As i told you all before, I did a little write-up for a Twins gameday program, and hey, now that the series has passed why not post it here?
Somewhere along the lines of history a wise – perhaps
foolish – man once said “If you can’t get it right the first time, start over.”
The Tampa Bay Rays have taken the possibly fake mantra to heart since new owner
Stuart Sternberg took the helms in late 2005. Naturally the changes went
largely unnoticed until the team took one of the final steps in rebuilding the
brand by altering the colors and name of the franchise, but the progress has
been around for quite a while.
When Sternberg took over ads graced our television sets, newspapers, and radios proclaiming that the organization was “under construction”. The team went so far as to hint that the temporary mascot was a construction worker. Months later the dome would be packed full of fans welcomed at the door by Sternberg and “Rebuilding the Dream” was a reality, except for one thing, winning. 2007 would bring more of the same, leaving Sternberg’s bunch with consecutive first overall picks in the amateur draft and the unwanted title of being the worst team in baseball two years running.
All the new paint and personable employees in the world
can’t attract nearly as many folks as winning and make no mistake the franchise
has realized this, but with hard work comes luck, and luck in this case means
Carlos Pena. Before he became a 24 million dollar man he was a junkyard free
agent trying to reclaim some of his former top prospect billing. The Rays were
entering 2007 with Greg Norton and Ty Wigginton at first base and invited Pena
along with another former top prospect, Hee-Seop Choi, to camp in hopes of
catching lightning in a bottle. Choi would go back to
In between hosting the season ticket holders Executive Vice
President of Baseball Operations (general manager) Andrew Friedman confirmed
the team was indeed talking to Pena about returning. 50 something homers later
Pena has a new contract and enlarged fan base backing his every move. Pena also
could be a prophet, take in this quotation from him after
Along the way the team found second baseman Akinori Iwamura
Carl Crawford recently reached hit 1,000, the first player to achieve the feat entirely in a Rays uniform. Despite the consensus that Crawford will bolt after his contract, he seems to enjoy the idea of helping finish what he’s been around to build since 2002. B.J. Upton has found a home in center, even if he’s still having growing pains. In right field the Rays have a bit of a problem. The original plan was to platoon Cliff Floyd, Rocco Baldelli, and Jonny Gomes, but unfortunately Baldelli’s mitochondria issues have left his future as a player very much in doubt, and Floyd’s knee will cause him to miss at least a few weeks. Luckily the Rays have some depth remaining, and between non-roster invitee Eric Hinske, Gomes, waiver pickup Nathan Haynes, and minor leaguer Justin Ruggiano they should be suitable until another prospect, Fernando Perez perhaps, arrive on the major league scene sometime soon.
Catchers Dioner Navarro and Shawn Riggans have never been the healthiest of players, but when Navarro cut his fingers on a net in the dugout of Yankee Stadium Riggans was quick to capitalize, hitting a bases clearing double to put the Rays up. From then Riggans, along with the help of original Ray Mike DiFelice, has helped to enamor fans and personnel alike with his charismatic attitude and framing abilities.
Don’t think the pitchers aren’t fans of the improved defense
either. Few thought Scott Kazmir missing a month of time would allow the Rays
to stay afloat, and even fewer when Garza went down with radial nerve
irritation, but Jason Hammel and Edwin Jackson, both on their last legs with
the organization, have stepped up and combined for four solid efforts. James
Shields has became the staff ace, while Andrew Sonnanstine is the staff brain,
and Jeff Niemann is the newbie, and figures to be the first of quite a prospect
wave featuring David Price, Wade Davis, Jake McGee, and lesser known Mitch
Talbot and Chris Mason.
In the bullpen Troy Percival, Al Reyes, Dan Wheeler, Trever Miller, and Gary Glover form the core while J.P. Howell and Scott Dohmann take the long relief and “gopher” roles alike. For the first time in a while the Rays have a ton of bullpen depth sitting within their top two minor league levels, including Calvin Medlock, Dale Thayer, Nick DeBarr, Grant Balfour, and Jae Kuk Ryu. Plus let us not forget injured hurlers Chad Orvella, Steve Andrade, Kurt Birkins and the currently exiled Juan Salas.
Of course, every team has their leaders, and the Rays have a group of young, talented “whiz kids” in the front office. It starts with Matt Silverman, who runs most of the team’s day to day operations, Friedman and Gerry Hunsicker combined to make most of the personnel decision, Mitch Lukevics (who helped to build the Yankee systems of the early 90’s) and former Baseball Prospectus writer Chaim Bloom run the minor leagues while R.J. Harrison runs the drafts, helping to form the best farm system in the majors. From there it only gets more interesting as Moneyball character Dan Feinstein is Director of Baseball Operations, another former Prospectus writer, James Click, who essentially wrote Baseball Between the Numbers is the Coordinator of Baseball Operations and is joined by yet another Prospectus writer in Erik Neander. Finally I’d be remiss not to mention Carlos Alfonso who runs the new foreign facilities and Michael Kalt, the “point man” in the new stadium discussions.
Only two things stand in the Rays way from becoming the Barack Obama success story of the MLB; getting the new stadium and winning. Like former general manager Chuck LaMar once said: "The only thing that keeps this organization from being recognized as one of the finest in baseball is wins and losses at the major-league level."