Results tagged ‘ Troy Percival ’

Are the Rays Finished Adding Pieces for 2009?

 

 

 

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

 


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

 

 


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

 



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

 

 


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

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

 

 


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

 


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

 

 


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

 


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

 

 


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

 

 


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

 

 


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

 


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


 

 


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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

My Selections for Proposed Stadium Giveaways in 2009

 


Well, one of the great perks in being a Tampa Bay Rays Season Ticket holder is the fact that we are guaranteed some of the promotional items that the team gives out during the year. So if I do not want to wait in the long lines for a B J Upton figurine, I always know I will get one with my Season Ticket bag before the All Star break. It was even better years ago when we used to get everything that was offered during the year, even the kids items for our collections.

 



I have every lunchbox that the team has issued now for 10 years, except one that was recently damaged by my room mates 8 year old when he was throwing the basketball back in my office area. But that is fine, because I have them because of my love for the team, and as a retirement fall back plan. Now I am not thinking that it will fetch even $30 dollars in 15 years, but it might be a nice collectible for Ebay someday for me to post and sell to an avid buyer.


 

But that is what a lot of Rays season ticket holder do with their stashes. After our bi-yearly cache of promotional items are given out, I have seen a influx of items posted on Ebay and selective sites for collectibles. Considering the rise in people wanting to collect these both as keepsakes and as assets for the future, the market is growing for Rays merchandise. But not everyone buys them to sell them. You have people like myself and a friend, Jeff McKinney, who has one of the biggest  Rays collections of signed players baseball  and collectibles in the entire Rays kingdom.

 


Some people collect because of their obsession and their love of the game. That is why I collect them and the autographs. Heck, I even have a used 2000- 2004 Rays on-deck circle in my house that I was given right after the 2004 season ended by a Rays employee. I also have a B J Upton figurine that says “Bossman Junior”, instead of  “B J Upton” on the base. I do not know how many of those are in circulation, but I do know it is rare and I plan on keeping that until my death.then someone can sell it.

 


So with this new crop of 2009 promotional items still up in the air for the Rays, they sent out our yearly survey to the Season Ticket mongrels and asked what promotional items we might desire to see in 2009. I decided to give the public an insight into the items that the team is considering for 2009. The items that I voted for will be put onto the list in RED type  so you can see where my mind is on these items. So let’s check out the types of things that the Rays marketing arm is considering for the fans in 2009.

 


I actually believe that this presentation, or turnkey survey I completed was a tool of the MLB Advanced Media section of MLB, and not the front office survey of the Tampa Bay Rays. But it really doesn’t matter who did it, or why, it is important that we get a chance to decide what we might see at stadium giveaways in 2009.

 

 

Here is the first grouping of items that the team has asked us to pick from in 2009:


Replica Championship ring

Commemorative DVD of 2008 season

World Series Cowbell

Replica of Championship Flag ( smaller version of AL Pennant flag to be hoisted on 4/13/2009.)

License Plate holder

Championship Scroll.

 


Quite an interesting list here. I can imagine buying the license plate holder on my own, and what is with the idea of a championship scroll? Are we now competing in the ancient Greek division of baseball?  The Replica flag of the Championship Banner is a close second for me, and I got a free World Series cowbell during the playoffs thank you very much. But the Replica Championship ring is something I would love to see. I have seen several other items like this that other teams have done in the past, and it would be a nice collectible, and maybe even a great party conversational item to have, even if it is a knock-off of the original ring.

 



The team then asked about children related items containing the likeness of our favorite overgrown smurf/ seadog Raymond. Here are the items for consideration for Raymond related giveaways for 2009:

Raymond Mr. Potatohead Doll

Raymond Hand Puppet

Stuffed Raymond Doll

Kid’s size T-shirt

Nesting Doll ( 3 egg shaped inner sections to complete one large sized doll)

Raymond small Pillow

Raymond Cereal Bowl

 

Wow, another fine mess of items for us to think long and hard about for 2009. I think the team had their hand enough up in Raymond this year and we do not need a hand puppet. The stuffed Raymond might be a great idea, but there are still 1,000’s of them in the Rays Team Store for sale and might corner the market on them.

 

 

A T-shirt is usually a easy way out of anything. People make T-shirts for simple and cheap advertising of their products ans services.  Even Raymond is worth more than a simple T-shirt. The pillow is an interesting item, but might be a bad item if you get a kid who might have allergies because of the stuffing or materials. Unless the pillow is 100 percent hypo-allergenic, it might pose a small public relations night mare on the backside of it.



The cereal bowl is another close tie for second here. Who would not want to eat a bowl of cereal and see Raymond’s big nose poking out after you eat all the Raisin Bran in the morning. But the one item that truly caught my interest is the nesting doll. I got one a few years ago of Ichiro when I was in Seattle for a Rays series. It has been a great conversation starter because no one has even seen one before in Tampa Bay. It is mostly a Far Eastern influenced item, but I love my Ichiro one to death. 

 


But the Raymond Mr Potato Head is by and far the best item for the kids. I can see someone’s kid playing with it in the stands during the game, or even in the car on the way to the ballpark and it take s a huge amount of stress off the parent at the time. I have attended the game with a group of 4 kids ranging in ages from 5 to 12 , and the attention span of those kids is about less than 1 full inning of play. Thank God for Nintendo DS.

 

 


The next section that they wanted us to consider was “Rays” branded items. This would include anything that would have the “Rays” logo or symbol on it, or be realted to any MLB award or property. Here is the list of items that were presented to us:


Carlos Pena Gold Glove

Dioner Navarro Mini Catcher’s Mask

Evan Longoria Rookie of the Year figurine

James Shields Magic Set

Carlos Pena Catwalk Pinball Machine

Carl Crawford Wind-up Toy

 


Talk about a wild set of items. Just look at this list and you will see a total gambit of items that might amaze and confuse you.  Now the Carlos Pena Gold Glove item was an instant hit in my book because of the significance of it being the team’s first Gold Glove ever awarded to a player. This is one section where I thought two items should be picked, with the Gold Glove item tying for my selection.

 


The Dioner Navarro mini catcher’s mask was a wild item, but mostly a secondary item to me. It might be a better item in 2010, after he has established himself a bit more in the minds and eyes of the MLB and the Rays faithful. The Carl Crawford wind-up toy is just not right. Seriously here, I would be ashamed if I had to present that toy to a kid. It would be broken in 5 minutes and then you have a crying kid in the stands and an upset parent……..Bad choice from top to bottom here.

 

Carlos Pena Catwalk pinball machine certainly sounds like a wild game, but how can you configure the Trop’s catwalks into a game and still have some sort of motion and flippers in the game?  This might be a wild item to see firsthand, then a better decision can be reached about it. Now when did James Shields become a magic guy? This is another one that puzzles me. Is Shields a closet magic guy who has a top hat and a rabbit at home?  I actually think this won would be better to make itself disappear before we even see it for the first time.


But the Evan Longoria Rookie of the Year figurine should be on the list of 2009 promotional items period. This is a no-brainer. The guy might be our first “Rays” home grown Hall of Famer by the time he is done playing baseball. This is a fantastic item for a super guy who exceeded expectations and rode the victory train all the way to the World Series with the team. To say this team should not be on the list of giveaways would be a true crime.

 



The next section is probably the most popular items given out during the year by the Rays. The figurines are considered the holy grail of stadium giveaways, and the team has a great set of names to consider for 2009.

 

Evan Longoria  

Jason Bartlett

Joe Maddon                     ( 2 ) 

Matt Garza                       ( 3 )

David Price                      ( 1 )

Dioner Navarro               ( 4 )

 

Considering the team usually gives out 4 of these a year, I picked my top 4 choices above. The selection of these is not too hard considering the type of year each of the selections had in 2008. But some of the selections might also be a bit premature for 2009. I truly think that Jason Bartlett did an amazing job helping us upgrade our defense in 2008, but I also feel he is not the main reason, and by posting more errors than any other time in his career doesn’t give a guy a bobble head.

 

Dioner Navarro would be a great choice. He had grown a lot in 2008 to become the type of catcher the team can count on for years down the line. He is also becoming a team leader in the clubhouse and behind the plate and is fulfilling his destiny when he was drafted in the 1st round by the New York Yankees.

 


Matt Garza as a bobble head would be a great and fitting salute to his confidence and his strength in the playoffs for the Rays.  Garza rose above and beyond in 2008 after having a few bumps in the road to become a superstar pitcher in the making for the Rays. Maybe a bobble head with him clutching the ALCS MVP award would be perfect.

 


Both Joe Maddon and David Price deserve a bobble head/figurine. When Maddon was first selected as the Rays Manager, I was not in the group who was totally happy with the selection. But in the first few months of the season, I got to see how the guy worked and how he ran his team and he got my respect and I have been a true believer in his system.  His low key approach has worked for him because his players’ and his staff have total confidence and respect in the way he runs his ship.

 

David Price, what can you say about this guy. He said in the Spring of 2008, that he expected to be with the team by the end of the year. He also said he was going to work hard and make the decision hard for them not to bring him up sometime during the season. He also stated he loves the pressure and strives on it. All three  statement became what came to believe was David Price.

He went above and beyond on the diamond, and was a pleasure to talk with and see interact with fans on the sidelines during the 2008 season. He is going to be a the pre-season favorite for the 2009 Rookie of the Year award, and it just might be his to lose during the season. But the former Vanderbilt star is also smart enough to know that anything can happen a a 162 game schedule……but he should have his own figurine late in 2009.

You notice I did not even consider Evan Longoria for this figurine section because I am confident the Rays will do a Rookie of the Year bobble head/ figurine. If for some reason, the team doesn’t take into consideration that Longoria is our first representative to win the ROY, then maybe they are missing the entire boat here on any of these items for 2009.  If the Rays do not include a Longoria figure somewhere in the 2009 promotional schedule, it will be a error of judgment by the team’s front office and marketing department in a big way.


 

 


The last selection section that the survey asked us to consider was the Rays brand items.  This has always been a selection of flags, caps and even coozies in the past. But the selections offered for 2009 ran a wide variety of items from the usual to the unusual. Here is the final list we were asked to pick from in 2009:

 

Rays logo License Plate Holder

Remote Control holder

Welcome Mat

Retro Team Card

Animal House  style College T-shirt

2009 Team Card Set

Fan Designed T-shirt

Rays Calendar

 

I have to say that was another wild selection  process. The first item, the Rays license plat holder was just a plain item that we could pick up anywhere during 2009. I think we need a bit more imagination in 2009.  With that in mind, the remote control holder was a new idea and just might be a great item. I guess you have to see it first to consider it for the list. Is it a slip on “Rays-themed” holder, or something a bit more elegant.

 


I can’t believe I used the word elegant with the Rays.  The welcome mat also seemed like a great idea, but might be a secondary item to be given out during the Boston series. I know, that would be cruel, but hey, We did sweep them 2 times in out house for the first time ever in 2008. The retro card set might be a great kid’s item, but not in this category.

 


The Animal House style T-shirt is a great idea. I would wear it, but then again I am a DTX fraternity brother.  It would all depend on the design of the T-shirt as to if it would be a hit or miss in 2009. With hit or miss in mind here, the team card set and the calendar would either be a plus or a minus depending on the individual fan.  Some people would love the idea, while others would see it as a lame excuse for a stadium giveaway and toss it in the trash or leave it in the stands after the game. It is a gamble either way on these items.

 


But the idea of letting fan submit a design for a T-shirt is actually a bit of a great P R  move. Think about it, you would have both professional designers and even kids doing double time to present a prototype of the shirt to be distributed to the masses in the stands. How proud would a fan be that his print was selected either by the team or the fans as the item to be given out during the “Fandemonium” celebration during the last home stand of the season.

 


You could make the selection process for the design to be done online or even an in-stadium display maybe by Gate 3 with voting and balloting done during 3 home stands in the season. You could also then let the winning fan not only get credit for producing the work of art, but maybe do a Ceremonial First Pitch or an autograph signing during the day it is distributed to the Rays fans. You could make someone life by showing their talents and their abilities for everyone in the stadium to enjoy.

 


Well, here you go. the above was all the items that the Rays and MLB Advanced Media asked the Rays season Ticket holder to  consider for promotional item for stadium giveaways in 2009.  What is really amazing is the way that these items have changed over the seasons. Most Rays fans will remember the small 4 inch tall bobble heads given out years ago, or the floppy hats and trucker hats extended to the Rays’ mass population in the past.

 

 


Such stadium giveaways are special, and should be treated as such by the Rays management. Not only is it free advertising for the sponsor of the event, but for the team in the Tampa Bay area. Must we forget that when Rays Manager Joe Maddon was on his honeymoon in Italy, he actually saw and took a picture of a Rays fan overseas from the bay area. The team might never hit the plateau of some of our American League East brethren in total uniform and promotional sales, but we can start a trend where the Rays are no longer the bottom feeders in merchandise in the MLB.

A Hodge Podge of Number 2 Ray’s Moments in 2008

 

Coverrays

 


I was sitting at the computer this morning trying to pick out a second possible winning moment in 2008 for the Rays when it dawned on me that there are too many to even count. So I have decided to instead list all the important events, as per my opinion, that have made 2008 so great for Rays fans. I mean I truly sat there after deciding on number 3 yesterday, and decided that one was the easiest pick of the bunch.

 

If you get to go to the big show, it has to be a top 3 moment in your team’s flight that season.  There are a huge bunch of moments that helped define 2008 for the Rays. Be it a event in 2007 at shaped the look and feel of the franchise again, or the elimination of a curse in another stadium that served as a mental block to the team. 2008 was the Year of the Ray, and it is one I am glad I got a front row seat for all year long.

 

 


I decided to run this in chronological order from the first event in 2007, up until the final out in Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series.


So let’s begin with the first order of business way back in November 2007, when the Rays held a rally in Straub Park near the waterfront in St. Petersburg, Florida. The event was the unveiling of the teams new logo and colors. The Uniforms were fashioned to represent the old style of baseball with a new Rays logo on both the home and away jerseys. The “R” on the uniform front posed a new sweeping motion for the bottom of the letter, plus the sunburst between the lettering also brought about a new look and feel to the organization.

 

 

The ray of light was a new focal point of the team, which abandoned the former Ray on the cap and also on the team’s official logo. But the Rays did get to stay for 2008 on the sleeve of the jersey, but might be retired in 2009. The event was to showcase the new look and feel of the team. And with it came a new spirit of winning and posting new attitudes for the team. And one of baseball’s biggest supporters came out and celebrated with us. Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West came out and entertained the masses after the unveiling and rocked the house all the way up to the fireworks display.

 


Then came the last Spring Training reporting for the pitchers’ and catchers’ to the Ray Namoli Complex in Northwest St Petersburg. The team came out onto the field and Rays Manager Joe Maddon had a small speech in which he wanted to stress fundamentals and team work and chemistry in 2008. That was the day he unveiled his famous “9 =8 ” formula for the world to decipher for the rest of the season.

 

 


Then came the first event that molded and formed this band of players into friends and bonded them for the rest of the year. In the day prior to this event, the Rays Elliott Johnson had made a hard charge into Yankees’ minor league catcher, Francisco Cervelli a few days earlier. The event did not sit well with the Yankees’ staff and during the March 12th rematch at Progress Energy Field, Yankees enforcer Shelly Duncan decided to take matters into his own hands.



Duncan was hustling on a hit into the outfield when he turned and made a move towards second base. It was apparent to almost everyone but Duncan that he would not be able to make it to the base in time to beat the throw. During his slide, Duncan brought his cleats up towards Akinora Iwamura and struck him mid-thigh with his metal cleats.  Duncan came up immediately and contested the action before right fielder Jonny Gomes came into the action and leveled Duncan to the ground. It was an event that brought the team together for the first time in 2008.

 

 


Then two weeks later, the Rays said farewell to their present Spring Training home when the team played it’s last game at Progress Energy Field ( Al Lang Field, Waterfront Park). The game was met with sadness and joy because of the memories of teams playing on these grounds since the 1940’s in this present stadium. The event also was a visual point for the team to showcase the new proposed stadium that might some day rise on the same grounds.

 

Eric Hinske hits a one-out double during the Rays' two-run second inning. He tripled in the fourth and homered in the sixth.

 


Or could moments like Eric Hinske missing a cycle by a single. It is amazing to me that he went 3-4 on the night and got his triple and homer early in the contest at the Walt Disney complex, but could not get that elusive single.  Hinske ended up being one of the true bright spots for the Rays in the Free Agent market. He signed for a low number, but produced high energy and some pretty impressive offensive displays during the 2008 season.

 


Then we have the first sweep of the Boston Red Sox at home this season. That would only be the icing on the cake as the Rays would send the Red Sox faithful home as losers in 8 of the 9 games at the Trop this year. The  first series at the Trop. would end with a hard fought 3-0 shutout by James Shields.

 

Then comes the moment where Rays Manager Joe Maddon thinks the Rays season began to turn into its championship run. It was during a road trip up to Toronto when the Rays battled back from a possible loss. Edwin Jackson left the 8th inning with a Ray lead before Troy Percival gave up 4 straight singles to let the Jays tie the game at 3-all. The teams battled back and forth before Dioner Navarro, who went 3-6 on the day hit a screamer into the stands for a Grand Slam homer and sealed the victory for the Rays.

 

 


On May 13th the Rays got to celebrate for the first time in club history as the team officially took over first place in the American League East. It was the latest point in any Rays season that the team had enjoyed the top spot.  The game produced one of the first moments in the Rays 2008 history for celebrations when  pinch runner Jonny Gomes came on for Cliff Floyd after he singled in the bottom of the 11th inning. Gomes stole second, then sprinted  home to seal the victory for the Rays 2-1.

 

 


Then came the L A Angels first visit to Tropicana Field, and the Rays shut them down to also sweep that series. Then came in the mighty Chicago Cubs for a three game Inter-League series that was deemed by many to be a possible World Series matchup. During this series, the Rays finally began to get some national exposure for maybe being a true team that could win it all in 2008.


But not until after the June 19th game, in which Carl Crawford hit a grand slam to propel the Rays. The team had officially beat the best team in baseball all three games did the national media begin to get on the Rays bandwagon. Cub’s Manager Lou Pinella commended the Rays on their young squad, and you could see a small twinkle in his eye that he approved of the young team getting the best of his team that series.


 

 


On June 27th, Rays starter Matt Garza was on the mound in a game against the Florida Marlins and gave up a blast to Hanley Ramirez in the 7th inning to produce the only hit and run in the contest. Garza went on to shut down the Marlins’ offense the rest of the game.

 


According to the Elias Baseball Bureau, It was the first complete-game no-hitter or one-hitter with a double-digit strikeout total in the majors this season. There was only one such pitching performance in each of the last three seasons: by Chris Carpenter in 2005, John Lackey in 2006 and Justin Verlander in 2007.

 


On July 19th, the Rays won their first game back after the All Star break to break the team’s longest losing streak of the season. With the Blue Jays in town for a weekend series, the Rays went on to break up a perfectly good pitchers’ duel on a Ben Zobrist homer on the first pitch he saw tonight. Toronto starter A J Burnett was on tonight, but the Rays caught a huge break on a hanging breaking pitch to Zobrist for the victory.

 

Rocco Baldelli gets the shaving cream pie treatment after driving in the winning run in the ninth.  (AP)

 


While the Rays were at home on August 30th they got to celebrate a first in Rays history. With the 14-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles, the Rays posted their 82nd win of the season. Marking the first time in franchise history they were guaranteed a winning season.  It also marked the night of Scott Kazmir’s 10th victory of the year.

 

The mystic of Fenway Park was beginning to get the better of the Rays in 2008 before Scott Kazmir took the mound on September 10th in a series the team needed to keep their lead on the Boston Red Sox.  It also began one of the most storied moments in Rays history. During the contest the Rays batters went a combined 1-15 with men in scoring position and almost gave the game to the Red Sox several times. As the team fought back and forth before the Rays sent up a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 9th inning.  

 

 

Dan Johnson had been summed from the Durham Bulls earlier in the day and would have started in left field if he had gotten to the ball park a little earlier in the night. But because of flight problems and transportation to Fenway Park, he arrived just moments before the game. In the 9th inning, Rays Manager Joe Maddon inserted Johnson into the game to pinch hit against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. Johnson worked the count to 3-2 before he hit a monster shot that cleared the right center field wall to give the Rays a 5-4 lead in the game. Jason Hammel ended up coming out in the bottom of the 9th and secured the win for the Rays. It was Hammel’s first save of his career.

 

 


With the team away for their last series, it was actually the next day when most Rays fans learned that we had secured the American League East title the previous night in Detroit. With the Rays in Motown for the last series, many players came back to the clubhouse to celebrate into the wee hours of the morning. It was a wild fact, but players and staff went to area hotels sports bars to do a bit of  scoreboard watching as the New York Yankees needed to lose for the Rays to be awarded their first title in team history.

 

 


After the hard fought season, the Rays staged a airport greeting for the team at St. Petersburg/Clearwater airport on September 29th. The event was attended by almost 5,000 people who flocked into the baggage area and loading zones to greet and cheer the team as they got off their chartered flight from Detroit. People filled the airport and also the outer traffic lanes of the airport to see their new champions come in from their road trip.


 

 


On October 6th, the Rays were in Chicago facing the White Sox when they secured their first series win in the American League Divisional series. The Rays won the series 3-1, and established that they were the team to beat to get to the World Series in the American League. In that series, the Rays battled back time and time again against the tough White Sox pitching staff before finally breaking through and getting right breaks.

 

 

When the Rays faced the Philadelphia Phillies on October 23rd, they sent James “Big Game” Shields to the mound. The game  showed the waking up of B J Upton and Carlos Pena at the plate as both help produce much needed offense for the Rays. In a play featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Rocco Baldelli came across the plate for an apparent Rays run, but Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz held onto the ball.

 

 


The game came down to great situational hitting by the Rays. B J Upton scored Akinora Iwamura from third to plate the first run for the Rays.  In the 4th inning, the Rays took a hold of the game after Cliff Floyd hit a single and Dioner Navarro hit a nice liner up the middle to put two men on base for the Rays. Baldelli then hit a nice shot down the third baseline, but it was gloved by Feliz and the Rays had men on the corners. Jason Bartlett then came up and executed a safety squeeze perfectly  in front of Phillies starter Brett Myers to put the Rays up 4-0. It would be the Rays first victory in the Fall classic.


 

 


Last, but not least is the Game 5.5 as I call it of the 2008 World Series. No matter what happened in this game, the historical significance was more pressing at the moment. The contest was a hard fought contest and each team traded runs and hits before the Phillies finally walked away with their second World Series Championship.

 


The game was a true test of everything that got the Rays here in 2008. The Bullpen, which was the team’s focal point in 2008 had finally given up a run at the most critical moment in the contest. And the Rays offense could not close the gap when needed during their last at bats. with Eric Hinske striking out for the last out of the game.

 

 


All of these events made a different focal point for the Rays in 2008. I hope a few of your fond memories have graced the blog. If I forgot a moment that you found remarkable in 2008, please feel free to comment on the blog and I will check into it and might even make it my number 1 choice tomorrow.  Again thank you to all the readers of Rays Renegade for their insights, comments ans readership in 2008.

 

Hopefully in 2009, I will have more outstanding Rays moments to record for you.

A Quick Glance at the A L East

 

 

 

The American League East has gotten a bit crowded lately. There is a huge amount of new money flowing in and out of the coffers of the New York Yankees, but should this have the rest of the A L East up in arms, or even worried at all over the talent and financial windfalls of the boy’s in pinstripes?  for one am not worried at all by the recent additions by the old school teams in the east to rebuild from outward signings and additions. That is what mega corporations do, they bring in the best and hope for massive production and results.

 


I actually think that this season is just par for the course in that the Yankees are rebuilding from within the free agent market instead of through a minor league system. We all know that their minor league system leaves a lot to be desired, so they have to take option number 2 to get the type of bat ,or pitcher they need to compete year in and year out. But you know what I find funny here is the fact that the Yankees actually have reduced their payroll for 2009, and have not ballooned it out of site.

 


Yeah, can you believe that you spend a total of almost half a billion dollars and you have actually reduced your salary for the coming year. As wild as it might sound, the Yankees actually shed $ 88 million in payroll while only adding $ 62 million. So even in the economical crisis the Yankees have save close to $ 29 million dollars for this coming season’s squad. But that is contingent on the fact that they will not be adding any more parts to the equation between now and Opening Day.

 


But you can not guarantee anything in the AL East anymore.  With teams like Toronto Blue Jay having one of the best pitching staff in baseball, they will be constantly up there based on their arms while the bats begin to stretch out and then come alive for the team. They will again be a team that might be on the outside looking in, but is still a giant slumbering, waiting for his chance to pounce and show his true power to the world.

 

 

 

Former Cy Young winner Roy Halladay will reload and get ready to do combat with everyone and anyone on a 5- day basis in 2009. And just because they lost A J Burnett doesn’t mean there is not another cog waiting to be put into the machine and perform for the Jays. They might have a sleeper starter in Matt Clement, who has signed a minor league deal with the club, and might impress enough to even get a slot in the rotation in 2009

 


But this is a team you do not take lightly even in the offensive side of the ball. They might be a bit light right now, but that doesn’t mean they will not make a late signing of a bat that can produce for the Jays. They have always been like a pack of wild dogs. One doesn’t do the total damage on you, but little by little they can wear you down until they have you right where they want you in a game.

 

 

Then you have the almighty Boston Red Sox. Who would have spent the same for Teixiera if he let them for his serves in beantown. But it was discovered that Tex’s better half did not like the old New England vibe, and you already know that the wife of a player has a true measure of the decisions in these manners. Seriously though, Boston is also under a financial burden to reload almost yearly to keep up with the Steinbrenners’ of the world.

 


They recently added another member of the old World Champion Florida Marlins when they signed Brad Penny to come aboard and actually make it feasible for Justin Masterson to stay in a setup role for closer Jonathan Papelbon.  the arrival of Penny is actually a head scratcher since he has never been a good pitcher against the American League in his career. During the Inter-league series in the past he has gotten a bot rocked, to the tune of 7-11 in the past, and might not be a perfect fit for the Boston rotation.

 


But that was the Red Sox answer to Tex, bring in more pitchers’ who might put more holes in bats in the A L East. Beside that move, the team did make a minor signing, that might end up being a major one of they do not come to terms with former backstop Jason Varitek soon. Josh Bard might end up as the starter if the old captain can’t come to terms with the team in time for the season. It would be a huge change for the Red Sox, but would also put offense back behind the plate for the Red Sox, which they have not had in the last few years.

 

 


Then you take the Tampa Bay Rays philosophy that you do not add wins by adding huge money. So far the team had made two trades that have gone under the radar a bit, but might have fantastic dividends for the team sooner than you think in 2009. the signings will not be the last ones, as the team is negotiating and poking and prodding a number of free agent bats looking for the right fit to the Rays mold in 2009.

 


Because of the obvious team chemistry, you do not want to just pop a hitter in there without regards to the dynamics the team has established in 2008. To bring in a player who can build on the fundamentals put into place in 2008 would be huge for this organization. The right bat could just gel up the middle of that offensive lineup and explode out of the gate. But the wrong bat could also clog the life’s blood out of the team and they will be then set for a nasty downfall from grace.

 


The trade of Edwin Jackson for Matt Joyce is actually a great acquisition on both paper and payroll. the team will have the options on the player for the next 6 years, which give them a great player coming into his own during that period. Joyce might come back as one of the best trades in 2008’s off season if he grows in potential and wins the right field job out of Spring Training.

 

 


But the signing of Joe Nelson is actually a sign that the Rays are being shrewd, but smart in their Bullpen additions for 2009. They have the right idea of not wanting to rock the boat too much, and will show that the signing is not just for obvious reasons. This signing is also a insurance policy on Troy Percival this coming season. Nelson will come aboard the Rays’ ship knowing that Percival has had a checkered past in 2008 for the Rays.

 


With Dan Wheeler and J P Howell and Grant Balfour in great roles in setting up the staff, the addition of Nelson is actually a situational one where he can either be inserted into that mix of pitchers’, or be the closer until Percival is fully healthy, or even down for the count again for the Rays. It is a smart signing based on 2008 statistics of a 2.0 ERA as a reliever, but also shows the foresight of knowing that a healthy Percival is only one misstep away from having a 2008 relapse.

 


So every team in the American League East should be better in 2009, but one will again be the bottom feeder for at least the 2009 season. The Baltimore Orioles have again been deemed the team that will strive to get out of the cellar of the A L East. But you can be sure that they are developing guys in the minors to come up fast that can contribute for years to come and might be building a cheaper edition of a dynasty for a few years.

 

 


It is currently hard to fathom such and adventure since they only have 1 true starter in Jeremy Guthrie currently on their roster, but they have a huge ton of raw talent that could develop fast and make a play for the 4th slot late in the season. The Orioles are one team that always have me worried in the AL East. You never know which one will show up and either lay down or kick your butt in a game.  Because of this, you always have to be on your guard with them and  not lollygag in a game. And they still have the bats like, Aubrey Huff to compete with the big boys in the division.

 

 


So here we are a few days away from 2009, and we have a huge season on the horizon. I think that the race from Day 1 in the A L East will one of the best contested races in the league in 2009. you will have to two powers of the “old” East fighting with the two young upstarts the entire season trying to redefine the pecking order of the division. It will be a fight to the finish with one of the best teams maybe looking in on the playoff picture after losing out in the finals weeks of the season.

 


It is again time for the A L East to make the rest of baseball take a look at their standing every night and wonder who is going to have the staying power to successfully survive the 162-game season without major strife and damage.  I might be inclined to put the top three from last season back into the race for the title, but with Toronto nipping at their heels, you never know anymore. But one thing is for sure in 2009, it is a year I will not want to miss for the world. It could even be a year where a .500 club wins the division, and a chance to win the World Series.

 

 

 

 

 

Rays Reminiscing…………..A Year Later

 

 

 

 

A little over 13 months ago we took on a new persona here in Tampa Bay. Everyone remembers the limp, win-challenged Tampa Bay Devilrays. Well, we were told to expect changes and get used to winning and maybe keeping a roll of antacids in our pockets for the 2008 season. But little did we know what was about to happen to effect our lives, stomachs and attitude towards our home team.

 

First there was the events st Straub Park that put the entire thing into motion for 2008. Kevin Costner and Modern West came to put on a free concert for the Tampa Bay Masses as we dropped the Devil from our moniker and became to Rays………free and clear. Along with those changes were vibrant logo with a highly accented “R” and the burst of light, which could of been a sunburst, a flashlight, or maybe even a quasar from the futre telling us about 2008.

 

 

 

 

The event brought alot of mixed emotions into the Tampa Bay area, but also brought about a sense of removing the past and being reborn to become what we should always have been…winners.  Not only did the team have a new energy about it, but the player showed the emotion and the anticipation on stage that night to bring about total acceptance of the new look. I only had one problem with all of this change. I still thank that the road jersey should have the “Tampa Bay” naming on the chest instead of the Rays.

 

It might be something simple to most people, but I also have been on teams that accented the away jersey would have a regional flair, and the Rays became only one of a handful of teams that now held the same uniform both home and away. One small patch on the sleeve kept the flying “ray” alive, but for how long. I have a feeling we might see it gone in 2009, replaced by some sort of symbolic gesture of winning, or maybe a “burst” like in the center of the current logo.

 

 

 

 

After the effectiver launching of the new logo and advertising, the team went on a media blitz that saturated the Tampa Bay area with the new attitude and logo. Gone were the green and white shirts off the shelves, and on them now was the burst and the typically blue hats with the white “TB” on them. Also gone were the 5 or 6 variations of the caps during the initial launch. Tampa Bay wanted the entire area to re-unite under one cap scheme before re-launching variations and knock-offs.

 

The Champs Sporting Good store player appearance were extremely popular and some store even ran out of certain team apparel that night. The buzz was all over the Tampa Bay area about the recharged Rays and their plans for the future.  So we got to relax for a short while before the team announced two huge trades of disgruntled or negatively-aligned players. One was a superstar in waiting, while the other may someday be a great powerhitter, but not with the Rays.

 

 

 

 

Delmon Young, who had been in the doghouse of Maddons’ since the last game of the season was jettisoned to the great white dome in Minnesota along with utility guy Brendan Harris and minor league outfielder Jason Pridie. The deal at first looked like the Twins had fleeced the Rays for a potential All-Star and slick-hitter in Young.  But the deal did not take a Tampa Bay turn into late in Spring Training when it looked like two of the players dealt to the Rays might be starters on the team.

 

 

 

 

Jason Bartlett came to the Rays as a much under used appreciated and mis used member of the Twin’s infield. He had good skills at the plate, but his strong point was his defense. The second member of the trade might have come with the most baggage to Tampa Bay. Matt Garza was a great pitcher, but he got into himself too much and might have done himself more damage than good in his time with the Twins. In the end, both guys became valuable members of the team and did not even look back as they moved forward with the Rays. The minute Spring Training started at the Namoli Complex, you could see both guys were relishing in their change of scenery.  Bartlett quickly got into the team’s rhythm and poised to become a valuable member of the squad.

 

 

 

 

Garza tried to become a dominating pitcher early, but his mind got in the way of his pitching and sulking and frustration came to the top alot in the beginning. The truning point for this trade came on that faithful day in Texas where Garza could not longer hide the frustrations and outwardly exploded in the dugout. That day, Garza let it all out and began a transformation that made him into a stellar pitcher.

 

 

 

 

The second trade might not have made much sense at the time, but it was done more out of helping a player who did not think he needed the help at the moment. Elijah Dukes will someday be a trememdous hitter and outfielder, but the local enviorment for him was toxic and he needed to leave before it destroyed him. Duke was traded to the Washington Nationals and did not see a huge amount of action in 2008, but the positive did rear their heads for him during the year.

 

He played inspired ball and did not focus or dwell on the off the field problem he had in Tampa Bay. He showed the Nationals the raw ability and power he had, and made some amazing plays in the field before finally going down in a game against the New York Mets. In that game, Dukes sprinted for a ball near the base of the wall and hit it with such force it should have broken his leg.

 

He did come outy with a knee problem, but came back  quickly and even made more heads turn before the end of the year. He stayed out of trouble and learned that the change of scenery made the trade a blessing in disguise. Tampa Bay might not have gotten alot in return for Dukes, but they did give him his life back, and he repaid them by doing it the right way.

 

 

 

 

After these two trades, the team went about signing two members of the 2008 team that made contributions in different ways. Troy Percival was chasing a top 10 spot in the All-Time save list when he signed a 2-year contract with the Rays. Because of his knowledge of Maddon’s gameplan, he was the perfect candidate for closing out Rays games. He came with veteran experience and postseason muscle, which could come in handy for the young Bullpen.

 

His work ethic and chats with the young guys could serve a dual purpose as having another pitching coach out there in the Bullpen to educate and relate to the other players. Percival came into the year  wanting to secuire the back end of the Rays Bullpen and give them some stability in the position.  Little did we know at the time what would happen, but in 2007, it was heralded as a major upgrade and a certain intimidation factor.

 

 

                              

 

 

The second signing was for a former outfielder who had won a World Series ring just like Percival. Cliff Floyd came to the team with a dual mission. He came to the team to provide ammunition and experience to help educate and emotionally charge the young bench. Floyd came here with great credentials, but his on-field mobility was in question from the start. Gone were the legs who could produce a run from a single, but the power and the stroke were still there in force.

 

He became an instant leader in the clubhouse and lead by example. Always the professional, Floyd took young players like B J Upton and Carl Crawford under his wing and taught both of them the art of the game. That half the battle in this psort was fought between their ears and in their words and comments to others. You could see the change in both players’ early in the year, and it set the tone for the team.

 

                                

 

 

 

So with these 4 episodes early in the off season for the Rays, the team set about  a series of changes like never before in their history. They had a change of uniforms, attitude and a veteran experience level they had not witnessed in their short history. The sky was the limit for the young team before the Feb. reporting day, and from there they just kept making history. 

 

Rays Last 3 Arbitration Eligible Players…..Outfield and Pitching

 

 

 

The  huge celebrations has died down to the point that now we remember them only by using the glossy pictures and video to remind us of the time, place and who we were with when the Rays climbed the  postseason mountain in 2008. Little remains of the celebrations at the vacant Trop. But the stadium is full of activity as the crews are rapidly moving to transform the Dome into a viable football arena, The pitching mound is missing, base paths are gone, and the field is being fitted and lined for the St. Petersburg Bowl, which will debut this year in the stadium. It will be odd to sit there and watch a  college football game at the Trop., knowing that in less than 90 days after the game, baseball will be back at the Tropicana Field.

 

But not gone is the fact that the team was in line for  huge shares of the playoff booty from MLB, and they got the  fantastic news about their bounty on Tuesday. According to MLB, the Rays will distribute over $ 12,278238.61 in a 43-way pile to players and other Rays personnel. You have to hope that Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi got a nice chunk of change from the playoff pie and will not have to umpire as much this off season. The Rays split was about $ 223,390.05 per share, a nice chunk of change for a months worth of sweat and tears. To put that into consideration for players playing under a minimum MLB salary, they will receive almost half their yearly salary for a month of playoff baseball. 

 

        

 

It is totally amazing to me the amount of money flowing out of the baseball coffers after  the complaints being thrown throughout the newspapers and blogs during the  2008 playoffs.  MLB was huffing and puffing about the lack of viewership on Television and the weather situations surrounding the World Series, but in the end, even the first ones eliminated in the AL, the Chicago White Sox, who lost to the A L Champion Rays in the ALDS, got to take away  over $ 27,828.33  each in players’ shares. Not a bad gig if you can get it. That is more than I made in 2008 so far.

 

 

Okay, back to the  main issue here. Today I am going to highlight the last 3  Rays players’ who are eligible for  non-tendered arbitration for the Tampa Bay Rays. They are as  pretty diverse group. You have a devoted church-goer and all-around good guy, an aggressive extrovert  Aussie who moonlights in the World Baseball Classic, and a guy struggling to get respect for his talent, but is a better pitcher than advertised.

 


Each has a place on this team that was  exciting and unique. All three helped set the tone in positively different ways for the team in 2008. But I am again going to put myself into Andrew Friedman’s head and try and divulge and dissect the players into rationale pieces. Will these three guys be the foundation of another great Rays team, or do they need to be jettisoned to make the team better in 2009. By my evaluations I will decide if I would grant or deny any of these three an opportunity to upgrade their salary and continue playing for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009.

 

 And now, on with the show:

 

 

                            

 

Gabe Gross:

 

Gabe Gross had one of the best seasons of his major league career after he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays. He hit personal highs in hits, home runs and RBI’s as well as getting 5 outfield assists for the team, second only to B J Upton’s 12 assists. But beyond that, Gross also became Mr “Big Time” for the Rays.  Not only could he be the defensive player they needed down the first baseline for the Rays, but his bat had magic in 2008.

 

Even on the night he was acquired by the Rays, the former Brewer scored his teams go-ahead run to win that game before heading to Orlando to meet up with his new team. Since he has gotten here, he has lit up the clubhouse with positive comments and actions, and totally won over the crowd in right-field with his play. But his bat is the thing that set him apart in 2008.

 

 He was one of the only guys on the roster who was money with guys in scoring position in 2008. And because of that, a lot of his RBI’s came in the later innings in games when he was put in as a defensive specialist for the Rays.  He had only one walk-off homer against the Chicago White Sox on June 1, 2008, but 4 times he teamed up with team mates for back-to-back homers.

 

 

 

That went a long way for the Rays establishing leads and putting the game out of reach. Gross also hit 7 solo homers and 6 2-run shots during 2008. To say he was clutch would be an understatement.  He played in only 78 games in 2008 since being acquired for a minor league pitcher, Billy Butler. But along the way he hit a tape measure 437 foot homer against the Cleveland Indians to tie that game on August 6th.

 

14 of his 38 RBI’s were either game-winning or game tying in 2008.  He has 3 walk-off  RBI’s, matching the Rays team record. One of those was a walk-off homers against  White Sox reliever Matt Thorton, which was his first career homer off a left-handed pitcher. 

 

 

 

 

Gross has been a model Rays from start to finish and the team would be truly rewarded if they granted arbitration to Gross for the 2009 season. With the flux of not having a designated right-fielder in house, Gross is also a huge advantage for the Rays in that they do not have to be desperate seeking a outfielder, and would be totally confident to give the position to Gross for 2009.  His 2009 salary could bump up to $ 1.3 million dollars, which is well within the range of a competent 4th outfielder who can hit and play defense with the best of them.

 

 

 

 

Edwin Jackson:

 

Anyone who knows me knows that this one will be personal. I am a huge fan of the guy ever since I first met him at a Spring Training game a few years ago and told him he will love it here. Funny how people can be attracted to certain types of ballplayers. Jackson is the type of player I enjoy watching pitch and learn the game of baseball.

 

He was a former sixth round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers as an outfielder, but was converted to a pitcher by the Dodgers’ staff. This is only his 4th season as a pitcher and I have seen improvement every year he has been in our system.  He is also one of those guys who is humble enough to chat and sign for fans as long as he can for the joy of it, not because it is his duty.

 

Now that Jackson has turned 25, we can finally cal, him a veteran on the rotation.  But did you know that he has now made 77 career starts as a pitcher, 63 of them for the Rays.  This season he tied the Rays record for wins with James Shields and Rolando Arroyo with his 14th win. His previous best was his 7 wins in 2007.  He also posted only his 2nd winning season as a professional. He was 2-1 in 2004.

 

 

 

 

He threw a total of 183.1 innings in 2008, which was over 22 innings more than any other time in his career.  He ended the month of August with a 2.27 ERA, the best on the staff and 4th best in the American League. He also tied a Rays record for 4 wins in August.  He had a 4- straight game win streak earlier in the season from July 25- August 10th.

 

He also won 6 out of 7 starts up to August 10th posting a 2.59 ERA during the streak.  He had a streak of 20 straight scoreless innings over the span of 3 starts from May 8-18th.  That set a record for a Rays starter, and was only 1 inning off the all-time Rays record of 21 set by Joe Borowski in 2005. 

 

Jackson is known for his high-powered fastball that can reach the top 90’s with a slight dip, but his curve and slider can sometimes just rumble through the strike zone and has been his problem pitches this season. Jackson was also involved and suspended for the Boston-Tampa Bay fiasco in Fenway Park because of his run towards the mound during the scuffle.  It was said he was punching and hitting  Coco Crisp at the bottom of the pile, but photos show he lost his shoe on the way to the mound and did not arrive until late in the event. He served a 5-game suspension from June 22-27th.

 

 

 

If I were Andrew Friedman, I would first sit down with Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and see what the Rays have in store for Jackson in the near future. With the aspect of David Price coming into the rotation, the Rays must make some adjustments to either Jackson or Andy Sonnanstine in the starting rotation.

 

If the Rays think that Jackson would be valuable in either the rotation or the Bullpen, then they should offer him arbitration and get him settled for 2009. Also on the horizon is interest by several clubs in Jackson over the past 2 seasons. The New York Mets, Seattle Mariners have expressed interest in the developing right hander.

 

Remember, that this guy is still learning the art of pitching, and 2008 was his best season to date, with unlimited potential and growth in the next few seasons.   Jackson could look forward to a salary in the $ 2.5 Million dollar range after an arbitration hearing.

 

 

 

Grant Balfour:

 

I did not know what to expect in 2007 when the Rays sent my buddy Seth McClung to the Brewers’ for the Aussie reliever. He came into the Rays Bullpen and was average at best in 2007. He lacked a certain intensity and velocity to his pitching, but all that changed after Spring Training in 2008. Balfour was not selected to the Rays Bullpen losing out to Scott Dohmann for the last spot in the Bullpen.

 

Balfour did not stress it and went down to the Durham Bulls with a chip on his shoulder and fire in his belly. When he came back up to the Rays Bullpen, he made it very difficult for the team to even consider sending him back to the minor leagues. Down the stretch, Balfour and J P Howell were the core of a Bullpen unit that shut down some of the best hitter in the entire league.

 

Balfour down the stretch pitched in 17 of the team’s last 34 games.  In 15 of those outing he pitched scoreless frames for the Rays.  Overall in 2008, the Rays went 32-19 in ballgames he came into from the Bullpen.  He also tied for tops in wins in 2008 in the Bullpen with 6 wins, tied with J P Howell.  He leads all MLB relievers with a 12.66 strikeout per 9 innings ratio, pitching 58.1 innings and recording 82 strikeouts on the year.

 

 

 

Balfour also was tops in the majors by fanning 36 percent of the batters he faced, and  his 1.54 ERA was also the  4th best ERA posted by a reliever in the majors this season.  His .143 opponents batting average was best in the AL, and second in the MLB to the Cub’s Carlos Marmol.  He also allowed only 3 homers and 11 extra base hits all season long.

 

He also had a .230 slugging Percentage against him, second lowest in the majors. Balfour also provided support as the Rays closer during Troy Percivals’ many DL trips in 2008. During this time he preserved 3 out of the 4 save opportunities for the Rays.

 

 

 

Put all these statistics along with a on-mound intensity not seen in the past by the Rays and you have the total package for the Bullpen. It is a sure bet that to invest in Balfour would be a great investment for the Rays. So to offer him arbitration might be a moot point. If anyone deserved a raise in 2009, it would be the members of the Bullpen who kept the teams in games all year long. With an arbitration hearing, Balfour could increase his salary to about $ 1.2 million dollars. Every penny of it will come with emotion and energy, just what they Rays need in 2009 to defend their A L East crown.

 

Next Class of Arbitration for the Rays:

 

The next group to hit the arbitration ranks for the Rays will boost the payroll in a major way. Players like infielders Ben Zobrist, Willy Aybar will have their first go at the process. Catcher Shawn Riggans will be eligible. And B J Upton will also be presented with his first arbitration decision as a professional.

 

In the pitching department, we have people like J P Howell and starter Matt Garza.  You can see several of the above players maybe being offered long term or even extension to combat the arbitration process. It was said that in 2006, the Rays wanted to make a long-term deal with B J Upton, but the deal was not formulated or completed in time.

 

I could see Matt Garza and maybe even Ben Zobrist getting an extension to cover a few of their arbitration years. and maybe even a year or two of their free agency like the deals given to James Shields, Scott Kazmir and Evan Longoria in the last several seasons.  So we have that to look forward to in 12 months time.

 

 

 

 

Rays Top 5 Goals for 2008 Revisited

 

 

The Tampa Bay Rays  went into 2008 wanting to gain respect and admiration in the major leagues from teams and fans. The main objective was to be competitve and to show that the Rays belonged in the rough and tumble AL East. 

 

No one could have imagined that the team would be raising the AL East and AL pennant flags in their home Opener against the New York Yankees in 2009. Most people had the realistic goal of a .500 season and a puch hard towards the playoffs. What transpired was the same majoc and karma that made the 1969 Mets and the Florida Marlins darlings of the baseball world.

 

We had a team that believed in itself to the point of pulling off amazing endings and outstanding feats of sweeping some of the best teams in baseball at home. The Rays proved that if you can believe, you can achieve. The following list is the Top 5 goals that I set for the team in March of 2008. Yesterday I blogged about numbers 6-10, today is the time to see what reality did to the Top 5:

 

 

The 5th goal I put on my list was the idea of starting lineup leading off with  3     “lefties.  In the beginning of the season, the Rays had a  up-and-down bout of     success and failure with their lefties’ by committee lineup arrangement. Akinora Iwamura, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena had the talent and the ability to take over    the lineup, but the opposition right-handed pitchers’ were stacked against the trio.

 

 

Finally, Rays Manager, Joe Maddon inserted B J Upton into the 3-slot and the cycle was broken. Upton began to see  alot  more  pitches to hit in 2008. He did a  remarkable job both at the plate and on the base paths for the Rays. He did not       have a banner year because of a nagging shoulder injury sustained during an early series in Baltimore in May.

 

 

But Upton did pace the Rays when they needed help and finished 2nd in the stolen base race in the AL. Upton then moved up to the 2nd spot in the lineup to be the meat between the Aki and CC sandwich. It further helped him evolve in the lineup and he became comfortable and relaxed in the position.

 

 

The final success to the banishment of the 3 “leftie” regime came near the end of the season and the playoffs. With the team more balanced in the lineup, the Rays had the flexibility both on the field and on the bench to matchup more effective with any team.

 

 

Upton and Longoria both benefited from the 3 lefties in the lineup with more         right-handers going to the mound against the Rays. The leftie revolution might not have been a success, but the experiment also proved to the Rays that they had  great options up and down the lineup and the bench.

 

 

The fouth goal had to do with extensions for the anchors of the team. Unknown to the general public, during the last week of Spring Training, the Rays and the agent of Evan Longoria were working on a long term deal to contractually secure the budding star for years for the Rays. The deal was suddenly annouced the day   Longoria was called up to the Rays, but was in the works for some time while he was down in the minors at Durham.

 

 

It secured a hole in the infield for the Rays for at least 5 years and also gave both sides a feeling of confidence going into 2008. Scott Kazmir also got a extended  deal right before the season started and it also secured a valuable piece of the starting rotation for years. James Shield was also secured for an extended contract   and gave the Rays a bit of relief that their top 2 pitchers were under contract for several years.

 

 

Carlos Pena has a sealed deal for 2009,  in whole, only Jason Bartlett, the team’s 2008 MVP is the only person not under contract for 2009 who plays in the infield.  He is in his first year of arbitration and the team might be working on a multi-year  deal to keep him in a Ray’s uniform until they can decide about the shortstops they have in their minor league system. 

 

 

Behind the plate, Dioner Navarro is in his first year of arbitration , and he did alot to   be sure he will get a nice raise in 2009. With the improved year he had behind the plate, and at the plate, Navarro has done nothing to diminish the vast upward swing   on his stock with the team. I will go deeper into who is up for arbitration in another blog.

 

 

 

Goal number 3 seemed a bit out of line when I first wrote it in 2008, but it proved to    be a monster move for the team. To say that the team needed a healthy rotation   would be a monster in our division sounded a bit far fetched, but it was a true key to 2008 and its success.  Not counting the early glitches in Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza’s season, the Rays had a fantastic run of luck by having all 5 of their starters’ the entire year.

 

 

Not only is this rare, but it is almost unheard of that a team could go through most of the season with the same 5 day in and day out. There were aches and pains and displays of emotion throughout the year, but  a treu key to this year was the fact they stood on the mound daily and did not give up starts. The consistancy of these 5 guys lead to a flow and a confidence in each other to fulfill their goals everytime they hit the rubber.

 

 

All 5 starters’ went over 10 wins this year, and even the guy who everyone outside     the organization thinks is the weakest link, tied for the team lead with 14 wins. To have that kind of production out of a lineup where the oldest stater is 26 years of       age is outstanding. The future of this franchise is based in the fact that they could    have these same 5, or a variation of the 5 for the next 4 years on the mound for the Rays.

 

 

 

The second goal of the year is really something that all teams hope and wish for………Health, health, health. What is so amazing about 2008, is the fact that      injuries did happen and the team did not miss a step in the field or at the plate.     When Kazmir and Garza went down early both before the season, and in it’s first weeks, the Rays pitchers’ took up the slack and gave it 110 percent. Jason Hammel  and Jeff Neiman came on and threw their best in the absence of the team’s top pitchers.

 

 

In the infield, Willy Aybar came to the Rays with a sorted past, but you would never know it by the way he played in his limited roles all around the infield in 2008. He was one of those true finds that can help a ballclub reach the next level. It did not matter if Carlos Pena went down, or Evan Longoria, Aybar brought his “A” game   every night both at the plate and in the field.

 

 

In the outfield, when Carl Crawford was out nursing his groin and then his operation  on his hand, Eric Hinske and Justin Ruggiano came out and tried to fill the gap as if Crawford had not even left. They played to mix reviews, but did an admirable job and proved the depth of this team’s minor league system. When Fernando Perez came up to fill in for B J Upton after an injury, his athletic ability and his speed did not even make you miss Upton.

 

 

Perez became an instant favorite of Rays Manager Joe Maddon for his work ethic and his willingness to learn and help the team. But he area that sealed and  secured itself even when injury hit was the Bullpen. They saw multiples guys go down this year, from Gary Glover and Al Reyes, to their closer being shut down  several times during the year.

 

 

These guys just bucked up and took it all in stride and closed the wounds and     played their butts off. J P Howell became a fixture in the Bullpen, and became one of the best lefties in the game as a reliever in 2008. Grant Balfour also became a force in the Bullpen and his antics on the mound became legend in the AL. All year long people stepped up and were successful for the team out of  the Bullpen.

 

 

 

The number one goal of the team in 2008, was set in motion early by Maddon.    Mindset can be a effective tool to the confidence and emtion of a ballclub.      Maddon’s formula of 9=8 has been around the globe by now.

 

 

The theory of 9 men in a lineup playing 9 total innings would eqaute into one of the 8 playoff berths in the MLB.  A simple philosophy, but it goes even beyond that theory. It is also expanded by Maddon that if they got 9 more wins from the pitching staff, 9 more wins from the offense, and 9 more wins from the defense and Bullpen, they would be able to secure a playoff spot.

 

 

The combined 27 extra wins along with the 69 the team had in 2007 would add up to 96 wins. Wow, consider that for a moment, Seriously here, going inot their last game against Detroit on Sept 30th, the team had a record of 96-65. Did Maddon really think he would or even could imagine a increase like this in one season.

 

 

In 2008, there were moments where mondset played a huge part in the team’s     success. The All-Star break actually might have come at a perfect time for this team after getting shutdown by the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox in straight road series. The break from playing actually might have played into a positive for the team becuse it gave them all a time frame to forget and forgive the bad results and take on the second half of the season with vigor and vitality.

 

So here we are with the final 5 goals of 2008  examined and I feel that this team is indeed ready and willing to try and make another run at the AL East in 2009. The worst thing the Rays have to adjust to is not being the underdog anymore. Mindset might be the first goal again next year as the Champions are always on the top and people love to knock off the big guys.

 

 

 

Rays Goals 6-10 for 2008 Exceed Expectations

 

          

 

In the beginning of the season I set 10 goals or written items that I hoped the Tampa Bay Rays would complete to become a more productive and successful team. At the time we all did not know the type of franchise success we would see in 2008.

Also stuffed into that list was a few personal obsevations ands wants for the team in 2008. I did a middle of the year evaluation of the list on July 18, 2008 and saw that the team was focused and moving forward in achieving outstanding success on the field.

I am again going to go over the high and lowpoints now after the season is over. I am no longer going to assign a letter grade to the options because this has been a totally “A” year in all aspects. There is no way I could see this coming, and the team took the region by storm in 2008. 

 

The blog today will focus on the items 6-10, and the logo unveiling last November in St. Petersburg, Florida at Straub Park.

 

 

 

As everyone might remember, 12 months ago we set out changing the basic style of the team with a logo change and a uniform retro-fitting. Gone was the old “TB” on the hat that had a ray centered beneath the “TB” symbol. In came a clean looking “TB” in a great marine blue color. Then you get to the uniforms that were streamlined into a more uniform design without the old “Rays” on the chest area of the uniform.

The uniforms went from a white and green basic jersey with blue pinstriping on the sleeves to a retro looking White and Blue model with a logo that popped with the odd shaped “R”, and the sunburst in the center of the logo blasting out for all to see. The team held a fantastic outdoor event to unveil the new look with most of the players coming in for the event.

The new design was met with some crtics wanting the old Rays look becuase it had a modern flair without being boring. Others were upset that the away jerseys would not have the “Tampa Bay” moniker blazen across the chest of the players anymore. It was replaced with the new logo “Rays” across the chest.

          

 

Other were debating why to let go of the entire past for the new look. One thing the Rays did leave “old” on their jerseys was the flying ray patch on the sleeve. The team decided to continue that tradition and  replaced the dark black and colorful ray with one that matched the teams new blue and white jerseys. All in all, the new look showed the team was trying to move beyond the loveable losers’ of the past and were hoping for a new attitude in Tampa Bay.

 

 

                

 

Starting with the bottom of the list at number 10, was the Akinora Iwamura must feel at home at second base.  To sya he did not do a superb job this year would be an insult. the guy went from a position where he has won Gold Gloves in Japan to a new position for the betterment of the team. Not only did he do it with grace and style, but he made himself a front runner for years at the position.

Iwamura was one of the people nominated for a Gold Glove this year at second in the AL. He only committed a handful errors all year long and ended up ranked 4th among AL second baseman in his first year ever at the position. He became a vital cog in the Rays double play combination working with Jason Bartlett like he has been playing to position all his life.

The hardwork and the determination of Iwamura to make his transition flawless was carried out to a “T”. Aki stood tall and in the pivot long to make sure the team got a chance to complete every double play in 2008. He was also instrumental in the field making countless great plays behind second and relaying the ball into home. Iwamura has found a new home at second base, and will be even better in 2009.

 

 

 

 Number 9 stated that catching had to hit a new high this year. Well, that will be an easy one. Dioner Navarro started the year off on fire and got hurt. When he returned, he stayed above the .300 mark well into the second half of the season before falling below that mark for the only time in 2008. Behind the plate he took more control and exercised his own playcalling alot this season.

But the action with Matt Garza in Texas in the ruffle on the mound and in the dugout finally put him on top. It showed that he had the heart and the determination to lead this team behind the dish and put his stamp on the team. With his new confidence at the plate translated perfectly to his time behind the mask.

For the season, His batting average for the year was only behind Minnesota’s Joe Mauer at the position in the AL. That is a huge change from the guy battling to stay above .191 during the first half of 2007. Navarro continued during the first half of 2008 getting better and better every game. He was rewarded with his first All-Star invite and was key to the tying and winning run for the AL in the game. He caught 8 innigs in that game and solidified his place among AL catchers with is performance.

 

         

 

Number 8  was about the 1-2-3 setup guys securing the game. Well, this one is a bit tricky. the Rays Bullpen showed a huge upswing in 2008, but the closer role was up in the air alot more than expected in the year. Troy Percival was signed to make a solid end to the Bullpen but went down numerous times during the season.

His back and knee did show the wear and tear of all his MLB years, and by the end of the season he was on the DL and did not even get posted to any of the Rays post season rosters. His health situation put the pressure on the young Rays and they responded brilliantly in most cases.

From J P Howell and Grant Balfour securing the 7th inning for the Rays nightly, to Dan Wheeler or even Jason Hammel being called on to put out the fires in late innings, the young squad held together and mixed and matched nightly to get the Rays the victory.

It was not your picture perfect way to run a Bullpen, but the Rays did make it happen and post one of the best turnaround years ever for a Bullpen. The young guys matured and got valuable experience, and the veterans stood tall and made the plays when they were needed in 2008.

 

                           

 

Number 7  was that the right-field guy has to be consisitant and kick butt.  You would have to define that a bit more to really decide if it was a successful year or a failure. I have it more at a banner year for finding the right guys finally, but it could have been a lot better organized.

Jonny Gomes and Eric Hinske got most of the early reps in right during the beginning of the year. With the trade for Gabe Gross, the Rays brought in a guy who had never been counted on like this to raise the bar for the team. Gross came in and put his defensive and offensive stamp on the position early.

Gross made countless great play in the field and became a electric guy at the plate. He hit a 436 foot homer on August 6th that just showed the improvements he had made with the Rays. Gross made a massive improvement to the position to the Rays before the trade dedeadline.

After the return of Rocco Baldelli, the right-field platooning took on a more effective mode. You had the defensive skills of both guys as  a plus in the field and had bats fron both sides of the plate to balle pitchers’. The Rays had a solid core in the last half of the season, and the addition of Baldelli proved amazing at the plate during the rest of the year and in the playoffs.

 

     

Number 6  was our prospects need to improve. This became a double-edged sword to the Rays in 2008. We saw guys like Elliot Johnson, Reid Brignac and Ben Zobrist come up and solidify the infield when needed, but the additon of these prospects did not make the difference for the Rays. Zobrist was the most consistant of the guys from the minors in coming in and making the job his in 2008.

Zobrist was being counted on to be the “go-to” guy in the Ray’s lineup in 2008. An early injury set him down and it took some time before he came back up and made his mark offensively this year for the team. He developed a offensive style that was not seen in his game before 2008.

Pitching saw Grant Balfour come back up and not back down an inch the rest of the season. Balfour came on and argued and grunted on the mound and held batter at bay most of the year. His willingness to not back away from heavy hitters made him a valued player in the Bullpen this year.  But the guy who made the entire minor league system tremble this season came up in September, and will not have to even think about the minors in 2009.

 

 

David Price was the Rays first selection in 2006. He had been annointed by many even before stepping on a MLB mound to be a phenom. Price did nothing to set that rumor to expectation down after his stint against the New York Yankees in New York. Price got better and better every time he hit the mound and became a inspiration to the team.

To out this into prospective, the Rays had enough confidence in this rookie in the ALCS to put him on the mound to finish off  Game 7 against the 2007 World Champion Boston Red Sox. Price performed brilliantly and helped paced the Rays during the playoffs.

The rest of the prospect system got a bit muddled in 2008. Desmond Jennings went down with an injury and saw limited time this season in the minors. Jake McGee went down with an arm injury and had to have Tommy John surgery. But even with these high ceiling guys going down, players like Fernando Perez came out of no where and made you know that the Rays prospect system is alive and well.

 

 

So here is the first of 2 end of the year goal realization blogs.  Goals 6-10 were finalized today and I will write about 1-5 tomorrow. All in all you have to admit that the Rays saw a increase in every aspect of the game in 2008. Every player on the team stepped up in the season and made it magical in their own ways. 

 2009 will be a year of expectations and the either success or failure to improve over 2008. It will be a harder road for the Rays in 2009. People will be gunning for the team and will not be broadsided anymore. That in itself might be the biggest challenge for the team next year. Living up to the expectations of the local fans and media after a darling season.

 

My Ray’s 2009 Closer Christmas Wish List

 

               

 

Sorry for the delay in getting this “Wish List” out for  my personal Rays 2009 Closer shopping list. For the past couple of days there has been a few rumblings at the Trop. concerning ticket prices and the firing of  Raymond’s alter ego, the departure of Joe Magrane,  and I decided it all took a front seat to my little wish list.

 

So I am getting down to business again by checking out the Free Agents and some guys currently thought to be on the trading block, who are considered closers in the MLB. I am also going to do my list on the assumption that current Ray’s closer Troy Percival will either be out still rehabbing his back and knee problems at the beginning of the season, or will not be with the team at all.

 

 

This is not to be considered  a positive or a negative at this time. Percival has not informed the Rays of his intentions either to rehab or have surgery on his two problem areas. I am going to remain neutral in my opinions on that for the moment, but will consider all options on the table for the position in the Bullpen.

 

There are several people who have peaked my interest lately in the closer category. Chad Cordero ( Nationals) is a proven closer, but the situation in Washington last season make me think he might not be as healthy as he claims to be  physically is on the mound. I still think a healthy Cordero would be a plus to any orgainzation, the Rays included.

 

                  

 

But there are a few guys who I think can be taken off this list because of past injuries. These guys I think still have situations that are just smoke screens to bigger problems. People like Eric Gagne ( Brewers) and Jason Isringhausen ( Cardinals) might still have the stuff, but I think they need to go to another club and post some impressive numbers if they want to seek the big money again.  Gagne has dropped about 6 mph off his best pitch, his fastball since the steroid policy kicked in a few years ago.

 

This is not a obsevation that was missed by people in baseball who have also noticed he has not developed or worked on another pitch since his dominant days in LA.

 

Jason Isringhausen tried to develop a changeup to go along with his other two pitches, and some of the ballooning ERA might be explained  in his trying to force the changeup over the plate and it just rolled and stayed in the strike zone too long and got hammered by hitters’. Both their numbers over the last season would indicate that they might be heading for that fast slope downward as closers’.

 

Brian Fuentes and Francisco Rodriquez will be the most visiableand powerful options this season for the position. The Rays will probably not have the money or the resources to go after a guy of K-Rod’s caliber right now. He would be a plus-plus addition to the young and improving Bullpen, but the high ceiling money aspect takes him out of the running fast in Tampa Bay.

 

Fuentes is another story. I think he has the same stuff that John Rocker had with the Braves. He is a leftie closer, which is a rare find, and a huge advantage to matching up the lineup with your reliever. But the Colorado Rockies have been very hesistant about even putting him visibly on the market.

 

Fuentes does offer that unusual low delivery angle which works well with his fastball and changeup in the Rockies home ballpark. His sweeping slider is an out pitch to lefites and can be very devastating to righties at times.  He has been on the  display shelf for everyone to see since the 2008 Trade Deadline, and I think the Rays underbid for him then, and might not consider him a great asset to their organization.

 

                    

 

There are a few guys who have been under the radar, but trade interest has been shown in them this off season. Brandon Lyon (Diamondbacks) is a  young guy who could be effective, but I am not sure he is cut out right now to be your close out guy. He has great stuff, but might not have the killer instinct yet and might be the better setup man for a few more seasons.

 

One guy who I admire a helluva lot as a closer, but got shafted totally by his club was Trevor Hoffman ( Padres). He was sitting there with an offer on the table and thinking about all the pros and cons and the team pulls it and tells him basically to hit the road. Do I think it was classless……….Do you have to ask?  I lost alot of respect and think that this move will come back to haunt the Padres in 2009. Hoffman will go on to hit the top spot as the best closer all-time in the MLB, and the Padres missed the boat on it all.

 

 

My top three guys might seem a bit odd considering 2 are not even free agents, but I think the Rays have the pitching and the prospects to pull off these trades without a hitch if they want to pull the tigger on them.

 

                          

                        

 

I think that the third guy on my list would be Bobby Jenks ( White Sox). People have been remarking about his decrease in strikeouts and his fumbling around the strike zone in 2008. Scott Kazmir had the same problem due to the fact that the team wanted him to throw to spots in the strike zone instead of just fire the ball into the mitt. Jenks is also a leftie and has a unusual cut to his pitches as they near the plate. 

 

He does have an unsual forte of having 4 pitches to throw at hitters, where most closer have 3 or less to work with on the mound. I think Jenks is another victim of progress and is caught up in that same mold of being reigned in and taught to hit the outside corners and throw away from batters instead of just rockin’ and rolling the ball in there. He would be a huge plur upgrade for the Rays and would be a impact player from his first pitch with the organization.

 

                

 

My second guy is also still on another team’s roster, but the Rays have been hot on him for the past year. Huston Street ( Rockies) lost a huge dose of confidence in Oakland last season.  At times it seemed that his own Pitching Coach gave up on him for awhile before finally giving him a chance to redeem himself on the mound. Street is another guy who has a 3/4 and almost side-arm delivery that can make it harder for batters’ to see the ball early on him.  His slider is short and tight, not like most of them that tend to sweep around and catch you unaware at times.  

 

During the 2008 trade deadline, the Rays were talking alot to the A’s about him and seriously wanted him to help the back-end of the Rays bullpen.  At that time , Percival was a hot and cold closer for the team battling injuries and a unwillingness to speak up about potential injuries or problems. Street could be had also for the right mixture of prospects and pitching and would be a valuable addition to the staff.

 

 

My top guy on my wish list has been a guy I wanted to get 2 years ago when he was struggling with his old team. He had been a starter and had a few injuries that basically forced the power- that- be with his team to consider him damaged goods at the time.

He struggled and fought and earned a right to go to the Bullpen and became a huge factor in his team’s Bullpen plans. He progressed to become one of the hidden gems in the closers’ role and is out as a free agent for the first time as a closer.

 

         

 

The guy who I would love to see take the mound in the 9th inning for the Rays in 2009 is Kerry Wood. The guys knows competition and how to prepare now. It took him a bit to get used to being the last guy out there every night, but I truly think he will have a banner 2009 season. With the obvious need by the Rays for a closer past 2009, this guy could fill the role and give you a guy who might even put a bit of fear in people on the mound.

 

Because he is not just a fastball pitcher, his breaking pitches, basically a huge 12-6 curveball would be a great out pitch to the batters seeking a big fat fastball over the plate. With the Rays, Wood could develop a slider that could be a great addition to his arsenal.  One thing I have always like about the up and coming Rays pitchers’. The Rays minor leaguers’ have some of the nicest sliders you will find in baseball.

 

 

So with the addition of this pitch and Wood on the Rays roster for 2009, I think the closer position will be filled for 3 years with no problems. For the team to continue this closer-by-committee BS is totally out of line with normal thinking. Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour have designated positions in the late innings of the game. To keep playing with the formula will instill a bad karma for the team and place some instability to their game preparations.

 

When you are in the back end of a Bullpen, you best friend is repetition and the fact of security in your role. To keep throwing the names in a hat and picking my matchups and not by strengths the team is sending the wrong message to it’s Bullpen veterans.

 

 

Tomorrow I will hit the trail and throw a few names out for Bullpen upgrades via the free agent market. There is a good amount of quality arms out there who could be a huge factor in the 2009 pen. Both lefties and righties will be  thrown out in tomorrow’s blog. 

 

Until later,  have fun, stay warm and do not catch one on the outside corner for that thrid called strike.

 

 

 

Rays Thoughts Hitting on my Noggin’

  

                  

 

The Tampa Bay Rays management have announced that they will hear from Troy Percival next week on if he will elect for surgery on his back and bad knee during the off season, or try and rehab it by the Rays reporting date. The report came from Percival’s agent, Paul Cohen. Cohen said Percival is going through his normal rehab at the moment, although he isn’t throwing because it’s too early in the offseason, and the pitcher will see more doctors before making a final decision.

 

What? Percival was suppoose to come see Rays Manager Joe Maddon duing the American League Championship Series and never even came to the Trop. Now we hear that he is doing “normal” rehab before deciding if he wants to have surgery. I would think the medical staff of the Rays would be involved in this venture since Percival is still under contract with the team.

 

Maybe there is something else here that is being hidden from the Rays medical staff by Percival. He is a very proud individual, and maybe the problem is that things have healed in the past by rehab, but at 38-ish I know personally, you body has a mind of its own. Hopefully the Rays will get total disclosure into the doctors’ reports and their evaluation before Percival even hit the knife, or the treadmill.

 

If he misses any amount of time in 2009, should the Rays discard him like Al Reyes.  You remember Reyes, out 2007 closer who developed arm problems maybe by throwing himself ragged ledd than a year after arm surgery. A guy who is injured can sometime  hide an injury with careful delivery mechanics. I think the team needs to get an insurance policy, like a Kyle Farnsworth, or even Kerry Woods in case Percival can not make it out of May this upcoming season.

 

          

 

Thank you B J ! Thank you for thinking of the team and getting your surgery in enough time to rehab and come in for Spring Training in good shape and ready to rock and roll in 2009.  There have been people who have questioned your committment and your integrity last year to the team. Little do they know that in 2009, you will explode out of the box and be totally healthy for the Rays.

 

Considering that is your non-throwing shoulder, I also think your throws to the plate will have a better velocity and accuracy since you will not have a twinge of pain from your left shoulder on the follow-through. And considering that in the playoffs you were feeling better than ay other time during the season, and hitting for power and average, it shows you have the ability.

 

So take your time and get 100 percent healthy and we will see you real soon in Port Charlotte hitting bombs and stealing a whole bushel of bases again this year.

 

 

 

Cliff Floyd is another player who has been granted his free agency, and also is considering surgery on his bad shoulder.  Floyd was quoted as saying last week that even if the Rays do not want to resign him, he will get his shoulder repaired and be ready for anything.

 

I was a little upset that Floyd hurt himself in Game 2 of the Wrold Series at the Trop., but hopefully it was not on that play where Floyd broke his maple bat into three pieces.

 

Floyd had as much value in the clubhouse as in the batter’s box for the Rays last year. He showed alot of the young guys a different veteran attitude and approach to the game. He took a few guys under his wing last year and they grew and matured during the season. Even if he is not retained even for a modest contract by the Rays in 2009, he has laid some fantastic ground work with this team and should be proud of it.

 

Floyd  should be offered a nice incentive contract and a chance to again lead these guys towards finishing the gola set by them during the playoff run. It will be a hard road to the World Series in 2009, but I would follow “Big Cliff” to the promised land.

 

Hot Stove Report

                         

There have been a few rumblings that the Rays are looking towards the Florida Marlins for our new right-fielder. Jeremy Hermida is a great player, but I truly feel he is a better fit for the National League than for the power pitching of the Americna League.  Hermida has been up with the Marlins first in 2005, then has bounced back and forth between the majoras and the minor leagues in 2007 and 2008.  In 2007, he had a banner year for the Marlins hitting .296, with 18 home runs. 

 

I think this guy can play great for the Rays, I am just not sold on him yet. He basically walked 10 percent of the time in 2008, but struck out 138 times. I think his bat is not the right fit for the Rays. We need power, but not at the expense of swinging for outisde pitches and gopherballs in the dirt.

 

He also swung at 43.2 percent of the pitches he saw in 2007.  a saving grace is the point that he made some kind of contact in 78.7 percent of the pitches he saw.  That normally translates into running the count and getting on base via a walk. But as we noted before, he is not a great contact hitter. He hit only 46.7 percent of those pitches somewhere on the field into fair territory. Oh, and by the way………..he is a left-handed batter.

 

He is a young guy who I feel needs another year in the majors, and in the National League to be effective. I could be wrong, because the guy has hit 35 homers with over 243 RBI’s in the last 2 years. Whoever the Rays pick to be the right-handed bat for the team had better have a thick skin. I have a bad feeling that if he comes here and doesn’t light up the board a bit, the Cowbell Kid might come down and heckle him before the games in the outfield.

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