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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yesterday was a monumental and historic day for Major League Baseball. The Astros moved to the American League and the MLB added two more Wild Cards into their playoffs. There’s many debates on wether these two changes are necessary or irrational. Let’s start with the Astros switch to the AL West, which will take effect in 2013. This move was absolutely common sense and should of been done years ago. With Houston now part of the AL West, the MLB now consists of six divisions of five teams. The thirty-team MLB now is split into two leagues of fifteen teams each, rather than a sixteen-team NL and a fourteen-team AL. Therefore, now MLB realignment is unnecessary and unless a team is subtracted or added, the system doesn’t need to be tweaked with. Apparently, regular Interleague year-round was part of the deal with the Astros’ move. I have always been against year-round Interleague play in baseball, and I don’t understand how this is relevant at all with the Astros’ move. My main problem with it, is that it’s going to give the NL a huge advantage in their home games. AL pitchers are simply not trained to hit while NL pitchers are. When Interleague was an occasional affair, it wasn’t really a big concern. I believe that the new Interleague system was made for MLB publicity. When you think about the amount of money being made in MLB Interleague games, it’s not surprising that they would do this. The TV rates, merchandise sales, and ticket sales are all very high during Interleague games. It will be interesting to see how this will effect baseball. Year-long Interleague play will not take effect until 2013 though.
So that covers the first part of MLB’s historic day. The second part is a much larger and more surprising change. I was actually shocked when I first heard that each league was adding a Wild Card. When it comes to my stand on the playoff expansion topic, I was never a huge supporter but thought it could be good if done correctly. The best thing about the playoff expansion in my eyes, is that the Rays may end up being one of the main benefiters from this. Before I state my opinion, I probably should explain how the new postseason system works. The two Wild Card teams play each other in a one-game playoff, the winner advancing to the final eight (regular playoff format). The new playoffs will take effect possibly as early as next year; 2013 at the latest. The decision to make the extra ‘series’ a one-game playoff, is my one problem with the whole thing. After all that work and time, I thought they would be able to make it a best out of 3 series. In a one-game playoff, I believe that the better team doesn’t always advance. It’s not a real big deal, but it just irks me a little bit knowing how close they were to getting it right.
In Rays Hot Stove news now, it looks like the Rays have made their first dive into free agency. Unofficial sources say that Blue Jays’ catcher Jose Molina has signed to a 1-year deal. The deal is pretty unsurprising, as I have mentioned in past articles that the Rays are likely going to look to free agency to find a catcher. Although Molina is in the final years of his career, his defense is still an effective part of his game (well he is a Molina). I was kind of hoping that the Rays would pick up a young backstop, but this move is not such a bad one at all. For a full article at The Rays Way (The Rays Rant ‘sister blog’) on Molina joining the Rays, click here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.