"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.
- 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."