Posted on: February 20, 2010 3:40 pm
Edited on: February 21, 2010 9:43 pm
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Rays of our Lives Intro

"Like sands through the hourglass, so are the Rays of our lives."

Rays of our Lives covers everything the Tampa Bay Rays have to offer, told as if it was a daytime soap opera. The many different personalities in the Rays organization and how the next season of Rays baseball should play out all make for a cheezy soap opera. So who is the cast of characters behind Rays of our Lives?

Manager: Joe Maddon - Before becoming just the 4th manager in Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays history on November 15, 2005, Maddon attained 31 years of professional  baseball experience in the Los Angeles Angels(of Anaheim) organization. Over his 6 years of managing, his record stands at 335 Wins and 364 Losses. Since joining the Rays in 2005, Joe Maddon has worked with the Rays to take a team who were bottom feeders at the AL East and turned them into AL champions in 2008.

3rd Baseman, Evan Longoria is by far the biggest and brightest of any position player that the Rays have to offer. He's not only a heart throb to the ladies, but he's great at the plate and even better on defense. In 2008, he won the AL Rookie of the Year award. In 2009, he won the AL 3rd base Silver Slugger AND the AL 3rd base Golden Glove awards. He's the best defensive 3rd basemen the major leagues have to offer right now. Over the course of his 2 year career, he's totaled 279 games, 1032 at bats, 167 runs, 286 hits, 75 doubles, 2 triples, 60 homeruns, 198 runs batted in, 118 walks, 262 strikeouts, had a .277 batting average, a .355 on base percentage, a .528 slugging percentage, and even managed to get 16 stolen bases. He'll lower the strikeouts before long, he's still young at 24, so there's time to grow with his patience. Personally, I feel it's more about the lack of lineup protection that makes "Longo" feel like he needs to swing to the fences. But Longoria has already done enough to show he'll be one of the players that the Rays will have to keep despite the need to cut salary costs sometime this next year.

Oh about that, see, the Rays are wishing to cut costs sometime next season. There's speculation that the Rays will be looking to trade Carlos Pena and/or Carl Crawford around the trade deadline.

1st Baseman, Carlos Pena is a homerun crushing, strikeout machine with excellent defensive skills at 1B. Since coming over to Tampa through free agency after the Boston Red Sox chose to let him walk over 3 seasons ago, Carlos Pena has gone on to average 38.5 homeruns, 108 runs batted in, and 160 strikeouts a season while hitting for a .250 batting average over that time. In 2007, Pena was awarded the AL 1B Silver Slugger and in 2008, he received the AL 1B Golden Glove award. With that said, Pena is turning 32 and only has another 3 years of good baseball in him. It's always been the Rays philosophy to trade our players when they are at their optimal value in their prime, so I can really see the Rays being willing to cut salary costs this season by trading Carlos Pena. Potentially, I see the New York Mets being big pursuers for Pena or maybe the Mariners if they're still contending by the deadline. You never know with the Mariners, but with Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, and most likely Erik Bedard, they could actually do something relevant to the playoffs this year. So those two teams could be in the market for a 1B, especially the Mets. If they were to trade Pena, the Rays would be looking to bring in at least one top 25 prospect and another top 100 prospect, possibly a major league reserve player that could help with roster depth. I personally wouldn't mind to give up Pena if we got something like that back. The Rays have Dan Johnson, Willy Aybar, and Kelly Shoppach, that logjam of utility players could handle duties at 1B should Pena be traded. It wouldn't be a seamless transition, but it would work for the second half of the season and during the time it would take to find a good replacement.

Left Fielder, Carl Crawford is a stolen base threat everytime he's on base and he gets on base a lot. He has a career on base percentage of .335 and has stolen 362 bases during his 7 year career with Tampa Bay. He has 655 career runs scored, 502 runs batted in, 247 walks, and has a .295 batting average. Most impressive is his 92 career triples, his 13 homerun per season average, and his strike out average is a decent 94 SO's a season. CC had his most stolen bases in a season last year with 60. Recently, he's worked with his off-season training coach to work on his form while stealing a base. Video evidence suggested that he wasn't getting the best jump off the base that he could be getting. They highlighted that his left arm would be straight behind him as he was jumping off the base, which greatly slowed him down. He's apparently got it worked on to the point where he's very optimistic at easily matching the 60 stolen bases he amassed in 2009. That's a scary concept for an opposing team's catchers and pitchers. CC is going to be 29 in August, but I think he can still greatly contribute to the Rays and losing him would be a much bigger loss than Carlos Pena's proposed trading. The Rays do have utility outfielder/center fielder Fernando Perez who is said to be even faster than Carl Crawford, so he could replace Carl in the stolen base department. But Carl's 13 homeruns a season, batting average, and on base percentage wouldn't be duplicated by Perez.

Shortstop, Jason Bartlett came in a trade to the Minnesota Twins, in which the Rays traded former 1st overall pick outfielder Delmon Young and shortstop Brendan Harris. The 2007 season(prior to the trade) ended with Jason Bartlett leading the major league shortstops with 26 errors. In that trade, the Rays also acquired starting pitcher Matt Garza from the Twins. Neither Bartlett nor Garza had seasons prior to the trade to suggest that they'd be as good as they have been for the Rays. The Rays GM, Andrew Friedman, must have seen enough from Garza and Bartlett to know they could be much better than how they were performing. Since joining the Rays, Bartlett has gone on to be one of the better defensive shortstops in the AL and even improved his physical strength over last year's offseason to get past his monicker of not being a big hitter. Prior to bulking up, he only averaged 3 homeruns a season, and since bulking up he hit 14 homeruns last season. He also hits around a .300 batting average and steals bases well. He signed a one-year deal in the offseason to continue playing for the Rays, hopefully they can sign him to a longer deal during the season. Preferably a 2-3 year deal as we have a couple SS prospects in the minor leagues that could be ready by that time.

2nd baseman, Ben Zobrist played all over the place before Akinori Iwamura went down due to injury. After Iwamura was injured for what seemed to be the entire year at that time, Zobrist came in and played 2nd base beautifully. He brought everything Iwamura was known for(high batting average, on base percentage, good defense) and even provided things that Aki wasn't known for like hitting 27 homeruns last season. The Rays loved Zobrist's performance last season so much that they traded Aki to the Pittsburgh Pirates towards the end of the trade deadline. I'd look for Zobrist to repeat his 2009 performance in 2010.

Center fielder, B.J. Upton who's full name is actually Melvin Emmanuel Upton is a player of great debate among Rays fans over the country. While some point out his very impressive 2007/2008 numbers, others point out Upton's attitude and lack of effort when things aren't going well for him like in 2009. At times, you could see B.J. just not giving his all when running the bases or would give up on a play. Like Longoria, Upton is still a young man, only being 25 years old. He hasn't matured yet and improving his work ethics is, well, a work in progress. If the Rays want Upton to be successful, they'll want to have early success in the upcoming season. Or promise him a long term, high incentive deal if he were to really perform next season. B.J. has a younger brother who plays for the Arizona Diamondbacks named Justin Upton. Justin is a better outfielder and even though he's 3 years younger, he has a higher ceiling for potential in all aspects of baseball skill and production. And I'd imagine performing at a high level even on the Diamondbacks shows that Justin must have a better attitude than his brother. With that said, if Justin is a 5 star player, then B.J. is a good 4 star player. I'd just like to see B.J. Upton's attitude get better before the Rays sign him to any long term deal.

Catcher, Dioner Navarro was the victim of a riches to rags story. He had a huge season in 2008, only to fall on his face in 2009. Past problems he had in the past before the 2008 season resurfaced and essentially made it seem like Navarro had reverted back to his past image of being a bottom of the line defensive first catcher. 2008 was a great offensive year for Navarro and the Rays will need Navarro to regain his confidence if we want to contend with the Boston Red Sox and he'll have to do ridiculously well again if we want to contend against the reigning champs, the New York Yankees. What a hard division the AL East is, I mean, even the Orioles look to take a lot of wins away from teams this year. If you took the pitching of the Toronto Blue Jays and added the position players of the Baltimore Orioles, then you would have 4 beastly teams in the same division. Even 3 teams that are in talks to be AL East contenders is ridiculous.

Starting Pitchers:
- James Shields
- Matt Garza
- Jeff Niemann
- David Price
- Wade Davis or Jeremy Hellickson

Shields is the Rays' ace and Garza makes for a good 2nd and a great 3rd starting pitcher. Niemann had a 13-6 record last year and looks to get a little better. Between the 4 young pitchers the Rays will be using this year, Niemann is actually the least talented, but unlike Price, Davis, and Hellickson, he doesn't have to just rely on his "stuff". He used his mind and placement to get that record, which is something that Price might want to learn if he'll want to get better. With that said, I forsee a much better season for David Price. I believe he'll grow into his own and could end up being the #2 pitcher by season's end. The most talented pitcher listed is easily Jeremy Hellickson and he'll be competing with also highly talented pitcher Wade Davis for the 5th spot in the rotation. I like the starting pitching the Rays will be using next season, despite the Scott Kazmir trade to the Los Angeles Angels(of Anaheim) last season. Like many are saying now, Kazmir had hit a bit of a wall with his talent. His lack of numerous quality pitches finally caught up to him and the Rays were quick to realize that. The Rays were able to trade him for a mid-top prospect and a depth SS in Sean Rodriguez. The trade was mostly a cost-cutting trade, but it was nice to get something back while doing it. The amount of young pitching the Rays had made Kazmir expendable.

Relievers worthy of mention:
- Setup Man/Long-reliever: J.P. Howell
- Closer: Rafael Soriano

First off, I love J.P. Howell, he has great poise when he's on the mound. He knows where to put the ball and how to use his pitches effectively. If the Rays haven't signed him to a long deal yet, they really should soon. He's that good. Next we have new Rays closer, Rafael Soriano who comes over from the Atlanta Braves. Soriano has been a pretty good closer in the past and an even reliever in general. I think compared to what the Rays were using last season at closer, Soriano will be a big upgrade. Soriano is another one of those players the Rays have talked about possibly being on the way out by the trade deadline. As the Rays showed this last season, they can maintain with general relievers taking over at closer. As long as we get a good return for Soriano, I'll sign off on it.

Well, now that you know who the Rays are, you will be better suited in following along with this daytime soap opera as I write it over spring training, the regular season, post season, and so forth. "I'm A-mike and these are the Rays of our Lives."
Category: MLB
Posted on: February 5, 2010 2:01 pm
Edited on: February 20, 2010 1:26 pm
 

CBA's and Free Agencies and Drafts! Oh my!

Welcome to A-mike's Dolphi-holics Anonymous, the place where Dol-fans come together to celebrate the Miami Dolphins and share our dislike of the New England Patriots, New York Jets, and the Buffalo Bills(of Toronto). A place where we care about you and more importantly, the Miami Dolphins, but still care about you.

As you may or may not know, the Player's Association and the NFL are working on this Collective Bargaining Agreement that is set to expire in May 2011. What you might not know is what this means to everyone who doesn't care about the business side of Football. Basically, if they don't work something out, there will be no NFL in 2011. Also, and more importantly, it means that the lack of a new CBA agreement by this upcoming 2010 free agency could mean that players having 6 or more accumulated seasons played for one team that are becoming a restricted free agent can now become an unrestricted free agent instead. Although, there are certain contracts that have stipulations based on playing time and productivity that ends up equaling out to that 6 or more seasons unrestricted uncapped season rule. This could end up being a huge part of the free agency period. But what does all this business jumbo schmumbo mean to the Miami Dolphins? Well, it could end up meaning everything, even a very realistic Super Bowl push come 2012 in my opinion. But why is that?

Well, if you keep up with the NFL rumors like I do, you would know that Denver Broncos' Right Outside Linebacker, Elvis Dumervil, is likely going to be one of those possible unrestricted free agents based on his playing time and productivity. Dumervil led the NFL with 17 sacks and had a solid 42 tackles. He had the lowest tackles of the 4 starting linebackers for the Broncos last season, but that was only the case as DJ Williams led with 122 tackles and between him, Andra Davis, and Mario Haggan, they averaged 92 tackles each. People question how the Broncos could give up such a "dynamo" as Dumervil, but it might not be as hard as many think. Dumervil is expecting top player money and the Broncos haven't been the kind of team to dish out a lot of money. And definitely not when they have a good replacement ready in the wings. That player is standout Tennessee DE/OLB Robert Ayers in whom they drafted last April. He didn't have that great of a season, but having rookie struggles with the defensive scheme and playing only marginal minutes played into that. That defensive scheme was run by 3-4 guru Mike Nolan. And as of January 19, 2010, Mike Nolan was hired by the Miami Dolphins to become our new Defensive Coordinator. This was arguably Elvis Dumervil's best season and I can bet my left leg that Dumervil personally attributes his success to the new scheme that Nolan put in place when he was hired last season by the Broncos. It is strongly believed that Dumervil will wish to follow Nolan to Miami as long as Miami is willing to pay him to play. The Dolpins have the money and are very willing to have him. They would love to sign him as an unrestricted free agent instead of having to give up picks through a trade or as a restricted free agent. But I will go out on a limb and say that Elvis Dumervil will be a Miami Dolphin next season. But what does that mean for Joey Porter and Jason Taylor?

Well, I don't know about you, but Dumervil is certainly a much better 3-4 OLB than an aging Jason Taylor and an aging, disgruntled, big mouthed Joey Porter. Although, I still like Jason Taylor as a player, I think he can play in our 3-4 and doesn't get taken advantage of as many players his age do while doing so. Now, if the Dolphins release Joey Porter soon(as they definitely are, we'd like to trade him though, I just don't see that happening given his age and off the field comments), I wouldn't mind them keeping Jason Taylor on a 1-year deal while we develop a younger player to replace him. I don't think I would want Taylor playing every down so I would pair him with a great 5th linebacker in Cameron Wake. Wake was a rookie last year, but only a technical rookie since he went to the CFL for a couple seasons and is actually 28 years old. But I think they should have a timeshare set in place between them while they work on some rookie they were to get somewhere in the late 3rd to early 5th rounds of the upcoming draft. Why not just draft a great 3-4 OLB in the 1st two rounds?

Well, to be honest, there's not really any top notch 3-4 OLBs in this upcoming draft. You can argue a case for a few players, but they're not really ideal or they might need some work. Well if you have to work on a player, they don't justify being picked in the 1st two rounds. You can surely acquire a better prototypical 3-4 OLB in one of the later rounds, but they probably won't be able to produce much in their rookie year. With that said, the Dolphins are being projected to draft Alabama's Rolando McClain, also known as the best middle linebacker in the upcoming draft, with this year's 1st round draft pick(12th overall). Even though I hate Nick Saban like many Dolphin fans do, I had to admit that McClain was a great player. He's very intelligent on the field and doesn't ever hurt himself by being out of position and can make a play like no one's business. They say that he's the QB of the defense and they have tape of him aligning other Alabama teammates into position, calling audibles, and setting matchups between teammates and the other teams offensive players. And that's not even adding his great feel for where the ball is and how physical he is at the point of attack. Even if he wasn't so good during the play, the Miami Dolphins had been lacking that kind of intelligence on the defensive side of the ball, so he'd easily be a huge plus. With McClain playing ILB aside current Dolphins ILB, Channing Crowder, the Dolphins will no longer be caught out of position as much as we were last season, mostly due to Crowder's overly-physical play(probably from the lack of another talented ILB). But having Elvis Dumervil(ROLB), Channing Crowder(RILB), Rolando McClain(LILB), and Jason Taylor/Cameron Wake(LOLB) would be quite an impressive and amazing LB core. But what about the rest of the defense?

Now add that LB core with the news that the Miami Dolphins are the preferred destination for soon to be released FS Antrel Rolle(due to the Cardinals not wanting to pay his 6.5 million roster bonus for next year) and you have a great pass coverage free safety teaming with the Dolphins current Pro Bowl run covering strong safety in Yeremiah Bell. Those safeties combined with the improvement of CB's, Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, who are two of the more promising upcoming cornerbacks and you have an impressing secondary as well. With the continued great play of our defensive line and you have the makings of what could be the best defense in the league. But what about the Dolphins' offense and lack of star receivers?

Even if the Dolphins don't go after Brandon Marshall, Anquan Boldin, or even a free agent wide receiver...They will be getting back a healthy Ronnie Brown and will be continuing the development of Chad Henne, which will be a part of an offense that can at least score more than what that projected defense will allow in a game. Analyists and other team's fans say that our offense(outside of the wildcat and our running game) is awful and that our receivers aren't any good at all. I recently found out that's a big lie, for the most part at least. The Dolphins offense is run around, well, the run. Then comes the wildcat. And after that, you have the passing game that, from a lack of top receivers, would be best described as a spread offense. With that said, I think we had a great receiving season as a team. Proof for that? The three TE's we used last year in a timeshare(Anthony Fason, David Martin, and Joey Haynos) combined to have the following stats: 81 receptions, 951 yards, and 7 touchdowns. That's Pro Bowl numbers by the way. Our four receivers(Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Ted Ginn Jr, and Greg Camarillo) combined for: 195 receptions, 2270 yards, and 6 touchdowns. That's not the worst receiving corps in the league, not by far. Davone Bess was our best receiver going for 76 receptions, 758 yards, and 2 touchdowns. What we don't have is a big red zone target. The only receiver that could be that is Patrick Turner, but he didn't make it onto the field at all last season. But he has the build for what we are missing at 6-5 and 220 lbs. I think a good training camp performance from Turner could be what we would gain from an Anquan Boldin or a Brandon Marshall, because we clearly have the receiving necessary to be competitive at a high level. Sure, our current WR corps isn't going to strike fear into teams, but I think not having any particular player be the star WR on the Dolphins against the AFC East is actually going to be a good thing. My big point for that is, "who gets stuck on Revis Island when Darrelle Revis doesn't even know who to cover all game?", and it's a valid point. How can you cover an entire team when all our receivers are capable of producing? There's always going to be someone open, as long as our receivers keep improving and realize that they all need to be on their game come Sundays(and sometimes Thursdays and Mondays).

Now if the CBA isn't decided on by May 2011, then there will be a lockout in the NFL for what would be an entire season at that point. Meaning that there won't be football until 2012. This could be huge for younger teams like the Dolphins and be devastating for teams with older players. The Dolphins would probably lose "Sticky Ricky" Ricky Williams(replaceable), Yeremiah Bell(replaceable), and Jason Ferguson(replaceable). Other teams may be losing much more prolific starters at that point. Donovan McNabb, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, Darren Sharper, Randy Moss, Hines Ward, Terrel Owens, Ed Reed, and MANY offensive and defensive lineman are in their mid 30's or would be players you could see retiring after a lockout year. You don't get any younger after an off-year and you might just like that off-time. These older players very possibly retiring could make way for younger teams to surpass them.

But I'm really excited to see how the next couple months play out. And my sign out for Dolphi-holics Anonymous is, "Thank you for attending Dolphi-holics Anonymous, where we care about you and most importantly, the Miami Dolphins."


Category: NFL
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com