
 

Justin Masterson might be another guy who could push Bucholz out of a roster spot because of his ability to either start or work out of the Bullpen. He basically throws two pitches, a fastball and a slider, which both tend to dip a lot. Combine that with his funky delivery and you got the making of a pitcher who can sweep the plate from both side with both pitches. Also coming out of the Bullpen in 2009 will be Javier Lopez. He is a sidearming leftie who can fool hitters with his gimmick delivery. He basically throws a fastball and curve, but mixes in a changeup for good measures.

 
      
 

 
Someone who might come in and make the roster as a reliever in 2009 is Japanese import Junici Tazawa. I am currently not sure where the Red Sox will use him in 2009, but he will be on the 40-man roster for sure. Tazawa set off an Japanese frenzy earlier in the year when he decided to bypass a career in the Japanese League and came straight to the United States to play for the Red Sox.  He is only 22 years old, and signed a 3-year deal worth $ 6 million. He throws a  95 mph fastball, 12-6 curveball, a slider and a forkball. Before he signed with Boston, he   had won the MVP award at the National Corporate Baseball Tournament for Nippon Oil. It was their first title in 13 years . Not to be outdone was the addition of former L A Dodger closer Takashi Saito. He will be mostly used as a setup man for the Red Sox. He is mostly a breaking ball pitcher.  He constantly throws curves and  sliders with amazing control and command. Saito uses these pitches either on the plate, or just off it to tease hitters. He could be a great tool to bring in before the ninth inning to get hitters off balance before Jonathan Papelbon comes into the game. Papelbon is finding a great niche for himself as a closer in this league. Combine his explosive fastball with his sweeping slider and you get a guy who can give you multiple looks coming out of the Bullpen to win the game.  He has even named his own pitch, a slutter, which is a variation of the slider and cutter. But combine that with his antics while warming up and you get a guy who loves the pressure and can perform in the clutch with the best of them. That now gives the Red sox three Japanese pitchers on their staff.
 

That will bring us to the guy who will catch this pitching staff. After a long off season hiatus, Jason Varitek finally signed with the Red Sox and will again be the main guy behind the plate. He calls an excellent game behind the dish, but can be a liability at the plate. His hitting needs to improve for the Red Sox to have a dominant bat near the bottom of the lineup. As stated above Josh Bard will probably get the honor to try and catch and block Wakefield in 2009. Bard is also a good signal caller, but he is also a bit weak with his bat. This might be one of the weakest position from an offensive standpoint, but defensively it is on par with the league.

 
 
           
 


Starting in the middle of the infield we will have 2008 American League Most Valuable Player Dustin Pedroia again back manning second base. The third year player made a name for himself in 2008 by being the clutch hitter and offensive dynamo the Red Sox needed to keep pace with the Rays in the A L East race.  One of the biggest question marks of the spring will be who mans the shortstop position on Opening Day. Last season Julio Lugo fell into slumps ( .268 average ) and  an injury situation that made him basically a non factor at the position. He has come out and said he wants the position and will be given an opportunity to again win it in Spring Training.  But because of the size of his contract, you have to believe that the Red Sox will give him multiple chances until a change has to be made. If he fails, the Red Sox have a experienced fielder in Jed Lowrie who took over for Lugo in 2008. Lowrie posted a .258 average, but was a better defensive player for the Red Sox last season.

 

On the corners the Red Sox will have Kevin Youkilis manning first base. Youkilis became a offensive threat in 2008 and will again try and improve on his .312 average with 29 homers ans 115 RBI’s.  But he is just as good at the defensive front at first base and is con
sidered one of the American League’s best at the position. In 2008 he had only 4 errors in 923 chances. Only Carlos Pena of the Rays had a better mark in 2008. On the other side of the diamond will be Mike Lowell, who will be trying to come back off a serious hip injury in 2009. Lowell has been one of the offensive leaders in recent years for Boston, but in 2008, his injuries took a toll with a slight decrease at the plate. He only hit .274 last season with 17 homers ans 73 RBI’s, but is looking to increase those numbers. Along with Youkilis and Pedroia, Lowell makes one of the better hitting infields in the American League.

 

 


In the outfield things should be pretty set both in left field and center for the Red Sox. After sending Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers at last season’s trade deadline, the Red Sox acquired a great fielder and hitter in former Pirate Jason Bay. He will begin his first full season in Fenway Park , but already has a good read on the Green Monster and should improve even more in 2009. His .286, with 31homers and 101 RBI’s should again be an offensive weapon for the team.  Patrolling center field will be Jacoby Ellsbury.  Again in 2009, he should be the Red Sox lead-off hitter and continue his climb to become one of the best lead-off men in Red Sox history. His .280 average with 50 stolen bases shows that he can be a menace on the base paths as well as hit.

 
In right field, J D Drew might be the man to beat, but injury situations in the past might prove to be his downfall. Even though he hit .280, with 19 homers and 64 RBI’s, his hitting was streaky during 2008. When healthy is is a monster force out in right field, but is only average with arm strength and speed to the ball. With the short porch in right field, he can sometimes be a liability for short pop ups and shots down the line. Former Ray, Rocco Baldelli might provide the needed back-up because of his speed and hitting. Baldelli can also play center field and is quick to the ball and has a cannon arm. He is feeling fantastic after finding out his illness has changed and his fatigue and stamina will be a big question this spring. If he is truly healthy, he will be a great addition to the Red Sox roster. 

Rounding out the roster will be Designated hitter David Ortiz. He will be late getting back to Spring Training after appearing for the Dominican Republic team during the World Baseball classic.  Ortiz when healthy can be one of the best power hitter in the game. But questions will rise fast about his wrist again in 2009 if he gets off to a slow start.  As Ortiz goes, so does the Boston offense. When he is playing great, they team has the ability to beat anyone, but when he is missing from the lineup it is a huge spot to fill. His 2009 season should be better than his sub par 2008, but only if he remains healthy.
 

So there you have the review of the Boston Red Sox. the team will again have a forceful starting rotation and a Bullpen that is considered one of the strongest top to bottom in the majors. For the Red Sox to drive towards the American League East title, they will have to maintain a great level of health and prevent injuries in 2009. As I stated before, if Boston has an injury situation like the 2008 Yankees, they might be fighting for third place in September. But all indications are that they will be fighting deep into September to try and regain the top spot in the A L East.
 

 

For them to again get to that top spot, they will have to win the yearly series against two team that have owned them late in the year in 2008. The will again have to be dominant against the Rays and the Blue Jays to try and post at least 95 wins in 2009. I think that total is achievable, but only if the injury bug and the Bullpen stays focused and strong. 2009 will be a fight for another A L East title. No one is guaranteed that even if they finish second in this division they will get a playoff spot . For that reason, the Red Sox will want to secure the top spot and guarantee their post season goals for 2009.
 
 
  

photo credits foir today’s blog go to: wwwsawxblog.com, rnolan1087@Flickr.com, sdowen@Flickr.com, keithallison@Flickr.com, news.yahoo.com, dubjo@Flickr.com, dbadair@Flickr.com.

American League East Thoughts

 

 
 


Everyone in America knew that this blog was coming. Everyone who follows my blog and baseball on MLBlogs knows that my team is itching to defend their American League Pennant. We know that 2009 will be the year where the Tampa Bay Rays will be between the crosshairs with everyone gunning to put us out of our misery every night. And you want to know something, that is fine with me. I am that kind of guy. Bring it on, I  think this team reloaded pretty good in the off season. We did not spend almost a half a billion dollars, but with millions we did invest in players went to needs, and that is the name of the game.
 

Most pre-season blogs and predictions have this as a two-team race in 2009. That is fine, they thought the same in 2008, and did not even acknowledge the Rays were a good team until almost the end of August. Everyone spent millions of words and letters chatting on the fall of the team. That the team was propped up by other teams getting caught off guard and the Rays just manipulated the system. Really? manipulated a system where New York and Boston were destined to win  it all, but one sat at home in October for the first time in many years.
 

Can you really think that I was going to post a blog putting a Boston or new york team up in front of us even before the first game?  Seriously people, I am not saying we are winning 162 games, or maybe not even 100, but I do think this team is for real and the race will be close until the last breathe of summer. And why do I think that with the multitudes of Yankees fans breathing down my neck chatting about their outstanding pitching. Well, Yankees fans, pitching only gets you so far, and do you really think that entire top5 will be on the mound the entire year? Seriously here, I can see C C Sabathia dominating the A L East, But A J Burnett might get his 15 wins, or he might be sitting in the dugout after a weird injury.

 


 

You guys have not even thought about if Joba Chamberlain is going to be 100 percent effective in the rotation. Once you begin playing with a guy running him in and out of a rotation, you can do more damage than good to the poor guy. If you have a solid 5 without him, let him stay as a set-up guy. Who is it going to hurt Mariano Rivera?  I am not going to throw any predictions out this year at all in the A L East war, but I will throw out a few challenges to teams. The first challenge is to the Yankees pitching staff. Since you have already been deemed the pitching staff of the century by experts, will it be a downfall if the staff doesn’t get 100 wins?
 

With that in mind, has the Yankee’s new stars sent flowers to A Rod yet thanking him for taking all of the Spring Training pressure off them so they can pitch like normal guys while the media froths over A Rod. Can you seriously think that the cousin/bad trainer/steroid situation will end in April? It will be a wild time in the Trop and other cities in 2009 as the fans show either their support or voice some loud chants about this entire situation. Want to make a bet on what is said? 
 

Also, people have dominated the off season with Yankee talk about the pitching upgrades. Did they do anything beside secure a good first baseman this past off season. Where is the offensive dynamo beside Mark Teixeria? Did the Yankees upgrade by getting Nick Swisher, or just plug in someone for a year in right field until something better comes along. And will Jose Posada come back as a stronger Yankee hitter, or be seeing more time at D H. Question are everywhere about the Yankees, but then again, even when they had a Championship team people had questions about weak spots.
 

Besides on the mound, is this really a strong Yankee team? They had better hope so, or the crowd will be on them soon. The A L East will get a fast idea on if the aggressive will dominate early in the season. The entire month of April will be spent mostly in divisional battles. This is where Boston took that early lead in 2008 before the Rays rose up and past them. So again in 2009, will the pattern remain the same, or will another team push towards the top and stay there.
 

Boston also did not weaken itself in the off season. They added Brad Penny and John Smoltz to their pitching staffs, with Smoltz maybe providing a cushion in the second half of the season.  This staff is the best in the A L East on paper. They have the experience and the stamina to out pace most teams in the division. But there are questions on their staff. They bulked up on set-up and relievers in the off season, but did the rotation really get that much better. I mean is Tim Wakefield still your best number 5 pitcher? Or will someone else step up and take that spot from him and make a decision even tougher about the Bullpen members.
 

I see the Boston pitching as another area where 2009 could make or break them early. Josh Beckett is a great pitcher, but until he get a few starts in we might not know if that lingering injury in 2008 is gone or might pop back up and take him down in 2009.  Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka are just going to come out ans reload after a great 2008. The 2 and 3 spot in this rotation might be the best Boston has seen in a long, long time. But let’s take a short look at the Bullpen. They have upgraded themselves, but with mostly National League pitchers. People forget that the National League is known for finesse and off speed pitches, while the American League is a power pitchers paradise.

 


 

But bright spot in Boston with no signs of disaster yet is their returning offense. The only blimp on the radar might be David Ortiz. Will the big guy be able to respond and get back into his former form and boost the offense in 2009? He is my biggest question mark on the entire Boston roster. Will we see the dominating Ortiz, or a shadow of himself like after his wrist began to hurt in 2008. You know that Boston wanted to upgrade somehow in that area, but with his contract it might have been bad at this moment. But can you see changes if he gets into a rut and stumbles out of the gate?  Will the team make that change and maybe upset the stadium masses, or will any injury make that decision for them? 
 

Can the upgrades in the Boston relief corps be enough to keep them in the game, or will the A L  bat them around for a bit until they settle in and pitch effectively. Questions ,questions. I am not trying to incite a riot online with these question marks. I am only trying to show that the A L
East will be a war that will have to be fought nightly this year. I really do not see Toronto or even Baltimore laying down at all this year. The Rays resurgence has shown small market clubs that anything is possible. One of these two bottom dwellers from the past two years might even rise up and bite one of the top three more than once in 2009.
 

It is not impossible for the eventual A L East division winner to have a .500 record against their  division rivals. I think it is a bit out of this world to think that, but it is possible. No one picked the Rays to even get into the playoffs, much less make it to the World Series. Boston and New York will  not lay down for  anyone in 2009. This division will be a sign that money and talent can battle each other and the best team will win no matter what the payroll. The Rays payroll might be upwards of $ 60 million plus in 2009, but that is pale in comparison to the millions dealt out just for pitching help by both divisional rivals.
 

                   
 

So will the money win out in 2009, or will the confident and determined show up again on top? We have a few days until we again get it started and go to the plate for real.  I have a feeling this spring will also be highly charged as all three teams want to prove some thing even before the season to their rivals. This might be one of the best Spring Trainings to watch in Florida for a long time. All three will be gunning to win, and wanting to put pressure on the others to either step up or shut up before even April. Now the real question might be, Is you team going to be talking or walking come October 1st?

Photo credits for today’s blog: Associated Press Photo Corps, ESPN.com, RRCollections.

 

Willy Aybar versus the Rays………..Arbitration 2009

 

 
 

 

It is only a matter of time before Dioner Navarro is again celebrating. But this time it will be for a arbitration hearing settlement against his team, the Tampa Bay Rays. But he might not be alone that night celebrating as utility player Willy Aybar is also scheduled to go to arbitration with the Rays in 2009. Since Andrew Friedman took over the  player contract reigns  3 seasons ago, he has only been to two hearing for the team. What is surprising is the fact that both of those hearing were for former Rays catcher Josh Paul, and the Rays won both hearings. So for the next 2 days, lets dig into the background and the career numbers for the Rays still arbitration eligible players. Both Navarro and Aybar are seeking substantial raises in 2009, and will go before an arbitrator for the first time to secure their 2009 contracts with the Rays.
 

 

But this year will be different for the Rays. Navarro, who is also a catcher posted personal bests in several offensive and defensive categories, and when compared to recent catchers in the MLB, is considered a bargain even at 2 plus million dollars a year.  Navarro also went to his first All-Star game in 2008, and that just might be a nice piece of hardware to push him over that $ 2 million dollar plateau with ease.. The Rays started the off season with 6 members eligible for arbitration, but 2 were eliminated by trades, and 2 signed a contract with the team before the team’s  12 p.m. deadline on January  20, 2009.



 


 

 

Former Rays starter Edwin Jackson was traded to the Detroit Tigers for Matt Joyce and finally agreed to a $ 2.2 million dollar contract wit the Tigers, with a chance to earn an additional $200,000 dollars through innings pitched incentives. The Rays were not as kind to emotional and energetic cheerleader Jonny Gomes as the team cut ties with the fan favorite and he eventually decided on a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds for $ 600,000, with production incentives of $ 200,000 possible in the deal. Gomes also will have a chance during spring training to secure a left field spot in the Red’s outfield.
 

 

Rays 2008 Team MVP Jason Bartlett signed a contract with the Rays at 10:50 a.m. on January 20th, to just get under the wire of the Rays set deadline to discuss contracts with arbitration eligible players. Bartlett signed for $ 1,981,250 dollars on a 1-year deal, but the Rays control him until 2011. Rays platoon right fielder Gabe Gross avoided arbitration by signing a 1.255 million dollar contract on January 14, 2008 for a1 year deal. Gross will compete with Joyce and Rays new comer Gabe Kapler for playing time in 2009.



 

 

So that leaves the Rays with 2 very important members of their 2008 American League Pennant winning squad still on the outside without a contract. Both Navarro and Aybar can take a huge amount of credit for the surge of the Rays in 2008 based on their newly set career bests. Aybar can also put on a tag of  “always ready” on his resume by coming in and taking charge several times in 2008 due to injuries of star players Bartlett, and Evan Longoria. So let’s begin with the Rays utility man, who played above and beyond his expectations in 2008.
 

 

Willy Aybar came to the Rays in a trade with the Atlanta Braves prior to the 2008 season. He had been a handful for the braves in both injuries and personal situations that almost got him a bad label in the league. Aybar had been obtained in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006 and went straight into the Braves minor league system. When  the Rays considered Aybar for a trade prior to the beginning of the 2008 spring training season, they had a lot of information and problems to sift through before finally completing the deal.



 

 

After consulting with their scouts and members of their new Dominican Republic complex staff, Tampa Bay  began to really talk with the Atlanta Braves about a trade involving 24-year-old infielder. Aybar’s off-the-field issues, most notably a stint in a substance-abuse rehabilitation program that wiped out most of his 2007 season, could be an impediment.
 

 

The Braves  had suspended Aybar indefinitely in April 2007 after he left the team without permission. He was supposed to report for treatment on a sore wrist that had him on the disabled list to open the season but instead drove from Atlanta to Boston to see his older brother for help dealing with drinking and drug issues. Aybar finally completed his rehab program in August 2007, but a broken hamate bone in his right hand kept him from making it back to the majors.

 

He underwent season-ending surgery and didn’t take the field again until October, when he began the winter-ball season playing for Licey in the Dominican Republic. He has had a strong season in his home country,hitting .339 and posting a .415 on-base percentage in 15 games during Licey’s run to first place in the league’s January semifinal series. So the Rays decided that Triple-A pitcher Jeff Ridgeway would be good enough bait to obtain the troubled infielder.  But the Rays could not have anticipated the trouble in the off season prior to reporting for the Rays.

 

 
 


 

 

Aybar was arrested in February 2008 for suspicion of Domestic Abuse in the Dominican Republic and was initially held without bond. Even though Aybar’s lawyers have told a local magistrate that Aybar’s wife is dropping all of the charges, the infielder was still incarcerated in the Dominican for several days. After finally getting the situation solved Aybar went about getting ready to report to the Rays Spring Training complex in St. Petersburg, Florida for the 2008 season.  
 

 

Then on February 20th it is learned that Aybar, Joel Guzman and Juan Salas are still being detained in the Dominican Republic on visa issues.  The Rays consulted MLB about providing help to get their three players out of the country in time for Spring Training.  Aybar and Guzman were both finally granted their visas and reported to camp in late February. But that was not the end of the frustration for the young infielder. During Spring Training he suffered a pulled or strained hamstring and it put him under suspicion that he might not be ready for the regular season. 
 

 

When camp finally broke in April, Aybar had been given a spot on the 25-man roster and a starting gig at third base as the Rays sent their budding superstar, Evan Longoria down for more seasoning in the minors. With a regular spot in the lineup it looked like it would be Aybar’s year to shine in the major leagues. But 10 games into the season, Aybar was put on the disabled list because of the same hamstring injury and lost his starting shot at third base for the Rays as they finally brought up Longoria to stay for the season.

 

 


 

 

 

During 2008, Aybar started 79 games for the Rays. 40 of those were at third base during the early season and Longoria’s stint on the disabled list after the Seattle series.  On September 17, 2008, against Boston’s Tim Wakefield, Aybar and Fernando Perez set a record by both switch hitters hitting a home run off Wakefield from the right side of the plate. That was the first time since 1969 that two switch hitters hit a homer against the same pitcher in a division play.
 

 

But it was during his stint at third base after Longoria injured his wrist in Seattle that he showed his versatility and power to the Rays. Starting all 30 games while Longoria was out, Aybar hit .308, with 5 homers and 18 RBI’s. During that span he hit 14 extra base hits and also walked 11 times for the team. But it was as a third baseman that Aybar made his number for 2008. Playing those 40 games at third, he hit .297 , with 6 homers and 20 RBI’s for the year. Elsewhere in the field or at Designated Hitter, he only batted .206, with 4 homers and 12 RBI’s. He had made a statement that third base was home for him.



 


 

 

But Aybar also played shortstop on occasion during one of Jason Bartlett’s disabled list ventures and performed a great job in the middle for the Rays. But he did go through a streaky pattern at the plate in 2008, hitting .309 on June 9th, before going 22-188, or a .186 average from June 10th to August 6th. He dropped his average all the way to .222 before taking over for Longoria after his injury.  In his first game at third after the Longoria injury, he hit a career best 2 homers in a game against the Mariners’ and had a career high 4 RBI’s on the day.  His 10 homers in 2008 are 5 more than he has ever gotten in his career.

 
 


 

 

But on the dark side, he did miss a total of 45 games due to his hamstring injury, but later in the season did  go without incident or injury for the rest of the year. So his 2008 average of .288 against left-handers was one of the best averages on the Rays against southpaws during the season. Buy Aybar did save his best for last in 2008 as he went 3 -4 against the Red Sox at home on September 17, 2008 to help the Rays defeat the Red Sox.

 

The unfortunate side of Aybar in 2008, is that 8 of his 10 homers were solo shots and did not help get extra runs for the Rays during the season.  But Aybar was the middle hitter in the June 9th game against the Los Angeles Angels at Anahiem where Longoria, Aybar and Navarro all homer in sequence for the Rays. Aybar did have 13 game-tying or go-ahead runs in the year, and also had 3 infield hits for the Rays. He also put down 3 bunt singles for the team, and was picked 6 times for “Web Gems” by the Rays PR staff during the year for his defensive plays. 

 

On defense, Aybar had a total of 118 total chances on defense in 2008, with 29 putouts and 84 chances. He however committed 5 errors on the season to put his fielding percentage at .958. that is pretty average for a guy trying to fight to get playing time every day.   I do not have a total breakdown of if must of these errors came from other positions besides third base in 2008. That total would put him in the middle of the pack with respect to utility men in the league, most of which make over $ 1 million a year.

 


 

 

 

So is this enough for Aybar to get rewarded with an arbitration figure higher that the Rays suggested contract of $ 900,000 dollars for 2009. Aybar did counter with an offer of $ 1,050,000 for the season, a difference of only $ 150,000 dollars.  The proof might actually be in Aybars’ post season numbers as he went  9 for 23 during the playoffs, posting a .417 average, with  2 home runs and 6 RBI’s in 10 games.  the fact that he hit for 16 total bases and only struck out 4 times in the playoffs might be enough to get him that extra $ 150,000 dollars in arbitration money.
 

 

Aybar has been one of the American Leagues hidden gems in 2008. He can hit, play defense and is a great clutch player for the Rays. I was actually surprised not to hear his name mentioned throughout the off season as trade bait for a big time hitter or reliever. Who knows if Aybar will even make it past the trade deadline in 2009 with the team. His stock has been going up all throughout 2008, and 2009 might be the year he can finally break through that utility player mold and become a starter with someone else during the stretch run.

 

 
 

 

 

Time will tell, but I am thankful that we have Aybar as a reliable and constructive member of the Rays bench.  With a new contract in hand, and a chance to retain his psot on the Rays 25-man roster for 2009, Aybar might just be the happiest guy to report to the new training complex in Port Charlotte. But then again, maybe Navarro will spring for dinner that first night.
 
 

Some Non Tender Thoughts

 

 

Alot of interesting things happened last night during the tender, non-tender deadline at midnight. Players got that realistic nudge of if they are considered a positive piece of the roster puzzle in 2009, or if they are totally expendable to the franchise.  Some names came across the board that you thought would be offered a contract, but ended up on the scrap heap with the rest of them.

 

There were a few names circulating who teams were trying frantically to try and trade before midnight to get some kind of value off the player before he left his old teams clutchs. Up until the witching hour, the Orioles tried to trade Daniel Cabrera and  in the same breath sign Lance Cromier to a reduced salary.  Neither player was offered a contract in the end, and that leaves the Orioles with an interesting starting pitching arrangement as of midnight. As of right now, only Jeremy Guthrie is penciled in the O’s rotation in 2009, but they do have options in the minor league system.

 

But some other names popped up on the radar after midnight that were suppose to be key pieces in their teams puzzles, but were discarded like old soda cups at the stadium when the clock struck midnight. Some have already re-signed with their old clubs, while a majority of the non-tenders are re-evaluating their careers and taking a breath before jumping back into the fire. 

 

 

                       

 

 

Philadelphia Philles Pitcher Scott Mathieson and Cincinnati Reds outfielder Norris Hopper resigned with their old squads during the night hours under a minor league contract. What was so wild about the Hopper non-tender is that it left the Reds, who also had their Fan Fest last night, with only 2 outfielders on their roster until Hopper inked his name on a contract.

 

  But some of the veterans that were left off of rosters last night will find solace today and  will not be out of work long. Several have had discussion already with clubs and it might be a minimal amount of time before they are signed, sealed and delivered to their new bosses’. But some names last night did not make sense on the syrface. Several of the names on the non-tendered list had great seasons and seemed to be in the plans before December 12th.

 

 

                    

 

 

Take former Astro Ty Wiggington, not only is he a super utility guy who can seriously play any position under the sun, but he left his old team with decisions to make no at third base. Wiggington was the Astros strongest candidate at third, and no it will escalade into a full blown battle for a successor at the position in the Spring. The 31 year-old hit a strong .285/.350/.526 in 429 plate appearances.  He probably doesn’t mind reaching free agency early in a weak third baseman market.  The Indians and Twins still have vacancies.

 

Then you have the relievers who seemd to put up excellent numbers and be on the teams’ radars for 2009, and got put out to pasture fast and without remorse. Such was the case of Florida Marlins’ reliever, Joe Nelson.  Wow…a 2.00 ERA still gets you non-tendered in Broward County.  He’s not effective as a close down reliever good, but he had a huge strikeout rate and is definitely a useful reliever in early innings.

 

 

 

 

The you have the case for my favorite whipping boy of 2009, Daniel Cabrera had been in the Oriole system for 10 years before finally getting the heave ho last night.  Let’s think about that again…………10 years.  This guy  has always been the ackwardly potent Orioles pitcher to face during a series. But his Dr Jeckle and Mr Hyde pitching style might have finally out stayed its welcome in Camden Yards. Many a hitter will tell you about pitches grazing the strikezone like a surgeon, then the next one is coming at your head without a want or reason.  At times Cabrera  posted very big strikeout numbers  and had impressive groundball rates.  With a fresh start, who knows.

 

 

                 

 

Now here is a non-tender that made sense due to a earlier trade, but why do you give up speed  and youth and keep an older outfield that will get older as the year progresses in 2009. I truly feel that  former Kansas City Royal Joey Gathright was a victim of the inside rebuilding of the team, but they are giving no consideration to speed and upgrades.  Gathright is one of the fastest men in baseball, and that can wreck havoc on a pitching staff if used correctly. Gathright will have a uniform in 2009, and will be dirt and clay-stained by the 5th inning after stealing a few bases.

 

Then there is the case of former Colorado Rockies outfielder, Willy Taveras.  Like Gathright, Taveras is a speed demon, but his recent plus/minus ratings in center field are poor.  And you can’t steal first base. And there is the mystery still humming around on why he was not considered healthy enough to complete a trade with the Mets for Tim Redding earlier in the week. This one might take a few months to really get to the heart of the problem, then we can move on and let Willy play baseball again…somewhere.

 

 

 

This next one is pretty personal to me, because I have known this guy for some time and know the BS and the challenges he has faced in 2008. His former team the Tampa Bay Rays considered him a valuable member of the roster before the first half break in the season. From that moment on, Jonny Gomes was relegated to the bench and had minimum chances and outfield starts.

 

Gomes is the type of player who needs to play every day. He lives and breathes off the emotions and the enrgies of the game. To put him on the bench without a sense of the games pace, you take him mentally and emotionally out of the contest. Gomes  got pop, and destroyed lefties outside of this year.  That’s about it though.  But sometimes, things like this are done for a reason. Maybe a change of scenery will do wonders for him, and finding a team who might need a power fourth outfielder or D H might  be his calling in baseball.

 

 

 

When the Los Angeles Dodger let closer Takashi Saito go last night, there was a sigh of relief around baseball. Here is a bona fide closer who might not cost and arm or a leg, who can effectively close out a game without incident.  Saito posted some  dominant big league numbers for the Dodgers, but he’s a huge question mark after having platelet-rich plasma injected into his elbow in an experimental procedure.  Sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but without all the Godzilla and Mothra figures.

 

I think we all know where former Washington Nationals pitcher Tim Redding will be throwing in 2009. Now that he is free and clear, the Colorado rockies will be knocking on his door and frantically calling his agent to get him signed quickly to the Rockies starting rotation. In the high alititude of Denver, he might be good for a sub 5.00 ERA as a back of the rotation starter. Tim, I hear the Rockie Mountain oysters are great at the Buckhorn. 

 

 

 

What did not surprise anyone in baseball is the  non tendering of former Milwaukee Brewers starter, Chris Capuano. Because of his last 2  injuries there might be a small question of the ability for him to throw effectively in 2009. Considering the Brewers are in need of a extra pitcher now, you might see him resigned to a lower deal with a few health incentives thrown in for good measures.

 

People seem to forget that Capuano has his second Tommy John surgery in May 2008. But his past exploits from 2005-2006 might get him a Spring Training invite and a possible rotation spot out it all if he is shown to be healthy and productive for the team.

 

 

But then you have players like former Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash, who was Tim Wakefield’s personal catcher in 2008. You have to think that the Red Sox are using thisa to get a reduced salary for the part-time catcher. But can catching Wakefield and watching your errors and passed ball totals skyrocket into space be worht the reduced cash flow.

 

But then you have guys like Aaron Miles of the St. Louis Cardinals, who was also non-tendered in 2007 before signing again for 2008 at a reduced salary. Could the team be again trying to use this as a measure to instill costs with a player who has come back one after being slapped in the face by his team. Hopefully someone like the  Cincinnati Reds might find him a better liking to their team and he move on over without giving the Cardinals the satisfaction of another stay on their roster.

 

In all, Major League Baseball saw about 36 players who recieve non tendered offers last night. Some of these players will resign for a small contract or even a minor league deal with some organization, while other are currently seeking and wanting another chance at starting and helping a team to the next level.

 

But for people like former Royals infielder, Jason Smith, the non-tendering was not as bad as the designated for assignment he recieved earlier in the day from the team to make a roster spot for   newly signed relief pitcher Horacio Ramirez before the non-tender deadline.

 

Love Me Non-Tender Candidates 2008…Part One

 

 

 

After all the Post season celebration have muffled to a silent roar, we embark on a journey that no player wants to roam. That journey down the road of arbitration. Where the road is lined with pitfalls and traps, one of tendering offers or letting the players kneel by the wayside to gather themselves after being cast off by their clubs. It is a time to reflect and expose the best and worst of this time of year for baseball. It becomes the time when you really know what your team GM and your coaching staff think of you as a productive member of their franchise. And the journey starts now……………….

 

 On this date, Friday, December 12th, every team in the major leagues must decide to either tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players, or set them free as more glut in the 2009 free agent market. And while in past years the non-tendered players weren’t considered to be difference-makers, the list could be more interesting this year.  There are several players on this list who either had bad situation on their teams or might have been fighting back from injuries in 2008.

 

Players who are “tendered” on Friday are considered signed for 2009 at a salary to be determined, not less than 80 percent of his salary the previous season, and both sides continue negotiating. If a deal cannot be struck, the team and the player will each file a proposed 2009 salary in early January. Those figures are exchanged on Jan. 19, and a date for a salary arbitration hearing is then set for Feb. 1-21. 

 

If the sides still cannot come to terms before the date of the hearing, a representative for the team and one for the player present a case before a panel of arbiters, which chooses one salary or the other.  On the other hand, if a player is not tendered a contract before Friday’s deadline, he becomes a free agent.

 

A nationwide economic downturn has affected how Major League Baseball teams are conducting business, and in an effort to cut corners, the number of non-tendered players could increase, based solely on the market’s projected rise in their salaries based on arbitration data and past results.. The same can be said for the quality of those players. Some of the guys being considered for non-tender have been great contributors to their teams in the past, but not during the 2008 season.

 

Past  players non-tendered include David Ortiz, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Franklin, David Eckstein, and Chad Durbin.  Usually at least a few useful guys are unearthed. I am going to submit a few names that are being considered to be non-tendered starting at midnight tonight. Some of these names might sign free agent contracts with their old teams, but usually if a player is released from that team, they tend to float to another organization instead of resign with their old clubs.

 

Coming into the deadline are a few names that might mean somehting to several Tampa Bay Rays fans. A few names from the past are being considered to be non-tendered tonight. One of them is currently on the Rays roster and might have been pre-destined for this list during the season with the acquiring of Gabe Gross during the season.

 

 

                          

 

 

Designated Hitter/ Right-fielder Jonny Gomes has been the emotional sparkplug of this Rays young team for several seasons. But in 2008, after some spotty play in the outfield, both in left-field and right-field. Posting a ugly .167 batting average during the season might not bode well for Gomes to even be considered a contract in 2009. But one of the great facts of arbitration is that Gomes made $ 1.25 million in 2008, and the arbitration might not even give him a substancial increase.

 

He might skate by and be offered a contract based on his loyalty and the teams’ need for at least some kind of right-handed bat in the rightfield corner. Situations could change in the next few months, but the Rays could “rent” Gomes for now and get a trade return on him later in the Spring if needed.

 

The Rays have other players who will be on the bubble on Friday, like right-fielder and left-handed bat, Gabe Gross. He might be the best cltch hitter the Rays had in 2008, but he also might be caught in the numbers games as the team just traded for the young and undercontract for 6 more years Matt Joyce. Both players have a defensive pedigree, and it all might come down to if the Rays think that Gross will win the spot and be worh the money to keep, or set Joyce up in right and let Gross go, hoping he remains to be put under a free agent contract at a reduced price.

 

This might be the tricky one for the Rays. Gross did everything asked of him in 2008. He also is a great clubhouse guy who is never in trouble and always helping the younger outfielders. His ceiling might be higher than Joyces’ right now after a banner year where he set career numbers in almost every offensive category. It was a year where he was used more, and saw more plate appearances than any other time in his career.  Gross might join Gomes on the free agent market where there is a glut right now for corner outfielders. If not for that trade during the Winter Meetings, Gross would have been offered a contract without question.

 

 

 

 

An ex-Rays who might be getting considerable consideration from his current team is the Houston Astro’s Brandon Backe. However, with the current state of the Astros’ rotation — they have little Major League-ready depth in their farm system and few backup options to protect themselves from injury and inconsistency — they may decide to hold on to the right-hander. And with a salary of only $ 800,000 for 2008, he might come in at a considerable discount compared to the free agents on the current starting pitching market.

 

Astros General Manager Ed Wade sounded like he’s willing to give Backe another look but at the same time noted the right-hander’s 2008 season was a disappointment and he’ll have to prove a few things in 2009.  But the Astros have very little pitching depth, and the three top prospects — Brad James, Sergio Perez and Bud Norris — likely won’t be ready for the big leagues come Opening Day. That alone may ensure Backe is tendered a contract on Friday.

 

 

                        

 

Another ex-Rays who has had to basically live out of his suitcase this past season is reliever Chad Gaudin. Two years ago it seemed that the Toronto Blue Jays were serious about the young pitcher and staked him a claim in their Bullpen. But during the off-season he was traded to the Oakland A’s where he started and relieved for the Athletics. He was then sent packing to the Chicago Cubs in the deal for Rick Harden as a key plug for the Cub’s Bullpen problems.

 

Since arriving in Chicago, Gaudin went 4-2, with a 4.26 ERA and got 27 strikeouts in 27.1 innings of work in 2008 for the Cubbies. Gaudin is known for his slider and his sinker, which both have above average movement to both sides of the plate. Also in his arsenal is a sinking change-up that can come in on left-handers. Gaudin might be a casualty of expectations in 2009, and might be non-tendered as rendered a free agent by the Cubs.

 

 

                       

 

 

Another possible casulty to the non-tender pile might be a National League pitcher who has been fighting to get into game shape for over a year after having 2 injuries in the past 2 seasons. Milwaukee Brewers’ starter Chris Capuano came to the team with high expectations. He was considered one of the top 5 pitchers in 2007 before a labrum injury forced him to have surgery on 10/11/2008.  Capuano rehabbed and was struggling to get into game shape when another injury hit him during 2008 Spring Training. This time a torn ligament in his left pitching elbow basically shelved him for the entire 2008 season. He was retroactively posted to the 15-day DL on March 27th.

 

 

He was twice transferred on the DL lists in 2008, going from the 15-day disabled list again on September 1st, then subsequently put back  on the 60-day DL on October 31, 2008.  Capuano’s case is complicated because he earned $3.75 million last season but did not pitch because of the injury. If the Brewers tender him a contract, they could not cut his salary by more than 20 percent, and it seems unlikely they would commit such an expense to a pitcher still rehabilitating.  If the Brewers in fact decide to non-tender Capuano, they would try to re-sign him to a new, less expensive contract for 2009. He’s eligible for free agency after next season.

 

 

There are other “big names” being considered during the non-tender phase of arbitration. A few might have seemed like promising rising stars in the MLB a few years ago, but might have had tough times and might be in consideration for being released by their clubs.  One of the most visible name on this list might be former 2003 Rookie of the Year winner Angel Berroa of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

 

 

           

 

Another name sure to be heard on Friday will be Baltimore Orioles’ pitcher Daniel Cabrera. The club has to decide whether to offer a contract to Cabrera. If Baltimore doesn’t, the hulking right-hander will become a free agent one year ahead of schedule. If the O’s do, they may wind up going to arbitration. Andy MacPhail, Baltimore’s president of baseball operations, said Thursday that he’s still trying to make a decision. Cabrera, although erratic, remains one of the most experienced starters in the Orioles’ organization .

 

Baltimore has just one starter penciled into next year’s rotation and is trying to add at least two veterans by trade or free agency this offseason. Jeremy Guthrie remains the only surefire member of the starting staff, and Baltimore must decide whether Cabrera is a replaceable asset or one that’s worth one last shot at trying to salvage his potential.  Cabrera has made at least 26 starts in each of the past five seasons, and he’s logged at least 140 innings in each of those campaigns. The 27-year-old started relatively strong in 2008, jumping out of the gates to a 6-5 record and a 4.33 ERA in the first half of the season. After the All-Star break, however, he was 2-5 with a 7.59 mark.

 

And still, the overall numbers represented an improvement on his previous season. Cabrera went 8-10 with a 5.25 ERA in 2008 and snapped a two-year streak of leading the league in walks. One year earlier, he went 9-18 with a 5.55 ERA.  I think the Birds will take a gamble on Cabrera for one more years and help place at least one more piece into the pitching puzzle for 2009. But I do think he will have a short leash in 2009 with the Orioles, and might be  a trade deadline casualty if he is again wild and uncontrolable next year. 

 

 

                      

 

Pittsburgh management has still not made a determination to whether or not they plan to offer a contract to right-handed reliever Denny Bautista before the midnight on Friday for teams to tender contracts to all arbitration-eligible players.  Bautista is the only one of the team’s eight arbitration-eligible players whose status is in question. The Pirates’ management team has had internal debates this week about whether or not to keep Bautista, though no resolution has yet been made.

 

The Pirates acquired Bautista late last June in a minor trade with the Tigers, and the control problems that Bautista had in Detroit and other previous stops resurfaced again with the Pirates. He allowed 28 earned runs and 28 walks in 41 1/3 innings of relief for Pittsburgh. He struck out 34.  Bautista earned $395,000 in 2008, just over the Major League minimum. He would be in line for a significant pay raise should he go through the arbitration process with the Pirates.

 

The Pirates will tender contracts to their seven arbitration-eligible players — Ryan Doumit, Zach Duke, John Grabow, Adam LaRoche, Paul Maholm, Nate McLouth and Tyler Yates. Of that group, Doumit, Duke, Maholm and McLouth are all arbitration eligible for the first time.

 

 

 

The Red Sox must tender 2009 contracts to all unsigned players on their 40-man roster by Friday at midnight ET. The only players this truly impacts are those eligible for arbitration. For the Red Sox, that list includes first baseman Kevin Youkilis, closer Jonathan Papelbon, backup catcher Kevin Cash and lefty specialist Javier Lopez.

 

Reliever Manny Delcarmen was seven days short of enough service time to qualify for arbitration, so the Red Sox can simply renew his contract in Spring Training. Cash is the most likely candidate to be non-tendered on Friday. The Red Sox’s catching situation is in a state of flux, as the team continues to negotiate with Jason Varitek and scour the market for trade possibilities.

 

Even if Varitek returns, the club might seek a young player with more offensive potential than Cash to be the backup. The Red Sox like Cash defensively, and he does a nice job of handling Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball. However, there’s a chance he simply doesn’t fit into the plans for 2009. Even if the Red Sox non-tender Cash, they are still free to negotiate with him or re-sign him at some point. The same goes for any non-tendered player.

 

 

                      

 

The Royals need to find some room on their 40-man roster and that could be accomplished on Friday, the deadline for clubs to offer contracts to players. When the Winter Meetings closed, the Royals had 39 players on the winter roster but had signed pitchers Doug Waechter and Horacio Ramirez. They’d also reached an agreement with pitcher Kyle Farnsworth, and when that contract is approved another body will be added.

 

Adding Waechter filled the roster and, by Friday, a spot will be needed for Ramirez. The Royals could designate a player for assignment or non-tender a player, in short, not offer him a contract. The only way a club can keep an unsigned player is to tender a contract. If a player is non-tendered, he goes off the roster and becomes a free agent. Then he can sign with any club, including the Royals.

 

 

One possible option for the Royals would be to non-tender pitcher Jairo Cuevas and sign him to a Minor League contract. Cuevas has been the subject of a tug-of-war between the Royals and the Braves, each team claiming him on waivers from each other in the last two months. One writer speculated that, in order to save money in an effort to sign shortstop Rafael Furcal, the Royals might non-tender such players as catcher John Buck and outfielder Mark Teahen who both figure to do well in salary arbitration.

 

 

 

 

 

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