Results tagged ‘ Tropicana Field ’

Where Do We Pencil in Rodney’s Name?

Photo: Rays Index

On paper, the signing of experienced closer and set-up man RHP Fernando Rodney seems like a solid investment for the right coinage to solidify the back-end of the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen. Rodney’s contract leaves the Rays 7-8 and 9th inning possible options with a combined commitment of just over $ 7 million and the clarity that they do not have a huge reliever contract lingering over their heads. Somehow I think Rodney is of the opinion the closer role is wide open and he wants toi take a huge step towards claiming it this Spring.

Rodney will take home $ 1.75 million for 2012 with a club option kicker of a $ 2.5 million dollar question mark for 2013 (with a $ 250K buy-out), which seems within the guidelines of what the Rays value their relievers. Current closer Kyle Farnsworth will pocket $ 3.3 million and the new contract by Joel Peralta will net him a cool $ 2 million. Just under $ 7.1 million for the Rays possible 7th, 8th and 9th inning slots, which is considerably less than the $11 million the Philadelphia Phillies will pay for just their new closer, Johnathan Papelbon.

Here is where this signing by the Rays can become a bit hazy and gray. Is Rodney being brought in as an insurance policy in case the elbow tenderness that wrecked havoc for Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth this past September rears its ugly head again and promotes an angst that will remind all of us of the 2008 Troy Percival debacle.

Do the Rays see Rodney possibly as a “situational closer”, but more in tune with being a 8th inning set-up guy pushing Joel Peralta back to the 7th inning or into his own situational black hole. For some reason I have a sneaking suspicion the Rays are wanting a little competitive spirit and competition tossed into the Spring, and Rodney and Farnsworth have history as  a pair of late inning guys. But there are still a few things that worry me about Rodney, and it is not the fire in his belly or his experience.

Sure Rodney has posted 87 career MLB saves, but only 17 of them have come over the past 2 seasons while he was with the Angels. 87 career saves over his 9 year MLB tenure with the Tigers (7 yrs) and Angels ( 2 years) doesn’t leave me with a true air of confidence he could be the guy to set in if Farnsworth does have an elbow setback or is lost for a prolonged hiatus from the Rays. Rodney did post 26 K’s in his 32 innings of work in 2011, but he also tacked on 28 walks and 26 hits during his 2012 Angels season.

Still there is a great similarity between Farnsworth and Rodney that they both take care of their bodies, and can throw some extremely hard stuff at times, but can this former duo who used to work together in Detroit find that magic again in Tampa Bay? For Rodney is dominant on the hill when he has control over his change-up.

Could the Rays be a great matching for Rodney considering Rays starter James Shields has one of the best change-up in the game and is constantly tinkering with his grips and release points. Possibly the two hurlers could get together and find a better change-up in the mix for Rodney and bring him back to the top of his game. Rodney also employ a decent slider that tops out at around 86 mph, which can be greatly effective when his fastball is sitting in the high 90’s.

The problem I am having here is the inconsistency during 2011 of Rodney in his limited role and if the off season will produce amazing results or will he remain within his present flux state when it comes to his pitching. What effect could this have on Peralta considering he might have thought the 8th inning slot was his to lose, and now the Rays bring in competition. It could be a blessing or a curse for either player, but I still have a boatload of confidence in Peralta possibly pushing Rodney into a 7th inning slot by late March.

Some have already brought up the old baggage in regards to Rodney and his high and outside fastball up towards the Rays Press Box back in 2009 when he was a bit over excited during a save opportunity in Tropicana Field. Rodney ended up getting a 3-game suspension on the heels of a letter sent to MLB by Tampa Bay Times Rays writer Marc Topkin. I would love to be a fly on the wall on the first day of Pitchers and Catchers reporting and see if Topkin and Rodney shake hands. Still, as far as I’m concerned, he did the crime, the time and it is in the past.

Still, the signing of Rodney did not break the Rays piggy bank, and it filled a void left when they did not re-sign Juan Cruz. The final determination of the usage of Rodney has not been revealed yet, but you can definitely pencil in his name in the late hash marks of the game. It could end up being another blessing in disguise for the Rays in 2012 just like the unexpected signings of Joaquin Benoit in 2010 and Peralta in 2011. I have an odd feeling Rodney knows he has a chance to be with a contender and will come out fighting for his slot this Spring. 

This signing of Rodney could end up being the huge exclamation point the Rays Bullpen need heading into the Spring, or a demise in waiting. My money is firmly on Topkin and Rodney burying the hatchet and Rodney throwing so much heat a few of the Rays catcher’s mitt will need flame retardant materials sewn on them. In the end the Rays reliever corps will be a better unit with this competition, and who ever wins out and claims the closer role, well the other will probably be the first one to shake his hand. ….I hope.


Could Tim Beckham Face a Position Change This Spring?

They were supposed to be the heirs apparent to the Tampa Bay Rays revolving door situation at shortstop. Each saw their 1st Round selections in their season’s MLB Draft as the enthusiastic stamp of approval by the Rays that their style of baseball had a place under the Tropicana Field roof, and that their rise through the Rays farm system would finally accumulate with them manning the 6-hole for this team for years to come. One saw his future and position changed upon his arrival into the MLB, the toehr could be going down that same familiar path soon for the Rays.

Funny how the early farm system years and expectations of B J Upton and Tim Beckham mirrored each other with such eerie similarities and the promise of them becoming the Rays sure-fire solution on the right-side of the infield. Upton was the first to take the venture, and Beckham soon might find himself at that same crossroads Upton faced, possibly never getting a chance to show his potential at shortstop.

But it is actually good that Upton has taken the journey and could be a beneficial listening post for Beckham as he too might encounter a roadblock in his escalation towards the MLB level. Upton has become an outspoken clubhouse voice, and has grown into the role as mentor and responsible MLB member as he has become secure with his career position change. This talk could come as soon as the Spring of 2012 with Beckham seeing his stock as a Rays top prospect plummet to the # 13 slot this off season. Beckham, like Upton has the skills and tools to be a major leaguer, it just might not be at the position he envisioned on his MLB Draft day back in the Summer of 2008.

Upton finally made it to the MLB level, but not for his shortstop skills. He was being considered a plug-in alternative around the infield when he was first called-up, manning the Second Base position, then taking his shot at the Hot Corner as Evan Longoria was taking his bumps and lumps in the Rays minor league system. Something happened to Upton as he matured as a SS prspect through the Rays system, he suddenly became erratic with his throws, his footwork was being questioned, and his once abundant confidence as a future MLB SS began to fade. But Upton came to a crossroads, with a positional change firmly blocking his path to the shortstop spot.

I somehow feel the same fate just on the horizon for Beckham. It is not that Beckham like Upton could not man the position, but there is another hot prospect who might have taken the thunder from them, and thrust his name further up the potential depth chart. Beckham did start to show some of the fundamental breakdowns that Upton faced at Triple-A Durham before his MLB rise, but Beckham has also worked tirelessly to correct, manipulate and strive to again have his name whispered as a MLB level shortstop.

With Baseball America tapping Rays current Double-A SS prospect Hak-Ju Lee as the Rays infield prospect, you have to wonder if the Rays scouting department is turning their head towards Lee as the heir apparent and possibly having Beckham do the infield shuffle himself. 2012 could be a great indicator of if the Rays think Beckham is the right guy for the 6-slot, or someone to man the slot until Lee shows he is ready, willing and able to be that everyday middle-of-the infield commando.

I truly think it might be a blessing in disguise for Beckham to shift his role across the Second Base bag and take the ball from a different angle. It might even be career changing. I watched Beckham hit last Spring and he reminded me of a budding Rickey Weeks. You remember him, the guy the Rays passed up for SP Dewon Brazelton back in 2001. Beckham has that raw talent and bat speed that made some drool about Weeks, plus Beckham is still growing.

Beckham might be currently be the invisible man in regards to the SS position, but he will get his chance this Spring to make the Rays reconsider, possibly making himself a go-to utility guy who could learn on the job while working with long-time Rays Coach Tom Foley on his fundamentals or positioning. But the reality is that Beckham may only stand at that SS position a handful of time when he finally gets to the MLB level, and even then it might be until Lee is ready.

Still, a shift across the diamond, possibly being a heir apparent to the 2B spot could end up being the thing that takes Beckham to the next level. The current supply of MLB superstars that man the 4-spot are aging, and a shift to that position might actually help his reputation and future aspirations within the MLB. With some saying Ben Zobrist will slide over to the First Base bag in the next few years for good, the 2B slot could be wide open.

Upton came up to the MLB with hopes and dreams of manning the 6-spot for 10 seasons, but finally found a home deeper in the slot back by the Rays sunburst in Centerfield. It was a great move by the team and Upton to slide him into the outfield, and even without an All-Star selection to his credit, Upton is one of the fastest and best defender in that position.

Beckham might have to make his own decision possibly this Spring as to his future with the Rays, and a slide vertically could benefit not only him, but the Rays as he could be a critical pivot man for Lee in the double-play format. Beckham could win a chance at a utility role with an outstanding Spring, but the reality is he might be Durham bound again, possibly even switching to the other side of the bag for the Bulls in preparation for the switch-a-roo.

No matter if this pans out, or if my vision is just as blind as some behind the plate, Beckham’s future role with this team might depend on his flexibility and mental toughness possibly learning a new position and becoming a huge cog in the Rays future infield. Hmmm, I think I said the same about Upton not so long ago, and that position switch has turned out pretty well for the Rays.

2011 is Almost in the Books, but What a Season to Remember.

Usually around this time of the year Tampa Bay Rays blogs begin to countdown their top moments of the season. It was a historic season by many aspects. The team posted their third trip in four seasons to the October party, but also we saw so many of the Rays post their own moments of wonder and amazement it has to have all of us giddy with emotion knowing there are less than 100 days before the fun all begins again for 2012.

We saw the emergence of “the Legend”( Sam Fuld), the formulation of the “Magic of Kotch” (Casey Kotchman) movement, and also saw the further maturation of the Rays top tier players David Price and Evan Longoria. We saw Sean Rodriguez move across the diamond to the 6-hole and show why he has always been a prized reward of the Scott Kazmir trade. Desmond Jennings came up and proved once and for all he is not a “Crawford”-clone, but has his own power, style and base-stealing magic.

Matt Joyce proved he had the stuff to hit left-handers, and Ben Zobrist again show the “Zorilla” style traits we all fell in love with during the 2008-2009 campaigns. From starters to Bullpen the Rays hurlers showed promise, unexpected magical moments and the durability of the staff graybeard as James Shields merited Cy Young consideration.

2011 was suppose to be a rebuilding season, but the only rebuilding the Rays did was on their reputation and solidarity to fixate on that post-season goal and drive towards it with vigor and vitality. This season will not go down in Rays history as the most productive on paper, but the 91 wins posted by this squad were 1 better than their rivals the Boston Red Sox and produced another champagne moment within Tropicana Field.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon instilled a “Find Another Way” mantra on his troops early this Spring and several players in the Rays fold responded by showing their abilities are on par with this league even if their MLB service clocks show minimal numbers. Jennings might have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt in 2011 he should be the heir apparent to the Rays lead-off hitter the Rays for 2012. Joyce finally got the at bats to prove he can be the Rays everyday right-fielder and run producer.

All five members of the Rays 2011 posted over 10+ victories with Shields leading the field with a 16-12 record. Not only did Shields lead his young Rays comrades in “W’s”, he also topped the squad in innings pitched (249.1 innings), strikeouts (225) and ERA (2.82 ). Filling in gaps within the season the Rays saw the promise of brilliance of Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and the late season relief pitching of Alex Torres.

Pitching definitely defined so many of these great Rays moments, but the bats did not remain silent during the carnage. We saw new closer Kyle Farnsworth struggle but post a career high with 25 saves, but we also saw the season toll takes it effect on one of the most intimidating players in the game. But the Rays Bullpen which featured 3 lefties for most of the season closed down offenses with RP Joel Peralta providing his own brand of set-up brilliance as well as posting 6 saves. From inning 1 to 9 this Rays team’s pitching tried to set the tone and bring home a win on a nightly basis.

Who will forget that Home Run hit by Longo to seal the Rays post-season against the Yankees on the season’s last day in extra frames about the same time ex-Rays LF Carl Crawford missed a dying quail in Baltimore to propel the Rays into the October party.

With that singled out win on the last day of the 2011 campaign, the Rays ended up posting their only winning September ever with a 16-10 record. It also secured the squad’s third straight 90+ win season, How pale does that starting 1-8 record look now in retrospect as corks exploded within the Trop’s confines and players and fans celebrated together.

Rookies earned their Rays letters this season at an alarming rate as Moore, Brandon Gomes,Torres, Jake McGee and Jeremy Hellickson combined to bring home 8 of those 16 September victories among them, further showing the promise and prosperity that should bring about more moments of celebration and excitement in 2012 for this talented 5-some. Each of these 5 hurlers definitely earned their Rays letterman’s sweaters complete with a shaving cream pie.

But even with the emergence of the rookies, some of the Rays players saw their season as constant reminders of the ever-changing MLB environment. Pitchers J P Howell and Andy Sonnanstine began the 2012 Spring Training with high expectations and a want to show their abilities for this team. Sonny ended up in Triple-A Durham for most of the season, and Howell who came on later in the season never seemed to find the right groove or positive upward momentum. But that is the joy of the New Year, resolutions can be made, and the past is just that…past.

The 2011 season has long been put into the record books, but 2011 is slowing winding down towards it’s last tick of the clock and should be remembered as a season of true fortitude, ever-present resilience and a combined team-wide confidence stemming from the veterans to rookies that this team could win on any given night.

But still if I had to pick a moment of clarity for the Rays, a scene that showed the drive, commitment and determination of this squad it was on the 180th day of the season, in the 12th inning Longoria proved once and for all he is the man to follow on this squad even before his 31st Home Run made human contact in the right field stands. So as we begin to enter the 15th season for the Rays, Sonny has found a new home with the Cubs, Maddon has darkened his hair a few shades.

Changes are still in store for this team before they cross the Port Charlotte, Florida threshold this Spring. Some players have solidified their spots on the roster while others have the Rays scouting and Coaching staff wearing out the erasers on their pencils trying to mesh and mold this squad to take that next step. Can’t wait for that crystal ball to fall in NYC soon because that will symbolize that 2012 is squarely upon us, and the memories of 2011 are just that…fond and precious memories.

Were You The One?

Recently columnist John Romano of the “St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times” wrote an editorial stating the Tampa Bay Rays possibly could be one bat away from reaching the last series again in late October. Some have chuckled at this notion while others have taken his conjecture with a grain of salt, possibly whisking the sodium chloride over their left shoulder for luck just in case he is right.

I know Romano’s main premise is encircling the Rays need for one consistent weapon that empowers this team and acts as their point man during struggles and setbacks. A player of stature and confidence that evokes fear in other team’s, possibly with good reason. Names like Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and even former Ray Carlos Pena quickly come into my mind, but will the price for their services be more than the Rays can muster? Will they quickly be termed “not the one’s”.

Could it be possible my own ideals are more far-fetched than Romano’s? Maybe I am insane to think the entire 25-man roster can transform into one cohesive and consistent unit that nightly can get the job done. For 2 MLB seasons we have seen this Rays club get battered and beaten early in contests and somehow get back off the turf and watch as a Rays du Jour hits the plate or mound and deliver the final death-blow to an opponent. Maybe it is time for this team collectively to take a giant leap of faith in regard to reaching the individual zenith.

Maybe it is as simple as each member of the Rays 25-man roster to take their own game to their next level, to bring about a rude awakening of the slumbering weapons already harnessed within the Rays arsenal. Maybe Rays Manager Joe Maddon should adopt a “Were You the ONE Today?” mantra for his 2012 squad. Possibly that is why this mantra speaks to me in such a way. A total unit is only as strong as its pieces, and this Rays squad has shown in the past it can play with anyone on any given night and post a “L” up on their side of the scoreboard. Did you forget, the Rays did beat the eventual World Series winners in their InterLeague series at the Trop, and outscored them 16-9

Because the Rays payroll is already hovering over $50 million mark for 2012, is there realistically room enough under their ceiling for another impact bat? Considering the potential power and hitting on this team, when all their cow-nosed Rays line up in a row and consistency rules the day, this team is a run scoring machine. The current 2012 roster has the talent, the potential and the ability to combine and prove sometimes the unit as a whole is better than the “one”.

Over the past few seasons we have seen players like Cliff Floyd who showed so many on this team how to be clubhouse leaders and professionals but did not translate that on the field with authority. We saw the Trop termites seemingly destroy “Pat the Bat”, and saw pieces of the puzzles like Brad Hawpe, and Hank Blalock post high hopes, but quickly that balloon burst and again this team was as square one. The “one” big bat concept has not evolved here, possibly doomed to fail from its onset.

But over that same period of time, the Rays Top 5 have produced some impressive numbers and have grown on and off the field. Young players like Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson have shown the 5 can expand into even larger omnipresent spectacle possibly becoming a shimmering 25-point star. We have seen shining bursts of the talent and power from players like Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, B J Upton plus pitchers David Price and James Shields as they have all shed brilliant light upon the Trop.

Maybe this is insanity speaking, but these five points of the Rays star need to shine brighter in 2012. The great thing about elevating your game is it becomes infectious to your team. Each player on the Rays roster wants to be the “one” on a daily basis. Could it really be as simple as combined pitching energies and offensive forces combining to add up to one win, one defining moment, one potentially moment of clarity for this team?  If this 2012 Rays team can harness that and mold it into a consistent vessel of power, then the sky is the limit for this team in 2012.

2012 Needs to Be the Year of the Stadium

It seems like so long ago. The prospect of a waterfront baseball park down within a simple Home Runs path of Tampa Bay looking towards the St. Petersburg, Florida iconic inverted triangular Pier seemed destined. At that time it seemed the Tampa Bay Rays would begin their 2012 season under a bellowing sail and among the legion of stars that grace the Florida night sky.

I still remember the impromptu hot dog and soda celebration given by the Rays just after the conclusion of their final Spring Training game in Progress Energy Park. Kids were running the bases, parents were basking at the proposed views and changes that would grace this patch of land within the next few years. Expectations were high, and the Rays even made an effort to commemorate the new stadium with a simple gesture in the outfield.

Stenciled in white chalk in the Right-Center field green grass was the proposed placement of the future Home Plate keystone facing towards the Northeast. This symbol showed the promise, the excitement and the hopes of future All-Star games and festivities would center around this iconic parcel of land just to the South of the growing steeples of condos and offices in St. Petersburg.

Funny how we now sit within days of 2012 and since the Rays closed the book on this proposed stadium location, they have been mired still swinging at the plate, not even reaching the first steps towards pursuing another vista in the region. Committees have met and been dissolved providing resolute opinions and suggestions, but still the open lines of communication between the Rays and the community seem muted.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has been more than adamant that Tropicana Field is not adequate, or even fiscally able to uphold this region’s baseball legacy. Only the Rays and the maligned Oakland A’s sit in perpetual motion in regards to new vistas to call home. At the turtle rate the Rays stadium is moving, the A’s will have traveled the road to San Jose and been in their new digs for 5 seasons before the Rays break ground.

But the simple fact the Rays are silent should bother all of us who live in this region. I consider the team a regional asset, a barometer that shows if we are a Major League town, or a sleepy hamlet that is destined forever for tourism not baseball. With the Rays standing firm and silent, the decision by baseball to award a franchise to South Florida first in this state seems to have been a genius move.

I was really looking forward to the former stadium revelation and construction. I would have sneaked upon the grounds and watched as the inner bones and fragments were placed, my emotions would have grown as the stadium took shape and the sail was unveiled to fill from the pre- sunset sea breeze. But all that is moot. All of that excitement, that exhilaration has been boxed up, carted away, possibly forever.

2012 was supposed to be a year of renewal of the passion and love for baseball for this region. The site of Progress Energy Park would have been underneath the infrastructure of the new facility, but the emotions and residual haunts of baseball would have filled the halls. Now soccer is played in this stadium site. The city has invited teams from other countries to train here trying to at least grasp some of that Spring magic again, but the true essence of baseball only seems to aptly survive here from April to October, then it takes a long hibernation.

Back on that afternoon as I stood in the Batter’s Box and stared towards the Northeast I could never imagine in my wildest nightmares this region would fight amongst itself perpetually suspending any attempt of building or imagining a Rays future stadium anywhere in this region. As of now there are no ongoing discussions, no released plans, no small-scale models for us to glance at lovingly. It is like the progression of any kind of baseball facility for the Rays has been erased, systematically eliminated and cast off for now.

I might stroll out into the Progress Energy Park outfield on April before heading to the Trop for Opening Day and stand in that same spot where once sat the make-believe Batter’s Box and point my Louisville Slugger towards the Northeast hoping for a sign, hoping for a revelation.

April 2012 was supposed to be a celebration, a final epiphany of this region to bask in the embrace and afterglow of baseball, a time of celebration of the Ray’s 15th MLB season with a state-of-the-art new digs along a picturesque slice of Tampa Bay. Instead this April Progress Energy Park will be vacant, open to the elements with only one Rays fan in attendance paying homage to the enthusiastic 2012 time-table and the memory of that bellowing sail.

Tuesday was Not a Sonny Day

Tuesday morning was not a particularly “Sonny” day for me. Sure I knew that the cards were stacked high and solid against the Rays closet jokester and team trivia buff from possibly garnering an arbitration hearing, but I held a slim sliver of hope for the impossible. For this was the quiet prankster who emerged with a triumphant team-wide display during the relatively short Dale Thayer phenomenon, and who was instrumental in the “porno moustache” caper during a Florida Marlins series back in 2008. This player was as much a consistent part of the Rays team character during his tenure as Rays Manager Joe Maddon.

Here was a player who was so in-tune with Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s quips and quirks that he was  a covert Maddon Delta force commando with his comedic plays and daily transformations in 2010 of the figurine images on the right field wall. From the popular and comical road trip attire to team sponsored events and Season Ticket get-together, this player was all Tampa Bay, and I was glad to have known him. But that is just a small shovelful of the magic and outlandish things that made Andy Sonnanstine a team favorite.

Sure most of the people in Section 140 remember him as the Bullpen player who grabbed fists full of bubble gum and showered them with the sweet confection. Others knew him for his literal side, the one that could quote stats and Rays team trivia with more insight and more depth than the Rays own broadcast historians and fact-checkers. Sonny was a guy who with a glance could have you either laughing or knowing instinctively that you must have missed out on a special Rays moment.

Did you know he was the first of the post-2007 Rays to get a dog and make him a huge part of his off-the-field routine. Sonny was so into his “man’s best friend” that in 2011 he would travel almost 160 miles daily to the Rays Spring Training camp and then back home to his Gulfport abode to be with his canine (golden retriever) roommate “Murphy “. Maybe that was one of the reason I grew to like seeing Sonnanstine being a devoted dog dude myself.

The again my kinship with Sonny might have blossomed with his daily journey into his artistic side as he changed the Matt Garza and David Price figurine Fathead decal put up on the Right field corner back in 2010. Daily I would be transfixed the moment I entered Tropicana Field wondering what accessories, what facial or body transformations would await all of us in attendance. Even being sent down to Rookie Hudson Valley, Sonny found a willing accomplice in Randy Choate who put the finishing touches on his Price masterpiece while Sonny sat on the pine bench 1,300 miles away.

Sonny was the consummate “company man”, a person who Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey knew would do whatever was needed to secure an advantage. His biggest day of flexibility came via a Maddon line-up card malfunction (5/17/2009) against the Cleveland Indians. Sonny committed to the start, then picked up a bat and brought his own offensive pop to the game and his eventual victory. On that day Sonny became the first pitcher since Chicago White Sox starter Ken Brett (Sept. 23, 1976) to be listed on a game’s starting line-up card as a hitter.

He was a guy who was born in a pitcher’s body, but had the mindset and confidence of a power hitter. Some of the most entertaining Batting Practice events of this past seasons came on the days the Rays pitchers got into the cage and took their hacks. Sonny loved to hit and leaves the Rays with a lifetime .318 batting average. Sonny was such a frustrated hitter he took his past 2 Rays team individual photos in the Spring with a bat on his shoulder. Now that is a commitment to hitting.

Sonny leaves the Rays organization with fond memories. Take April 19, 2009 start is a great testament to the magic that can come from Sonnastine’s arm. He went to the mound opposite White Sox hurler Mark Buehrle and produced his first complete game, which included a 3-hit shutout. But there was an additional bit of essence that was all-Sonny on that day.

Sonny combined that night with Beuhrle and completed that contest in a remarkable 2 hours and 2 minutes, the shortest game in Tropicana Field history, plus Sonny faced only 29 batters and at one time retired 17-straight, both club records at the time. On June 18,2010 Sonny earned his first MLB save in an impressive way retired 3 batters while the tying run was anxiously awaiting a hit ball at third base. Ice water truly ran in his veins that night in that balmy contest against the Marlins.

Then in late 2010 Sonny became an author collaborating with MLBlogs.com’s own Tucker Eliot to produce the popular “Tampa Bay Rays IQ: The Ultimate Test of True Fandom” in paperback. Seems only natural the artistic flow of a writer would enter into the versatile Sonny persona since he did attend Kent State University with fellow MLB author and Rays teammate Dirk Hayhurst (Bullpen Gospels).

Some say the last nail was firmly struck in Sonny’s coffin when the Rays trade for fellow arbitration player RP Burke Badenhop from the Marlins on December 10th. Badenhop might not have the rubber band mentality of Sonnastine to go from starter-to reliever and back again without recourse, but his 58.5% ground ball rate peaked the Rays interest pushing Sonny firmly to the outside of the team circle of trust.

Sonny will truly be missed by the Rays Republic for many reasons. From his gum barrage, to his artistic impressions and clothing selections, Sonny has always been a disciple of the “Rays Way”, a consummate professional, and someone you never could turn you back on because of his spontaneous prankster mentality His antics and memorable moments will resonate within Tropicana Field for a lot of us for a long, long time. Viva la Sonny!

Would the Rays Entertain a Possible Man-Dam Reunion for 2012?

Last off season we became intrigued by the possibility that two men could hold the fortunes of the Tampa Bay Rays within their veterans hands. One provided a bit of stability to a offense that sometimes tumble, tumbled and fell upon it’s face, the other was a gamble, but not a costly one. Each player had their pros and cons for their addition to this young squad, and each blazed their own path for the season early, one falling from grace while the other was quickly embraced by the Rays Republic.

When Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez emerged for their 2011 Press Conference within the confines of Tropicana Field, the sky seemed the limit for these two aging gladiators of the AL East wars. Both brought a huge chunk of veteran promise towards eradicating and eliminating the offensive woes of this young Rays squad.

The Spring came and went with each providing moments that quickly gathered energy and excitement, with each accomplishment building more confidence within the Rays Republic as to their inclusion on the Rays roster. In the end, it was the stability and leadership of Damon, and the perplexity of “Manny being Manny” that played out their parts and determined each of their roles.

So here we are almost a year later and again both of their free agent names are producing a intriguing hum along the Coconut Telegraph as a potential Rays duo once again. But I have to ask this in advance this time, will the rubber hit the road with either of them in 2012, or could this be a possible “Pat the Bat” moment in waiting?

We all know each player has offensive merits, and their liabilities are well documented, but if the price is comparable to their 2011 salaries, could this be the momentum to include them again in the Rays fold? To what extent do we believe the sincerity of Ramirez, and do we believe Damon’s “youthful” 2011 campaign will play out miraculously again, or fall flat on its face. When veterans are brought in there are risk, but do the risks outweigh the stats when winning has to be archived to stay the course or ramp up wins in 2012?

Damon has hinted he would love to again don the Rays Carolina blue unis and stay within his home state for another Rays tour. But even within Damon’s statement there is a dark looming cloud that could not only wreck such a reunion, but could deflate it instantly. Even in the enthusiastic language displayed by Damon in his want for a return into the Rays fold, his hint of a possible migration to Houston has to bring up some interesting question marks.

Why would Damon want to glide into Minute Maid Park possibly for the 2012 season when that team will be entering it last tour of duty as a National League franchise. Because of Damon’s obvious defensive skill depreciation as a fielder, his optimistic attitude in possibly joining the Houston club at this juncture seems a bit odd. This same oratory would make more sense in the 2012 off season as the Houston club re-evaluates and re-tools for their own migration into the AL West.

Doesn’t it seem more apt and par for the course that Damon would return to the Rays for 2012 with a possibly of a small raise in pay and the same attendance incentives. This kind of move would give Damon a chance to start the 2012 season in Tampa Bay, then if the Rays show a talent/ win digression , he could be a solid Trade Deadline addition for the Maestros emerging as an early candidate for their 2013 Designated Hitter slot. You also have to ask yourself if Damon knows a piece of information or move we are not privy to, or if it is just pure conjecture on his part at this moment.

The double talk of Damon eventually showing his cards to both locales would seem moot to some, but the underlying questions is why is Damon showing his cards so early, and why even mention Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman’s name at all, especially since there is a slim chance of him leaving the Rays and going “home” to Houston. Damon is a smart guy, maybe he is playing the odds in both directions even though it could cost him a bit at the bargaining table in the end.

Then there is Ramirez. A guy who can drive you batty with his bat and dialog as well as his off-the-field distractions. We all know of his transgressions early in the 2011 season, and it is not worth time mentioning it past this sentence. Still, his domestic situation brings about its own red flags, and possibly makes his name quickly disappear from the Rays “Wish List” this off season, even at a huge discount.

Even though Ramirez has paid his supposed penances by removing himself from baseball for the entire 2011 season, will MLB mandate a 50-game sentence still before he can even step upon a MLB diamond. It might be a bit of time before the MLB honchos and the MLBPA sort out his options, eliminating him from the Rays equation by proxy.

I was not upset or even a bit surprised by the announcement of Ramirez’s suspension in 2011, but it still cuts deep into the Rays Republic’s aching heart when this past April, as the Rays floundered at the bottom of the AL East, Manny had to vacate the clubhouse bringing an unneeded and warranted distraction that could of cost the Rays more than just a dismal April.

Because Ramirez was not lighting up the Rays scoreboard or providing moments of clarity or brilliance at the time of his “reveal”, he was able to fade away basically because we let him. But could a Manny return be in the works possibly with Ramirez again giving a bargain basement price so he can again elevate his game and possibly bargaining chip as a trade piece come late July bringing the Rays an addition that could get them again into the October promised land.

I guess the answer all depends on your own opinions as to the ultimate worth of these two players, and if the risk is work the possible rewards, or keeping them out of the hands of divisional foes. These two names might not be heard loudly among the MLB Winter Meeting hallways in Dallas this week, but their presence even outside the comfort level of teams within their division will merit as least a glance in their direction.

So should the Rays even listen to a Manny conversation this off season, or just watch as he aligns himself possibly with the Baltimore Orioles or maybe even the New York Yankees and become a thorn in the Rays rise once again. You almost wish the Rays had the payroll of New York or the Boston Red Sox just so we can take him out of the American League East equation in every aspect. Problem is, if Manny comes back to the AL East in 2012, what penalty will MLB propose, or will he possibly be welcomed back with open arms having stayed away from the game for almost a year.

When Damon and Manny emerged for that Press Conference the room grew suddenly silent. There was an aire of dramatic change of realistic hopes of veterans of this caliber embracing this young team and their quest for another trip deep into the playoffs. Manny had to buy a ticket to see those games, Damon got a front row seat to watch this team mature before his eyes. Both took extremely different paths in 2011, but could a possible 2012 reunion or resolution tour be warranted?

I am Hoping For Good Lueke

You want to toss it into the barrel that in our own youth some of us have our own incidents or times that things went terribly wrong. That some situation in our own personal lives had gone so sideways you felt you might fall off the face of the Earth. For new Tampa Bay Rays RHP Josh Luekes, I am hoping wisdom definitely was garnered with his past ugliness.

Episodes like this either defines a person or changes them in such a way that similar behaviors never darken their door again. Then there are other who denote that behaviors like this induce a pattern, a way of thinking outside the game, and that they might be damaged good forever. I am hoping the gray area in Lueke’s past is now set in primal black and white with no shades of darkness.

When I heard the Tampa Bay Rays traded their former lead-off catcher, double-J, John Jaso, I hoped it was for a player of caliber. Heck, when Lueke was included in the Texas Rangers tally sheet in their 2009 mid-season acquisition of Cliff Lee, I thought maybe there was hidden pitching pedigree or dominance not seen on the scouting report, but back then in mid 2009 neither I, or the M’s knew the full extent of the horrendous incident.

To paraphrase TV serial killer Dexter Morgan, Lueke has his own dark passenger, a past incident that will haunt and proceed him where ever he ventures for the rest of his life. This past transgression of Lueke is not as simple as a minor traffic accident or can be tossed under the carpet. This horrific incident happened, and Lueke was brought to justice and judged.

Back in May 2008. Lueke was charged with rape and sodomy after an incident at his Bakersfield, California apartment. After his arrest and several weeks in jail, Lueke plead no contest to the charge of unlawful imprisonment with violence and was sentenced to 40 days in prison. Lueke was released with time served since he had already served more than that time period awaiting his fate on the more severe charges. The woman passed out in an apartment shared by Lueke and another Texas minor league prospect, and DNA was discovered on the woman after she awoke and found a few pieces of her clothing removed.

What bothers me most here is that the Rays as an organization are now in that vicarious spot of bringing in a player of questionable past exploits,  and who’s past could/could not have that focus attached to him for his entire Rays tenure effecting him both on and off the field. This incident is not like former Ray OF Elijah Dukes and his Baby’s Mama drama, this was a crime of violence against a woman who entered Lueke’s Bakersfield, California apartment back in May 2008 and left battered and emotionally scarred.

Lueke has possibly stayed the right course of actions, including the counseling route since the incident. Walked the right path since that episode, but this kind of action follows you even on the field. This kind of man-handling tends to make some of us nervous (myself included) and cautious even if Lueke could throw a devastating 98+ heater. It makes me overly protective of any young fan or female who might venture Lueke’s way before, during or after a game.

I want to be open-minded and think with the rationale of religious forgiveness, but being the father of 2 girls Lueke’s past actions have me skeptical right now. Sure there was talk of the woman in question in this incident possibly making the matter moot by partying and cavorting with Lueke and other players at a local watering hole that fateful night, but that thinking died in my mind the moment things turned ugly. Lest we forget, pleading no contest in a court of law is just another verbage of pleading guilty, only in this manner you do not have to admit guilt. Some say this  reduction in the charge was made to offset a possible civil matter which would have ballooned had Lueke been found guilty by a jury of his peers.

I am perplexed to say the least with this move. This is a 180 degree twist of the usual Rays logic of propriety and responsible behavior. It goes against all of the usual risk management nuances of this franchise by taking on a player who has a high degree of risk with high potential for backlash and criticism. The Rays in their past dealings have set  a high-caliber  example with regards to character and chemistry with players entering the sacred Rays fold. In that manner this trade has me feeling a bit odd, possibly wondering if Lueke’s upside outweighed the flexing controversy. Maybe it is my veiled belief that sometimes people do not change, they just find better hiding places for their transgressions.

I want to believe in Lueke as a ballplayer, but for some reason his dark blemish within his life inhibits that total hue of optimism for me right now. Lueke said during a recent conference call he hopes “that eventually ( the incident) just goes away and people quit judging on what their hearing and actually get to know him and they can make their own opinion”.

I want to believe he might recite the Serenity Prayer daily, open doors for every women in Tampa Bay and has embraced a total vow of renewed respect for the fairer sex. Hopefully Lueke has figured out the Rays are banking their reputation on him, and he doesn’t let them or us down ever again…..on or off the field.


Filling the First Base Hole is Crucial for Success


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank You Just Doesn’t Seem Enough

On the eve of the day all of us collectively gather together and pronounce our blessing and “thanks” for all the bounty and goodness life has exposed to us in our past year. Like so many other families around this Nation and Tampa Bay, my parents kept that honored tradition of everyone gathered at the table giving “thanks” a loud for the blessing and good things that had transpired over those last 365 days.

I loved those moments, but as the Rays begin to venture into their 15th year of baseball in the major leagues, I have some unfinished business. People and events that warrant not only a “ shout out”, but a significant remembrance or high-5 at this time we want to express ourselves. So, hang on, this list might be a long one.

THANK YOU to the relentless men of the original Tampa Bay Baseball group who shed tears, fought away drowsiness and endured their long path until we got our storied franchise.

THANK YOU to the cities of Seattle, Oakland, Chicago, San Francisco and even the Minneapolis/St Paul Minnesota community that were stepping-stones as the eventual Tampa Bay expansion franchise made it path through the MLB minefields. These MLB teams all brought bits and pieces of themselves to the table as the Rays fashioned their early patchwork franchise.

THANK YOU to our first owner Vince Namoli and his crew who fought the tides and battles early on in this franchise, and still do. Our Captain at the helm since 2007, Stuart Sternberg who has secured a new path, a new identity and a new reason to rejoice being a member of the Rays Republic crew.

THANK YOU to Wilson Alvarez for that first delivery to the plate on March 31, 1998. It completed the completed the mission and set into motion that events that are still unfolding, and will for a long, long time.

THANK YOU to players like Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, Dwight Gooden, Johnny Damon, Matt Joyce, and St. Pete natives Casey Kotchman and Doug Waechter who came “home” to play in the Rays colors for Tampa Bay. Each of you have left footprints in the Rays historical sands that will stand the tests of time, and always be some of our fondest memories

THANK YOU to my friends within the Rays 4th Floor from BK to DJ Kitty’s master. Each of your actions have brought together different scenarios and changes to the Rays experience from the concerts, promotional goodies to the foundations of fan-based gatherings like the “Maddon’s Maniacs”.

THANK YOU to the men who have assembled in the Rays Bullpen over the past 14 seasons who have sat, spat and even chattered with me on their journey’s to and from the Rays “second Clubhouse” under the Rays Rightfield stands. From the gum-tossing and comedic activities of Andy Sonnanstine, to the Elvis-inspired guitar styling of Rusty Meacham, I am thankful for those moments.

THANK YOU to guys like Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland and his crew who let me see things behind-the scenes as their Pepsi vendor for years. Getting to see the Rays Clubhouse as it transformed, and even letting me take a piece of it home forever.

THANK YOU to the assembled hundreds who have graced the Rays roster sporting numbers from 1 (Joey Gathright, Akinori Iwamura, Miguel Cairo, Rey Sanchez, Antonio Perez, Sean Rodriguez) to 98 (Jae Seo) for your spent energies, blood and even heartaches as this franchise went through their growing pains and ultimate defeats and celebrations. I consider you all friends for life.

THANK YOU to the fans I have met, entertained and even fought verbally with our these years. Your opinions, insights and even diverse comments have molded these posts and even gave me more than a dozen reasons to question my own logic. From Jeff McKinney, Pat and Christine Manfredo to George, Charlie and the crew up in the 300’s, if we could bottle your optimism and energy for this team, we could light up the Tampa Bay region indefinitely.

THANK YOU to the 2008 Rays team who let me grace a moment within a team photo etching myself permanently into the fabric of the greatest Rays team to date. Still hard to imagine that the Rays, in their rookie attempt in the post season fought so hard and valiantly had an element like rain play such a critical role in their first World Series.

THANK YOU to the Rays scout and player development people like Mitch Lukevics, RJ Harrison who have been linchpin in the development of so many of the Rays past, present and future stars. Their devotion and work ethic knows no bounds, and their tireless emphasis on quality has made the Rays farm system a model of player development efficiency.

HANK YOU to the people of Tampa Bay no matter if you are a long-time Season Ticket holder or someone who graces the stands only a handful of games a season. Your support is needed and appreciated from those among you in the stands, on the field and assisting you with your baseball experience. The lifeblood of this team is the interaction and reaction of the community, and our return to future games.

Giving “thanks” at this time of the year for things outside of Tropicana Field are also very important. So my last THANK YOU has to go out to Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his cooking crew of Rays Coaches, Rays staff and employees who have yearly venture out into the Tampa Bay region for Maddon’s annual “Thanks-Mas” celebration.

But I would be remiss if I did not make one more “THANK YOU”. I have to also make a huge and humble shout out to you, the readers of this blog. Since our change over in May 2011, so many of you have stayed the course and returned while others have gone away or have not returned. I “THANK” each and every one of you reading this right now for your support, your time and your comments that have made my writing better since 2007.

But then again, you can never hear the words “Thank You” enough these days.

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