The Eight Crazy Nights of the Rays Off-Season

The 2010 Rays off-season menorah shines brightly with players new and old.

As a child, all my non-Jewish friends had this crazy idea that during the holiday season, I got more presents because Hanukkah was eight nights long.  What they didn't understand was that some nights were better than others in regards to Hanukkah gifts.  Sure, regardless of upbringing, there were those kids more fortunate than others--the ones that got the pony AND the plastic rocket--but, generally ,whether you celebrated Christmas, Hanukkah, or Festivus, you didn't always get what you wanted.

For the Rays, 'tis the Hot Stove season--to both give and receive.  Hanukkah has recently passed and Christmas is just around the corner (and my half birthday is near the end of February if you were thinking about getting me anything).  The Rays have given much--Carl Crawford to the Red Sox as a free agent is the biggest example--and gotten back some 'thank you' cards in the form of compensation picks.

As fans, we eagerly await to see what the Rays will give us this off-season.  We know we can't get everything we want.  Times have been a little tougher on this side of the tracks, and, at the risk of calling a multimillion dollar organization 'poor', the Rays just don't have the money to give us a toy that we won't be paying attention to by July. 

"Dad, can I have a Puppy?" 

"Not until you're more responsible." 

"But, I'll be more responsible when I get it."

"OK."

--And then the puppy gets hit by a truck and dies.

Replace the puppy with Pat Burrell and responsibility with attendance and you'll get what I mean.

Since Hanukkah has recently passed, let's review what the Rays have brought us over these eight crazy nights... after the jump:

The First Night: Socks

My family started off small for Hanukkah, and while every year I hoped that the first night would start with a bang, I always ended up getting socks.  They weren't flashy or cool, but I used them.  I wore those socks till they were riddled with holes, then I got some more the next year.

And, just a few days ago did the Rays give us our pair of socks in Joel Peralta.  A cheap, 900K investment, us fans hope that Peralta can be a practical and comfortable solution to cushion our trek through the seventh and eighth innings. 

The Second Night: Re-stitched Glove

At  thirteen, I was pitching in a fall-ball game and left a fastball up that the hitter laced back at my face.  By sheer luck, I brought the glove up and stopped the ball from rearranging my braces.  When I finally opened my eyes to look at my miraculous catch, I was dismayed to see that the ball had ripped through the webbing and had almost come out the back.  The glove, a twelve inch, black Zett, had died in secret service fashion by saving my life, but a few months later my father gave me that same glove--freshly stitched--for Hanukkah.  No, it wasn't new, but it was worn in and comfortable.

Just like our old pal, J.P. Howell

Many fans were dismayed when the Rays did not offer arbitration to J.P., but were reassured that both parties were confident they would be together again soon.  And they were.  The Rays inked Howell to a one year, $1.1M contract to bring the lefty back for the 2011 season.  While J.P. will start the season on the DL as he still needs a little while to get up to speed, hopefully, when he comes around, he'll slide back into the rotation like he's been there the whole time.

The Third Night:  A Share of Stock

Every year my uncle gave me a share of stock.  When I was seven or eight, I couldn't get over what a stupid gift this was.  It had absolutely no effect on me and I'd have rather had fifty cents to buy a pack of Starbursts than a share of Dell.  But, years later I'd look at that stock, see how it performed and be amazed.  My Apple stock has shot up faster than a twelve year-old's shoe size since I received it.  My Enron stock, not so much.

One year ago, the Rays bought us stock in Joaquin Benoit.  And what we got for pennies on the dollar last year helped the Rays win an AL East Title and get a supplemental pick in the upcoming draft.  This year, the Rays have bought us stock in Cory Wade.  Maybe Wade will rise to the big club and give us returns like Benoit did, or maybe he'll stay in AAA and bottom out like Winnebago stock in 2009.  Either way, Corey Wade will be a fun player to track through Spring Training and the 2011 season.

The Fourth Night: Schadenfreude

Sometimes during Hanukkah, the best gift was nothing at all---for my brother that is.  When I was seven years-old my brother was sixteen and was sure-beyond-a-doubt that he'd get a car.  A BMW for that matter.  All he did for a month was talk about this car he was going to get.  He promised my parents he'd drive me to school in the morning and pick me up in the afternoon.  He gushed about the benefits of German brakes.  He spoke about his maturity and how while I was playing with toys he'd be out having grown-up fun in his car.  (I might be paraphrasing here.)  Every night during Hanukkah, when my dad would take out the trash, my brother would go to the front of the house and look out the window to see if he was really bringing a car around the corner.

Needless to say, the one thing my brother did not get that Hanukkah was a car.

He was devastated; morose and empty for the next few weeks.  I didn't know why, but that made me SO happy as a Lego loving seven year-old.  I know now it was schadenfreude: The act of feeling joy at others misfortune.  My brother's lack of a BMW gave me that beautiful feeling, which, besides Michael Jordan's Hanes-commercial mustache, is my favorite German import.

Of course, this brings me to Cliff Lee signing with the Phillies.  I imagine, like me, many of you long time (Devil) Rays fans made it through the bad times by reveling in the Yankees or Red Sox misfortune.  Cliff Lee's signing in the NL for less money rekindled that same feeling of my brother's phantom car.  The Yankees always seem to get the best free agents by throwing money and years in their direction and when they lose out on the biggest fish in the free agent pond, I feel just like I did back then: like a giddy schoolgirl.  It should also be pointed out that just like my avoiding being driven around by an irresponsible teenager, the Rays are much better off by not having to face Lee several times a year.

The Fifth Night: Hand-Me-Downs

On the fifth night of Hanukkah, my Bubby gave to me, pants and coats from cousin Jeremy.

I was twelve and I had to trade away some old Micro Machines to my younger cousins and take my older cousin's dress clothes.  After all, I was an adult and was too old for kids toys.  Sure, I complained, but looking back on it, I'm glad I didn't go to that funeral a few months later in shorts and a t-shirt. 

Just yesterday, the Rays finalized the trade of Jason Bartlett to the Padres for Adam Russell, Cesar Ramos, Brandon Gomes, and Cole Figueroa.  While we enjoyed Jason Bartlett during his tenure as a Ray, the organization has outgrown him--we have Reid Brignac waiting in the wings.  What we need are the sometimes boring, yet necessary bullpen pieces for now and possibly the future in Russell, Ramos, and Gomes and we could maybe grow into a role in the infield for Figueroa in the future, too.  Many fans often discount these new-to-you pieces, but you can always tighten a belt around a pair of 34 inch pants easier than fitting into a size 28. 

The Sixth Night: A Book with a $100 Dollar Bill in it.

One Hanukkah, my father gave my brother a book titled "With Good Reason."  It was a book that spoke about using logic and identifying logical fallacies.  On the cover it demonstrated a logical fallacy that if a pig is an animal and a horse is an animal, therefore a pig is a horse.  Sounds interesting enough, but my brother just said "thank you," then put the book on the shelf and never read it.  My father knew this because he'd stuck a $100 dollar bill in the middle of the book hoping to surprise and reward my unsuspecting brother.  When, by next Hanukkah, my brother hadn't discovered the money, my father took the book off the shelf and re-gifted it to him.  My brother was confused until my father exasperatedly revealed the $100 dollars within. 

In 2007, the Devil Rays took a long look at Carlos Pena, but ultimately decided to let him go at the end of Spring Training in favor of Greg Norton.  Thanks to a Norton injury, however, Pena would go on to hit 46 homeruns that year and 144 in his career as a Ray. 

Maybe R.J. Swindle is this year's Carlos Pena.  I'm not saying he's going to hit 46 bombs--he might give up that many-- but, Swindle is a guy the Rays took a look at in 2010 and deemed him unfit to join the big club.  He should get another look in 2011 to contribute to the bullpen, likely as a LOOGY, but maybe he has some hidden value betwixt his logical pages.  Just his name is enough to get me interested again.

The Seventh Night: A Nintendo 64

"OH MY GOD!  A N64!?! THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I WANTED!" 

Kids have literally spontaneously combusted when receiving this gift.  I was no different.  I mean, The N64 was the pinnacle of the 64-bit gaming world.  With games like Super Mario 64, Wave Race 64, and 8x8=64, the possibilities were endless (as long as endless equals 64) on this super-mega-awesome gaming machine.  It's the gift you wanted before you even knew you wanted it, and then, thanks to mom and dad, it appeared.

2010's Rafael Soriano, anyone?  Rays fans wanted a big end-game stopper and the front office delivered by trading for and signing MFIKY.  The sabermatricians among us might have been wary at the thought of a $7M dedicated closer, but Joe Maddon and Co. were able to use Soriano in high leverage situations (re: not just saves) throughout the season.

Who is this year's N64?  Well, I have no idea.  A few days ago, the money was on Bobby Jenks to be a major acquisition, but that train passed Tampa and headed straight for Boston.  With payroll coming down to $50M or below this season, the Rays might not be able to afford the 64-bit item of the season, but you know Andrew Friedman is scrounging eBay like The Situation at a singles bar for the next deal.  This market has not been kind to the Rays, but hopefully they can find a Manny Ramirez, Derrek Lee, or Jim Thome with a low reserve and a desire to compete.

The Eighth Night: The Gift of Family

Yeah, yeah.  I know it's sappy, but every holiday tale ends with the 'be thankful for what you have' message and this one is no different.  One of my favorite things about Hanukkah and the holiday season is the time spent with family and friends.  I might not have appreciated it then, but the time spent with my family on those eight nights every year was the best gift I ever received.

Anyone on this site, regardless of how you view the Rays off-season acquisitions, has to appreciate the Rays "family."  Since 2006, the current ownership has provided us with entertainment and nourished our inner baseball junkie.  They've given a franchise mired in loss a winning mentality.  Whether you were among the 'few' who went to the Trop this year or the many who contributed to the MLB's fifth highest TV market, you are part of this great community.  Whether you want to send off Carl Crawford with a Thank You or a middle finger, the bottom line is, you want the Rays to succeed in 2011 and beyond.

As for the DRaysBay community, there might be an abnormally high amount of creepy uncles, but this group is a family, nonetheless.  It is always a pleasure to write for you and comment with you regardless of our disagreements in GDTs or Post-Game threads and if you're a lurker or new reader and made it this far, please come in and join the discussion.

Now, I guess the next question is: What are the Rays going to get us fans for Christmas?

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