Results tagged ‘ Wade Davis ’

Big Game James Adorns the Big Stage Again

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I swear I wish I could have been a bug in Kansas City Royals P James Shields ear when he was handed the American League Trophy tonight because I would have had him scream, “Hello Gorgeous, Did you miss me?  I sure missed you?”

images (8)Has it really been 6 years since Shields last grasped this golden lady as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays.  It seems like oh so long ago that Shields and one of his team again ventured into the Fall Classic.

But this is one of the reasons Shields plays this game. To be a part of the team that elevates their game to the highest level of style and play to showcase their young and veteran talents on the World Series stage.

Sure this time around Shields might have a few more miles on his arm, but with his added bonus of being on this stage before, he can inspire and show some of his younger teammates how to harness the energy and bottle it up for game time.

download (1)For a long time some within the Rays Republic knew Shields would get back to the World Series and were truly stunned when the Rays traded him and RP Wade Davis to their small market brethren.

Some have even wondered recently which team got the better end of that deal, and at this moment if you ask anyone….You might imagine the scale is tipped in the Royals favor. How ironic was it that the main player in that Rays and Royals deal was one of the first people to take to Twitter and show his enthusiasm and joy for the Royals team that drafted him not so long ago.

Wil Myers ‏@wilmyers  2h2 hours ago

“Congrats to the #Royals! Happy for everyone in that organization.”

images (7)I am so happy for Shields. He is one of the former Rays players I hoped would again grace the biggest stage in baseball. I wanted see “Big Game” again get a chance at collecting another bit of baseball immortality by winning a World Series.

I know his 2008 Tampa Bay Rays teammate Jonny Gomes got his piece of bling first, but you know Shields will cherish it, caress it, possibly design some sort of epic new fashion statement around it. (I’m wearing his 1st Rays T-shirt creation as I write this post).

download (2)Seriously, how awesome is it that Big Game James get to once again toe the rubber in Game 1 of a World Series and possibly set an early tone in who could possibly be the last team standing in 2014.

images (3)I can see it now with my 162 stitch crystal baseball as Royals ace Big Game James taking the hill on 3 days rest in Game 7, all tied at 3, winner takes all.

And you know who I want to win….and thrust skyward the World Series MVP Trophy.

Now it’s up to Shields and the Royals to finish the season on a grand scale on a year that can never be tarnished.  

 

4 Former Rays in the Fight for a A L C S Ring

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This weekend  as teams in the American League made their final pushed to secure a American League Divisional Series crown, several former Tampa Bay Rays had their own imprints on who and how these ALDS series would end.

By966ImCYAAkoPbWith regards to hurlers, we saw 2 American League Central division rivals who on Sunday took to their pitching mounds on opposite sides of our nation’s shores battle it out to either extinguish or extend their team’s post season dream.

We all sat and witnessed early on Sunday as Detroit Tigers southpaw David Price provided his team an ample chance to extend their A L D S series, their once potent bats went suddenly silent and with it the Tigers were swept by the Baltimore Orioles.

images (5)Price only made one untimely judgment during his 8 inning, 5-hit, 2-run appearance on a lone pitch that Baltimore DH Nelson Cruz sent to right field for a 2-run Home Run that also secured all the runs the Orioles would need to sweep their A L D S series against the Tigers in away confines of Comerica Field.

And as Price and his team gathered their packed their gear for the last time in 2014 , another former Rays pitcher was to write himself into the M L B history books.  

Just a time zone away as the Orioles celebrated their A L D S conclusion with their home fans, James Shields and his Royals teammates were in the midst of securing their own ticket to the ALCS and provided yet another unique story line to the Royals ever-expanding Cinderella storybook postseason.

download (1)Shields might have given up an early Home Run to Mike Trout to spot the Angels a 1-0 lead, but his teammates had his back on this day.  The Royals provided their own 3-run barrage in the bottom of the 1st to give Shields some much needed run support and with additional 2-run bursts in the bottom of the 3rd and 4th innings, provided all the offensive firepower needed for the Royals.

The Royals did not only defeat the heavily favored Angels on Sunday, but finished off their A L D S sweep of the Angels in front of their home fans.

Shields provided an adequate 6 inning,  6-hit, 2-run outing that were only tarnished by Home Runs by Trout and Albert Pujols. The Angels 2 most powerful hitters could of changed the series landscape , but their solo HRs were the only runs given up by Shields.

Interesting side note, the only other Angels run was given up by former Rays RP Wade Davis who came on in the top of the 8th inning when former Rays farm hand Josh Hamilton scored Howie Kendrick from Third Base to plate the last run of the contest for the visiting Angels.

images (1)The Orioles also boast two other former Rays in INF Kelly Johnson and DH/OF Delmon Young. Now I’m really happy to see Johnson get a chance at the post season and especially as he has been on the roster of almost everyone in the American League East at some point in the last 2 seasons.

Johnson deserves this kind of celebratory goodness as the guy is a team player who just enjoys the game and still gets excited when he sees his name on the line-up card.  

My personal feelings aside about Delmon Young, I’m glad he got to see his former team, the Tigers, leave the field as he enjoyed celebrating a A L D S title with his new O’s squad.

Johnson was an intricate pick-up for the O’s near the end of the season bringing in the versatile Johnson to play wherever needed, and providing a stop-gap at Third Base that was left vulnerable by Manny Machado’s late season ending injury.

Johnson’s only appearance in the A L D S was as a pinch-hitter for Caleb Joseph in Game 2 in the 8th inning and he flied out to center field. 

downloadYoung however did not only get a chance to shine in Game 2 himself, but his pinch-hit 3-RBI double into deep left field for Ryan Flaherty  plated the games winning run in the Orioles 7-6 victory.

Young’s heroic pinch hit during game 2 got him a start in left field for Game 3, but he was lifted for David Lough in the top of the 9th inning after going 0-3 on the day.

Still, Young and Johnson should be on the Baltimore A L D S roster when the A L C S contests begin Friday, October 10th in Camden Yards with the Royals sending Shields to the hill to try and give the Orioles their first defeat of the 2014 post seeason.

Going to be interesting to see if Shields or Davis get a chance (or two) to face their former teammate Young, or Johnson during the A L C S.

By9r9YVCcAAYjttNo matter who’s squad ends up winning the 2013 American League crown,  I am proud as heck of Shields, Davis, Johnson and even Young for being parts of their team want and hope to raise not only banners, but champagne on their quest for a World Series journey.  

And lest we forget, because the American League defeated the National League in the 2014 All-Star Game, the World Series will ultimately begin soon enough in either Baltimore or Kansas City.

Never would have envisioned these two teams fighting for the right to represent their league in the World Series. Proves once again there is no such thing as a “sure thing” in regards to baseball, and I would not have it any other way.P

 

 

 

Rays “Golden Arms” Were the Highlight of 2012

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As we begin our final countdown days towards the end of 2012, I want to take a moment to look back and remember both fondly and shudder at what was the Tampa Bay Rays 15th full season. This team showed us so much in their 180 day 2012 campaign both on the turf and off as this team bonded like never before where we all were witnessed to watch segments of their battle plan both explode and implode.

m3f5403-retouchIt was a season where human action figures named “Batman” (Wil Rhymes), “Godzilla” (Hidecki Matsui) and even “Wolverine” (Luke Scott) intertwined with “Zorilla” (Ben Zobrist), “HellBoy” (Jeremy Hellickson) and the “Archer” (Fernando Rodney). Even with such heroic character names, this team could not ultimately find a way into the October post season party, but their travel from game 1-162 was never boring, or devoid of heart and soul. We also got to see this team’s “nerdy”-side as team road trips again showed imagination and chemistry.

york-yankees-v-tampa-bay-20120702-193721-7552012 was also the season we saw a few players take their game to the next level with authority. B J Upton missed the coveted “30-30” spot by 2 HR, but in his failed attempt we finally saw glimmers of the potential we have always envisioned for him. Hellickson, fresh off his AL Rookie of the Year platform again garnered new hardware as he earned a special honor of garnering a co-ownership spot in the form of a glistening Gold Glove taking his pitching education to another dimension. We got to see the pitching promise that is Chris Archer, the resounding clarity that was Fernando Rodney brilliance, but also felt the pain and anguish of Rhymes as he collapsed into the arms of Rays First Base coach George Hendricks.

d2We all got to bear witness to one of those once-in-a-generation moments as Rays southpaw David Price and New York Mets knuckleballer R A Dickey both squared off in an early Inter League showdown on their journey towards their eventual Cy Young moments. Price in particular showed his stamina and determination throughout the 2012 campaign being one of the true linchpins of the Rays rotation providing the type of consistency and fortitude needed of your number 1 hurler.

In an ironic twist, the Rays home city of St. Petersburg, Florida somehow dropped the celebration ball with Price, possibly committing a ultimate publicity faux pas by getting “one-upped” by their “neighboring community” of Tampa presenting Price the key to the city with Astro, his trusty sidekick getting the opening cue on ESPN’s “Sportcenter” that evening. As is Price’s personality, he rolled with the moment possibly producing the best dog sound byte since Lassie’s first bark on television.

tumblr_m3fqj3gHF31qekndso3_12802012 was definitely a “Dog’s year” for the Rays as early on in the Spring they revealed their true love for the canine when players from the team teamed up with local no-kill animal shelter/clinic Pet Pals to produce a calendar that showcased the likes of RP Wade Davis’s German Shepherd pal Charlie, Evan Longoria’s “Spuds McKenzie” look-alike Bull Terrier Jango and Longo’s other canine condo bunk mate Boerboel Mastiff Tatum. We all even got to meet Maddon’s stoic English Bulldog furry friend Winston who like Astro has his own twitter account. Even behind the camera lens there was a Rays presence as James Shields wife Ryane did all of the shutterbug duties as the team embraced this community animal haven.

6985308645_09d3a46c7d_zalso saw bald again become beautiful as both Rays players, Coaches and even front office personnel let their curly and straight locks of hair fall to the wooden decks of the Charlotte Sports Park this Spring. From Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, Maddon to even Rays clubhouse staffers, all sat in the barber’s chairs to show community support and love for the “Cut for a Cause” campaign started by another fellow Tampa Bay sports icon, Tampa Bay Lightning star Vinny LeCavalier to bring about awareness to local pediatric cancer organizations and promote one of the Spring most heart-felt moments.

Even with all this animal love bounding through the Tampa Bay region, 2012 was also produced another stalemate check mark as the team and the surrounding communities wage verbal and visual battles trying to loosen the Rays lips and get some sort of loose translation sound byte of their own in the Rays quest to find their next home on either side of the bay.

carillon-new-rays-stadiumWith proposals surfacing that went as far East as the Florida Fairgrounds region, to a patch of dirt just off the Howard Franklin bridge in the Carrilon region, the entire community awaits with baited breath for some sign of the Rays want to stay or leave this community. Hopefully 2013 the silence will be broken and at least some parameters set into the community as to the Rays visions and dreams of a new state-of-the-art stadium hopefully somewhere in the Tampa Bay region.

Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta2012 started off with a few displays of fireworks with walk-off victories and the revelation that would become the foundation of the Rays Archery Club as we all bared witness to re-emergence of the shut-down abilities of Rodney who pushed post game arrows higher and farther with even his teammates watching as his quivers and stats reached levels not seen in the MLB for some time. Just watching Rodney pull back the imaginary string and release into the sky a Rays record 48 times was reason enough to be a Rays fan. 2012 was also filled with “Gladiator” moments as the team embraced the Roman warrior culture with some of it making its way onto television screen across America.

Evan LongoriaUnfortunately 2012 also revealed a few flaws in the Rays machine, especially after Longoria went down with a hamstring injury and the Rays began a roller coaster ride that did not straighten out until Longo again adorned a Rays uniform and returned to the lineup. Even with the Rays pitching staff producing incredible numbers in strikeouts, saves and ERA during 2012, the elimination of the Rays most potent weapon for such a long stretch showed their Achilles heel to all, and their opposition attacked the Rays at the core of their weakness with vengeance.

201208221343494136596-p2Even though Upton, Zobrist and even new Ray Jeff Keppinger tried to fill the void, their own production was muted by the struggles and slumps of Carlos Pena, Scott and the merry-go-round that was the Rays Third Base and Shortstop position for most of the season. The Rays once strong point of defense sprung leaks, showed faults and ultimately produced moments that reminded all of us of those pre-2008 Rays squads. 

It is hard to find a true title to the Rays 15th campaign. For all the highs and lows, the moments of exhilaration as we witnessed walk-offs and lost opportunities, nothing really stood out except the 5 souls who made up the Rays rotation.

Seattle Mariners v Tampa Bay RaysTheir arms truly becoming “golden” during the season as the team set an AL leading marks of 1,385 K’s , a incredible combined team ERA of 3.19, and saw Shields and Price eclipse the 200+ inning mark again. 2012 also saw mirror image inning production from young Rays Moore (177.1 innings pitched) and Hellickson (177.0 innings pitched) as they gained another strong year on the mound.

In the end, 2012 began and ended on the mound for the Rays. No matter what offensive highlight moment or defensive mis-step behind them, the Rays hurlers both starting and in relief set the tone this season and brought this team within a few victories of again hitting October moments. Their consistency, going deep into contests combined with stellar relief marks by everyone down in the Rays Bullpen gave us hope and want that the playoffs and October glory was still within our reach.

thYou can say 2012 was a lot of things from “Fortune Favoring the Bold”, to arrows piercing the night sky, but in the end it truly was the Rays “Golden Arms” who kept us spirited and showed us determination, heart and even a little hustle can produce moments to remember. As a homage to 2012, I am definitely tilting my cap to the right on New Years Eve as an homage to what was so fantastic about 2012.

There Are No “Losers” in This Rays Trade

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I kind of expected the starting pitching market to go ballistic after that certain right-hander who hates Tropicana Field became the newest millionaire in Tinseltown. What kind of got me scratching my head a bit was the Kansas City Royals were willing to trade uber prospect and 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Wil Meyer straight up for Rays SP James Shields, but the Rays shuddered and turn that deal down without hesitation.

Sean RodriguezStarting to see a weird pattern forming for the Rays that they seem to finalize their deals right before the “Witching Hour”. Sure it has only been two times recently, but patterns seem to start that way. In the end the deal actually benefits both teams, one immediately and the other with possibly one piece playing a role in 2013, and a few others possibly a bit down the road. Sure the Royals got two definite pieces that could be immediately popped into their 2013 rotation in Shields and Wade Davis, and depending on who is the invisible “Player to be Named Later” who will come from the Rays current 40-man roster, they could get an additional piece to their 2013 25-man Opening Day roster.

We all knew this was coming, Shields has been as hot a commodity as any pitcher with his 2 years with a Club Option before he hits the Free Agent market for the first time in his career. This cleared a huge chunk of change for the Rays, possibly to be used to find a top-tier DH or right-handed First Baseman. Without knowing the identity of the PTBNL at this moment, the Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman got a nice holiday nest egg of around $13+ million dollars to possibly entice and persuade a power addition to the team’s roster before Spring Training. Shields even tossed out as nice little nugget that he would be willing to look into a contract extension possibly giving the Royals some additional years of “Big Game” on the hill for the Royals.

Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay RaysI currently do not understand how some of the Royals fans come to the conclusion the KC squad got the raw end of this deal. Sure they will have to pony up that $13 million, but they got two key components who can anchor spots in their rotation for 2 seasons as their own youngsters get more experience and training at the minor league level without subjecting them to the rigors and fast learning curve of MLB life.

I personal feeling is the PTBNL is going to either come from the Rays over stacked catching or infield slot currently on their 40-man roster. If I had to make an educated guess as to who this might be, I’m picking SS Reid Brignac who will be out of minor league option after the Spring of 2013, and with the added depth on the Rays roster of recent trade pick-up SS Yunel Escobar, the addition of veteran INF Mike Fontenot, Sean Rodriguez and the potential tag-team 2B duo of Ryan Roberts and Ben Zobrist, Reid seems to be the current odd-man out even with a banging Spring.

Florida Marlins v Tampa Bay RaysThe citizen of Royals-ville forget this trade actually make a few clever openings in the Rays rotation that could be filled from the pool of players like veteran Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb and possibly Chris Archer. It instantly rids the Rays of two starters and possibly an extra body in either the overcrowded catching corps or middle infield. This by itself is a clear “win-win” for the Rays front office to send two players with “team friendly” contracts to another team and clear a huge amount of payroll that can be allocated for current huge holes in the Rays offensive machine.

And do not forget the Rays got Baseball America’s 2012 Minor League Player of the Year OF Wil Meyers who turns 22 today (12/10). How soon we forget about former Rays who won this award like Carl Crawford (1999) or Rocco Baldelli (2000) who made quite a good impression at the MLB level for the Rays. Another tempting nugget to chew on is the fact Meyers is now the first player ever to win the Minor League Player of the Year award and was traded before he even made his MLB debut with his old squad.

Getting a player like Meyer who is still developing was a huge thing for the Rays as their yearly payroll stifles their creative juices to the point they have to make trades like this to get viable and young talent under their control for years to come. Now I hope Rays fans do not get too anxious and think Meyers will start the season with the Rays. Reality is the team will possibly use some of their farm system pieces with minor league options to fill in until the team can bring up Meyers without having to award him a year of MLB service time. Still, if injuries in the outfield hit the Rays early, Meyers could be in the Trop by late May, early June at the earliest.

505fe1cf35e24_preview-300Sure the addition of prospect hurlers RHP Jake Odorizzi (has the stuff to possibly make the team as a temporary RP), LHP Mike Montgomery and 3B Patrick Leonard gives the Rays some needed replacements and added personnel within the farm system who one day could be playing in St. Petersburg,Florida alongside Meyers. This trade not only has the potential to help the Rays possibly as soon as 2013 with Meyers, but it gives the franchise some credible arms to work in the upper echelon of the Rays farm system and get better before their own MLB debuts possibly in 2014-2015.

Sure the subtraction of Davis means the Rays will have to find a long-inning specialist, but that could easily be the pitcher who loses out on the Rays fifth rotation slot, but it could also be someone like LHP Alex Torres, RHP Dane Del La Rosa or possibly even Southpaw Jake McGee.

57073224_display_imageThe trade opens a widening world of possibilities to the formulation of the Rays 2013 25-man roster. The subtraction of Shields and Davis will be sorely missed, but it also give some of the Rays young arms a chance to rise to the occasion, just like Shields did when he shocked the Rays staff when he made his debut and got a no-decision against the Baltimore Orioles on May 31, 2006.

Because both these teams are on the bottom end of the fiscal reality of baseball, these kinds of trades are the lifeblood of the organizations.

563647_10151199388498429_32855498_nTaking high dollar veterans and turning them for prospects or players who could play at the MLB level is the way they can stay competitive and right up there with the AL high spenders. In the end, this trade had wins posted on both sides of the leader board.


The Rays got to shuffle off two experienced pitchers and another piece to be added to the Royals side of the equation soon (PTBNL) who should can help the Royals immediately, while the Rays got a few future pieces of their pitching puzzle and a player who could shine for them for the next 6-odd seasons in their outfield mix. No matter how you slice it, both sides should be commended on this deal that helped both clubs immediately both in personnel and the financial realm…..Sorry, but to me that is a classic “win-win” for both front offices.

 

Who Will Take a Chance on the Rays Roulette Wheel?

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The Tampa Bay Rays starting pitching situation is beginning to emulate the spinning of a casino Roulette wheel. Sure it is a gamble on both ends of this spectrum, but the Rays have the advantage here as the spinning of the wheel with any of their MLB or even minor league hurlers’ names anointed on the spinning circle could bring them rewards, financial stability or provide an end to a future problem scenario.

377261244And right now the Rays have more than a few suitors watching the spinning wheel wondering if their trade wagers either catch the Rays attention or if they only get a fleeting glance as the team takes in all of the MLB barters trying to find the one that brings the team the personnel windfall this franchise will need in 2013 or beyond to be competitive. As the dizzying wheel keeps gaining momentum and speed, you have to wonder if there are members of the MLB’s brass who will throw down the right coinage on the Rays felt and come away with a treasured piece, or go away empty-handed, wondering if they short-changed their opportunity to gain pitching riches.

I hate to tell everyone around the Rays Republic, but that always present fear of having a huge threshold of starting pitching talent and no where to put them is firmly on display on the Rays gaming table, but do not fret, just like Las Vegas, the Rays front office has the odds in their favor. Now is the time of the off season where we will truly see if anyone in the MLB is anxious to throw down a few much needed trinkets or prospects to entice a deal with the Rays and take a prized piece from the team;s staring pitching coffers.

201207151513547959658-p2This is the reality of the combined effort of the Rays over recent years of stockpiling such starting talent that one day the noise would be deafening as these hurlers begin to pound on and finally break through the Rays farm system ceiling on their journey to the major league level. Also at this time comes the stark realization and ramifications of the Rays current starters hitting their groove at the highest level and other MLB teams seeing that maturity and seeing their future potential rise even higher as their fiscal presence begins to put strain on the Rays fabric, almost to the point of breaking. 

I truly think we will see one, and possibly two pieces of the Rays starting staff traded before the end of July 2013 Trade deadline. This would be beneficial to the Rays by releasing some of that vented pressure both financially and physically so another cog of the Rays expanding pitching machine can take their place at the MLB level. But this current epidemic is this is not a 1-year situation in the release of a bit of this compounded pressure.

Over the next 3-4 seasons we could see an additional 2 or 3 more Rays starters possibly exhaled from the Rays balloon, finally bringing about a bit more room within the organization for the next generation of Rays pitchers to find their own grooves and one day be the focal points of another Rays purge as they block the way for another wave of Rays prospects on their trail of MLB glory possibly by 2017-2018.

GraybeardOn the expanded roulette wheel right now there are at least 3 current Rays names on the tips of MLB tongues that could find themselves wearing a different teams garb sooner than they realize. James Shields might be the guy everyone is pointing to right now, but Jeremy Hellickson and David Price also have to feel a bit of extra pressure and uncertainty as the financial reality comes over the horizon they are either too expensive to sign to extensions, or their management teams will be uber difficult to perform such an endeavor.

Shields right now is at his pitching zenith, possessing the tools and talent needed to push a team higher in the win column while also having at least 2 years of contract (Club options) stability. Hellickson, who has a rising resume that includes a 2011 AL Rookie of the Year award and a recent co-recipient of an AL Gold Glove is quickly approaching his arbitration years, and with an agent (Scott Boras) who detests team friendly contract extensions, Hellboy finds his own name on the lips of MLB suitors. But there is also a golden delight also on the table, but will cost someone dearly to wander into the gambling arena for his services. 

David PriceAfter winning the 2012 AL Cy Young Award, Price possibly sealed his fate with the Rays not based on the fact he will not sign an extension, but his proposed $9.5 million arbitration figure for 2013 already is pushing at the Rays top financial ceiling with another arbitration venture on the horizon following the 2013 season that could possibly push his 1-year salary towards a mark of $11 million plus. But he is the “golden Goose”, who will be pried from the Rays only for some of the best talent, possibly bringing in a unimaginable player bounty to further build upon the Rays player foundation.

Sure you could also include the “Silent Assassins”, also known as Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis into this scenario with no problems, but I think the Rays can use both of them in relief or even fill-in roles over the next 2 seasons, but their own futures might have some unscripted conclusions especially around the Trade Deadline as the Rays look to add or subtract bodies for a post season scramble. Seems odd that a team would even think of jettisoning pitching talent, especially talent of Shields, Price and Hellboy’s caliber, but sometimes it is just time to cut ties, find additional solutions, or just conclude the end is finally here for their Rays stay. 

Tampa Bay Rays v Milwaukee BrewersAs a betting man, I see Hellickson and Shields having the most MLB eyes gazing upon them at this moment, but just as easily if the right pieces get thrust into the eyesight of the Rays, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer or even Matt Moore could also find themselves armed with new contact numbers, plane tickets and be jettisoned towards another locale. That is the true reality here, even if these guys are paramount to the Rays rise in the coming MLB seasons, their Rays existence can never be completely balanced on the Rays always swaying teeter-todder as priorities change almost as quickly.

Rays starters name will be whispered and talked aloud by other MLB General Managers over the coming weeks with some extending offers, trade scenarios and possibly giving the Rays front office cause to pull the trigger and send one or possibly 2 starters away by the opening of the major league camp in February. As the Rays again begin another journey of that shiny steel ball into the wooden circular wheel the Rays are betting heavily on the fact a few MLB spenders with deep prospect and talent pockets will belly up to the Rays ever-spinning roulette wheel hoping to come away as winners.

Wonder which one of the Rays pitcher’s jersey numbers will have the highest stack of coins? 

Could Price’s Success Turn into a Rays Windfall?

This is the time of year when every baseball fan within the Tampa Bay region is anxious. This is the moment when every single fan has the air of an expert, with plots, sidebars and commentary on the team’s direction, points of attack and their own pick list of potential new jersey names to be sewn upon the Rays Carolina Blue unis.

This is that unscripted and unabridged segment of the MLB merry-go-round adventure where even the most popular and productive of names can find themselves not only trade whispers, but packing for new horizons and opportunities. With a mire tick of the off-season clock anyone currently residing on the Rays roster or farm system can not be totally at ease or comfortable because when the bell tolls for the MLB GM Meetings, it is a loud and clear signal that the first round of touchie-feelie wheeling and dealing conversations will commence and someone Rays tenure can be vaporized with a single late night ringtone.

Even someone like Rays ace David Price who has just been announced as 1 of the 3 choices for the 2012 American League Cy Young award, but Price could just as quickly find his name penciled in on a deal worksheet or scribbled on a team’s “wish list”. This is not to say Price is going anywhere, but if the perfect deal with the right talent that could right the Rays sinking offensive ship were to materialize…. Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman might ponder it……for a moment.

Most would think it insane to even talk about Price going anywhere with his successes piling up during the last 4-odd seasons, but sometimes a player, even someone with mega-talent and rising potential can make another team so hungry to hitch their wagon to a player’s rising star they overpay and bring a bevy of goodness to someone anxiously wanting offense like the Rays.

Another odd factoid to remember is that Price has a limited and quickly evaporating fiscal shelf life as a Ray with his second arbitration salary a “gues-timate of around $ 7.5 million for 2013 which would escalate Price into the thin stratosphere of salaries for a player in his second walk down the arbitration process. That would put Price in the second slot in regards to salary only beaten by his fellow co-Ace James Shields who will bank $10.25 million for throwing the rock.

Immediately it comes to your mind the Rays would be insane to even consider trading one of their most popular and productive mainstays, but the MLB is a business and if someone is willing to part with an astronomical package…no one, not even Price is safe from at least a sitdown discussion. And we know all to well that the rest of his MLB peers have mad respect for the Rays southpaw bestowing upon Price the 2012 Player’s Choice award as the American Leagues “Outstanding Pitcher”. And these pieces of hardware that Price is amassing yearly only bring the cruel reality into the sunlight that one day Price will unfortunately price himself out of the Rays fold.

Price is only hitting the second of his 4 trips through the arbitration process and could command a salary above Shield’s $10.25 contract as early as the Spring of 2014 if he keeps moving onward and upwards fulfilling his potential. It’s a pity because Price has a chance to evolve into one of the greats, but this will not be realized wearing the Rays sunburst across his chest. Price’s Rays clock is ticking louder and louder every off-season towards the alarm finally chiming it is time for change.

I’m not forecasting, predicting or even remotely pondering Price’s departure, but the stark and undeniable truth is soon Price even with all his community upside and personality will make a trade decision a fiscal necessity. Maybe I’m being a bit too prudent, too calculated that possibly the Rays could turn Price now while his value is through the Trop’s Teflon roof and gain a top infield prospect, a few near the MLB caliber players that could fortify this Rays roster for the next 5 years with more offense, or maybe even a proven Bullpen arm to join forces with Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta to form a tight 1-2-3 late inning punch.

Some times hard decision have to be mentioned, breached and put out into the open air even if they may be considered unwarranted or mis-guided by their timing. Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann and even Wade Davis will have their names thrown out into the wind this Winter as trade pieces, trade considerations or even sent packing for financial or offensive relief.

Bringing up Price’s name here brings out the reality of the off-season that no one, not even Matt Moore who has a team friendly contract can be considered “off limits” or beyond trade rumors and whispers. Price is probably completely safe right now in the eyes of Friedman and the Rays front office. But you have to wonder, when a player is at their highest career point with them teetering on the cusp of maximum possible return on value, can you ignore the sanity of the situation.

I do not envy Friedman’s job because I would hate to be remembered as the guy who traded Price, even if it did make sense.   

Are Rays Hitting Their Stride for the Final 50?

All season long some of us have been waiting for this kind of production. Since the days before Tampa Bay Rays 3B Evan Longoria grabbed the back of his leg, the Rays Republic have been awaiting this kind of warfare. From singles to massive Home Runs, the Rays again have found their focus, their offense that combined with their pitching cohesiveness to brings about solid and warranted victories.

8 out of their last 13 road battle have seen either Fernando Rodney chuck a arrow into the sky, or provided the optimal moment for this team to celebrate mid-infield with high-5′s and handshakes galore. This is what happens when a team finally get back a fallen comrade and gets their sights set throughly for the final 50 game grind. That’s right, 50 games left in the Rays 2012 regular season, with a hope that October dreams come true.

From this squad getting their bellies full with “meatloafing” (winning 2 out of 3) series wins to finally finding that home remedy to evoke victories, this team has positioned itself going into today’s contest just 1 game out of the top spot for a American League Wild Card slot, and is within fighting range of the whole enchilada of another possible AL East banner being raised come April 2013. Tell me any of us felt that way as bombs burst in night air on July 4th while this team struggled to find cohesion and consistency.

Finally the Maddon mantra has again proven true as “Fortune Favors the Bold (or Bald)” as this team has stood tall in the face of injuries, potential trade chatter and unimaginable defensive blunders and gaffs to be in the right spot at the right time for a solid and concerted effort to topple their AL east rivals. Sitting currently with a 44 % chance of playoff champagne, this team has to continue to get their meaty goodness both at home and on the road mixed in with a few extra wins to bolster their post- season chances.

Right now the Rays are toe-to-toe with Oakland, Detroit, Baltimore and the Los Angeles Angels for a solid chance to walk into their third consecutive playoff spot, and fourth in 5 seasons. But it all begins now. 50 games, 50 chances to pull closer or fall to the back of the pack. Of those 50 contests, 29 of these contests will come against divisional leaders or Wild Card hopefuls. Plus in this 50 game hunt for October bliss, the Rays will play only 6 more games against the Yankees and 6 against the pesky Orioles. Of their final 50, the Rays will suit up against their AL East rivals in only half (25) of those contests.

Definitely the Rays might want to also channel a former Maddon Mantra from 2011 of “Finding Another Way” as they will have to garner additional victories against the likes of Seattle, Kansas City along with a slate of 16 contests against the unpredictable American League West foes.

The key to the Rays future seems to lie not only in their divisional slanted schedule in September, but in their rivalries against the West Coast opponents. Throw in 7 contests against the AL Central and you get the idea the Rays final AL East tallies might hold the key components to the Rays post-season recipe, but the rest of the American League could poison the “meaty” goodness with a few well-placed wins against the Rays.

6 games currently separate the Rays and Yankees with Baltimore still hanging on like that poster kitten, but destined to fall before the leaves turn colors. With the days of September coming closer the Rays engine is currently purring on all 8 cylinders and looking stronger every game. But it will only take a small back-step, a slip or even another key injury setback to again put haste and anxious thoughts into everyone’s noggin.

Winning series, posting up impressive game stats is only part of the equation. In the end, possibly the Rays will have to win at least 37 of these final 50 games to again shower the Trop’s fans with champagne and not have to re-visit another Game 162 moment or heartbreak.

August Waiver Fishing Can be Catch and Release

I have always looked at the 30 days after the final bell of the Trade Deadline as fishing season. Now that the non-waiver wire transaction have been concluded, that doesn’t mean the wheeling and deals has come to a halt, or that as the month of August comes to a close, more and more deals will come popping out of the blue. You got to remember, during this critical juncture in the season, if a player is not squared away on an MLB 40-man roster by August 31st, he will not have eligibility for post-season play.

So I imagine we will see an unending plethora of both fly fishing casts and deep sea trolling maneuvers from sea to shining MLB sea from any of the 30 members of the MLB brass up until the final ticks of the clock of August.

The Trade Deadline being done and buried, this is the time period where all 30 of the MLB brass can select any player on their 40-man roster, pluck him into the briny blue and wait to see if the waters churn and become agitated or remain flaccid and smooth. Any player, even a All-Star or fading veteran can be deposited into the water during this time, and depending on the type of fishing, they can either be landed or the underwater menace is left with just a bad taste in his mouth as his prey is pulled to safety.

Putting a player into the MLB waiver pond is simple enough, but from there the rules can get as muddled as the mighty Mississippi as it winds through the Louisiana delta. Teams can either be playing the light and loose game of catch and release by offering a player into the waiver wading pond, then just as a team puts in a waiver on the swimming feast, his parent club can yank him back to the safety of their 40-man roster without regret, and possibly a future off-season trading partner. Once a player during this waiver period has hit the tidal pool, if he is pulled back off the line, he can not be dealt for at least 30 days…if then.

But then there are others who are playing the trolling or deep sea game. Putting a large contract or “ big fish” out there in hopes someone will nibble, bite or swallow whole a player and his club can wash their hands of a bad contract, aging veteran or possibly just rid themselves of a fish that is beginning to stink in his own bait bucket. You will definitely see this type of fishing game from a club hoping to swing a deal to lower payroll, but then again they could also pull back their bait knowing they have an interested party who might again bite in the Winter.

Sure a player can be pulled back to safety in either of those fishing antics, but what if the parent club lets the hook get in deep, doesn’t pull the bait to safety, or no one bites at the tasty morsel even if they desire it in their clubhouse. What options then might lie ahead for the consumed or lonely bait nugget? There can be 3 alternatives to waiver fishing at this time of the year.

First option is the fisherman/ parent club can begin to work out a trade arrangement with the Goliath Grouper /hungry adversary who bit the bait and hung on for dear life. As long as the player who is usually on his team’s 40-man roster clears waivers, both sides are privy to slicing and dicing up a trade/sushi roll that satisfies both of their desires.

Second option is more cunning and can directly effect the claiming team economically as well as physically. The trolling club can just take the option of dumping the player and his enormous salary right on the desired team’s dock with no remorse, regret or chance of being called “Indian givers”. This option comes with a bit of peril as one team will get the player desired as the others gets to walk away free and clear of all financial and physical responsibilities for the claimed trophy fish.

Third option that can be played out is no one claims the waiver wire bait and his parent club can wiggle his carcass to any of the other 29 MLB clubs free and clear of want or worry of someone making a claim on them.

But here is where it can come down to just plain good gamesmanship and cunning strategy. Let’s say a player is dangled and wiggled in the waters and two fish want to consume that tasty morsel. Well, then it gets a bit complicated, or simpler depending on your respective league and overall record at that moment.

Depending on both teams records and if the player is from their own American or National League, the team that has the worst record among the 2 squads, and if they are in the same league as the claimed player…that doubles the ante and gives that team a viable chance to nibble on the yummy fillet.

Okay, let’s use the Tampa Bay Rays RP/SP Wade Davis ( an avid fisherman) as an example here and show all 3 options. If we get a solid tug on the line and a team claims Davis and the Rays are receptive to dealing Davis to the claiming squad, then the two sides will haggle out a deal and Davis will turn in his sunburst for whatever colors his new team wears.

Option 2 definitely will not happen as the Rays have Davis under a pretty team-friendly contract and would not be looking to dump him on someone at any cost. Considering Davis is signed through 2014 with options for 2015,2016 and 2017, option 1 will be the only clear cut way to getting a player like Davis who a claiming team can control for the next 2 seasons with club options for 3 additional seasons. If this would happen, it would be a clear cost-cutting move for the Rays, but that isn’t a viable conclusion.

Option 3 would not happen as at considering there were more than 4 teams watching Davis before the Trade Deadline, and possibly every one of them would possibly put in a waiver wire claim on him knowing his contract and pitching flexibility.

Davis is definitely one of the examples from the Rays roster that could get a waiver claim submitted when the Rays post his name for that 48 hour period. Another key component here is the team doesn’t have to advise the player of his waiver posting, and usually a player can go through the entire process without a hint or whisper as either his team will pull him back from the waiver pond, or he will go unclaimed and be subject to the team’s final decision.

I expect SP James Shields, RP Kyle Farnsworth, RP J P Howell, CF B J Upton, RP Joel Peralta, INF Elliot Johnson, Jeff Keppinger , Jeff Niemann and maybe even 1B Carlos Pena to make a bigger splash with possible waiver decisions for the Rays.

With some of these mentioned players, 2012 might be their last time wearing the Rays colors, but before the end of August, almost every player with value, including possibly a few names we once thought were “untouchables” could spend a few moments in the cooling waters of the waiver pond.

Wonder who will be plucked, and who will be pulled back to safety?

Did the Rays Gamble Heavy on Their Status Quo?

Wondering if the Tampa Bay Rays basically “ standing pat” will come back to either bite them in the hind quarters, or be a Godsend. So many factors were in play in the background today from medical reports on Evan Longoria’s rehab assignment, to equating if sending a piece of the franchise be it B J Upton or James Shields would stall their recent Wild Card forward momentum. I swear Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman will never have to hit Gamblers Anonymous because he only seems to bet on “ sure things”, or options that weigh heavily in the houses/ Rays favor.

I truly could not envision Friedman standing over a MLB gambling table surrounded by 29 of his peers holding the dice hard wishing for a 7 or 11. I imagine him more comfortable at the .25 cent slots bringing in a few dollars and making more sense of his money and movements. But still, it was good over the past week or so hearing the baited whispers and subtle glances towards Upton and Shields. Wonder how many of Friedman’s peers felt confident going into today that Friedman might part with the likes of Upton who is set to hit the Free Agent market this Winter. 

But then again, I could see Friedman playing Texas Hold-Em with a vengeance, and with the Rays on a West Coast road venture Friedman held his cards close to his vest hoping no one would venture to guess his intentions or call into question any type of bluff or stall tactic.


I felt sure Friedman might possibly throw down at least a Wade Davis baseball card towards an NL peer that might need an up-grade or stop-gap style player either in their 4 or 5 slots or in long relief. But Friedman has the luxury of knowing Davis is only gaining value, possibly with Davis becoming a prime piece of off-season gold that will be look upon with more value this Winter than at this time.

There were even cards in motion within the Rays farm system that hinted at some sort of planning or adjustments as RP Cesar Ramos was being primed and getting reps as a possible starter at Triple-A Durham. You had to have a feeling Friedman wanted to hold a distinctive wild card in his hand knowing a possible trade scenario involving a valuable and flexible southpaw would be considered a luxury heading into August and September as younger arms reach their yearly pitch counts. 

I remember reading in Dirk Hayhurst’s “Bullpen Gospels” about Ramos in the lower Padres system as a starter, so the idea is not foreign to him at all. Since I’m glancing towards the Bullpen, I truly thought Friedman might hold in his hand the cards of possibly relief pitchers Joel Peralta or Kyle Farnsworth as late inning pieces to another squad’s puzzle, possible also in the National League. But the Rays Bullpen stayed intact, possibly the best thing to happen to the Rays since Fernando Rodney’s first arrow flew deep and high into the sky.

Could Friedman have possibly mastered the art of the bluff this week by rebuffing advancements and trading cards being thrown down in his direction, Could the Rays not sending or receiving any players before the time ran out on this non-waiver Trade Deadline show contentment that in-house options are superior to the cards visible on the table, especially since Longoria and SP Jeff Niemann could be back in the dugout sooner rather than later.

No matter if Friedman was playing the game with all intentions of going through the motions, or waiting for the perfect scenario to be placed upon the felt and then plucking it with a grin and a giggle. We might never know the true story, but I do feel there were some potential MLB players trading cards picked up off that green poker table’s felt I truly thought the Rays might contemplate a bit on, or at least bluff towards plucking them for this team. 

The first player I thought the Rays might make a gentleman’s wager on was Miami Marlins 1B Gaby Sanchez who ended up becoming another valuable piece to the playoff hungry Pittsburgh Pirates. I actually thought the Rays might go “in heavy” on Sanchez as a possible 2013 replacement/younger hitting upgrade for the Carlos Pena. I thought Sanchez met the Rays criteria since he can be team controlled until possibly 2016, with his first venture into arbitration coming this Winter. Lest we forget Sanchez was a NL Rookie of the Year candidate in 2010 (finished 4th).

I also thought the Rangers picking up Geovany Soto from the Chicago Cubs recently might be a trading card piece of an evolving Texas trade hand for Shields since the Rays could definitely erase their need for a catcher with someone of Soto’s experience, especially since Soto will only be making his second trip trough arbitration this Winter, Soto’s past All-Star clout and his 2012 salary of only $ 4.3 million, he would be viewed as a solid backstop investment considering the question marks becoming larger with Robinson Chirinos and his concussion setbacks and if Jose Lobaton is a # 1 catcher or a career back-up back stop for this squad.

All that the Rays Republic is left with his wonder and maybe a little hint of want. This team has shown signs of an upwards trend against teams currently that they will battle throughout the rest of this season for a coveted American League Wild Card slot, but you have to wonder if Friedman had set down at least 1 hand in trade if the stakes and odds would have falling more into their favor.

 The Trade Deadline is one of those definite “He said, She said” types of moments where a season can be hinged or be separated by actions of standing pat. Personally, I wanted to see some down and dirty dealing via Andrew Friedman and his band of merry mongrels, but in the end we got only silence.

 Some venture to say the lack of Friedman playing any cards by the final toll of the bell at the Trade Deadline set the tone loud and clear for the Rays venture towards securing one of those coveted post-season slots. In the past the Rays have stayed muted and firm in their belief of their club’s talent and abilities and have come out smelling like roses.

Still, I would have loved to have someone like Sanchez chomping at the bit for that First Base job, or even Soto behind the dish providing offense and quality defense. Friedman decided to fold his hand, pay the dealer for his time and walk away empty-handed as the last cards were dealt today. But maybe by not making a gamble or losing in the process Friedman is way a head of the MLB pack. Only time will tell if he will be considered a winner or loser for his action with the cards.

 

Could the Trop. Pull Off a “Dog Day”?

Earlier this season when I sat down with a departing member of the Rays front office and he let out a juicy morsel that the Rays might be considering a future brand of Rays “Bark at the Park”. For those who have not witnessed or had the fun of this type of event, fans can bring their canine “other-halfs” to the ballpark with them for that days contests and enjoy the sights and sounds along with a few hotdogs with their owners. Teams all around Major League Baseball already hold these sorts of annual canine appreciation days, but here in Tampa Bay, we have seen zero.

Now this is not an official Rays event yet, or even mentioned “officially” by the club, but over the weekend the Miami Marlins had just such an event at their indoor stadium, and by the way the stadium smelled by the end of the 9th inning, the stadium sanitation crew was on the ball scooping the tidbits left by canine Marlins fans.

The reason I bring this up tonight is the success of the Marlins canine event could and should get the wheels turning for a possible future Rays version. We now know that an indoor facility like Tropicana Field could host such an event, and possibly be one of the great moments of an MLB season. I actually was on hand for a “Dog Day Afternoon” event several years ago in Chicago and thought of what a great event this would be for my hometown Rays to hold for their faithful 4-legged fans who only get to see the game on television.

Possibly since our sister MLB franchise has now held a dog day afternoon event in their new home, members of the Rays stadium staff and promotions team could pay a post-event visit to the Miami club and see the way they produced and made this event such a success, even with the roof closed. I would be amazed to see such an event held within the tilted roof of the Trop., complete with the annual Frisbee-catching canines, maybe a booth set up by local animal shelters, and a secondary outlet so fans could buy those adorable calendars that host Rays players and their canine “best friends”.

I mean if the Rays and the local no-kill animal shelter Pet Pal Animal Shelter could come to some promotional agreement, maybe the event could also include a paw-print signing area of the Rays pooches, or pre-game stroll by master and pal along the First or Third baseline. I mean think of the great exposure for the calendar, the Rays would get National exposure for the kinder, gentler side off the competitive Turf, plus would be a great win-win for the Fans, players and this region.

Sure you would have to possibly buy a seat ticket for your dog, but maybe the Rays can also combine it with a Rays brand Dog Bandanna, or maybe even a Jango (Longo’s dog) or Astro (Price’s pal) image upon the item to bring it all together. I know all of this might never materialize or even be on the Rays drawing board, but it should. I know of plenty of Rays fans who have remarked over the years wondering why the team doesn’t do these special canine days like other stadiums.

 Odd thought here, maybe the Rays could find a pet food purveyor who could give away samples or even sponsor the giveaway with their branding somewhere on the new Rays bandanna. Of course all of this might just be in my mind right now, with the Rays not even having such an event on their drawing boards until possibly the 2013 season. Still, for someone like me who does his share of people-watching as well as watching this club play baseball, it would make one more authentic and totally wacky reason to hit the ball park. In other words, Rays, let’s make this happen.  

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