Results tagged ‘ Casey Kotchman ’

Rays Make Bold Move, Bring Back Carlos Pena

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The Rays continued their January search for offense yesterday, signing former Rays slugger Carlos Pena. Tampa Bay’s search for a first baseman is finally over, and the Rays have to be satisfied with the move. Pena, who played for the Rays from 2007-2010, agreed to a one-year contract worth $7.25 million. The deal is great news for both the Rays and Pena. By signing Pena, the Rays filled in a big hole on their roster. They picked up a power-hitting and run-producing first baseman, which was exactly what they needed. Pena seemed even more thrilled when learning he would reunite with the Rays this season. Pena texted “Sooooo excited … !!!!!” when first finding out about the news. The joyful reaction is not a surprise, as all of Pena’s best memories were during his four years in Tampa.

Pena, now 33 years old, smashed 144 homers and 407 RBI’s with a career line of .238/.368/.516 during his four seasons for the Rays. During those seasons, Pena collected a Silver Slugger Award, a Gold Glove Award, and an All Star selection. He also put up some impressive home-run totals, belting 46 dingers in 2007 and hitting a league-leading 39 round-trippers in 2009. His big bat in the middle of the lineup and his slick fielding at first were both a huge part of the Rays success in past years.

When signing Pena, the Rays essentially picked the veteran first baseman over Casey Kotchman. Kotchman had a surprisingly successful season in 2011, batting a high .306 average while playing terrific defense. Did the Rays make the right choice by choosing Pena instead of Kotchman?

Considering the offensive numbers starting first basemen are expected to put out in the MLB, Pena is definitely the more valuable player. A healthy Carlos Pena pretty much guarantees you 25+ homers and 80+ RBI’s. Kotchman is a much better contact hitter who’ll probably strikeout a lot less and hit for a higher average, but he simply is not capable of producing as much runs as Pena in the middle of the Rays’ lineup. Ten home runs with 48 RBI’s and .306 average is numbers you more often see from a middle infielder, not a starting first baseman. I don’t want to take anything away from Kotchman’s excellent 2011 season, though, especially considering he didn’t enter the season with high expectations.

In conclusion, the Rays are doing a great job of continuing to add bats to their roster. Bringing back Pena is a real sigh of relief for Rays Republic after long winter months without a first baseman. It will be fun to watch Pena return to Tampa in 2012, where he is needed more than ever before.

Is Luke Scott The ‘One’?

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The Rays found there much-needed Designated Hitter on Wednesday when they signed 33 year-old veteran Luke Scott to a one-year deal (with a 2013 club option). The former Baltimore Oriole played mostly in the outfield, but also contributed at the DH position. Scott is clearly going to have to get used to playing DH, because that’s the reason the Rays signed him.

The left-handed slugger had an off-year last season, but it was mostly because of an injured shoulder which cost him him over half the season. Before the injury, Scott was one a steady rise from 2007- 2010. In 2007 Scott batted .255 with 18 home runs and 64 RBI’s, in 2010 he hit .284 while smashing 27 homers and 72 RBI’s. Scott holds a career batting line 0f .264/.349/.494. The numbers show what kind of offense Scott is able of producing, which is is something the Rays have been lacking in recent years. If Scott can recover from his surgery and return to his slugger form, the Rays will be a very dangerous team in 2012. A veteran power bat in the middle of the lineup may have been the difference between an American League pennant and an early playoff exit for the Rays in the past two seasons.

Back in December, a columnist from the Tampa Bay Times wrote an article stating that the Rays are just a single bat away from winning the pennant in 2012. Although the idea seemed a bit too optimistic at first glance, Rays fans started to adhere to the thought. I personally believe that the statement is not only true for the 2012 season, but it probably could apply to last season as well. Hopefully, the Rays will take another dip into free agency to pick up a hard-hitting first baseman. Reports say the Rays are still in play to bring back Carlos Pena or Casey Kotchman to play first for the Rays in 2012. I think it’s likely that the Rays will sign one of the two, which should have Rays Republic very excited. Both are terrific defensively and did great jobs contributing to the offense during their time in Tampa Bay. Adding Kotchman or Pena into the middle of the lineup along with Scott would definitely have the Rays headed in the right direction.

The last subject that emerged arousing the Luke Scott acquisition, regards ex-Rays DH Johnny Damon. By signing Scott, the Rays essentially parted ways with the 38 year-old veteran. Since both Scott and Damon’s main position on the Rays is DH, it’s very unlikely Damon will be re-signed. Damon’s very aware of this, and expressed some frustration in his comments on Wednesday. He started by saying “It’s an unhappy day”. He continued by talking about how he thought the shortstop and catching spots were bigger offensive issues than the first base and DH positions. I don’t know if I can agree with that statement, but I must say that Damon makes a great point when reminding us that “Those positions were hitting under .200″ last year. 20120113-095756.jpgDamon also told reporters that he loves to play for the Rays, and wanted to reach his 3,000 hit goal with the team. It’s easy interpret Damon’s comments as whiny or unappreciative, but I look as it as an honor for the Rays and sympathy for Damon. The fact that a player with a great career like Damon wants so badly to spend his last years with the Rays, should say something. Damon, a man who’s witnessed so much in baseball over his years, seems to respect the Rays more than any other team. I also feel bad for the guy too. Damon was a great example for the Rays clubhouse, and is one of the most unselfish players in Major League Baseball. It would be nice to see Damon get that magical 3,000th hit one day for the Rays, but let’s just hope Luke Scott can help us forget about it.

Who’s on the ‘Raydar’ now?

Here we are in late December and the Rays still have some work to do for the offseason. With Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon testing free agency, the Rays are in need of a first baseman and a DH. New names have emerged among Hot Stove rumors that the Rays may be interested in to bolster their offense. Of course, the Rays are also in pursuit of help in the bullpen. They have already picked up Burke Badenhop and Josh Lueke via trade, and sources say they are looking for more relief pitching. With the plentiful young talent that the Rays have, the trade market will probably be the way to go this winter. Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb, and even David Price have spotlighted Rays trade rumors lately. Although the Rays have been quiet in the midst of all the Hot Stove action, it shouldn’t be too long before they strike. When it comes to the offseason, the Rays are silent but deadly.

Star outfielder Carlos Beltran brings some new excitement to Rays rumors. The 34 year-old veteran had another great offensive season last year, and was elected to his sixth All Star Game. Despite battling a nagging knee injury throughout the season, Beltran still managed to hit .300 and knock in over 84 runs. According to the most recent update on Beltran’s status, many teams are interested in getting the free agent. Unfortunately for the Rays, the St. Louis Cardinals continue to show strong interest in Beltran. The Cardinals obviously have more money to spend if they want him, but the Rays are right behind them if they lose interest for some reason.

Anthony Rizzo of the San Diego Padres is another name that has recently headlined Rays rumors. With the recent Reds-Padres blockbuster trade, the Rays have a golden opportunity to snag the minor league first baseman. Yonder Alonso, who was part of past Rays trade rumors himself, was sent to San Diego in a five-player deal. Now that the Padres have Alonso as their first baseman, Rizzo becomes an immediate trade possibility. A recent Tweet from CBS’s John Heyman reported the predictable news; that the Rays and Cubs are both expressing interest in Rizzo. Being a larger-market team and having first base questions themselves, the Cubs could really get in the Rays’ way here. Hopefully, Chicago will find someone else to fill in at first base (maybe Prince Fielder), and the Rays will have their shot at Rizzo. I believe that Rizzo is the guy to get for the Rays this offseason. Although he’s only played one season in triple-A, his terrific stats show he could be ready for big league success. With the Cubs seeking a star first baseman, I think it’s very possible that this deal might work out.

Luke Scott was one of the biggest bats amongst the notable non-tenders. Scott is not really a star-type player, but he can hit. He has power, and has established himself as a consistent 20-homer guy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rays aggressively go after Scott this winter. After an underachieving 2011 (mostly because of constant injury problems), Scott will probably not be a hit with the big market teams and won’t be asking for a large salary. A combination of this and his impressive power is what makes him very attractive for the Rays. I definitely would not be shocked if the Rays reel in Scott sometime in the following months.

 

Joel Zumaya is another player that can’t be scratched off the list just yet. The Rays are looking to get at least one more arm to add to the bullpen, and Zumaya is looking for a job. There’s a chance Zumaya might work out in Tampa Bay. The 27 year-old fireballer has been busy this offseason, throwing in front of hundreds of scouts. The Rays were one team to participate in the Zumaya showcases, a source reported about two weeks ago. The chances of getting Zumaya have gradually decreased as the offseason has progressed, though. The recent injury to Detroit Tigers’ reliever Al Alburquerque, makes Zumaya’s former team a very possible candidate to re-sign him.

Jose Mijares is one non-tendered reliever that may attract the Rays. The 27 year-old left-hander pitched four seasons for the Minnesota Twins, and served as their ‘lefty specialist’ out of the bullpen. The Rays were in need of a lefty for their ‘pen coming into the offseason, but they took some stress off the issue after acquiring Josh Lueke. Still the Rays would like to maybe add another experienced lefty in there for a bargain deal.

Evaluating the Rays’ Offseason So Far

 

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As the first two months of the Rays’ offseason comes to a conclusion and the Winter Meeting pass, the Rays have made progress on their Winter to-do list. Entering the offseason, the Rays had some work to do in order to address areas of need. First base, bullpen, catcher, and the DH spot were all holes that needed to be filled coming into the winter. There also were, and still are, big names at risk of leaving the team. Johnny Damon, Joel Peralta, Kelly Shoppach, and Casey Kotchman are all on the free agent list. James Shields, Kyle Farnsworth, and B.J. Upton are others that may not be playing for the Rays next year.

The first mission the Rays had this offseason was to deal with their three club options. Kyle Farnsworth, Kelly Shoppach, and James Shields were all asking for multi-millions for 2012. With the team’s ace and closer on the line, the Rays accepted both Farnsworth’s and Shields’ option. Kelly Shoppach, however, was declined and is now testing free agency.

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The acceptance of Shields’ and Farnsworth’s options highly increased their chances of staying with the team next year. It was a huge sigh of relief for Rays fans everywhere to hear that their “Big Game” James is safe, unless traded. As for Farnsworth, he was a big part of the Rays’ bullpen in 2011. Keeping Farnsworth is essentially one less step in the bullpen’s rebuilding process. In Shoppach’s case, I guess the Rays just didn’t see any reason to overpay him after an awful 2011 season. Although considering the Rays’ catching situation, I was a bit surprised with the choice.

The Rays’ issue behind the plate was the main focus of their next offseason move. With Shoppach likely not returning in 2011, the Rays went out to look for catching on the free agent market. They found themselves a low-priced and experienced veteran in Jose Molina. It was a move that needed to be done, and took a lot of stress off the issue. After signing Molina, the Rays still weren’t done dealing with their catchers yet. Suddenly out of nowhere, the Rays acquired reliever Josh Lueke from Seattle in exchange for John Jaso. The trade was the biggest surprise of the Rays offseason so far. Being a catcher, nobody expected to see Jaso go anywhere. The trade forecasts that the Rays are probably looking for more catching in the following months. Already rumored names have emerged, such as 40 year-old Ivan Rodriguez.

Catcher isn’t the only position that the Rays have been targeting. With Kotchman and Damon free agents, the first base and DH roles are questionable for Opening Day. The Rays made their first efforts to find a first baseman last week, when the picked up Juan Miranda. Miranda was one of four minor leaguers who were invited to Spring Training by the Rays at the Winter Meetings. The 28 year-old Cuban native has played five professional seasons, showing scouts everywhere his raw power. He hasn’t had much success in his previous MLB stints, but the Rays see a bright future in his big bat. There’s been some trade rumors of other first basemen that the Rays may pursue, but Miranda is the only deal they’ve done so far. The other three players who received the Spring Training invitation along with Miranda, were Matt Mangini, Ricky Orta, and Johnny Nunez. Like Miranda, I believe the Rays made a great move signing Mangini.

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The third/first baseman hit an impressive .336 in Triple-A Tacoma last year. I think he can also help give the offense a boost, even though he doesn’t have the power that Miranda has. Ricky Orta and Johnny Nunez are two young relievers that the Rays picked up as part of their bullpen rebuilding process. The Rays reportedly have been seeking more bullpen arms. Veterans that are more likely to contribute to the team in 2012. Joel Zumaya, Luis Ayala, and Andrew Bailey are all names that have come up in rumors lately. With the DH and first base positions a problem now, many overlook the Rays’ bullpen issue, which is also vital in the club’s success. The Rays are definitely better off seeking hitting during the winter. Being so deep in starting pitching, the Rays will probably be able to make something work for next season.

The most recent news of the Rays’ offseason is the contract extension of Matt Moore, which also happened at the Winter Meetings in Dallas. The rookie southpaw guaranteed his contract for a minimum of five years (up to 8 years including options) for $14 million. The contract extension was great news for Rays fans, and another clever offseason move by Andrew Friedman.

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It’s a nice feeling knowing that a pitcher like Matt Moore is here to stay for a while. Hopefully, other young stars such as Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson will follow in Moore’s footsteps. Those are two guys that the Rays need to get a grip on, and a contract extension should be in the conversation this offseason. Besides handing out four Spring Training invitations and locking up Matt Moore, the Rays were pretty quiet at the Winter Meeting. With all the big-market action happening in Dallas last week, the Rays probably see a better chance to strike later in the winter. I believe the team’s main goal before spring should be to re-sign Casey Kotchman and Joel Peralta, as well as find at least one more good hitter. At the end of the day, DH and catcher are the Rays’ two main priorities. As of now, Jose Lobaton/Robinson Chirinos is the Rays’ second catcher, and Sam Fuld is the Opening Day DH. Obviously, there’s still plenty of work to be done. The Rays have made forward progress in the first two months of the offseason, but luckily there is another two and a half months to make things right.

Rays Trade Rumors

The Tampa Bay Rays are not new to the MLB trade rumor conversation. Being a small-market team, the Rays do not have many options shopping in the free agent market. To fill in areas of need during the offseason, the Rays are practically forced to trade away some of their young talent. Players such as B.J. Upton, have been in the spotlight of Rays trade rumors for over a year now. As the Rays stand a month and a half into their offseason, new names have emerged arousing the Rays’ Hot Stove. Earlier this week, catcher John Jaso was traded to Seattle for reliever Josh Lueke. It was a move that seemed to come out of nowhere. Many analysts were already projecting Jaso as the Opening Day backstop in 2012. Since the offseason started in October, more possible trade pieces have been named. Pitchers Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb, and James Shields could all possibly end up as trade bait to reel in some offensive production from teams that lack pitching. The questions are, what kind of players will the Rays pursue? What players are they willing to trade away? The Rays’ winter probably won’t be a real busy one, but there’s a lot to be done in the following months.

One player that Rays appear to have an eye on is Yonder Alonoso. The Cincinnati Reds’ Alonso is one of the best hitting prospects in all of baseball. Some people even believe that the 24 year-old has the same potential as his teammate Joey Votto. Alonso does resemble the former MVP in some ways. He’s a thick left-handed batter who can hit for average and has power as well. From what scouts predict, he’s the making of a great hitter like Votto. Besides for his phenomenal hitting skills, Alonso is also a first baseman. His ability to play at first makes him even more attractive from the Rays’ perspective. With Casey Kotchman and Dan Johnson possibly not returning in 2012, first base is one of the Rays’ areas to tend to in the offseason. 20111202-092606.jpg

Alonso’s not really a slick fielder like the first baseman the Rays have had in the past, but his offensive production could be a huge boost for the team. In just his second MLB season, Alonso put up excellent numbers for Cincinnati. He hit an impressive .330 and knocked out five homers through his 47 games. This is guy I believe the Rays should seriously go after. The former #1 draft pick has only a year left on his contract, he’s young and healthy, and he can simply rake the baseball. A hard-hitting first baseman who can also serve as a DH; sounds like a perfect fit for the Rays. The question to ask now, is who would the Reds be looking for in return? According to sources, the Reds are looking for starting pitching and ideally a No. 2 in the rotation. James Shields is the type of pitcher they are looking to get out of a Yonder Alonso trade. If the Rays are willing to give away Shields to bolster their mediocre offense, Alonso could easily be a Ray. Shields is not the only pitcher that the Rays could trade. Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann are both young arms that the Reds may like in their starting rotation. Wether the Rays decide to go with the Davis/Niemann offer or the Shields offer, a deal could very well be in their reach.

The Reds are not the only team after Davis and Niemann’s services; the Colorado Rockies also seem to have a bit of interest. Maybe not so much anymore though, as they just recently made a deal to pick up a young starter to fill in the rotation. On Wednesday the Rockies found pitching in the Angels’ Tyler Chatwood, trading catcher Chris Ianetta. It wasn’t the greatest of news for the Rays, as Ianetta would be a nice pick up considering the Rays’ catching situation. After the Rays signed Jose Molina, any possibility of making a deal with Colorado quickly diminished. If the Rockies are still looking for more pitching, they do have Ian Stewart to offer. But because he is a third baseman and the Rockies already made their main move, a deal with Colorado seems highly unlikely.

In the last few years, pitching has been the main source for the Rays’ trade away rumors. The one exception to that is center fielder B.J. Upton. The fact that Upton is still a Ray after two consecutive Trade Deadlines where he was almost traded, is a surprise to many. The Washington Nationals are one team that have been interested in Upton for a while now. With the potential in Desmond Jennings and Brandon Guyer now obvious, the long-anticipated B.J. Upton trade seems more likely than before. What the Nationals have to offer is young farm talent, including a catcher that the Rays should keep an eye on. 22 year-old Derek Norris is one of the Nationals’ top catching prospects, and is a possible trade piece with Wilson Ramos emerging as their future catcher. Of course Norris would be just a part of a B.J. Upton trade. 20111202-092559.jpg

Infielder Blake Kelso and right-handed pitcher A.J. Cole are two more minor leaguers that could interest the Rays. Kelso is a utility player, that is known for impressing scouts with his ‘Rays style’ of baseball. The other guy is A.J. Cole, who is a 19 year-old pitcher who has great potential as a big league pitcher. These are all guys that the Rays could use in the future, but I’m still not sure how much I like the idea of Upton being traded. After all, he did just have his best year since 2008 and it seems as he might be on the way up. With the Rays in need of offense, keeping Upton is clearly the right move. Last year Upton finished top three in the five major offensive stats for the team, including first in stolen bases. Losing B.J. would be a pretty big blow for the team, especially considering their efforts to boost the offense. Upton is only going to get better I believe, and his improvement is noticeable. He may still strikeout a ton and hit for a low average, but there’s also a lot of things he does right. On the defensive side of his game, he’s probably even better. To start, there’s only a few center fielders in the big leagues with the range Upton has. This gives him ability to play shallow and still be able to snag the deep flies. In addition to his speed, Upton also has a cannon of an arm. His accuracy is not exactly spot on, but he can throw the ball hard and far. At the end of the day, any pitcher would love to have B.J. Upton playing in center field for their team. B.J. Upton has been a piece to the Rays’ puzzle ever since their magical run in ’08. The team without Upton would be hard to picture.

To recap it all, the Rays should pursue the big bat of the Reds’ Yonder Alonso. As for Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and Alex Cobb, I think it’s very possible that one will be traded away this winter. Regarding the B.J. Upton trade rumors, Upton is pretty much a must-keep for the Rays’ 2012 roster. The list of Rays trade rumor names is short, but if the right moves are made the Rays will have another successful season next year. In the MLB Hot Stove, it’s about quality not quantity.

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.

2011 Rays Report Card

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The Rays Rant is evaluating every Rays player of 2011. Well at least the ones that played a decent amount of time in the big leagues this year. I will also be handing out the following team awards: Team MVP, the Team Leader award, Defensive Player of the Year award, Team Batting Champion, Stolen Base leader, Team RBI King, All-Star, the Impact Player award, the Rookie of the Year award, the Heart & Hustle award, and the Team Player award. Here are the grades and evaluation of the 2011 Rays:

Alex Cobb- When Alex Cobb was called up in the middle of the season to replace the injured Wade Davis, nobody really knew what to expect from him. He quickly showed that he was another Ray rookie talent, and was excelling at the Major League level. It seemed as if he was on a roll, until he required season-ending surgery. I big blow to the pitching staff, but still a bright future ahead. Grade: A

Juan Cruz- The Rays signed Juan Cruz in the offseason as part of their efforts to rebuild the bullpen. When they got Cruz, they were really just trying to get lucky. And very lucky they were, as Cruz went 5-0 in relief for the season. Cruz really was a surprise after the previous two years, which included a horrible 2009 and a 5.1 inning 2010. Grade: A-

Wade Davis- As expected, Wade Davis made the young 5-man Rays rotation. Like the other four guys, Davis looked bright coming into the season. But 2011 ended up being a bit of a frustration for Wade, as he put up better stats the previous season. His ERA climbed .38 points higher, but his 11-10 record with a 4.45 ERA was still pretty decent. Grade: B-

Kyle Farnsworth- Farnsworth was probably the Rays best offseason move. With no bullpen that meant no closer, and the Rays were out to find one. Just like almost every other reliever on the Rays impressive bullpen, Farnsworth didn’t really have high expectations coming into the season. The 36 year-old Farnsworth had the best season of his long career. Grade: A+

Jeremy Hellickson- The surging young right-hander had a tremendous season this year, and was probably the second-best starter in the rotation. His 2.95 ERA is one of the best in the league, and he is a very strong candidate for the ROY award. Grade: A+ Award: Rookie of the Year award

J.P. Howell- Recovering from a horrific shoulder injury, J.P. and the Rays were thrilled after over a year on the sidelines. But it quickly became clear that Howell wasn’t the same, and he ended the season with a 6.16 ERA. Grade: D-

Jake McGee- McGee has been a young bullpen arm that the Rays are excited about. He still is a developing player though, and let up a lot of runs in 2011. Still his 5 wins was pretty good. Grade: C+

Matt Moore- Matt Moore is all he’s hyped up to be. The fireballer southpaw showed terrific stuff in his first month in the MLB, and lead the Rays pitching staff in the postseason. Moore is probably the most exciting rookie in the baseball, and my pick for ROY next year. Grade: A+

Jeff Niemann- Niemann is in a recovering process, after coming back from a major career-setback last year. Everything was looking great for the surging Niemann until he injured his shoulder. This season, Niemann has shown that he is on the right track, with an 11-7 record and a ERA just over 4. Grade: B

Joel Peralta- Peralta had an impressive season as the Rays setup man, and was part of a very smart offseason move. Joel is a big part of the Rays future in the bullpen, and will likely (and hopefully) be a Ray next year. Grade: A-

David Price- Price had extremely high expectations coming into the season. Considering all of that, 2011 may have been a disappointment. After a Cy Young caliber 2010 with a 2.72 ERA and 19 wins, Price finished 2011 with a losing record and an ERA of 3.49. Most think it was just an off-year for the phenom lefty, and he will continue his ace ways in the future. Grade: B Award: All-Star

Cesar Ramos- Being the only left-hander in the ‘pen, Ramos had one of the biggest jobs on the team. He just barely did it good enough. He had problems with the longball, letting up 19 dingers in the season. Grade: C+

James Shields- Shields had an unbelievable season, finishing with a stellar ERA of 2.82 and a remarkable 11 complete games. Shields was really the third-best pitcher in the AL this year, just behind the ridiculous seasons of Verlander and Weaver. Grade: A+ Awards: Team MVP, All-Star

John Jaso- Overall a disappointing year for Jaso. His average dipped to .224 and his defense behind the plate was sloppy. Grade: C

Kelly Shoppach- Quite frankly an embarrassing season for the backstop, hitting .176. The highlight of his season was some clutch homers, but besides that it was just one big disappointment. Grade: D-

Reid Brignac- Another big disappointment for the Rays, Brignac wasn’t able to do anything offensively. He hit .193 and knocked in only 15 runs. His great defense at shortstop was what kept him in the league. Grade: D

Elliot Johnson- Another Rays shortstop hitting in the .190’s. Johnson was still able to get some big hits, and his defense and running game was pretty good. Grade: D+

Casey Kotchman- One of the biggest surprises in MLB this year. Here’s a recent article I wrote about him for a full evaluation. Grade: A+ Awards: C0-Defensive Player of the Year award, Team Batting Champion

Evan Longoria- Just like David Price, Longoria had very high expectations coming into the season. Many experts even picked him to be the AL MVP in their preseason predictions. Considering the player he is, 2011 was a bump in the road. Injuries were a big part of it, as he played at least 20 games less than he would have. He still was able to rack up 99 RBIs and 31 dingers, but his .244 average was really the only disappointment. But it won’t be a season that Longo will forget, as he got the biggest hit in franchise history. Grade: B+ Awards: Co-Defensive Player of the Year Award, Co-Impact Player of the Year award, Team RBI King

Sean Rodriguez- The only part of Sean’s game that wasn’t good in 2011, was the hitting. He finished the season with a .223 average. His defense was great and he really helped the Rays with his high baseball IQ. Grade: B- Award: Co-Heart & Hustle award

Ben Zobrist- Every team in baseball wishes they had a player like Zorilla. The best utility man in baseball also knows how to hit, knocking in 91 runs and hitting 46 doubles. What makes Zobrist amazing, is how he defends every position he plays so great. Almost anywhere you put him, he’ll field above-average. Grade: A Award: Team Player of the Year award

Johnny Damon- Closing out on a great career, Damon has shown he can still play. He’s really a perfect fit for the Rays; the way he plays with his heart and hustles on every play. A .261 average and 73 RBIs is not too shabby for a 37 year-old. Grade: B Award: Co-Heart & Hustle award

Sam Fuld- The young left fielder will always be known for his fearless defense in the outfield. His hitting is something that is still developing though. Here’s a past article about him and his legend. Grade: B- Award: Co-Defensive Player of the Year award.

Desmond Jennings- When the Rays called up phenom Desmond Jennings this season, it was huge boost for the team. Every part of his game was great, including his power (which surprised everyone). His season started off with a bang , and that’s when everyone knew what kind of player he was. Grade: A+ Award: Co-Impact Player of the Year award

Justin Ruggiano- Ruggiano has been in the Rays organization for a long time, but hasn’t seen too much big league playing time. His time came in 2011, and he gave the team a bit of a boost with some clutch hits. His defense in left was also impressive. Grade: B-

B.J. Upton- In maybe his last year in a Rays uniform, Upton once again repeated some of his same issues. His average was once again low (.243), his strikeout total was very high, and his baserunning was also not so great. On the bright side of things; Upton knocked in 81 runs, was great in center field, and lead the team in stolen bases with his great speed. Grade: B Award: Stolen Base leader

Matt Joyce- Last but definitely not least, it’s the big bat of Matt. Joyce was one of three Rays elected to the All Star Game in Phoenix. After a terrific first half, Joyce’s second half wasn’t nearly as good. What impressed me about Joyce this year, is how he met his goals. Coming into the season, Joyce worked hard to improve his running and fielding game; which hadn’t been up to par last season. He committed just 3 errors (with 8 assists) this year, and only 1 caught stealing. Grade: B+ Award: All-Star

The 2011 Casey Kotchman

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Yesterday, Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox won the Comeback Player of the Year Award. Although he seemed to many as the obvious winner of the award, another candidate is probably more deserving. One of the unsung heros in the MLB this season is Rays first baseman, Casey Kotchman. Kotchman, who has had a terrific season, surprised everyone in baseball in 2011. In his career before this year, Casey had never been a good hitter in the majors and mostly showed his skills on the field. His incredible defense at first base was frankly the reason that he made a MLB roster for six years.

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After a poor season with Seattle last year, the future looked very dull for the (then) 26 year-old Kotchman going into free agency. When he was signed by the Rays in the offseason, it wasn’t really a shocker that he agreed to a minor league contract. With the big loss of Carlos Pena, the Rays were praying that Casey would be a MLB-quality ballplayer in 2011. Not only did he meet that goal, but he remarkably exceeded the expectations. He lead the Rays in average, batting a terrific .306 this season with maybe his best defensive year of his career. He’s one of the great stories in the big leagues this year with how he turned his career around. Not only did he help himself, but he also was a rock in the Rays lineup all-year long. The Rays definitely wouldn’t be playing October baseball this season if it wasn’t for Kotchman. His clutch hitting, consistent on-base ability, and his stellar defense were all big contributions to the Rays success.

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Now on the other side of things, Jacoby Ellsbury has had a unbelievable season up in Boston. He’s a very strong candidate for MVP and every part of his game was excellent this year. Even though he had a better season than Casey, I still don’t think he was deserving of the award. Ellsbury never really had to comeback from anything except injuries; which was the only thing that got in the way of performing last year. He was always a phenom player in my eyes, and after three straight impressive seasons (’07 – ’09) everybody knew that the next healthy season would be another good one. I just wish Kotchman would get more recognition for this season. Winning this award would be a perfect fit for him and all his hard work. Hopefully the Rays will have him next year, so he can once again prove what a great player he is.

Poll of the Day (8/17/11)

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