Posted on: January 20, 2012 5:10 pm
Carlos Pena to Tampa Bay is cute in a homecoming sort of way, sure. But could it be more than that? You bet.
Ever so quietly -- as usual -- the Rays are working smart and putting together another team down there by the water that will give the Yankees, Red Sox and everyone else fits this summer.
Maybe Pena, at 33, struggles to stay above the Mendoza Line anymore. But he did whack 28 homers for the Cubs last summer while collecting 80 RBI, which was exactly ... 28 more homers and 79 more RBI than the Rays got from Manny Ramirez in 2011.
Nobody, surely starting with the Rays, is expecting Pena to replicate his 2009 All-Star season (39 homers, 100 RBIs).
But Pena trumps Manny by about 1,000 miles both on the field and in the clubhouse. Together, Pena and Luke Scott, whom the Rays added as a DH bat earlier this month, should be a much more productive first base/DH combination than last year's Casey Kotchman/Johnny Damon tag team.
In fact, the Rays last summer ranked dead last among major-league first basemen in 2011 in both runs scored and RBI. Overall, Tampa Bay's 707 runs scored ranked eighth in the AL.
In Pena and Scott, they should get more production. And with a killer rotation in James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis and rookie Matt Moore or Jeff Niemann -- the Rays' 3.58 ERA in 2011 was second in the AL only to the Angels' -- there is no reason why it shouldn't carry Joe Maddon's club deep into September once again.
Posted on: November 28, 2011 10:15 pm
Edited on: November 28, 2011 11:29 pm
It's a long way from job offered and job accepted, but the Astros on Tuesday obtained permission from Tampa Bay to speak with general manager Andrew Friedman, sources with knowledge of the talks confirmed to CBSSports.com.
New Astros owner Jim Crane, wasting no time after a firing GM Ed Wade and president of baseball operations Tal Smith, is setting his sights on the man widely considered to be one of the top executives in the game. That Friedman is only 35 and is a Houston native are both happy coincidences -- and, as for Friedman's hometown, one huge chip the Astros apparently hope they can cash in.
With Friedman in the GM's seat, Tampa Bay has won two AL East titles in the past four seasons. The Rays also earned an American League wild-card berth another of those years. The Red Sox, by comparison, have won only one AL East title in the past 16 seasons.
Friedman also spoke with the Angels earlier this winter, though he never reached the point where he waded too deeply into the interview process in either place. He absolutely loves his situation in Tampa Bay with owner Stuart Sternberg, club president Matt Silverman and manager Joe Maddon, according to multiple sources, and is not looking to leave.
Whether the pull of his hometown Astros would be enough will be determined in the near future, though sources indicate that it still would be a surprise if Friedman does leave his current situation. With the baseball winter meetings convening next week in Dallas, Houston is looking to move quickly -- though the Astros almost certainly will not have a new man on the job by then.
News that the Astros have obtained permission from the Rays to speak with Friedman was first reported by Houston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice.
Posted on: November 16, 2011 5:35 pm
More than ever, managers come in all shapes and sizes.
Two new skippers named this offseason -- St. Louis' Mike Matheny and Robin Ventura of the White Sox -- have never managed before in their lives.
Mike Quade had managed more than 2,000 minor-league games when the Cubs hired him last year.
So in this modern context, it couldn't have been more fitting that Joe Maddon (American League) and Kirk Gibson (National League) were named as Managers of the Year on Wednesday in voting by the Baseball Writers' Assn. of America.
Before the Rays named him as manager in 2006, Maddon spent 31 years in professional baseball with the Angels, the first 12 at the minor-league level as a manager or instructor.
When Gibson was named by the Diamondbacks as their manager last winter, before his three-month stint as their interim skipper in 2009, he had never managed at any level.
"As players, and if you talk to Mike and Robin I'm sure they feel this way, you always believe you can do stuff," Gibson said on a conference call Wednesday. "You always want to believe you are something more than you are.
"I was fortunate to fall into a good situation. I was familiar with the team and the organization because I had been in it."
Gibson, who came to the Diamondbacks as their bench coach in 2007, cited the belief and support of a front office led by president Derrick Hall and general manager Kevin Towers, who helped him put together a coaching staff that, philosophically, all hold similar beliefs and core values.
"They stood behind me when I maybe did something unconventional," Gibson, 54, said. "When I hear somebody say I did something unconventional it makes me smile because sabermetrics and numbers are a part of the game where applicable, but sometimes you need to fail to become a good ballplayer. Sometimes you need to fail to become a good team.
"When you've been in the game a long time, it helps you. I coached youth hockey and I coached youth baseball. That was instrumental. I spent five years in the television booth. That was helpful.
"You look at everyone's path, and if you utilize your resources properly, you can do well. [Matheny and Ventura are] great baseball minds. If the support is there, they will succeed."
Maddon, 57, managed rookie ball in Idaho Falls (1981), Single A in Salem, Ore. (1982-1983), and in Peoria, Ill. (1984) and Double-A in Midland, Tex. (1985-1986) before spending several seasons as a roving minor-league instructor before joining the Angels' big-league staff in 1994.
"I like the way I was able to get here," Maddon said Wednesday. "I'm very grateful.
"I'm always interested in the struggle. It's hard to say you have more fun after the struggle than you have during it."
Both Maddon and Gibson prefaced their remarks by noting they were speaking about their own situations, not those of Matheny or Ventura.
Maddon, known for his unconventional and creative way of thinking, honed some of those skills during his journey to the majors -- not after it.
"I'm so grateful I had all those years in the minor leagues," Maddon said. "A lot of things that are so-called 'outside the box', I had a chance to try those things in Salem, Ore., Midland, Tex., Peoria, Ill. I had a chance to try some of that stuff.
"You figure out what mistakes you've made, what you said to a guy and how he reacted. ... For me, I can't imagine what I'd do now without that experience.
"Having said all that, it's a little different now because a lot of the job today is not on the field. It's what happens in the clubhouse, dealing with personalities, having the ability to interact with the media."
But the bottom line today is the same as it was a generation ago: Winning.
Maddon is a new-age thinker in an old-school body.
Gibson, in turning a 97-loss Arizona team into 2011 NL West champions, helped blaze the trail for managerial neophytes like Matheny and Ventura to debut in the majors.
Together on Wednesday, they presented a pretty good snapshot of where today's managers are -- and where they come from.
Posted on: September 29, 2011 10:26 am
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Best thing about Thursday for the bleary-eyed Tampa Bay Rays, of course, was simple: They're in. Somehow, some way, improbably, impossibly, incredibly ... they moved past Boston and into the wild-card slot for the first time since May at the very last possible minute.
Second-best thing about Thursday for the Rays?
In pulling off their miracle, they also avoided the dreaded one-game playoff with the Red Sox on Thursday.
Which means a team that has been in full-on sprint mode for weeks gets one very key day to rest its pitching before facing the Texas Airborne Rangers in Game 1 of an American League Divisional Series on Friday.
"It is very important not playing [Thursday]," manager Joe Maddon said amid the champagne showers in the Rays clubhouse overnight Thursday.
"Texas is very tough. Their numbers playing in their ballpark are sick. We've got to play our best baseball. We've got to be on our best behavior."
What Tampa Bay has had going for it all season is rich depth in its rotation. From James Shields to Jeremy Hellickson and beyond, the Rays can bring it on the mound.
But here was the state of Tampa Bay's pitching as the Rays were forced to chew through so many relievers during its wild charge this week that the bullpen stretched like salt water taffy: Starter James Shields, who beat the Yankees on Monday, was warming in the pen as the Last Man Standing in the 12th inning Wednesday.
Had the Rays been forced to play Boston in a one-gamer on Thursday, they would have had to get incredibly inventive to make it through (though perhaps not as inventive as chasing a trade with Kansas City for Bruce Chen).
"It's huge," All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria said of the chance to take a 24-hour breather before taking on Texas. "Those guys [the pitchers] have been grinding all year for us. You can't say enough about what the bullpen did [in Wednesday night's 8-7, 12-inning win over the Yankees]."
Now, Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey have a fascinating decision in choosing a Game 1 starter. Jeff Niemann, coming off of a sore back, or high-ceilinged prospect Matt Moore were in line to start the one-game staredown with Boston had it come to that.
Will the Rays elect to go with Big Game James Shields on short rest (he started Monday)? Niemann? Would the unconventional Maddon dare hand the ball to the rookie Moore?
It's all just one more good reason why Tampa Bay was thrilled to not have to play on Thursday: Gives them more time to think about these decisions.
Posted on: September 28, 2011 5:47 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2011 5:53 pm
ST. PETERSBURG -- One day after being taken in a stretcher from Tropicana Field with chest pains, first baseman Casey Kotchman was back in Tampa Bay's lineup for Wednesday's pivotal game against the Yankees.
Kotchman underwent a battery of tests, all of which came back negative. He was released from the hospital late Tuesday, not long before the Rays finished their 5-3 win over New York.
"I don't think it's how you'd draw up Game 161, but I'm feeling better and everything's ready to go tonight," said Kotchman, who is hitting seventh and playing first base.
Kotchman, 28, said his chest was "uncomfortable, very uncomfortable" and added that he's never been through an episode like that before.
He said he still has no idea why it struck.
"No, but I'm not worried about it," Kotchman said. "I'll take it day by day."
Rays manager Joe Maddon said he had no hesitation in putting Kotchman back in the lineup Wednesday once he was cleared both by hospital staff and Tampa Bay doctors.
"I had to hear it from him [that he was OK]," Maddon said. "The doctors were on board. He was adamant that he was fine."
"I like putting on the costume," said Kotchman, who is batting .305 with 10 homers and 48 RBI. "Hopefully, we can pull out a win tonight."
Posted on: February 21, 2011 8:15 pm
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Good Manny Ramirez, not Bad Manny, is here (for now).
So, too, is Johnny Damon -- who waltzed out of camp after Tampa Bay's first full-squad workout Monday in a comical, crisp white T-shirt reading "johnny biceps".
Nothing like the warmth, smiles and sunshine of early spring.
And the unbridled optimism that goes with it.
Say what you want about Ramirez and Damon and how maybe Tampa Bay would be better off if this was, say, 2004. The Rays will counter by insisting there is a method to their Maddon-ness.
"There was a lot of energy out there. At first I thought it was attributable to [infielder] Ray Olmedo," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon quipped of the largest opening day spring crowd any of the Rays remember.
"I really did. Then, seeing all the signs, I knew they were more interested in Manny and Johnny. Seeing [fans] moving around, it was almost like an NFL practice.
"We're not used to that. But we love it."
Ramirez stopped and signed several autographs on his way off of the field. Then he did a round of interviews with the Tampa Bay televisions stations covering the first workout (and then he did one with us, which you'll see later in the week when we post our Tampa Bay Camp Report).
Damon spent some 30 minutes doing rounds of media interviews after the workout.
Which is all well and good. But these Rays think they can contend despite losing Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano and Joaquin Benoit to free agency, and trading Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett.
And as such, they didn't bring Damon and Ramirez in to perform some sort of circus act.
"It really augments our lineup," Rays general manager Andrew Friedman said. "It adds to our depth. We have a number of young players we're counting on this year. It adds protection in the event of injury or poor production from one of our young players, it allows us to be able to shelter them a little bit more."
And, Friedman noted, it helps balance the lineup. Damon is a lefty, Ramirez swings righty.
"Both grind at-bats, both have experience in the division and, more importantly, both wanted to get back into the fray. Both missed playing in the AL East and wanted to get back.
"They're definitely going to make our team better. The question is, how much?"
Part of that, the Rays hope, is by filling the veteran leadership void left by the departures of Crawford and Pena.
"If our young players watch the way Manny prepares every day, I'd be thrilled," said Friedman, who noted that Ramirez was in the cage hitting a few mornings ago at 7:30. "If they watch the way he studies video, and what he does to get his swing right, and the amount of time he puts into it, and our young guys emulate that, I'll be thrilled."
Ramirez has lost 12 pounds from last year after battling leg issues.
As for Damon, Friedman said, "he's going to add a lot to front part of our lineup, whether it's in the one or two hole. The way he grinds at-bats, the value he adds on the bases. We still feel like he's got a lot left in the legs, in the way he takes care of his body."
Maddon intends to have spring training scheduled out for both veterans.
"I want to pay attention to their legs," he said. "I want to set up a schedule in advance that they know they're going to have, and not just 'I'm a little tired today' or "I felt a little something coming out of the box.' I want to avoid those moments."
On Monday, as the Rays kicked things off, the moments were all light-hearted and festive.
The "johnny biceps" T?
"Someone sent it to me," Damon said.
And how many times have you worn it?
"Once before," he deadpanned. "It matches [the shorts]."
Sunblock Day? Breeziest day yet in Florida, but still sunny and in the 80s.
Likes: Omar Vizquel still hanging around with the White Sox. ... Mary, the nice lady from Bemidji, Minn., who is a snowbird in the winter and works as an attendant outside the press room at Tampa Bay's camp in Port Charlotte. Her first year here, but her husband, a retired law enforcement guy, worked here last year and convinced her to join him at the ballyard. Nice people, and so cute. ... Bennett's Fresh Roast Coffee in Fort Myers. Best coffee house on the circuit. Phenomenal coffee and "hand-cut" donuts made on premises to rival Krispy Kreme's. Seriously. ... Carl Hiaasen's Double Whammy. Nobody lampoons Florida and its characters like Hiaasen, which makes it a perfect read for here. The county morgue is in a converted Burger King because it was the "only building in town with a walk-in freezer." And when the pathologist goes to examine a drowning victim, there's this: "The stench was dreadful, a mixture of wet death and petrified french fries."
Dislikes: Things still do not sound right in Justin Morneau's comeback from a concussion. ... Doing laundry in the hotel.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Like Miles Davis, I've been swayed by the cool
-- Gaslight Anthem, Miles Davis and The Cool
Posted on: October 9, 2010 10:36 pm
ARLINGTON, Tex. -- So now AL East champion Tampa Bay hands the ball for its Game 4 start to ... The Bear Hunter?
Yes, meet big right-hander Wade Davis, 6-5 and 220 pounds, who, when he's not pitching for the Rays, lives the kind of life that makes Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon confident when Davis is pitching for the Rays.
Aside from the fact that Davis pitched very well for Tampa Bay toward season's end -- 1-1 with a 3.21 ERA over the last month -- Maddon notes, "He's kind of cold-blooded."
"He shot a bear recently in Toronto," Maddon was saying before Game 3. "Came out ... with a bow and arrow and put it down, so I really think he has taken off since that's occurred.
"An off day in Toronto, and the boys went bear hunting. That's a nice off day right there. Wade was the only one who came back with the 300-pound plus black bear.
"If he can stay eye-to-eye with a black bear, I think [Sunday] is not that big of a deal."
That's what the Rays hope, at least.
For the season, Davis was 12-10 with a 4.07 ERA over 29 starts. Whether an Airborne Rangers lineup featuring Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero will cause that hunting feeling, we'll see.
"I hope it is nothing like that. I hope it is really different," Davis says, adding, "That was a heart-pounding moment."
By the way, the Rangers are not throwing a bear hunter in Game 4 -- at least, not that we know of. But right-hander Tommy Hunter, 24, is a pretty darned good pitcher (13-4, 3.73 ERA), especially in The Ballpark in Arlington (7-0, 3.06 in 12 games, 11 starts).
The reason for his success at home?
"I like throwing here," Hunter said. "The fans are great and just the way they play defense behind me has been pretty impressive all year. So, hopefully things don't change."
Likes: Johnny Oates' grandson -- Johnny Oates II -- throwing out the first pitch before Game 3 of the Rays-Rangers here. The late Rangers manager was a terrific man, and it was nice to see the Rangers remember him through his grandson. ... Texas infielder Michael Young in the postseason. ... Really, I'm professionally neutral on this Tampa Bay-Texas series, but it's nice to see some life in the Rays and a series turn interesting. ... Seeing Nancy Mazmanian, who was callously and unconscionably laid off by the Angels last winter after many years as a first-class media relations pro in Anaheim, helping with PR here in Texas for this series. ... The Murray's Steak Sandwich in Minnesota's Target Field. Best ballpark concession I think I've had. And at only $10.50, it's shockingly reasonable. ... Razzoo's Cajun joint in Fort Worth. Excellent seafood gumbo and crawfish etouffee the other night. ... Congratulations to Don Middlebrook, tropical music troubadour extraordinaire in Michigan, on 20 years of music. Check him out here.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Well, he went down to dinner in his Sunday best
-- Warren Zevon, Excitable Boy
Posted on: October 6, 2010 5:39 pm
The fact that Texas had lost nine consecutive playoff games mattered not to Ron Washington's Rangers in kicking off this autumn's postseason Wednesday afternoon.
And with a Game 1 win now in the bag over Tampa Bay and David Price, those nine losses might as well have occurred in the 1890s rather than the 1990s.
Not only did the Rangers do what they needed to do behind ace Cliff Lee, but now they're set up to steal two games in Tropicana Field.
If the Rangers batter Shields the way they ambushed and head back to Texas with a 2-0 series lead, this series is as good as over.
The Shields move is defensible mostly by looking at his home/road splits:
In Tropicana Field, Shields is 5-7 with a not-too-stellar 4.53 ERA.
On the road, Shields is 8-8 with a coyote ugly 5.82 ERA.
Exposing Shields to The Ballpark in Arlington, a hitter's paradise that ranks seventh in the majors in home runs per game, was closer to outright suicide on the diamond than Maddon dared go.
But when Tampa Bay's hitters couldn't squeeze anything out of Lee during his uncharacteristic 24-pitch first inning, it only raised the stakes for Shields in Game 2. Granted, the tone of the inning changed dramatically when plate umpire Tim Welke called a high strike on Carlos Pena to make the count 2-2 instead of 3-1, a terrible call that hurt the Rays.
Still. In playoff baseball, you can't get yourself into position where one ball/strike call is a mortal wound. You've either got to take advantage of other opportunities, or create them.
Tampa Bay didn't. And now, the Rays are in must-win mode on Thursday.