November 2011

Rays Top Prospects: #6-10

This summer, MLB.com ranked the top 10 prospects of all 30 Major League teams. This is a continuation of my last article, Rays Top Prospects: #1-10. In the previous post I evaluated the top 5 prospects, which included some pretty impressive names. To nobody’s surprise, Matt Moore was #1, followed by Hak-Ju Lee, Chris Archer, Alex Torres, and Josh Sale. Here are the evaluations on the Rays’ top prospects, 6-10.

Brandon Guyer- Brandon Guyer was another Major League-quality player acquired from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade. Guyer was one of three Rays on the top 10 prospect list to get big league playing time in 2011. Out of all three, nobody started off his career with a bang like he did. In his first ever big league at bat, Guyer blasted a solo homer into the seats of Camden Yards.

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That would be the first of 15 games for the Rays in 2011, as Guyer spent most of the season for Triple-A Durham. In his 107 games in AAA, he batted .312 and knocked in 61 runs. From what Guyer has displayed in his years in the minors, he definitely has the tools for a successful MLB career. Not only is guyer a tremendous athlete, but he is also a potential four-dementional player. The 25 year-old outfielder has power, speed, good defense, and the ability to hit for average as well. The Rays could really use a guy on the roster like Guyer, who brings a combination of speed and power to the table.

Alex Colome- Alex Colome is not exactly a well-known name among baseball’s top prospects, or even the Rays’ prospects. He’s one talented arm, and this is his second year ranked at #7 on the prospect list. Colome is a power pitcher, depending heavily upon his hard fastball and sharp curveball. The changeup is another pitch that Colome likes to mix up in his arsenal, but it’s still a developing pitch for a him. Like most of the Rays’ pitching prospects, Colome’s main issue is command. 20111129-133649.jpg

The 22 year-old right-hander still has a lot of baseball left in his minor league career, as he looks like he’ll be starting in high single-A in 2012. Colome’s 2011 season includes a string of games in both high-A Charlotte and AA Montgomery. His combined stats included a 3.82 ERA, a 12-9 record, and a terrific 9.6 K/9 ratio. The command was what contributed to the mediocre ERA, but Colome showed that he can be a great strikeout pitcher. Despite all this, Colome’s electric stuff is what makes him a hit with the scouts.

Justin O’Conner- Justin O’Conner was the Rays’ second 1st-round draft pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, after Josh Sale (#5 on the list). Unlike most of the Rays’ top prospects in their talented farm system, O’Conner is a catcher. At just 19, he’s the youngest of all the prospects on the list and is just starting his journey through the minors. O’Conner played 48 games this year for Princeton in his first year of professional baseball. He batted .157 but hit 9 dingers and 29 RBIs.

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O’Conner has some great natural power and pop in his bat, similar to his draft-mate Josh Sale. There are still many areas in his swing he needs to work on to become a better hitter, and the low average is the proof of that. Defensive is a different story, as O’Conner is surprisingly new to his position. O’Conner’s first year as a full-time catcher was 2011, after moving from shortstop (his drafted position). O’Conner has a great arm behind the plate, and his great athletic skills allow him to move quickly as well. After finishing just his second year as a starting catcher, O’Conner obviously still has many things to learn about playing the position. The Rays aren’t rushing anywhere with a 19 year-old kid straight out of high school, but they see a lot of potential in him over time.

Drew Vettleson- Drew Vettleson may be the most intriguing of the Rays’ prospects. Vettleson was the Rays’ third 1st-round draft pick in 2010, following O’Conner and Sale. Like Josh Sale, Vettleson is an outfielder drafted out of the Pacific Northwest region. What the Rays see in Vettleson is pure, quality baseball player. He has great skills at the plate, and most scouts believe he has the ability to be a good average hitter in the future. He puts up great at bats, and hits the ball hard and often. Vettleson hit .282 through 61 games in his first pro season for Princeton this year. His homerun power has been a debate amongst scouts, but most agree that the lefty can be a double-digit homerun hitter down the road.

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Vettleson’s baseball intelligence is another strength he possesses on the diamond. Good baseball instincts is something that the Rays highly value in their prospects, and Vettleson is a great example. His baseball smarts really come in handy on the base pads, as he doesn’t have fast legs. The most interesting part about Vettleson’s scouting report, is that he is a pitcher. But not just any pitcher, a switch pitcher. Vettleson can both pitch with his right and left hand; something that is very rare these days in baseball. Although he could try professional baseball as pitcher, most experts agree that the outfield is where he belongs. His arm is at least average, and he should be able to play pretty good defense there if he’s not in center.

Tim Beckham- Former #1 overall draft pick Tim Beckham comes in at #10 on the list. Beckham is a well-known name within the baseball scouting world, and he’s slowly building his way up the Rays’ farm system. The young shortstop started his career a couple of years ago with high expectations, and Beckham has definitely needed time to adjust. His slow start to his professional career has caused many experts to overlook him, but the Rays know the value of patience. 2011 was a crucial year for Beckham’s development, who spent most of the season playing for AA Montgomery.

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He played a total 131 games in 2011, including finishing the season with 24 games as a Durham Bull. He batted .271 and scored 94 runs, and was one of three Rays to be selected into the 2011 Futures Game in Phoenix. Beckham is a player with leadoff hitter-type talent; a guy with little power and pretty good speed. 2011 was a big year in the development of Beckham’s defensive game too. Fielding has been a problem for him in the past, and addressing it in 2011 was one of his main priorities. Second base may be his starting position in the future, but for now Beckham is working on becoming a better shortstop. A lot of people tend to forget that Beckham is just 21 years of age, so he’s still well ahead of the pack. At such a young age, the Rays should still have plenty of confidence in him.

Rays Top Prospects: #1-5

The Tampa Bay Rays have always been a team forged by young talent. Most of the big faces of the franchise today are homegrown stars; such as Evan Longoria, David Price, James Shields, Ben Zobrist, and others that were brought up through the Rays’ prestigious farm system. The list of young stars doesn’t look like it’s going to shrink anytime soon, as the Rays have a wave of high-grade rookies upcoming in these next few years. A few of the exciting top prospects have already seen big league playing time in 2011. Some of those names include Matt Moore, Alex Torres, and Brandon Guyer. MLB.com has ranked the top 10 Rays prospects. Here are the evaluations of the top 5 prospects:

1.) Matt Moore- Out of all the late-season call-ups that made a splash this season, phenom Matt Moore made the biggest. Moore’s brief 2011 lived up to all the hype that was built up. His regular season stats included 9.1 IP, a 2.89 ERA, 15 K’s, and a scoreless start (win) in Yankee Stadium. But the Postseason is where Moore really had his chance to shine, when he was called to start game 1 of the ALDS. Moore shutout the Rangers in Arlington through seven innings in just his second career start. He would end up with a astounding 0.90 ERA through 10 innings for the postseason.

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There’s no secret of why the flame-throwing lefty is so effective in the big leagues. His arsenal includes a blazing fastball, plus an effective curveball and changeup. Moore’s outstanding fastball can reach up to 100 MPH, and he’s very capable of going deep into games maintaining speeds up in the high-90′s. The command of his heater is the most important ingredient to Moore’s success, and the improvement is clearly noticeable. The left-hander also has an above-average curveball, which has plenty of movement and break to it. The changeup is another pitch Matt uses to keep hitters off balance, and is a big part of his success versus right-handed batters. The player that Moore most resembles is his teammate David Price. Price was also a top-prospect rookie just like Moore in 2008. He too was called up later in the season and made his impact in the playoffs. Both Moore and Price are fireballing lefties, with future Cy Young-type talent. The 22 year-old already has a collection of accolades; including a Futures Game selection, #3 ranked prospect, the MLB.com Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year award, and the 2011 Spink Award (Top Minor Leaguer). The Rays are very lucky to have young arm like Matt Moore in their bright future.

2.) Hak-Ju Lee- Hak-Ju Lee is not a household name among Rays fans, but it won’t be too long before he gains recognition in professional baseball. The 21 year-old Korean was acquired in the Matt Garza trade, and is on the top 50 Prospect list at #48. Lee was one of three players that represented the Rays at the MLB Futures Game this July. He was promoted in August to class AA after spending most of his 2011 season playing for the Charlotte Stonecrabs (class A+). Lee’s 2011 combined Minor League stats included a .292 average, 30 RBI’s, and 33 stolen bases. Lee is still adjusting to AA baseball, as he batted a low .190 through 100 at bats up in Montgomery. Lee is a left-handed batting shortstop (throws right) that is still improving in all parts of his game. His plus attributes include great speed, good contact hitting, and the ability to have quality at bats. Although Lee will probably never be a hitter with power, there are other weaknesses in his game that can improve. His defense at shortstop is probably the biggest thing that needs to be worked on. 20111125-131727.jpg

Like most young Minor League shortstops, Lee played some rather sloppy defense. His error total was too much considering his high expectations as a defensive player. His gradual improvement in the field is noticeable though, and many scouts see Lee as being a good defensive shortstop in the future. Baserunning is another area of improvement for the speedy infielder. Although Lee has great wheels, his decisions on the basepads are not so intelligent yet. He was caught stealing 16 times out of 49 attempts this year in the minors. Just like on defense, these faults are not a rarity at all for 20 year-old prospects. Experts believe that he will get much better in the following years, and baserunning will be one of Lee’s fortes during his big league career. Overall, Hak-Ju Lee is work in progress with a bunch of potential.

3.) Chris Archer- Chris Archer has been one of the biggest names amongst Rays prospects. Archer was another top prospect that was included in the Matt Garza trade, and is ranked at #38 in the top 50 list. With all the pitching talent in the Rays farm system, Archer leads the pack of right-handed arms. He features an impressive fastball, with great movement as well as velocity. The hard slider is the next good pitch in his arsenal, which he also throws very well. Then there is the changeup, which is a pitch that Archer is still developing. Like Matt Moore, Archer’s fastball command is the key to his big league success. 20111125-132449.jpg

The command was the only main issue Archer had this year, but it is clearly improving as he gains experience. Archer’s stats for the year (in AA Montgomery and AAA Durham) include 4.09 ERA, a 9-7 record, and 130 strikeouts. Archer started 27 games in 2011, two of them in Durham. The best news about Chris, is that he ended the season strong on a high note. After being promoted to Triple-A late in the season, Archer posted an ERA of 0.69 in 13 innings pitched . Archer could be a big help to the Rays bullpen at some point in next season, as that will probably be his best chance to contribute to the team in 2011. With the stable and talented rotation that the Rays have, the ‘pen may be Archer’s best opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation anytime in the near future. Chris Archer is a player destined for a career the MLB, and his potential is sky-high. This is definitely a guy Rays Republic should be excited about.

4.) Alex Torres- Torres is another impressive young arm on the Rays’ prospect list. The 23 year-old lefty was acquired from the Angels in the Scott Kazmir. In his first full season in the Rays organization, Torres started 27 games for the Durham Bulls and pitched 8 innings for the Rays. His minor league numbers in 2011 were pretty good, as he went 9-7 for Durham with a 3.08 ERA and 156 Ks. Torres didn’t do bad in his first crack at the big leagues this year. He posted a 3.38 ERA through 8 innings pitched out of the bullpen. Torres’s main arsenal includes a solid and live fastball, a pretty decent changeup, and a developing curve. 20111125-131742.jpg

The curveball has been sort of his ‘x-factor’ pitch in the past. When he has a feel of the curve, opposing batters are doing a lot of swinging and missing. Like Moore and Archer, Torres is good at striking out batters. Unfortunately, his command issues are worse than Moore and Archer. Not only does Torres have problems placing his fastball where he wants it, but he also walks far too many batters. Torres knows that his command is not adequate for an effective Major League starter, and is working hard to fix it in Venezuelan winter ball. Torres is preparing to pitch another season in a terrific Durham rotation, but there’s also a chance he’ll be pitching out of the bullpen for the Rays.

5.) Josh Sale- The Rays picked up a big bat in the first round of the 2010 MLB Draft. Josh Sale is a left-handed batter who has some great natural power, and scouts love how the ball explodes of his bat. 2011 was the first professional season for the 20 year-old. Sale played 60 games for the class A Princeton Rays, batting .210 with just 4 homers. Besides hitting, Sale isn’t strong in many other areas. His defensive in left field is mediocre but he has improved a lot as a left fielder this year, especially with his pretty strong throwing arm. Sale isn’t exactly Carl Crawford on the basepaths either, and also needs some work on his baserunning. He is only 20 though, and he has plenty of time to develop into the quality player that the Rays drafted in the 2010 Draft.

2011 Rays Team Awards

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Two Rays were honored in the BWAA’s MLB awards this offseason; Joe Maddon and Jeremy Hellickson. Also part of the baseball award season, is MLB.com’s team awards. The MLB.com team awards include Breakout Player of the Year, Player of the Year (top non-pitcher), and Pitcher of the Year. The Breakout Player award went to Hellickson, who added that accolade to his prestigious 2011 ROY award. I wouldn’t describe Hellboy’s fantastic season as a ‘breakout year’ exactly, as his 2010 previewed great things to come. James Shields’ unbelievable season was a picture perfect example of a great breakout year though. But with how the MLB.com team awards work, it is unlikely that one player wins multiple awards. The Player of the Year Award was the most anticipated of the three, and was won by Ben Zobrist. The choice for the award was mainly between Longoria and Zobrist, as both put up the best offensive production during the season. Zorilla’s consistency and ability to serve as baseball’s best utility man separated him from Longo’s great glovework and powerful bat. I strongly agree with the decision to honor Zobrist as the Rays’ top player in 2011, after such a terrific season. All season long I felt as if Zobrist was one of the most underrated players in the game, considering how much he contributed to such a successful team. The third team award acknowledges the ace of the Rays talented young pitching staff. Obviously, the 2011 Pitcher of the Year award went to James Shields, who also finished third in the Cy Young Award voting. The stats did all the talking for ‘Big Game’ James, as 11 complete games and a 2.82 ERA were simply impossible to argue with.

The MLB.com awards were not the only official team awards passed out this offseason. The Tampa Bay Chapter of the BWAA gives out three team awards of their own; MVP, the Outstanding Rookie Award, and the Paul C. Smith Champion Award. The MVP award went to Shields, which was definitely the right choice. Many people tend misinterpret the Player of the Year Award and the MVP award, and get them mixed up. Since the MLB.com team awards also acknowledge the best pitcher, the Player of the Year award basically refers to the best player that’s not a pitcher. In the BWAA team awards there is the MVP Award and no Pitcher of the Year award, giving pitchers an opportunity to win the team MVP. That’s exactly what happened in the Rays’ case this year, as Shields deservingly took home the team MVP. The third BWAA team award is the Paul C. Smith Champion Award. This award is handed to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of true professionalism on and off the field. The award was given to Johnny Damon, who I believe represents this award perfectly and was the obvious choice. Johnny Damon not only is a great clubhouse guy and person, but also a real winner on the field. His tremendous effort and hustle displayed on the diamond day after day is what makes him such a great baseball player, and keeps him still playing the game he loves. Those are all the Rays’ team awards for 2011, but that’s not all the accolades for Rays players this fall. The J.G. Taylor Spink Award (Minor League Player of the Year) was won by Rays’ phenom top-prospect Matt Moore. Moore earned the extremely high honor by putting up ridiculous numbers (in AA and AAA combided), including a 1.92 ERA.

The Rays’ award isn’t season over, MLB.com’s GIBBY Awards (Greatness in Baseball Yearly) feature 5 nominated Rays. Click here to vote today!

To see my choices for the 2011 Rays team awards click here.

My analysis on the MLB changes, and Jose Molina a Ray?

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Yesterday was a monumental and historic day for Major League Baseball. The Astros moved to the American League and the MLB added two more Wild Cards into their playoffs. There’s many debates on wether these two changes are necessary or irrational. Let’s start with the Astros switch to the AL West, which will take effect in 2013. This move was absolutely common sense and should of been done years ago. With Houston now part of the AL West, the MLB now consists of six divisions of five teams. The thirty-team MLB now is split into two leagues of fifteen teams each, rather than a sixteen-team NL and a fourteen-team AL. Therefore, now MLB realignment is unnecessary and unless a team is subtracted or added, the system doesn’t need to be tweaked with. Apparently, regular Interleague year-round was part of the deal with the Astros’ move. I have always been against year-round Interleague play in baseball, and I don’t understand how this is relevant at all with the Astros’ move. My main problem with it, is that it’s going to give the NL a huge advantage in their home games. AL pitchers are simply not trained to hit while NL pitchers are. When Interleague was an occasional affair, it wasn’t really a big concern. I believe that the new Interleague system was made for MLB publicity. When you think about the amount of money being made in MLB Interleague games, it’s not surprising that they would do this. The TV rates, merchandise sales, and ticket sales are all very high during Interleague games. It will be interesting to see how this will effect baseball. Year-long Interleague play will not take effect until 2013 though.

So that covers the first part of MLB’s historic day. The second part is a much larger and more surprising change. I was actually shocked when I first heard that each league was adding a Wild Card. When it comes to my stand on the playoff expansion topic, I was never a huge supporter but thought it could be good if done correctly. The best thing about the playoff expansion in my eyes, is that the Rays may end up being one of the main benefiters from this. Before I state my opinion, I probably should explain how the new postseason system works. The two Wild Card teams play each other in a one-game playoff, the winner advancing to the final eight (regular playoff format). The new playoffs will take effect possibly as early as next year; 2013 at the latest. The decision to make the extra ‘series’ a one-game playoff, is my one problem with the whole thing. After all that work and time, I thought they would be able to make it a best out of 3 series. In a one-game playoff, I believe that the better team doesn’t always advance. It’s not a real big deal, but it just irks me a little bit knowing how close they were to getting it right.

In Rays Hot Stove news now, it looks like the Rays have made their first dive into free agency. Unofficial sources say that Blue Jays’ catcher Jose Molina has signed to a 1-year deal. The deal is pretty unsurprising, as I have mentioned in past articles that the Rays are likely going to look to free agency to find a catcher. Although Molina is in the final years of his career, his defense is still an effective part of his game (well he is a Molina). I was kind of hoping that the Rays would pick up a young backstop, but this move is not such a bad one at all. For a full article at The Rays Way (The Rays Rant ‘sister blog’) on Molina joining the Rays, click here.

Way to go Joe! Maddon named MOY

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For the second time in the last three days, a Ray has won an MLB award. Just two days after Jeremy Hellickson became the 2011 Rookie of the Year, skipper Joe Maddon was awarded as the AL Manager of the Year . The exciting (and predictable) news was announced yesterday, when 133 voting points and 26 first-place votes gave Joe his second MOY award. Just like in 2008, Maddon proved to everyone that he was very deserving of the Top Manager title. Winning this revered award this year, was simply just another highlight in his legacy as an MLB manager. There are not many baseball personnel as talented as this man. His unconventional style of baseball, his people skills, and his ability to work with young players are all things that make Joe a one of a kind. No other big league skipper represents their team a well as Maddon does. Maddon’s uniqueness and leadership abilities are what make him one of the most successful coaches in the world of sport. It’s definitely safe to say that the Rays would not be the same team without Joe Maddon leaning on the dugout railings. Maybe only Rays fans can truly realize how special Maddon is, but the BWAA committee still seemed to agree that Maddon was the obvious choice for the award. Here are the official voting results below:

Manager Team 1st 2nd 3rd Points
Joe Maddon Rays 26 1 133
Jim Leyland Tigers 1 13 10 54
Ron Washington Rangers 1 7 5 31
Manny Acta Indians 3 7 16
Joe Girardi Yankees 3 5 14
Mike Scioscia Angels 1 1 4
The Connie Mack Award (which is part of the BBA Awards) results were similar to the official results. Here are the results below:
Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay (22) 113 (My 1st place vote)
Jim Leyland, Detroit 48 (My 3rd place vote)
Ron Washington, Texas (3) 37
Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles of Anaheim 13 (My 2nd place vote)
Joe Girardi, New York 9
Manny Acta, Cleveland 5
John Farrell, Toronto 1

Hellboy wins the ROY Award!

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After the many days of waiting and debating, Jeremy Hellickson has officially won the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Congratulations to Jeremy for winning this fantastic honor, and joining Evan Longoria in being the only Rays players to get this award. The Rays’ great young talent continues to be acknowledged and well-noticed throughout the baseball nation. Even with some impressive young players in the ROY running, Hellickson was clearly the most deserving to win the award. Jeremy’s had a great start to his career, which is now just a year and a half old. The 24 year-old posted terrific numbers leading AL rookie pitchers in five stats, including ERA and quality starts. He finished the season with a stellar 2.95 ERA, 189 IP, a .210 opponent average, and 13 wins. Not only did Hellickson’s terrific stats prove him to be the best AL rookie pitcher, but also probably the best #3 starter in baseball. Hellickson’s contribution to the team’s success is what I found the most amazing about his great rookie season. In the midst of the Rays great comeback, Hellboy won 5 consecutive starts against AL East opponents. His ability to perform in the clutch is what really separated him from his two main competitors in the voting; Mark Trumbo and Eric Hosmer. The Angels’ Trumbo and the Royals’ Hosmer both had excellent seasons for their respective teams. Still the BWAA were able to notice Hellickson as the deserving player for the award, as the voting results ended up as a landslide:

Player Team 1st 2nd 3rd Points
Jeremy Hellickson Rays 17 5 2 102
Mark Trumbo Angels 5 11 5 63
Eric Hosmer Royals 4 4 6 38
Ivan Nova Yankees 1 5 10 30
Michael Pineda Mariners 3 2 11
Dustin Ackley Mariners 1 1 6
Desmond Jennings Rays 1 1
Jordan Walden Angels 1 1
If you recall, a few months ago The Rays Rant participated in the BBA Awards (being a part of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance). The results were strikingly much different than the official, here they are again :

 

Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay (8) 67 (My 1st place vote)
Eric Hosmer, Kansas City (9) 67 (My second place vote)
Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles of Anaheim (3) 27
Michael Pineda, Seattle (3) 23
Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay 7
Ivan Nova, New York 7 (My 3rd place vote)
Brett Lawrie, Toronto (1) 5
Dustin Ackley, Seattle 4
Zach Britton, Baltimore 3
Alexi Ogando, Texas 3
Jordan Walden, Los Angeles of Anaheim 2
Chris Sale, Chicago 1

Hopefully there will be more Rays names to hit the MLB Award spotlight in the next couple of weeks. Maddon is the front runner for the AL Manager of the Year Award, which is announced on Thursday. Besides Maddon, it doesn’t look like there’ll be any more Rays (non-team) awards. But looking ahead to next year, it’s very possible that another Ray rookie will be named the 2012 ROY. Matt Moore and Desmond Jennings are two bright rookies who have already made a splash in the 2011 season. It’s always exciting for a Rays fan to know how much great things are awaiting in the next year.

The Rays Hot Stove: What do you think?

Well I already said what I thought about the Rays offseason in my previous post, now I want to hear what the readers think. In this post, there’s a series of polls about different subjects on the Rays Hot Stove. 

The first poll is about the three big names that may depart out of Tampa this offseason. You probably already know who they are; Casey Kotchman, James Shields, and B.J. Upton. ‘Big Game’ James and Kotchman were both a huge part of the Rays success in 2011. Upton is a player that has very high potential in his years to come, and is again eligible for arbitration this year. 

 

Coming into the offseason, it was already clear that the Rays had to potential high-value trade pieces in Shields and Upton. Starter Wade Davis is the newest member to join the possible trade picture. Many teams can use a solid pitcher like Wade Davis, as quality pitching does not come easy these days. Wade’s 11-10 record and 4.45 ERA as the #5 starter, proved him to be a pretty effective pitcher in the tough AL East division. 

 

The bullpen was a big topic in my  recent offseason outlook article (link in the beginning of the post), and the two biggest names were Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta. Although maybe not as good as 2010′s Benoit-Soriano lockdown 8th and 9th innings, Farnsworth and Peralta had a pretty good 8-9 punch themselves. Farnsworth was very important this year as the team’s closer, and Peralta as the team’s setup-man. 

 

For the second season in a row, B.J. Upton may be the biggest name on the Rays Hot Stove. There has already been a handful of rumors of where he might land, and his chances of playing in Tampa next year don’t seem so high at the moment.

 

With all these Rays trade names out there, who are the potential players the Rays could reel in these winter. The Marlins Logan Morrison, catcher Chris Ianetta, and the talented star Grady Sizemore are all names floating around in the midst of offseason rumors. There will probably be much more rumors to come, as it is only early November. 

 

The Rays have four free agents this offseason and their names are: Johnny Damon, Casey Kotchman, Kelly Shoppach, and Juan Cruz. All four were talked about in my previous article; Damon and Kotchman obviously being the bigger names here. 

 

Another big topic mentioned in my outlook post was the Rays weak areas. The three main areas to tend to this offseason is catcher, DH, and first base. All three of these positions’  2011 starters are free agents; Kotchman (1B), Damon (DH), and Shoppach (C). The Rays do not have any strong replacements for these guys at the moment, and it seems likely that these areas will be addressed by the Rays front office this winter. 

Top Questions for the Rays Offseason

It’s this time of year again. Four full months of waiting to hear that sound of the crack of the bat. Before the Rays and their young stars take the field in March, the Rays have some work to do. There are some tough choices they know that they must make this winter. Here are the top five main questions on the Rays Hot Stove:

What’s B.J. Upton’s fate? Let’s start with maybe the biggest topic on the Rays Hot Stove. B.J. Upton has been in the mix of baseball rumors since last year’s Trade Deadline. Today, he’s known as one of the premier trade pieces in the league. With Upton up for arbitration again, it is very possible that he could be traded away. Keeping Upton, who hasn’t reached his potential in the last few years, would mean paying him about $7 Million in 2012 (experts predict). The debate here is wether he is worth keeping or not, and who can he be traded for. Upton has underachieved so far in his career, but many believe that the best years are ahead of him. What I think the Rays should do, is only trade Upton if they know they can get someone good for him. The Rays could really use this opportunity to use B.J.’s phenom-talent to their advantage on the market. 20111104-110404.jpg
One good thing about possibly losing Upton, is that the Rays good outfield depth will be able to replace him in centerfield pretty well. Desmond Jennings is probably the top candidate to take over there if Upton is gone. Even with all this, B.J. Upton’s terrific defense in CF will be dearly missed. Whatever the Rays decide to do with B.J., I’m very confident that Andrew Friedman will make sure there will be incoming talent if Upton is leaving Tampa Bay. It will really be interesting to see how this one plays out.

Will “Big Game” James stay? James Shields was really the team’s MVP this year, leading a terrific pitching staff with a 2.82 ERA and 11 complete games. After an incredible Cy Young- caliber season, Shields will have a high price tag for the 2012 season. The Rays seem like they’re going to make some efforts to keep Shields on the roster, as they just recently have picked up the club option on him. Shields will be making $7 million next year if he stays. His situation is similar to Upton’s in some ways. Like Upton, he won’t be testing free agency this year and is a potential blockbuster-trade piece (the highest trade value on the team). When it comes to James’ situation, I think it will most likely end up as a win either way. I think that trading Shields is the best opportunity to fill in the offensive holes they need. A trade to the Marlins for Logan Morrison and other good hitters is a big rumor at the moment. Centerfielder Grady Sizemore is another possibility up in the air. 20111104-110409.jpg
I think trading Shields may be the best choice for the team here. Last year’s Matt Garza trade was a great example of how this could effect the Rays. If Friedman can pull another one-sided trade like that out of his magic hat, we could be looking at a really well built team in Tampa. Last year the Rays acquired Brandon Guyer, Chris Archer (top prospect), Sam Fuld, Russ Canzler (AAA MVP), and more just for Matt Garza (who did nothing this year). Not only did that not hurt the great pitching rotation, but it even boosted the offense and fielding. If Shields is traded, the Rays still have Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Alex Torres in their future. When you have four arms like that in your farm system, you can easily replace an ace down the road. Overall, the Rays have a real tough decision to make in the following months. I believe it’s a matter of how much the organization trusts their young pitchers. If they think that the young guns can ultimately replace Shields, than they should trade him. On the other side of things, if Shields stays on the team it’s also great news. I’m pretty optimistic that only good will come out of this one.

What will result in Kotchman’s and Damon’s free agency? What a terrific comeback year it was for Casey Kotchman in 2011. After stunning everyone with a great year, the Rays are really looking forward to re-signing Kotchman who is a free agent. Kotchman will obviously be asking for a raise here, as last year’s offseason contract was virtually nothing for a MLB first-baseman. To me, it’s a no-brainer to re-sign Casey. The Rays are truly not going to get a better deal on a first-baseman than this slick-fielder. Besides that, Kotchman is a perfect fit for the club. He’s a hometown boy that completes a terrific infield, plays with heart and hustle, and hits more for contact rather than power. Sound like Tampa Bay Rays player to me. Johnny Damon is a whole different situation. Also a free agent, Damon will be payed more than Kotchman if he stays on the team next year. Even though I think Damon suits the team well and is a great clubhouse-guy, he’s simply not as valuable as Kotchman. For an American League DH, Damon is not really up to par. Johnny is in the final years of his great career and is not a contributor in the outfield anymore; and not much either on the basepads like he was. At the end of the day, I think what the Rays should do is let Damon walk. The newest member of the free agent group, who just joined yesterday, is Dan Johnson. Johnson hasn’t played much baseball in his years in Tampa, but he’s probably hit two of the biggest clutch hits in the franchise’s history. Yesterday, the Rays designated Johnson for a minor league assignment. Dan declined it, and now he’s a free agent. I was a bit surprised to hear this because the Rays don’t exactly have the first base depth like most teams. Johnson’s future in a Rays uniform doesn’t look good at all, and I have to guess that he unfortunately won’t be a Ray anymore.

How will the bullpen be addressed again this offseason? The Rays bullpen is still a work in progress. Last year’s pretty good ‘pen surprised a lot of people, as almost none of the relievers had any high expectations. This winter, Friedman’s going to have to do a lot of arranging once again with insecure relievers. Juan Cruz and Joel Peralta are both free agents, and closer Kyle Farnsworth was just recently exercised his 2012 option. First I’ll start with the pair of free agents. Let me make it simple and clear: Let Cruz go, sign Peralta for a multi-year deal. Cruz didn’t do a bad job last year, but the Rays need to build their ‘pen with young arms. Peralta is a great young reliever, who I believe has the best future out of any of the Rays relief pitchers. With the potential I see in him, I think there’s a good chance that he’s the future closer.

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Farnsworth is a different story, and is more at risk for leaving the team. The Rays did pick up the club option for him, increasing the chances of him staying. Farnsworth will be paid $3.3 Million next year. The Rays have a tough choice in deciding wether that’s worth it or not, and I’m not really sure on this one myself. Farnsworth is not exactly a young player and ended last season with injury problems. Re-signing Farnsworth could be a big risk, even after the terrific season he had in 2011. With Farnsworth, I think it’s mostly a matter of his health status. Whatever the Rays chose to do, I still think they need to search the market this winter for some available relievers. The main source for bullpen relievers will be the farm system though, as the Rays have some good arms up in Durham. If the Rays can utilize their minor league pitchers well in the bullpen, I don’t think there will be too many issues next year.

What will be done to fill in open holes? Besides the bullpen, the Rays do have some other areas of need to tend to this offseason. Probably the biggest issue is the catching situation. Unlike Farnsworth and Shields, Kelly Shoppach was declined his 2012 option. Even though Shoppach was the team’s best defensive catcher last year and got some big clutch his down the stretch, I don’t think the Rays are willing to pay him $3.2 Million next year. With Shoppach gone, the Rays could have some serious catching issues. John Jaso, Robinson Chirinos, and Jose Lobaton are all options. Unfortunately, all three of them still need a lot of developing to do defensively. Out of the three, only Jaso can frankly hit at the Major League level. 20111104-110948.jpg
With the Rays farm system not abundant in catchers, it looks like turning to the free agent market or making a trade will be necessary here. The second area of need is first base. If the Rays re-sign Kotchman it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. But besides Casey, there isn’t anyone that is a true everyday first-baseman. Sean Rodriguez can play there, but that’s not the guy you want playing first base everyday. The free agent market isn’t really an option for the Rays to pick up a first-baseman. That’s why I think signing Kotchman is pretty much necessary. The third main area, is Designated Hitter. The Rays haven’t had a solid DH for years, and have always had issues at that spot. Once again the free agent market is not much of an option. Some names like David Ortiz are probably too expensive to afford. If the Rays lose Johnny Damon (their 2011 DH), than they might have to deal with makeshift Designated Hitters throughout the season.

Whew, That’s a Relief!

After over two months of  rumors, it appears as Rays GM Andrew Friedman is staying put in Tampa Bay. Just a few days ago when the  Los Angeles Angels announced that they were hiring the former Diamondback executive Jerry Dipoto, Rays Republic was able to take one big collective sigh of relief. This signing meant that Friedman was off the radar of another large-market team. The Friedman rumors ignited in August, when the Cubs fired their GM Jim Hendry. Immediately following this, Friedman’s name was quickly well-noticed on the list of possible replacements. At the time it was a big topic amongst Rays baseball; here’s a past article about it. It wasn’t ’till about a month later, that the Cubs found their man. The name is a well-known one; Theo Epstein. After getting Chicago out of the way, the Friedman subject started to flare up again when Andrew was spotted at a Florida restaurant with Halos’ owner Arte Moreno. Right after that occurrence, it was Tweeted that Friedman was the Angels number 1 choice for GM.

Apparently there was more circumstances involved, as the Angels found someone else to fill the role. The Rays really do need Friedman for real success. He is the man that turned the franchise around and helped build a championship-caliber baseball club. To be honest, I couldn’t picture the Rays without the guy. He’s done amazing things and hopefully the Rays will witness more for many years to come.

Rays Republic, don’t forget to vote Friedman for Executive of the Year in the GIBBY Awards! Much more Rays and Rays moments were nominated for the annual awards at MLB.com. Click here to cast your votes.

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