Results tagged ‘ Josh Lueke ’

Rays Fall in Extras 7-6, Yankees to Acquire Vernon Wells

The Rays lost their fifth straight Grapefruit Game Sunday afternoon in Tampa, falling to the Yankees 7-6 in 10 innings.

Jeremy Hellickson worked seven innings (95 pitches), allowing 4 runs on 8 hits while walking two and striking out just one batter. Although he was knocked around a bit, it was nice to see some good efficiency in this outing and him being able to get through seven innings.

It hasn’t been a good spring for Helly, who currently owns a 5.03 ERA in 19.2 IP, but it shouldn’t be too much of a concern, especially considering what an awful spring he had in 2012 (9.00 ERA in 20 IP).

Reliever Jamey Wright followed Hellickson with two innings. Wright gave up two runs—a two-run homer to Kevin Youkilis (his second of the day)—and also walked two.

The best performances at the plate came from Desmond Jennings (2-4, 2 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI), Ben Zobrist (4-5, RBI) and Matt Joyce (2-4, RBI and SB).

Low-level minor league prospects Drew Vettleson and Jake Hager both made their Grapefruit League debuts in this game. Vettleson went 0-2, but Hager hit a game-tying RBI double in his only at bat, down to his last strike with two outs in the ninth.

Right-hander Josh Lueke came on for the Rays in the bottom of the tenth. The first batter he faced was Ronnier Mustelier, who belted a walk-off dinger to left field.

Here’s a full boxscore of Sunday’s game.

Rays News and Notes:

  • The deadline for the Rays to decide whether or not to keep Jamey Wright on the 25-man roster or not is Tuesday. It looks like Joe Maddon will keep him, and Wright will be in the Tampa’s bullpen for Opening Day. The 38-year-old right-hander says he just needs a bit more time to get his sinker down. The sinkerball, of course, is the groundball specialist’s bread and butter.
  • Sam Fuld (hamstring tightness) went 2-6 in a minor-league spring training game Sunday. Fuld said he felt “100 percent” and is ready to return. He should be rejoining the Rays in the Grapefruit League within the next few days.
  • Also down in minor league camp, Wil Myers has been sidelined for a few days with a minor right wrist injury, said to be just soreness. Tim Beckham has also been experiencing wrist soreness, and is scheduled to return soon.
  • The Yankees, who have a decent-sized portion of their team on the DL, are reportedly on the verge of acquiring Vernon Wells in a trade from the Los Angeles Angels.

Rays Lose 9-2 to Red Sox, Myers Optioned Down to AAA

The Rays were on the losing side of a 9-2 rout Saturday afternoon, dropping their eighth Grapefruit League game of the spring to the Red Sox.

Roberto Hernandez got the start, and obviously a crucial one for him as he battles Jeff Niemann for the fifth spot in the rotation. Hernandez allowed 2 [earned] runs on 6 hits, a walk and 5 strikeouts.

Relievers Jake McGee and Jamey Wright also made appearances in this game, both giving up a run in one inning each.

Not much to talk about offensively from this ballgame. Leslie Anderson, who’s now hitting .425, continued his red-hot spring with a 3-3 day.

Sean Rodriguez went 2-2, hitting a homer to provide Tampa with their two only runs.

Speaking of S-Rod, the Rays’ utility man was involved in what nearly led to a bench-clearing brawl. After being hit by a pitch by Alfredo Aceves and then being barked at, tempers flared. Here’s Rodriguez’s take on the incident.

Here’s a full boxscore of Saturday’s game.

Rays News and Notes:

  • Wil Myers, Brandon Guyer, Tim Beckham, Robinson Chirinos, Hak-Ju Lee, Josh Lueke, Juan Sandoval, Wil Inman and J.D. Martin were all optioned back down to the minor leagues in the Rays’ latest rounds of cuts.
  • Matt Moore was much improved in his start during the Rays’ 3-1 win over the Phillies Friday. Moore didn’t give up a single earned run on 3 hits, 2 walks and 7 strikeouts through 5 innings. Stephen Vogt gave the Rays the victory with a walk-off homer in the 10th inning.
  • World Baseball Classic news: The United States were eliminated from the tournament by Puerto Rico Friday night after a heart-breaking 4-3 loss. Ben Zobrist went 0-2 in the game with an RBI walk, finishing the Classic 3-for-11. The Dominican Republic clinched the top seed Saturday afternoon with a 2-0 win over Puerto Rico, and Fernando Rodney picked up his fifth save of the tournament. Puerto Rico advances to face Japan in the semifinals while D.R. will square off against the Netherlands.
  • After being rejected by both Chipper Jones and Derek Lee, the New York Yankees have signed outfielder Brennan Boesch.
  • Before Friday’s game against Philadelphia, 65 members of the Rays organization shaved their head in an annual event to raise awareness and funds for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. The Phillies’ Michael Young also participated in the event.
  • Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports Sam Fuld (hamstring) won’t be returning for another 4-5 days.

Rays Update: Opening Day Roster Set

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The Rays 25-man Opening Day roster is officially set for today’s game. Josh Lueke has been called up to replace Kyle Farnsworth, who joins B.J. Upton, Sam Fuld and Robinson Chirinos on the DL.

Pitchers (12):
RH Burke Badenhop
RH Wade Davis
RH Jeremy Hellickson
LH J.P. Howell
RH Josh Lueke
LH Jake McGee
LH Matt Moore
RH Jeff Niemann
RH Joel Peralta
LH David Price
RH Fernando Rodney
RH James Shields

Catchers (2):
Jose Lobaton
Jose Molina

Infielders (7):
Reid Brignac
Elliot Johnson
Jeff Keppinger
Evan Longoria
Carlos Peña
Sean Rodriguez
Luke Scott

Outfielders (4):
Desmond Jennings
Matt Joyce
Stephen Vogt
Ben Zobrist

The latest Rays news and notes:

  • The Rays claimed left-handed reliever John Gaub off waivers yesterday, replacing Matt Bush’s spot on the 40-man roster. Gaub, who went 4-4 with a 3.42 ERA and 7 saves for Triple-A Iowa last season, won’t start the season on the 25-man roster.
  • We know how Joe Maddon loves to platoon, be he still surprised most of us yesterday when he set the lineup for today’s game. Elliot Johnson and Jeff Keppinger will start, while Luke Scott is left out of the lineup. With southpaw C.C. Sabathia starting, we see a lineup with only two lefties today (Matt Joyce and Carlos Pena). Keppinger, who has absolutely no power but has good number against Sabathia, will bat in the cleanup spot. Elliot Johnson also has pretty good numbers against C.C., which is why he’s batting in the sixth hole. It’s still a little bit of a head-scratcher, but we’ll see how Maddon’s experiment works this afternoon. Here’s the full lineup below:
    1. Desmond Jennings, CF
    2. Ben Zobrist, RF
    3. Evan Longoria, 3B
    4. Jeff Keppinger, DH
    5. Sean Rodriguez, SS
    6. Elliot Johnson, 2B
    7. Carlos Pena, 1B
    8. Jose Molina, C
    9. Matt Joyce, LF
  • Another season of Meet the Rays is underway at TampaBay.com. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times interviews the Rays players one by one. Click here for a trailer.
  • Fifty ESPN MLB experts made their preseason predictions on Wednesday, and it seems like they’re giving the Rays plenty of respect. Here’s a breakdown of it over at RaysIndex.com.
  • MLB.com’s Jim Hawkins writes an interesting piece on Stephen Vogt’s ‘scenic route’ to the Major Leagues.

The Five Main Questions Heading Into Spring Training

20120222-204157.jpgThe wait is finally over; Spring Training is officially underway! The long offseason has finally come to an end, which means baseball will soon return to Tampa Bay. As the Rays prepare for another successful season in 2012, there are some questions yet to be answered. Take a look at the five biggest questions coming into Spring Training.

Who will take over the the fifth spot in the rotation?

Having an overcrowded rotation is probably the best problem a team can have. With the addition of phenom rookie Matt Moore, the Rays’ position in the MLB arms race is higher than ever. The front four in the rotation is pretty predictable. Expect to see James Shields in the number one spot, followed by Price, Hellickson, and Moore. Of course, all eyes will be on who wins the last spot in the rotation. Although there is really four candidates for the fifth spot (Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb, Wade Davis, and Alex Torres), the decision is likely going to come down to two players. It appears as if Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, who were both part of the Rays starting rotation last season, will battle it out for the job this spring. It should be fun to watch, as Joe Maddon’s decision will most likely be heavily based off their Spring Training performances. Niemann pitched nearly 50 less innings than Davis last season, but there statistics were still pretty similar. Niemann finished the year with a 4.06 ERA and an 11-7 record, while Davis posted a 4.45 ERA with an 11-10 record. The numbers show that Niemann has been the more effective pitcher in the past, but that’s something he’ll have to prove this March. It’s hard to predict who will get the No. 5 role, but I think the early edge probably goes to Niemann. Again, we’ll just have to wait and see how they fare during Spring Training. As for the three pitchers who will be kept out of the starting rotation, they’re still valuable reserves on the roster. Almost never does a team go through a whole season without an injury to one of their starters, which means that they’ll have their chance to step in and contribute during the season. While the starting five are healthy, the reserve starters will likely help strengthen the bullpen. Whoever is edged out out of the rotation — Niemann or Davis — will become the team’s long reliever this season.

Who will win the battle at short?

The shortstop position is one of the big topics for the Rays this season, and it’s a big question of how much production can come from there in 2012. The competition for the shortstop job features three candidates: Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac, and the newly-acquired Jeff Keppinger. Like the rotation battle, the candidates are going to have to prove themselves during Spring Training. Rodriguez, who can play pretty much every position besides pitcher and catcher, seems to be the early favorite entering Sprig Training. Rodriguez put up the best offensive production out of all the Rays’ shortstops last year, batting .223 with eight home runs and 36 RBI’s. He also has good speed on the bases, collecting 11 thefts in 2011. His defense is maybe a bit above average, and he has proven to be a consistent fielder at short. 20120222-204202.jpgBrignac also has similar plus sides to Rodriguez. His defense is at least as good as Rodriguez’s, and he’s probably just as much as a threat on the basepads. Besides his speed, Brignac has pretty much no offensive value. That’s main reason why his odds don’t look good for the shortstop job. Brignac finished the season with a low .193 average and just 15 RBI’s. As for Jeff Keppinger, he could earn himself a starting role with a strong Spring Training performance. He’s going to have to hit well for average, as his defense, power, and speed are not going to cut it. Keppinger is less than average defensively at shortstop, and plays a lot more games at second. A lifetime .281 hitter, Keppinger mostly adds offensive value to the roster. The Rays have a defense-oriented infield, but I believe Keppinger could possibly get the shortstop gig if he can convince the Rays that he is offensively stable enough. Still, Rodriguez seems to be the best fit for the job at the moment, and is probably the best prediction to play shortstop on Opening Day.

Who Will Be a Part of the Bullpen?

The battles for the rotation and shortstop spots may be the biggest storylines for the Rays this spring, but there will also be a heated competition for the bullpen. The Rays made multiple moves to reinforce their bullpen this season, now we will have to see how Maddon will piece them together. The closer role and setup man role are pretty predictable for 2012, as Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta look like they will return to their respectable spots in the bullpen. That leaves five more spots in the bullpen, with at least eight serious candidates. New right-handed additions Burke Badenhop and Fernando Rodney will likely find themselves a spot in the bullpen. The long reliever of the ‘pen would be however loses the Davis-Niemann battle for the fifth spot in the rotation. So, that leaves just two spots left in the bullpen. I’m assuming Maddon will want two lefties in his bullpen, bringing multiple names into the picture. The Rays showed a lot of confidence in J.P. Howell this offseason, which makes me predict that he’ll become the team’s left-handed specialist in the ‘pen. That leaves two main names who will likely fight it out for the middle relief role; Jake McGee and Josh Lueke. Even though McGee had a better statistical season last year, I think Lueke will be the one on the Opening Day roster. McGee is younger, and the Rays may prefer that he continues to develop in AAA Durham. However, McGee could be one among a handful of players who will be called up to contribute in the bullpen throughout the season. Brandon Gomes, Dane De La Rosa, Alex Torres, and Cesar Ramos could all potentially find themselves just outside the bullpen as well. Here’s how I predict the bullpen will look at the start of the regular season:

Can Matt Joyce Develop into a First Baseman?

Matt Joyce did not conduct his usual offseason workouts this winter. For the first time in his big league career, the 27 year-old Tampa-native is trying out the first base position. The All-Star outfielder is possibly considering becoming a first baseman. Even though Carlos Pena will be manning first base for the whole season, it’s always good to have the idea in mind. Offensively, Joyce is an adequate hitter for the position, and he’s still developing. In just his first big league season, Joyce batted .277 with 75 RBI’s and 19 home runs. Joyce’s power is something that will help him fit in at first, if he were to continue to pursue the position. Obviously, the biggest adjustment for Joyce would be defensively. Being an outfielder for his whole MLB career, Joyce would have a lot to learn in order to master the position. Joyce is one of many outfielders who have tried the move to first, and it hasn’t been much of a success story. Knowing Joyce, though, I believe he can complete the transition if he’s truly determined. Last offseason, Joyce worked to improve his baserunning and defense, and the results were great and very noticeable throughout the 2011 season. Joyce has terrific work ethic, and he’s one of those players who will do what it takes to achieve his goals. Joe Maddon may make team orders, but at the end of the day it really depends on whether Joyce is willing to put in the hard work or not.

Which Prospects Will Stand Out This March?

Besides Matt Moore, there are a handful of Rays prospects who have a lot to prove this Spring. Shortstop Tim Beckham is one of those names. Beckham, who’s ranked the Rays’ fourth-best prospect (by MLB.com), has a crucial year coming up ahead of him. The former first-overall draft pick has disappointed a bit so far in his minor league career, considering the extremely high expectations put on him since the beginning. Beckham compiled a .271 average with 70 RBI’s and 17 stolen bases through his 131 games last season, during his time with AA Montgomery and his brief stint with AAA Durham. It may not be the big numbers that stand out among scouts, but he was only 21 in 2011. He made a lot of progress last year, specifically improving in his defensive game. Many scouts say he may not have a big league future at the shortstop position, but Beckham is making efforts to prove them wrong. Even if Beckham won’t be an MLB shortstop, I still believe he has the potential to be a solid big league player. Any way you look at it, this is a very important Spring Training for Beckham, and I doubt he’ll disappoint.

20120222-204210.jpgHak-Ju Lee is another top prospect who received a Spring Training invitation. The Rays are hopeful the 21-year-old Korean-native is there future shortstop. Lee, who was acquired in the Matt Garza trade two offseasons ago, ended his 2011 season in AA Montgomery after spending most of the year at the Class-A+ level. He finished the year with a .292 average along with 30 RBI’s and 17 stolen bases. Lee features great speed as well as plus defense, and is expected to make major progress in the minors this season. Although Lee will most likely not be joining the Rays in 2012, he should be a fun player to watch at Spring Training. It will be interesting to see if Lee and Beckham will have themselves a bit of a private battle throughout the spring.

Brandon Guyer, another youngster acquired in the Matt Garza trade, may have the most important Spring Training out of all the Rays prospects. The 26-year-old will have to play some quality baseball if he wants to break into the Rays’ crowded outfield. Guyer batted .312 with 14 homers and 16 stolen bases through his 107 at-bats with AAA Durham last season, displaying his power-speed combination. Even with the good numbers, it will be hard for him to find a decent amount of MLB playing time this season. With B.J. Upton, Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce, and Sam Fuld taking over the outfield, he’s going to have to impress this March if he wants the big league shot he deserves.

With the exception of Matt Moore, there will be three main prospect pitchers to keep an eye on during Spring Training. Alex Cobb, Alex Torres, and Chris Archer will all have a lot of work to do this spring in order to prove they have what it takes to join the Rays’ talented rotation in the future. Cobb has the most MLB experience out of the three, going 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA in his nine starts last season. He has also been successful in his minor league career, and has improved year by year. Alex Torres will need to follow Cobb’s path and improve his numbers if he wants a future as a Rays starter. Torres’ stats weren’t bad last year, as he went 9-7 with a 3.08 ERA through his 27 starts at AAA Durham. Still, some things have to be fixed, and I’m pretty confident Torres will make progress doing so during Spring Training. As for Chris Archer, the Rays hope he can start the spring where he finished off. Archer, who is ranked the third best prospect (by MLB.com), ended his minor league season strong after having some struggles earlier in the year. It’ll be a big season for the 23-year-old hurler in 2012, and it should be interesting to see how he starts along side the rest of the Rays’ pitching talent. I think this may be the year Archer really shines and shows off his high potential.

A Review of the Rays’ Offseason

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Baseball’s long winter is finally coming to an end. Today, pitchers and catchers will report to camp, concluding the four month offseason in the return of our national pastime. As expected, the financially-limited Rays didn’t make too much noise this winter. Coming into the offseason, there were a lot of questions regarding the multiple holes on the roster. The Rays knew they had to address the open spots at DH, first base, and catcher. Fortunately, the front office was able to fill in the holes during the winter, in efforts to bring back another successful season to Tampa Bay. Although the Rays did not make a huge splash in MLB’s Hot Stove frenzy, they have a pretty good amount of new additions joining the club this spring. Here’s an evaluation of every single Rays offseason move.

Club Options

Back in October, the Rays were met with their first main task of the offseason. A decision had to be made on whether the Rays were going to exercise their club option on James Shields, Kyle Farnsworth, and Kelly Shoppach. The Rays picked up the options on Shields and Farnsworth, but declined Shoppach. By exercising Shields’ option, the Rays will be paying him $7.5 million in 2012. Farnsworth will be making $3.3 million during the 2012 season, which is $700 thousand more than he made last season. Shoppach, who’s now a member of the Boston Red Sox, recieved a $300K buyout by being declined. To recap the Rays’ decisions on club options, they were able to bring back their ace and closer from last season. Both Farnsworth and Shields were obviously a huge part of the Rays’ success last year. At 35-years-old, Farnsworth may of had the best season of his 13-year career with the Rays, posting a 2.18 ERA with 25 saves and a 5-1 record. Shields also had a career year, leading the Rays’ pitching staff in 2011 with ridiculous numbers. Shoppach on the other hand, was a disappointment. The backstop batted an atrocious .176 average while driving in just 22 RBI’s. Although he did much better down the stretch and his defense was not bad, it’s easy to see why the Rays decided not to keep Shoppach, even with their catching situation.

Overall Grade: A

John Jaso-Josh Lueke Trade

Even after signing Molina, the Rays surprised everybody by parting ways with another backstop. This time it was John Jaso, who was traded to Seattle back in November. In exchange for Jaso, the Rays recieved relief pitcher Josh Lueke and cash considerations (or a player to be named). Lueke has one year of big league experience under his belt, after pitching 32.2 innings out of the Mariners’ bullpen last season. He posted a high 6.06 ERA while struggling through his rookie year. Lueke’s under-par numbers may not be the biggest concern the Rays have about him. Lueke’s criminal past is something the Rays are very aware of. While playing in the Rangers’ organization in 2008, Lueke was charged with rape and would serve jail time. The Rays seem confident that Lueke’s legal trouble won’t be an issue in the future, and believe that he can help reinforce the bullpen. As for losing John Jaso, he probably won’t be missed much in Tampa Bay. The 28-year-old saw a big decline in his offensive numbers last year, while continuing to struggle defensively.

Overall Grade: C+

Acquiring Jose Molina

Once the Rays cut ties with both of their main catchers from 2011, it was imminent that they were going to find a backstop to fill in that big hole on the roster. The Rays took their first dip into free agency, and emerged with veteran Jose Molina. The 36-year-old was signed to a one-year deal including an option for 2013. Molina will be paid $1.5 million this season, and $1.8 million next year if the Rays exercise his option. He batted a career-best .281 last year through his 55 games with the Blue Jays. His defense and experience is what’s most attractive to the Rays, as Molina has a gun of an arm behind the plate. Molina threw out 36.5% of runners attempting to steal during the last four seasons, which is the MLB’s highest percentage during that span. Throwing out baserunners was one of the Rays’ weaknesses last year, and Friedman did a good job of addressing that by signing Molina.

Overall Grade: B+

Matt Moore Contract Extension

The contract extension of phenom Matt Moore was probably the highlight of the Rays’ offseason. The Rays were able to pull of a great move, locking up baseball’s most hyped-up prospect long-term. With the ridiculous potential that he has, the huge eight-year contract extension they signed with Moore is a bargain. Moore is guaranteed $14 million through five years, and has an additional three years of options. If Moore plays through all eight years of his contract, the overall value will be worth around $40 million. It’s a lot of money for a team like the Rays, but it’s well worth it considering the type of player Moore is. Below is a breakdown of Moore’s eight-year deal (courtesy of spotrac.com):20120219-090959.jpg

Overall Grade: A+

Burke Badenhop Trade

The Rays made their second offseason trade for a relief pitcher back in December, when they traded minor league catcher Jake Jefferies to the Miami Marlins in exchange for Burke Badenhop. “The Hopper” posted a 4.10 ERA and a 2-3 record out of the ‘pen last year, and owns a career ERA of 4.34 through his four big league seasons. As for the Marlins’ side of the deal, the Rays didn’t give away much at all by trading minor leaguer Jake Jefferies. The 24-year-old backstop has never made is a career .254 hitter, and has never made it past the Class-AA level.

Overall Grade: A

Signing Fernando Rodney

The Rays continued their emphasis on bullpen help when they signed veteran right-hander Fernando Rodney to a one year deal. This time though, they picked up a bullpen arm via free agency. The Rays signed the 34-year-old to a one-year deal worth about $2 million. Rodney struggled with his control last year during his season with the Los Angeles Angels last year, resulting in some disappointing numbers. He posted a 4.50 ERA with just three saves. Rodney has had success in the past, however, saving 37 games with Detroit in 2009. He has been on a downslide since then, but keep in mind that the Rays seem to have the magical touch of reviving relievers who are past their prime. Hopefully, Rodney can continue that trend and be solid arm in the bullpen this season.

Overall Grade: B-

Non-Tender Deadline Deals

The Rays had tender choices to make on seven arbitration-eligible players before the deadline last December. B.J. Upton, J.P. Howell, Joel Peralta, Jeff Niemann, David Price, and the newly-acquired Burke Badenhop were all tendered. The one player non-tendered was Andy Sonnanstine, who is now a Chicago Cub. The only unpredictable news that came out of the Rays’ non-tender deadline deals, was the tendering of J.P. Howell’s contract. As the deadline loomed, there was a big question whether Howell would be a Ray next year. The organization’s steadfast belief in Howell prevailed, and J.P. will get another shot to return to his top form with Tampa Bay.

Luke Scott Acquisition

With Johnny Damon a free agent, the Designated Hitter role was one roster hole the Rays knew they needed to fill in. They did exactly that, picking up veteran slugger Luke Scott off the free agent market. The 33-year-old was signed to a one-year deal worth $5 million, including a 2013 option worth $6 million ($1.5 buyout). Scott has spent the last four seasons in Baltimore, ending his tenure there with an injury-riddled 2011 season. Before 2011, however, Scott established himself as a consistent 20+ homer guy with the Orioles. He also owns a career line of .264/.349/.494 and a 162-game average of 79 RBI’s. Scott is the kind of quality hitter that the Rays need, and the stats definitely show that. His powerful left-handed bat fits perfectly in the meat of the Rays’ lineup, and is exactly what the Rays lacked last year.

Overall Grade: A-

Arbitration Deadline Deals

As the January arbitration deadline drew near, the Rays had six arbitration-eligible players to negotiate with. B.J. Upton, David Price, Burke Badenhop, Jeff Niemann, Joel Peralta, and J.P. Howell were all looking to work out a deal to avoid an arbitration hearing. Everyone except Jeff Niemann was able to agree to a deal, which resulted in just one player entering an arbitration hearing. Below are the details on all five of the deadline deals. Note that all projections are from MLBTradeRumors.com’s Projected Arbitration Salaries list.

  • B.J. Upton- $7 million; $7.6 million projected.
  • David Price- $4.35 million; $7.8 million projected
  • J.P. Howell- $1.35 million; $1.4 million projected
  • Joel Peralta- $2.175 million; $2 million projected
  • Burke Badenhop- $1.075 million; $1.1 million projected

As you can see, the Rays did an outstanding job of negotiating before the deadline. The Rays agreed to a deal that was cheaper than the projected salary of every player, except for set-up man Joel Peralta. The highlight of the deadline deals was Price’s salary agreement, where the Rays saved some big bucks. Price will earn $4.35 million this season, in contrast to the $7.8 million that was projected. They also worked out a pretty good deal with Upton, keeping his 2012 earnings at just $7 million. As for Niemann’s arbitration hearing earlier this month, that also went well for the Rays. Not surprisingly Niemann lost, resulting in an agreement of $2.75 million. The salary is $350,000 less than the projection, and $450,000 less than the Niemann asked for. The penny smart Rays continue their undefeated arbitration record, as they’re now 6-0 (5-0 under Friedman).

Overall Grade: A+

The Return of Carlos Pena

Bringing back Carlos Pena to Tampa was probably the offseason’s most exciting moment for the Rays and their fans. With Casey Kotchman a free agent, the Rays were in desperate need of a first baseman. They found their man (our re-found) in Pena, signing him to a one-year deal worth $7.25 million. Pena spent four years in Tampa Bay (2007-2010), compiling a total 144 homers and 407 RBI’s with a line of .238/.368/.516/. He played one season with the Chicago Cubs last season, batting .225 with 28 home runs and 80 RBI’s. Pena’s big-time power is something the Rays really could of used last year. If Pena can continue his homerun-hitting consistency, his presence in the lineup can make the Rays a scary good team.

Overall Grade: A-

Signing Jeff Keppinger

Picking up someone to add to the middle-infield was apparently one of the Rays’ tasks this offseason. The Rays signed veteran Jeff Keppinger to a one-year, $1.525 million deal. Keppinger, who owns a career line of .281/.332/.388, is a pretty solid contact hitter. He’s not impressive on the base paths, defensively, or power-wise; but he has the ability to get on base. The Rays are looking forward to his right-handed average-hitting type of bat in the lineup. Keppinger also has some versatility; filling in at shortstop, second (main position), and third base.

Overall Grade: B

Russ Canzler Trade

In a trade that surprised many, Rays’ farmhand Russ Canzler was traded away to the Cleveland Indians for cash considerations. Canzler had a terrific season at Class-AAA last year, earning him the International League MVP award. He batted .314 with 83 RBI’s and 18 homers last year for AAA Durham. Despite good numbers throughout his minor league career, Canzler has never been considered a high-ranked prospect in either the Rays’ organization or the Cubs’ organization. The reason why he was traded to Cleveland was solely because he has no spot on the Rays’ roster. Canzler simply does not fit in on the Rays defense-based infield. Canzler can also play some corner outfield, but he also has no defensive value there. As for the DH position, that too is occupied with signing of Luke Scott.

Overall Grade: C

Joe Maddon Contract Extension

Skipper Joe Maddon’s three-year contract extension is the most recent news of the Rays’ offseason. This move may of been the biggest no-brainer of them all, as keeping Maddon was an absolute must-do. The two-time AL Manager of the Year will be paid about $6 million over the course of three years. Considering how much Maddon means to an MLB team, it’s one of the biggest bargains you’re ever going to see in the business. The Rays are going to love getting used to seeing Joe Maddon around, if they aren’t already.

Overall Grade: A+

Minor League Signings

The Rays signed a total of nine players to minor league contracts this offseason. Below is a list of all of them.

  • OF Jesus Feliciano
  • INF Matt Mangini
  • 1B Juan Miranda
  • LHP Jhonny Nunez
  • INF Will Rhymes
  • RHP Romulo Sanchez
  • C Chris Gimenez
  • OF Brad Coon
  • OF Jeff Salazar

Players to keep an eye out for:

  • Matt Mangini- The former first-round draft pick, owns a .321 with 104 RBI’s and 20 home runs through 175 games at Class-AAA ball. Mangini plays first base and third base.
  • Juan Miranda- The 28 year-old first baseman possesses raw power, but his just .226 through his 111 career MLB games. Miranda also hit 37 RBI’s and 11 home runs in his four seasons of big league experience.
  • Will Rhymes- The 5’9″ second baseman has spent his whole professional career with the Detroit Tigers’ organization. Rhymes has established himself as a good contact hitter, owning a career line of .283/.341/.370 through his 83 big league games and a career .291 average in the minors. His defense at second is maybe average, and his speed is pretty good.

Overall Grade: B

Overview

If one thing’s for sure, the Rays have to be satisfied with themselves entering Spring Training. The Rays were successful in filling in all three of their main roster holes; catcher, first base, and DH. Not only were they able to get the guys they needed this winter, but they also did plenty of bargaining. For a small-market team like the Rays, making penny-wise deals is crucial during the offseason. The Rays set a perfect example of how financially-limited teams should operate, by doing a terrific job of negotiating free agent acquisitions and contract extensions this winter. However, I don’t think it was a perfect offseason for Friedman & Co. The Rays may of whiffed at a few possible trades that should of been made, which would of traded away their surplus of pitching for a bat. One example of where the Rays could of been more aggressive was trading for top prospects Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal, who were both on the trade block and were perfect fits in Tampa. Instead, both of those big bats ended up in San Diego after a five-player swap with the Reds. Another player the Rays might of missed out on was Anthony Rizzo, who was traded to the Cubs last month. Looking at the players Chicago had to give up to acquire Rizzo, the Rays likely will regret not snagging a phenom first-base prospect like Rizzo. Back to the bright side of things, the Rays did avoid one trade that wouldn’t be such a smart idea. Despite trade rumors throughout the whole offseason, the Rays were able to hang on to B.J. Upton. Many will argue that trading away the Rays’ centerfielder is the right choice, but Upton is actually a big part of an offense that’s lacking. Along with Upton, the Rays were able to keep (or replace) all their main offensive figures from last season.As for the rotation, all the starters from last year will be back in Tampa this season, with addition of Matt Moore’s superstar talent.

At the end of the day, it’s hard not to say the Rays’ front office got the job done this winter.

Overall Grade for the Rays’ Offseason: A-

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.

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