Here we are again, the off-season, that October breeze is back and with it a new sense of optimism is found in the heart of this Rays' fan. To be honest I don't watch a ton of playoff baseball, part of me finds it depressing, the other half is I just don't have emotional stake in the games and with the NHL starting up soon the Lightning will receive most of my attention. Getting back to the Rays part, it's funny how just a few days ago I described myself as mentally tired when concerning the team, but now I didn't want to see the season end, even if I had to endure Brian Stokes pitch every inning of every game throughout eternity; Prometheus' sentence was nothing compared to that of watching a groundball pitcher with a bad infield defense and a knack for seeing eye singles.
I suppose my point is being a Rays fan is like being a smoker, you know puffing one or watching a game is liable to cause future pain, but for all the good in you nothing will make you stop. Of course they don't make patches for our addiction, a large part of me is grateful for that; baseball after all is the greatest sport on Earth, (note to those who would rather see men legally assault each other over a dead piece of pig, please don't send me hate mail, thanks) and I can't see my life without a small piece of it involving the sport with bats, gloves, and pine tar.
Getting back to the part you actually care about, I'll admit the idea of this off-season was in far distaste to me just a few days ago, but like Rays fans do, I tempered my expectations and arrived at a few ideas that I can put some hope into, of course it's very possible none of this happens - likely actually - but for these next few weeks this is all I have to hold on to.
There seems to be an abnormal amount of Japanese players available this off-season, including a ton of pitchers, naturally this intrigues me, particularly the ones who won't require a posting fee. This begins with shortstop Tomohiro Nioka, a shortstop for the Yomirui Giants Nioka is a legit free agent and probably won't be too expensive, perhaps a deal similar to Akinori Iwamura's? He doesn't have a great bat, but his glove is apparently gold, and you know how I feel about good gloved no bat shortstops, damn you Riccardi!
The rest of the clear FAs are pitchers, lefty closer Hitoki Iwase, similar to Akinori Otsuka, starter Kenshin Kawakami whose workload averages around 150 pitches per game, Masahide Kobayashi, a closer who is the Japanese Trevor Hoffman, and one starter who unlike the rest would require a posting free, Kazumi Saito. He's only 29 and has won 3 of the past 4 Japanese Cy Youngs, but he has some shoulder concerns.
As far as American relievers the most obvious target should be Francisco Cordero, from there you look at the likes of one of my favorites David Riske (assuming the Royals won't pick up his option) and guys like Luis Vizcaino and native Mike Timlin.
Then of course there's always Alexei Ramirez, the Cuban defector who claims to be 26 and can play short, center, second, wherever. Although his numbers (.332/.394/.503 67 HRs, 119 2Bs, 21 3Bs, 38 SBs in six seasons / 2,115 games) are quite impressive you must take into consideration the weaker talent in Cuba, although he could come cheap.
Although the DH position isn't as important as pitching or shortstop, I do think the team could stand to add player in case Rocco Baldelli doesn't stay healthy, and I'm sure we all have our doubts on that one; the only two names that would fit the `walk a lot' style are Mike Lamb and Ryan Klesko, honestly I have no idea if they'd fit our budget or not.
I'd also like to add a catcher like Damian Miller, so figure my shopping list is a shortstop, a bench bat who can double as a DH, a backup catcher, and two relievers.
Let the playoffs, and our off-season begin, is it wrong if I hope for clean sweeps throughout the playoffs, getting to that 16h day after the World Series as quickly as possible?
Tomohiro is my hero