Results tagged ‘ Trade Deadline ’

” Friedman’s Anatomy”

Not sure why, but the moment I heard that Tampa Bay Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman was heading for a Seattle hospital with stomach pains, the fictional Seattle Grace/Mercy West Hospital instantly came to mind. Maybe one too many lattes in this cool and rainy town turned my brain into mush.

Maybe it was too many episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” with my ex-fiancée’ that somehow perpetrated that image of Meridith Grey and Doctor McDreamy standing over Friedman just in time for MLB prime time, poised and ready to deliver another Emmy winning episode, complete with more singing and dancing as the Rays kid wonder was wheeled out of the operating room to his semi-private suite.

You could see feisty redhead/dirty blond/hair color du jour Doctor Lexi Grey using a nifty curving circular move with a disposable ER scalpel to cut the cellphone and blue tooth expertly away from Friedman’s hand and ear in one swift motion, watching it fall in slow motion to the floor with a MLB GM on the end end screaming “Hello?”

Somehow I could easily see one of the Rays most brilliant minds centered with one of ABC’s greatest fictional hospital drama……Oh, and did I leave out, it is based in Seattle. This medical emergency of Friedmans’ only deserved the best medical staff, and this fictional staff never seems to lose the focus, their determination or their patients….well, most of the time.

Seriously folks, how could you not see this kind of drama and action play out when the MLB Trade Deadline and a medical emergency both rear their ugly heads…It is a perfect ABC Movie of the Week in training…easy.

I know the whole enchilada with Friedman was not packed in a 41 minute segment like on the television series, but considering the time of the year, and the stakes that could have been at stake….it would be ratings gold…Even in NYC.

You know then even though Cristina Yang is a talented cardio-thoracic blades-woman, she would be extra assertive to get a chance to possibly slice, dice and julienne Friedman’s nasty appendix out with the skill of a medical Zorro. That is just the way she rolls baby. How perfect would it be if this really happened with husband Owen Hunt stands behind her doing that classic Macaulay Caulking “Home Alone” face.

But you know the always crafty and smug Alex Karev would find a way to either be in the surgery, or playing a key second fiddle position, possibly manning Friedman’s phone hitting ignore every time the Washington Nationals number flashed on the screen. Heck bring back a montage of George, Izzy and maybe even some Denny Duquette for good measures. All flashing through Friedman’s subconscious.

I could easily see Chief of Staff Richard Webber on the bat phone with Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg and conferencing in Rays President Matt Silverman making sure all is calm in the Rays camp at this critical evening and juncture of the Trade Deadline countdown.

I wonder if the Rays really do have a plan in place for just this sort of emergency? Maybe it was placed in a hermetically sealed crystal box just for this kind of occasion. More likely a “Doomsday Draft” scenario then a Trade Deadline dissection/appendectomy.

Sometimes they say timing is everything, and with Friedman buckled over in pain and going under the knife, it surely will bode well with Sternberg in hopefully keeping Friedman in Tampa Bay once those Houston rumors hit the fan after their new ownership group is approved this month. Fair warning Stu, if this guy will sacrifice his body and life for this team…long term deal…or a blank check.

Rays Senior Advisor Gerry Hunsicker must have been in his old Astros days battle mode at this moment not only fielding calls about players, prospects and trade scenarios, but also well wishes and “get well soon” texts, emails and You tube quality videos from the vast Rays Republic. Sometime being behind the main target is the safest place to be…even in sports.

Friedman did not have his surgery at Seattle Grace, the hospital isn’t located near the Space Needle, or even anywhere situated near Broadway or the old P & I building. Friedman was armed again on that sunny Sunday morning armed with the utility belt of technology used to hone the deal and squeak an extra player out of a team.

Somehow MLB took it easy on Friedman that day. No deals were finalized, no players changed hands, no harm, no foul, except for that dang appendix in the jar on his bed stand. Somehow just like an episode of “Grey’s”, in the end, all becomes one, and all the madness turned into perfection in the Emerald City of coffee and dramatic moments. I think even Amanda Bailey would have smiled.

Could Upton’s Refusal to Long Term Deal be his Downfall

Even before the Tampa Bay Rays were bought and their brand re-invented by Stuart Sternberg, the Vince Namoli ownership group tried to convince their young “ shortstop of the future” to a long term deal…..He declined.

After his subsequent removal from the then D-Rays Shortstop carousel, he found himself subsequently hopping around the team’s infield like a rabbit at Target Field, but still he was adamant about dodging a long term deal with the new ownership. Some thought he was being arrogant, some thought he was selfish, in the end, he is still doing only 1-year deals with the Rays.

Finally Sternberg and Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman tried over the last 2 Winters to get this stalwart star to finally commit to possibly signing a deal for longer than one season. Even at this stressful juncture with the Trade Deadline looming like a vulture, there are hints that the Rays still want to venture into possible long term deal.

So far all they are hearing is a deafening silence from Upton’s camp.

Could this be another legitimate reason the Rays are now positioning CF B J Upton on their top shelf of players available for trade chats? Could Upton’s long standing refusal to stall or put off any long term discussion past the first refusal. Sure Upton has been known to be sometimes surly and gruff to American League Umpire spats, but inside the Rays Clubhouse and speaking with team officials, he has been nothing sort of cordial..

Legitimately you want a budding star to give you some financial security along with the thought of no service interruptions via a team-friendly  long term deal. In Upton’s case, discussions have been held with his agent, but nothing have materialized past the initial talking stage. Pity, a more contract secure Upton could relax until Sunday while the 1-year deals will have him guessing all the way to the end now. 

Must be frustrating for Sternberg and Friedman to know just as Upton is beginning to finally mature on the field and show that true potential we have been basically begging for for years,  he might be dealt because Upton might have ultimately priced himself out of the Rays equation. But the same could have been said for Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena in 2010 as they entered their “walk ” seasons, but they ended up staying with the ball club and helping the Rays to their second A L East title in 3 seasons before departing for the deep pockets of Boston and the North side of Chicago.

Teams are poking and prodding at Upton have been quoted to be offering everything from a small package of prospects to “the Moon”. Because New York Mets CF Carlos Beltran has an American League anxiety towards the Designated Hitter position, Upton has vaulted towards the top as  a key outfield acquisition target.

From Atlantic (Nats/Braves) to Pacific (Giants) teams are throwing together their best package hoping Friedman pulls the trigger.

With the surging emergence of Rays outfield prospect Desmond Jennings posting out-of-this planet offensive numbers, it has not only the Rays brass excited, but every MLB Fantasy Baseball geeks. Sam Fuld and Jennings can both play Upton’s Centerfield position and can make a transition pretty effortless if they wish to ship Upton out before the end of the Trade Deadline, or the season..

But with the team on the cusp of falling out of at least an American League Wild Card slot, Friedman might be more willing to at least listen to offers right now. This is not to say if Upton signed a 2-year deal today he would still not be dealt by the Deadline’s last moments on Sunday. But with a year m ore of team control, Upton would not be traded to become a “rental” player.

Got to be hard on a guy knowing eyes are prodding him nightly, stats are being compiled in big piles and everything from his speed from Home Plate to First to his bat swing is being monitored and evaluated with intense scrutiny.

Sometimes a change of scenery is good for a player mentally, emotionally and physically. Upton was hyped for so long as the “next big thing” for the Rays. Hints of that ability have risen then fallen just as quickly.

Not matter what happens to Upton over the next few days, you got to give him a ton of credit for not showing the stress, emotional tug-of-war or snap out at the Rays. Rays Manager Joe Maddon has said he has discussed around 65 trade scenarios with Friedman over the past few days. Let’s hope if Upton is in that bunch, the team again gets a return that will help them in the long term. 

Rays on Cusp of Going From “Buyers” to Possible Trade Deadline “Sellers”

So when is too much, too much? What is that final tipping point where the Tampa Bay Rays consider themselves “ sellers” instead of “buyers”. Originally I was firm in my opinion that the team will hold tight on OF B J Upton and SP James Shields.

But as the team falls towards that double digit mark trailing the current American League Wild Card holder, the New York Yankees, at what point will the Rays throw up their hands and either give in, or buckle down and hope for another “Miracle of Summer”.

At this point the Rays are 9 ½ games behind the American League East division leading Boston Red Sox and 7 ½ games behind the Yankees. With an unexpected late loss last night in Oakland, the Rays are on a slippery slope. This was suppose to be the time between series with Boston and New York for the Rays to pack on some victories, and possibly sneak back into the race before this Sunday’s 

Trade Deadline.

If the Rays do not take bot this series against the Athletics, plus their 3-game set against the Seattle Mariners in the Emerald City, they could be past that double digit comfort level. But when is it too late? When are the Rays past the point of no return in regards to a post season berth? In any other division this would not be an issue at this time, but in the strong A L East, being 10 games behind the A L Wild Card is a pretty steep rock to climb.

At some point between the West Coast trip destinations this team has to decide their path. Presently it seems that all engines are churning towards trying to catch the Yankees and pull off another super road trip. These next 5 games could produce either the selling of talent, or the revival the Rays need to thrust themselves back into this playoff race.

Personally, I am of the mind that if this team does stumble in their next 2 contests and go under 10 games back of the Yankees, Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman will accept a few more phone calls, listen intently and possibly sell high on a few guys.

I was hoping the season would come down to a key series in September. If the Rays go through an abnormal road trip free fall and come back home with a losing road trip record, they might be minus a few key players due to trades and deals made before the Sunday final bell.

If the Rays do begin plucking off a few of their player assets, it is great that these players would have played their last game in Tropicana Field against the rival Yankees, and took a victory with them on the road. But it also brings up a touchy subject that again, just like when the Rays traded SP Scott Kazmir while on the road (in Detroit), the home fans might never get a realistic chance to thank them for their past efforts. That is one of the really awful parts of the Trade Deadline coming on the heels of a road trip.

Hopefully this doesn’t happen, but the possibility is still there for a last minute change, a up-grade, or possibly just the right time in the Rays eyes and minds. This is that time of the year that players and teams can not control, but right now, the Rays have the choice to be the “buyers or the sellers”. 

Intriguing Assortment of Rays Choices for Trade Deadline Shoppers

Always a great guessing game trying to decipher correctly the needs, wants and desire of any of the 29 other MLB squads for anyone on the Tampa Bay Rays roster. Sure there might be a few GM’s just coming by doing some future window shopping or prod and nudge a bit of the merchandise, but is there really any top shelf Rays that will exit before the end of the Trade Deadline?

Can’t be easy time span for a player either with a large contract or even a “ walk” season under their belt until the clock strikes midnight on August 1st. Sure even then deals can still be hashed out, but the large majority of the transactions will be at least attempted in the next few working days. But even the best deal can be stricken down by the might pen of the M L B Commissioner Bud Selig if it seems unfair or has too much cash considerations.

So who among the 25 currently rostered Rays players do you think will garner the most attention? Who do you feel will be showcased now for departure in the off season? There are plenty of options, including a few that could either make or break the Rays post season surge. Then again, if the Rays do go into a tailspin over the next few series( Kansas City/Oakland/Toronto), they could instead purge before the last moments in July?

Even the Great Kreskin would have a difficult time trying to summarize some of the gossip and whispers currently doing the rounds in the MLB circle. With the emergence of SP Alex Cobb and Rays Manager Joe Maddon staying with a 6-man rotation. Could this be a precursor to a starter leaving town?

James Shields has reconstructed his delivery and career to a point some teams are eager to get a guy who can push out innings and provide strikeouts. Shields might have de-valued himself a tad during his recent 4-game tailspin.  With a team friendly $ 7 million dollar salary for 2012, Shields is still affordable and could be in the plastic bubble until this time in 2012.

Do the Rays instead sell high on SP Jeff Niemann while he is on his own hot streak? The Tall Texan might not garner a top tier return, but a few teams do have veterans who might walk after this season, and if they fit into the Rays mold….Niemann could be on a flight by August 1st.

With that in mind, why not put SP/RP Andy Sonnanstine on the top shelf to see who wanders by for a long look. Sonny has all the qualities a good team needs with MLB experience, stability and is a solid “company man”. He can be used in a variety of ways, and his tenure with the Rays might be on unstable ground with the emergence of Cobb and others pushing hard to break through the Triple-A ceiling to the majors. Sonny, like Niemann will not collect a bevy of returns, but his shelf life with the Rays might be getting near its expiration point.

Cesar Ramos is a southpaw, and with the Rays currently having 3 in their Bullpen, excess might not be the keys to the Rays Bullpen success. He might bring in a better haul than Sonny, but knowing the Rays and their love of the crafty lefties, he might stick. Still, the Rays would not offer up fellow relievers Jake McGee or J P Howell unless the return was something they could not refuse.

That brings us to the Rays field players. A few names possibly jump out at you, but one that I truly think is “off limits” is First Baseman Casey Kotchman. The job he has done since he cemented himself at First has been incredible. With only 1 error this season, Kotchman might be tied to this Rays team soon for the next 3 years. I have heard a few whispers in the hallways.

In the infield, with the thoughts also swirling that SS Reid Brignac is taking backward steps, this effectively closes any possible discussions on Elliot Johnson or Sean Rodriguez. Their stability will be needed now more than ever, and cutting loose even one of the pair would be disastrous unless an infield MLB caliber upgrade is received.

With the recent injuries surrounding the catching position, it might be a hidden blessing for C Kelly Shoppach. Still, the Rays could deal the often offensively maligned backstop for prospects, or maybe even a little cash. The market is not seeking Shoppach with gusto, but a back-up with experience heading into the stressful last months of the season and beyond can be a blessing to a young team.

That leaves the outfield has one of the biggest question marks with at least 4 possible Rays players getting a few glances and maybe trade discussions. Still think Desmond Jennings is here to be looked at by not only the Rays, but by 29 other teams. I really think the Rays have a lot of questions about Jennings, and he could be traded for the right package.

You might have thought I would thrust B J Upton in the top spot for trade discussion, but I truly think the Rays will keep Upton until the end of the 2011 season, then listen intently to offers. Upton might not be the most attentive player on the bases, but he plays solid defense and has trimmed his swing a bit to be more productive. Who in their right mind thought he would get over 15 Hrs in 2011?

Still, with the Washington Nationals eager for Upton, and with names like INF Ian Desmond or RP Drew Storen being put on the end of the pole, the Rays could bite and fill a future hole in their team with young replacements who are starting to show their MLB potentials. Still it is a long shot these names are included with Upton’s’. Then again, Friedman can deliver brilliance with Bull-hockey pucks.

The guy who might garner the most outfield attention doesn’t actually play there on a daily basis. Johnny Damon could bring a nice haul in return from a team on the cusp of contention, or wanting to stay hard in the race until the end. But is he worth the gamble of leaving with the type of offense and ability to help charge up this team with a single swing?

You can’t buy that kind of massive production on and off the field this time of year. But if the Rays are truly in a mood to upgrade now, Damon might be the perfect carrot to dangle in front of the MLB herd. There is another player who has emerged to a point his status might be at its zenith, and a downward spiral is definitely in the cards.

I think the world of the abilities and freestyle aerial moves of Sam Fuld, but I also know MLB is treating him more like a novelty act right now than a budding star or long producing commodity. Here is another Rays player who might be at the peak of his trade value right now. Combine his on-field heroics with his solid base running and you get a nice threat either off the bench or in the field heading into the post season.

There is still the possibilities the Rays just bluff and stay with their current format, but the more realistic approach is someone will go, changes will be made. Upton should be planted in CF until the off season, Shields even though he turns 30 in December is a great anchor for this Rays rotation.

That being said, Sonny and Niemann could be on the “watch list” and be the two pitchers most likely to exit stage left. Shoppach could still be dealt even with the Rays catching corp down to their bare knuckles. This is one part of the Rays farm system that seems loaded for bear, and could endure a spell without remorse.

Jennings is the Rays top field prospect, and I have a sneaking feeling his up-coming promotion to “The Show” has a hidden agenda. Exposing Jennings to MLB caliber pitching with 10 days left could persuade someone to take a risk or gamble on a guy who might not be considered the best outfielder even on his Triple-A squad. But if the Rays do keep Jennings, Upton better look over his shoulder later in the season.

Fuld might be safe, but if his average goes South along with his “Legend”, his time and days will be numbered. Damon is the best Rays commodity right now and might be plucked. But Friedman will not trade him for a “rental” player or even a marginal player or prospects. When you have a guy who is putting up consistent numbers like Damon, the price tag has a few zeros in it, even for the short term.

This is the time of the year where guessing, predictions and even off-the-cuff remarks come with a glance from the baseball world. Teams want to chuck, acquire and sometimes streamline for different reasons. The only reasons any of these players might be plucked off the Rays roster is if this team truly thinks they have the horses for a playoff run.

Upgrading by trading would be the only reason right now the Rays would open their doors for change. 

This Time of Year………..Fear the Friedman

The hands of time are moving quicker, the sands in the hourglass falling at an alarming rate….Yes, it is that special juncture in the Major League Baseball season when the days finally fall towards single digit working towards the July 31st M L B Non-Waiver Trade Deadline that the anxiety and impatience leads to lopsided deals.

The unpredictability of this entire trade charade keeps all of us wondering until the final period is typed on that Press Release, or the official “Approval” stamp slams upon the trade document in the New York M L B offices in Manhattan. You can never be sure just what is actually going on, especially within the Tampa Bay Rays camp.

I swear to anything and everything holy that the Rays conduct a stealth boot camp ever season to prepare for just these final fleeting moments. The Rays organization has effectively mastered the art of the Samurai “air of silence”. Still, I would think if you are a MLB GM, you kind of even a courtesy call by Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman a call to action.

How effective has he been on trimming and honing this Rays roster and farm system towards the Rays lean and mean standards? Heck, I consider our farm system to be the “Minka Kelly” of farm systems. Red hot top prospects with a side order of 3,000 hits. Friedman has taken a system that was not in shambles but uncoordinated at times and turned it into a fine tuned concerto.


When was the last time you heard about a Rays trade before the rest of the baseball World knew about it? Still think each Rays desk has a cyanide capsule or dome of silence to keep idle chatter from hitting the mainstream. Kind of proud of that fact actually. It is so easy for one tongue to wag and then the World hears the vibrations.

Take 2010 for example. If you would have told me the Rays would trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks in the last days before the Trade Deadline for RP Chad Qualls, I would have reserved you an ample living quarters in the fluffy padded room at Windemere.

Somehow this deal got sign, sealed and delivered without fanfare, media knowledge or even a single cricket chirping before its announcement. Sure the trade was about eliminating a pricey Bullpen piece while the Rays added another veteran, even if it was a higher than normal risk for the Rays.

That is what is so intriguing about this time of the baseball season. Sometimes I wish I could be that “fly on the wall” just to see the process. Get to understand the Rays parameters and guides to the deal….Heck, we could market it and sell at least 100 copies to just baseball top tier guys. Seriously, if the Rays could bottle their trade success and finesse, it would be award winning.

Even if the Rays go into pure “buying” mode, you could see them still effectively shift a few attractive assets towards another roster while stockpiling more potential trade bait and appetizers for another day.

In a “buyer’s” mode the Rays could still bring in a few future commodities that will eventually mature and provide stability and increased productivity. I know it sounds a lot like I am reciting a insurance binder, but the reality is the Trade deadline is about insurance.

No matter if you are in “Buyer” or “Seller” mode, you want to assure your top tier management figures, your roster and farm system, plus your fan base that a move of this caliber at this time of the season will reap benefits towards your team’s goals, or help reduce future overhead limitations like a heavy salary so the Rays would have the cha-ching to go get that valued replacement part.

The art of the deal is a highly skilled and honed system that should bring results. You do not have to be a car salesman to get a great bargain this time of the year. Dangle a pitcher who is having a breakout season, finally burst through the wall of productivity or has a attractive present or future salary structure and you just have to sit back and take the phone calls.

Mix a great potential deal with the likes of Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman with his senior counsel of Gerry Hunsicker, and these two could take an average deal and make it shine for years. All you have to do is look at the Rays and Chicago Cubs deal for emotional roller coaster Matt Garza.

Sure the Cubs got a guy who potential is as tall as the Sears Tower, but in my opinion, Friedman got a King’s ransom in return. One of the pieces of this puzzle that was sent to Chi-town, OF Fernando Perez has already been released and is on another team’s roster. In return the Rays got a new urban and M L B “Legend” ( Sam Fuld), an outfielder (Brandon Guyer) previously not in the Rays 2011 major league roster framework who made Fantasy owners giddy with his first game stats (10 points).

Add to that mix a shortstop who is only playing at the Class-A level, but who scouts and baseball gurus have gushed and gone all flustered with that has risen up the prospect charts like a rocket (Hak-Ju Lee). Suddenly it seems like Friedman and Hunsicker sold Garza when his talent and potential both reached their ceiling.

Wondering if the same magic will fall in the Rays hands before the final seconds of the 2011 Trade Deadline. Will it be a monster player haul, a salary dump or even the Rays taking on a player in their “ walk” season who could help them waltz into the post season.

Still think the biggest horror I would face if I were to ever become a M L B GM is hearing Friedman’s voice on the other end of the phone……Hopefully it will be a congratulation call, not a trademark Friedman “kick the tires” conversation….Those have ended badly lately.

The Rebirth of Chad Qualls

 
 
People remarks all the time that sometimes, people need or deserve a second chance in life. That a bad situation or event should not taint or stain a reputation, or cause people to shy away from you or not consider you effective. And there is no better time for that period of renewal, or a second chance to set things right during a Major League Baseball season as when the Trade Deadline expires. And believe me fans, if anyone is thankful for the reversal of past deeds, it is new Tampa Bay Rays reliever Chad Qualls.

Qualls will again get to taste this magical potion that will start his reliever redemption and it all came with just changing his locker from a National League team to an American League squad. Instantly and with no regard to what Qualls had in his dark Arizona closet, with a bad April-June start, instantly all that rubbish and doubting is gone with a blink of the eye. And maybe that is the most unique thing about this time of year. Every Major League Baseball teams is searching for their own answers by seeking out players who could make a substantial contribution over the last third of a season, or maybe provide some added defense or a deceptive pitching performance to put their squad in contention down the stretch.

Something as simple as boosting the power of Rays Bullpen can produce a handful of needed wins that can be the difference between playing into late October, or making airline flight plans with the family to begin the long baseball off season. And if there is one guy that understands this totally after an unusual and often dismal start to his 2010 season, it is Chad Qualls. The right-hander leaves behind in the National League a .370 Opponent’s Batting Average, with a .390 average against left-handed hitters. Something any pitcher would give his non-pitching arm to reverse in a heartbeat.

 

Boosting Qualls want for redemption is the fact as late as last Tuesday, Qualls allowed 2 runs on 2 hits (1 HR ) in 2 innings against the Philadelphia Phillies. Adding insult to Qualls open wounds, opponents have scored on Qualls in 5 of his last 7 games to produce a preposterous 11.74 ERA. Qualls has been victimized with 10 Earned Runs in his last 7 innings of work prior to his trade to Tampa Bay. More heart wrenching is the fact that since June 10th, Qualls has been scored on in 10 of his last 16 outings, despite a small reprieve from June 29-July 5th when he threw 4 scoreless innings. But there is a bright spot to all the doom and gloom forecasted already about Qualls 2010 season.


Qualls did convert is 50th career save in2010 season, plus he has converted 11 of his past 13 save appearances prior to his trade to the Rays. Amazing enough, since 2005, Qualls is in the Top five among all relievers in the Major Leagues in games and innings pitched. And is also in the Top Ten of all relievers in wins and holds. All categories that show that effectiveness has not eluded Qualls his entire MLB career.

 

So there is some firm foundation to provide Qualls with another change in a different locale, and with the recent Disabled List visit by Rays reliever Grant Balfour, Qualls might be in line to be the secondary “go-to” guy and assume Balfour’s usual set-up role. Balfour will be out until possibly September with an injury to his intercostals muscle group, which runs between the ribs and helps promote the breathing action. The injury was not obtained during a Rays contest, but during a playful “horsing around” session


Balfour sustained his injury as Balfour and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey were roughhousing around during Batting Practice on Friday night, and both fell suddenly to the Field Turf. Since the Rays were facing a shortage of veteran experience in their minor league system, they decided to give Qualls a chance to erase the horrors of his miserable first half as a member of the Diamondbacks hoping that his latest chance with the Rays will not bring with Qualls any of his D-back nightmarish results that could rear its ugly head again and forsake the Rays for giving him a chance to start all over again in the American League.

 

Qualls has been given the grand opportunity to showcase himself over the rest of the Rays season to give adequate proof that his days as a questionable reliever are long gone. And that his new Rays reliever new image will emerge and show the confidence and productive nature needed for a chance at 2011 employment.

Second chances in sports do come, and if Qualls makes the most of his rebirth with the Rays, he could effectively salvage and possibly erase his horrid start to 2010 with a powerful and confirming last few months. And the magnitude of the overall situation is not lost on Qualls. Prior to Saturday night’s game against the New York Yankees, Qualls told the St. Petersburg Times,


“The majority of my text messages were, ‘Now you’ve got 0.00 ERA.’ That’s a great thing.”

 

Qualls has a clean slate, a chance to redeem himself and provide a solid answer to the Rays Bullpen over the course of the season. And with Qualls undoubtedly becoming a Free Agent at the end of the 2010 season, he could make a compelling case for someone to take another chance on him in 2011,maybe even the Rays But that is one of the glories of this time of year in Major League Baseball. Things can be erased and forgotten within a moment’s notice.

New beginnings can revitalize and reenergize a player to provide a solid performance for his new club. And a career once in peril can again be reborn brand new and full of hope and promise. Who says Christmas doesn’t come at the end of July?
 

Upton’s Injury caused some Instant Trade Thoughts

 

 

Within seconds of B J Upton’s collapse onto the Tropicana Field turf last night, I went into General Manager mode trying to think off the cuff of any recent Rays possible trade scenario, or even a totally multi-team aligned situation for completing a trade with any clarity today. As I sat there last night with camera in hand watching our Centerfielder who has been mentioned in numerous trade rumors, lying on the green Field Turf in obvious pain, the trade wheeling and dealing cogs were turning in my head.

Upton had just made a routine Centerfield catch of Detroit’s lead-off hitter Austin Jackson’s fly ball into the middle of the Rays outfield, but Upton went down to the ground like a sack of potatoes clutching his lower leg. Instantly it was time to venture into Rays trade mode.

Somehow it seemed like something as simple as Upton catching his metal cleat a bit off center in the blades of the artificial turf had caused his to roll his ankle on his follow-through to get the ball back into the infield.

As Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield and Rays Manager Joe Maddon jogged out to Upton’s location, a flood of recent Rays trade names began to swiftly race through my head of any possible Major League players that could fit firmly within the Rays needs. Not even thinking at this moment if Upton’s injury was long term, or even day-to-day, I want to revisit a few recent trade whispers to see if they were still relevant to the Rays needs.


 

Knowing in the back of my mind, that there had been recent darkened hallway whispers that Rays top outfield prospect, Desmond Jennings might not be ready for the day-to-day grind of the Major Leagues, the sight of Upton laying on the field instantly put me on the offensive to find a viable MLB ready option. There have been more than a few openly discussed prominent names from around the Major Leagues possibly finding a home soon with the Rays.

There had been more than one mention of even Upton possibly being mentioned as a trade piece with the Philadelphia Phillies for future free agent/rental player Jayson Werth, but the Rays seemed to be firmly committed to using their highly praised and stocked farm system as the catalyst for any player changes and were not actively considering anyone on their Major League roster. A trade of this nature would have brought a few new challenges to the Rays. Considering a short term investment like Werth would be a totally new adventure for Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and the team.


The Rays have discussed bringing in short term players during the Trade Deadline period before, but the Rays have never pulled the trigger with any vigor. There was also some recent Rays trade chatter with the Kansas City Royals for a guy who could play almost anywhere, but that discussion was silenced and shelved quickly after multipurpose player David DeJesus suffered a broken thumb and could be out a substantial amount of time.

 

The Rays had discussing this trade with the Royals, and it seemed like the Royals were eager and willing to possibly trade for Rays farm hand LHP Jake McGee and send DeJesus to the Rays, but that scenario is just dust in the wind now. But would McGee have been enough to secure DeJesus?


There have been other names floating out in the MLB stratosphere with outfield possibilities for the Rays, but either the trade price would too steep, or the return product might not be a great trade-off. There was huge speculation a few weeks ago that Brew Crew member Corey Hart might find himself in the Rays outfield mix, but the demands from the Brewers were way too high, and could have made the Rays immediately discontinue any discussions. But there was a low cost option that was also floated by the Rays of maybe acquiring outfielder Jeff Francoeur from the New York Mets. The only problem with that scenario is that Francoeur is not the player he was two years ago when he was patrolling the Braves outfield.

But another scenario might have opened up just around the time of Upton’s injury last night on another baseball diamond up in Washington D.C. when Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg was shelved after findo out he had considerable inflammation in his right throwing shoulder. With Nationals starters Luis Atilano and J.D. Martin also on the mend, it could this recent injury bug within the Nationals rotation bring down the asking price of Washington slugger Adam Dunn, who has been known to be on the Rays “Wish List”.

A recent clarification by Dunn that he did not want to DH, but wanted to daily play in the field, might limit his possible usage for the Rays. But Dunn might be that missing right-handed bat the Rays have been eager for all season long. But at what cost will it take to even get Dunn? Would sending a minor leaguer like starter Matt Moore be enough of a trade off to get a rental player? The Nationals might be seeking a MLB ready guy like Wade Davis or Andy Sonnanstine to fill in until their young pitching staff gets healthy. So would a trade for Dunn who could be waltzing right back to the Nationals after the season be worth the two month rental price right now?
 
More and more this week I am considering the true option that the Rays might be better served with just staying pat with their current options and fighting for a Playoff spot with the guys who got them here.
With Rocco Baldelli getting into game day shape, there is a possibility he could be a useful right-handed bat the Rays could use down the stretch with minimal fiscal damage.

 

With the Rays announcing after last night’s game that Upton has a possible ankle sprain and might just miss a few Rays starts before possibly being in Centerfield for Friday night clash with the New York Yankees, the Rays have adequate in-house options like Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist to cover a short term absence of Upton from the line-up. But the moment Upton hit the turf, my mind was wandering through the rosters of a few clubs looking for the suitable replacement to garner the Rays the best chance of success. 

So I will put away my trade master cap and return to just being a Rays fan and trying to guess what direction Friedman and company might go before the end of the Trade Deadline. Will the Rays stand pat with the guys who got them here in the first place, or possibly rent a guy for a few months and hope for a great return in their invested trade. No matter what they do, there will be discussions and banter to go along with it. But that is the nature of the trade beast. Someone will always be unhappy, someone will always see holes, and people will always want more….That is the Rays Republic Way.

 

Brignac is the Rays Heir Apparent at Shortstop

 


 
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

More and more it seems that the fulcrum of the events concerning Tampa Bay Rays players Reid Brignac and Jason Bartlett has seen more and more movement recently. With the extended power now being displayed by Brignac in recent Rays games, plus another Arbitration raise this coming Winter for Bartlett, somewhere the fulcrum will shift and the Rays might have to make either a difficult decision, or one made easier by the maturation process.


But that is what happens on teams that are deep with farm systems that supply players as variable rates like the Rays. Player suddenly begin to reach their fiscal top ends, like Bartlett’s expected $ 5.5 million dollar question for 2011. Plus the fact that Bartlett will be 31 during 2010,while Brignac will celebrate his 25th birthday might signal a change in the middle infield for the Rays.

It is not like we have not seen this coming in the last few years as Brignac has made huge positive adjustments in his hitting, plus gotten his feet underneath him enough that when Bartlett got hurt earlier this season, the Rays did not panic and make a trade, they trusted the winner of the 2010 Al Lopez Award as the top rookie in Rays camp to fill-in with no true signs of weakness or vulnerability.
And maybe that is what might hasten this change to come into motion between now and the Winter. With Brignac gaining ground every day on possibly being the Rays 2010 starting shortstop, more and more the possibility of Bartlett being expendable is coming to light. And it is not for his abilities or even his decrease in his hitting for average this season.

Bartlett might have finally outgrown the Rays financial security blanket and might be wearing a new uniform in the future. And Bartlett will not be the only player that the Rays make a hard decision on between now and the Winter.


Within the next few months there will be additional thoughts, ideas and even plans put in place for players like Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, and maybe even Rays starter Matt Garza. People sometimes forget that even though fiscal and physical sound a bit alike in their phonic pronunciations, they are very different scenarios in how the Rays will plan their future rosters. It might come down to the $ 5 million dollar question of if Brignac can do Bartlett’s job with the same intensity and performance for a huge fraction of the cost.
Nothing personal, nothing to be ashamed of, the nature of the business of baseball. And with the team dedicated to removing a hefty portion of their 2010 payroll out of the 2011 equation, we might see the Rays soon begin to trim the fat possibly before the Trade Deadline, or if the team falls out of contention for a Playoff spot.

Unlike their divisional foes the Red Sox and Yankees, the Rays have to reload and reconstruct from a minor league system instead of spend dollars to make sense. That puts the Rays at a disadvantage in terms of veteran experience, but give them financial flexibility for a few seasons as their player mature into their roles.


 
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Nothing has been formally announced as to the Rays intentions with Bartlett following the 2010 season, but the writing is firmly on the wall. With a viable option in the system and able to take over the day-to-day duties, it is a matter of time. And with Brignac showing more and more confidence in both ends of the equation, the decision might just be weeks away from fruition. And that is the general evolution of the today’s professional baseball player. As you grow through the system and become more financially secure, you make yourself expendable to teams like the Rays with fixed incomes or revenues coming into the team.


Bartlett is a smart player, and he can definitely see the writing on the wall for himself. That might be one of the reasons we are seeing him fighting right now to show he has the great ability to help not only this 2010 Rays squad, but showing some signals to a potential future employer that he can be the perfect man for the job. Brignac is definitely the man of the future for the Rays at the shortstop position. That is the way the Rays system was designed, and has worked for years. Pieces have been mended and shaped to form a cohesive unit and Brignac is a perfect example of the Rays molding a player for greatness.

Bartlett could survive until the Winter, or possibly be gone as soon as the end of the month, but he has been a total professional and has carried himself perfect while with the Rays. For years Bartlett was in the same position as Brignac while with the Minnesota Twins. He was that supoer utility guy who seemed to possess the abilities to play at any position the team put him at in the field.

The chain is about to again come full circle, and Brignac, who is now in that super utility role will assume the top spot until the next Rays comes to challenge for his spot. It is the natural progression of baseball, and one that the Rays will keep seeing revolve and evolve for a long, long time. Change is on the horizon, and Brignac’s future looks extremely bright as a starter for the Rays.

Rays Already have a Viable Power Option In-House

Sometimes it just gets to me how a highly productive baseball player ,in your own farm system can fly so low under the radar, even after doing something amazing. That in this advanced electronics age of scouting and information, a surging baseball player can somehow go completely “out of sight, and out of mind” to his Major League team executives as they collectively screams and frantically searches for a player with his already apparent talent? This same scenario is happening within the Tampa Bay Rays farm system, and for some odd reason, this productive player is still sitting in front of his Triple-A locker every night suiting up.

The Rays have been searching high and low for a formidable power bat option throughout the Major Leagues, and somehow have skipped over the current Triple-A Home Run Derby Champ in their own farm system backyard. What is it that this mystery ballplayer has done to make the Rays Major League scouting department forget his name, stats or his dramatic flair for the game? It is like he is a ghost in the machine right now. How else do you explain hitting one of the most memorable Home Runs in Rays history, then not being on your team’s Spring Training invite list the following season?

Sure you might have developed double vision at one point in your past MLB career when you got suntan lotion in your eyes before an afternoon contest, but you have rebounded and proven you can be a power hitter and a consistent bat in the line-up. But then this same Rays front office sent you on a Japanese vacation as you played for the Yokohama Bay Stars in 2009 like a baseball castaway. So you somehow got were sent farther out of sight and out of mind. But then these same Rays front office folks signed you in January 2010 for $500,000 and you again thought you had an honest chance to prove your worth in the Major Leagues. But again you were met with a career roadblock, and off to Triple-A obscurity you go again.

And during the 2010 Triple-A season you have gained a solid reputation for timely hits and huge Home Runs, but still you still sit in the Durham Bulls locker room waiting for that mystical call to “The Show”. You might have guessed by now, I am talking about Durham Bulls power slugger Dan Johnson. It has been a weird year for him, but what does Johnson have to do to show his willingness and abilities are just what the Rays need in their line-up without the Rays resorting to a trade? Does he have to hit 3 HR in a game? Steal a base? Or maybe Johnson just has to sit silently and watch as the parent team ache and pain for a talent like his without muttering a single word.

 
DurhamBull.com

I consider it a crime against great Major League talent here. Are the Rays so stockpiled with talent in their minor league system that Johnson has somehow slipped through the cracks without a head nod or mention as a in-house power option? It saddens me to think that a talent like Johnson has been relegated to being a second class citizen mired in the minors when he has the abilities to not only help the Rays, but produce runs, provide depth and bring a bit of fear back into the Designated Hitter’s spot. Currently there has to be no American League pitching staff that is in fear of the Rays trio D H force of Matt Joyce, Willy Aybar or John Jaso. But could Johnson the ointment needed to finally provide some relief to that burning lack of production in the Rays line-up, or are the Rays just seeing him as another quick fix bandage?


Considering Johnson’s statistics with the Bulls this season, you have to think he is the hidden treasure trove of multiple talents the Rays have been searching for during this seasons Trade Deadline. Johnson has played in all 83 games for the Bulls. Moving around the infield from his customary first base slot and playing third base, which provides more depth and versatility to his resume’. Could his “new position” be a viable reason Johnson is being stonewalled from being brought up?

Johnson is hovering at a .295 batting average with 24 HR and 80 RBI., but Johnson also has 87 hits, which currently leads the Bulls roster. Then there was his recent show of dramatic power during Monday night’s Triple-A Home Run Derby where Johnson blasted out 25 Home Runs, and ultimately won the title. But in the event finals, Johnson and Lehigh Valley Ironpigs slugger Andy Tracy each posted 10 HR each in the final round. So it came down to a HR shootout format and Tracy did not connect on any of his five swings. It took Johnson only one swing of his bat to decide the Home Run Derby, and proved once and for all, he still has a dramatic flair to his hitting style.

But this was not the first time drama had entered Johnson’s Rays life when it came to hitting the long ball. Most Rays fans remember the Coons Rapids, Minnesota native for his improbable Home Run during a September 9,2008 contest against the Boston Red Sox. Johnson was called-up earlier in the day by the Rays and was inserted into the starting line-up, but plane delays and slow meandering cab rides brought him to Fenway Park at 6:50 pm that evening. Johnson might have been scratched from the starting nod, but he got another chance to project his broad shouldered persona on the Rays as he went to the plate as a pinch hitter in the 9th inning against Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon.

 
TBO.com

Johnson had been called-up to the Rays after posting a .307 average with 25 HR and 83 RBI since the Rays claimed him off waivers on April 18th from the Oakland A’s. Johnson stood at the plate with the game on the line and put a Papelbon fastball clear into the stands above the Red Sox Bullpen in right-centerfield for the first pinch-hit Home Run of Johnson’s career. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time in the last 50 years that a player had hit a September Home Run in the ninth inning (or later) in his first at bat for a first place team. Johnson had made an immediate impact on his new Rays teammates, even before formally meeting most of them.


But why is it that the scouts and the Rays front office do not find Johnson so alluring right now for their slumping DH spot? Johnson is a guy who has toiled and done his time in both the minor leagues and abroad to show he has the innate ability and the broad confidence to hit both for average, and for power in dramatic settings. That is the type of player who is now being sought after by the Rays through the Major League grapevine. But it is really a tragedy that we have a proven asset sitting just up the Atlantic Seaboard Coastline in North Carolina who would not cost the team another single penny or a player from their packed farm system.

The Rays are actively doing their window shopping around the Major League right now looking for the same option they have in-house and who is ready for the phone call. It seems a bit illogical to send talent or even money to bring in a high cost alternative to hit for the Rays when you already have a proven commodity right in your system. Hopefully within the next few days, the Rays brass will somehow rediscovery Johnson and his talents because I would love to see him hit the ball “out of sight“, and if the Rays forget about this great player, and let him fester in the minor leagues, then they are “out of (their) minds“.

 

 

Trade Winds are a-blowin’..Strong and Swift

 
This is the time of the year where the rumbling and thunderous sounds always seem to grow louder and louder by the moment, and then burst in a show of intensity and confusion like a sudden swirling dervish. The impending sounds from every conceivable direction can deafen you and bring a heightened state of anxiety and frustration upon you within a matter of seconds. But usually, if you wait 20 minutes, the Florida trade winds will subdue, and all will somehow return to normal as if nothing has ever happened. But that is the nature of this time of year all throughout the Major League Baseball landscape.

It might sounds as if I am discussing the volatile Florida weather patterns that envelope this region during this time of year, but I am not. It might seem like I am talking about the swirling winds, high seas and rough patches of rain and possible hail that could fall from the Florida sky at any moment past 5 pm like a habit formed at birth…But I am not.

The tropical disturbance I am talking about right now is a simple trade winds phenomenon that plagues not only Florida teams, but the other 28 Major League teams at this juncture in the season. I misspelled the word “trade winds” for a reason. Because at this juncture in the MLB season, trades are the reason for the volatile season.


Talking about Trade Deadline season, when the storms of comments and swirls of team advice hit dangerous levels that could easily strip the paint off your car, and the acid comment responses from vicious crosswinds or fans to ill-advised moves can cripple a possible Playoff venture. Even if this season traditionally heats up during the days following the All-Star game.

During this short period of time every year , the furious winds of possible trade movement speculations increase at an alarming rate, almost to the point of catastrophic. Along with the increased swirls of predictions come the ever increasing vocal revelations from the pocket baseball prophets who have begun to assemble their yearly collective congregations.


Beginning today you will see daily flimsy reports and potential trade advisory warning that will be either acknowledged, or discarded as yesterday’s new. But the true essence of the period is change. And hopefully change for the better for all 30 teams in increasing their offensive firepower, or sustaining a pitching dominance that might propel them up the standings. This is the type of season for dreamers and soothsayers to make their mark. To make a name for themselves, or simply perish beneath the enveloping storm surge. 

It is the time of year that can make you a household name, or another professor of lies and deceit. The Trade Deadline season can be as callous as a construction worker’s hands producing endless leads and sources that end with dead ends and unsubstantiated circles of information.


This is the time of the spin doctor. The person within the industry who can spin any tale in any direction and make you believe it. And do not think for a moment that every MLB team doesn’t have a viable candidate in their front office who’s job it is to turn the focus towards another direction to deflect the truth into a bundle of inner circling confusion until it is time to reveal the true intentions, or the final components of the trade.

This time of year is not made for the rain slicker, but contrived perfectly for the BS artist that can see the mannerisms and the words and dissect them with skill to find that inner lining of possible truth and direction. Just as the players and coaches need to memorize hand signals and body motions or positioning to suggest a certain play or action happen during an at bat, this time of year also has it’s tell tale signs of movement and a team earnest intentions.


Reading between the lines becomes a necessity right now, and a trade secret. Until the end of the month we shall see a mountain of useless information packaged as a team viewpoint or trade direction, but that same pamphlet could also contain a few tasty morsels as to their true intentions and possible future movements. Visual body language can not be interpreted online with clarity, so the written word is a minefield of booby traps and hidden minefields to assert misinformation on a grand scale.

I attribute this time of year fully to a wily gambler who studies his game, looks for a recognizable pattern, then bounces into the fray with knowledge and not innuendo. The next few weeks are going to be a tropical depression of mammoth proportions.


Half of what we see and hear before the conclusion of a deal is rambling muses of misdirection and depth charges to change our pattern of finding the true directions. My advice is to bundle up, take every comment and snippet of information with a grain of salt, and trust only what you know. With spin doctors employed, spies and counter intelligence in use, and intentions disguised by constant double talk, the truth will come out in the end.

But usually it will be projected by the person at the podium who has done his job within the secret society of G M’s and MLB team leaders. It is the collective calm after the storm, and the rebuilding moment to regroup and reflect on that days actions. Thunderous sounds then again boom and emulate from the Web and the stadiums.

Either with joy or remorse over a collective move. But the storm warning will not cease until August 1st. For it is Trade Deadline season, one of the most dangerous times of the year to be wrong.
 

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