The 2011 portion of the offseason has seen the Rays sign Jose Molina, trade John Jaso for Josh Lueke, trade Jake Jeffries to the Marlins for Burke Badenhop, sign a handful of minor league deals most notable Juan Miranda, and most importantly sign Matt Moore to a long term contract extension. This is nothing unusual for the Rays, as shown in the infographic above, many of their transactions are completed after the new year. As we wait for the ball to drop on 2011 and the 2012 portion of the offseason to begin, let's look back at the trades, free agent signings, and other notable moments that led up to the roster construction that eventually landed the Rays in the playoffs.
On January 8, 2011 the Rays dealt Matt Garza, Zach Rosscup, and Fernando Perez to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Sam Fuld, Robinson Chirinos, Hak Ju Lee, Chris Archer, and Brandon Guyer. The trade of Garza opened the door for Jeremy Hellickson to take a spot in the rotation and he responded by winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award by posting a record of 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA (FIP of 4.44) over 189 innings of work.
Rays fans were treated with a plethora of outstanding defensive gems by Sam Fuld through the course of the year (video here). Both Robinson Chirinos and Brandon Guyer spent time with the Rays in 2011 and both should be competing for roster spots this spring.
Hak Ju Lee increased his prospect stock (Keith Law had him as the #7 best prospect in his mid-season rankings) and participated in the Futures All Star Game. Chris Archer struggled with his command in AA but finished the regular season with two outstanding starts in AAA Durham. Both Brandon Guyer and Chris Archer received B- grade from John Sickels at Minor Leauge Ball.
On January 15, 2011 the Rays signed Kyle Farnsworth. It wasn't known at the time what his role would be but the guys at MLB Fantasy 411 certainly seemed to scoff at the idea of him being a closer. Farnsworth scoffed at the notion that he couldn't fill the void left by Rafael Soriano by posting a 5-1 record with an ERA of 2.18 including 25 saves and was an integral part of the Rays success in 2011. As long as he is healthy he will be returning to the back of the Rays bullpen in 2012.
On January 21, 2011 the Rays signed the Dirk "the Garfoose" Hayhurst. The Garfoose never made it to Tampa in 2011 but his signing did bring many of us including myself to read The Bullpen Gospels which had me laughing more times than I could count. Hayhurst has a dynamic personality, so much so that Hayhurst shared the stage with David Price at the Rays very successful Fan Fest. He also brought a new emoticon with a series of Shatometer which was described to our own Brad Woodrum in a great interview in February.
On January 26, 2011 the once promising Rocco Baldelli retired from baseball and took a job as a special adviser to the Rays front office.
"I don't anticipate ever playing baseball again. I'm retired. The paperwork will be filed," Baldelli said Tuesday night. "And you know what. The only time I feel like it's good to retire is when you're happy to retire. And I'm happy."
On January 28, 2011 the Rays signed Casey Kotchman as part reclamation project and part insurance at 1b in the event that Dan Johnson struggled. When Manny Ramirez unexpectedly failed his 3rd drug test and retired the Rays called upon Kotchman to join the big club. Kotchman, who had already sparked a mini-controversy with the fan base as to who should get the nod as the 1b by having a very good spring training hitting .354/.415/.521 picked up right where he left off and continued to impress. His final numbers for the season were .306/.372/.428 with a .351 wOBA and a 125 wRC+.
On January 31, 2011 the Rays signed Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to play LF and DH respectively. Damon signed for 5.25 million dollars plus up to 750K in attendance bonus' and Ramirez signed for 2 million dollars. Damon went on to hit .261/.326/.418 with 16 HR and 19 stolen bases in 647 PA with the Rays while Ramirez went 1-17 with the Rays before the news broke that he failed his 3rd drug test and was retiring from baseball.
Damon is a candidate to be re-signed by the Rays for 2012 while Ramirez is attempting to comeback from his retirement and has had his original 100 game suspension reduced to 50 games. The outcome of the whole Manny signing was very unfortunate and felt like a kick in the groin to many fans but at the time of the signing the press conference was a classic and the fan base was energized. The following video are the highlights from the press conference; the entire press conference can be seen HERE.
On February 19, 2011 the Rays held their Fan Fest and the response was outstanding. Here is what Dave Shcieber of FoxSports wrote:
Just after 10 a.m. Saturday morning, only minutes after FanFest officially got underway, Tropicana Field was already rocking with eager and enthusiastic supporters. The parking lots were nearly filled to capacity resembling a typical game-day sellout and a steady stream of fans just kept pouring through the doors.
By the time pitchers and catchers reported to spring training the Rays had assembled a number of components for Joe Maddon to cobble a bullpen together. On December 17, 2010 Andrew Friedman dealt Jason Bartlett to the San Diego Padres for infielder Cole Figueroa and relievers Adam Russell, Cesar Ramos, and Brandon Gomes, he signed Juan Cruz, Joel Peralta, and Kyle Farnsworth as free agents, and there was hope that for a healthy return by J.P. Howell who had missed 2010 with shoulder surgery would return to the club around June 1st.
On top of rebuilding the bullpen the Rays had to hope that Johnny Damon wouldn't be too much of a defensive liability in LF, Manny Ramirez could remain healthy and provide the big bat behind Evan Longoria, that Dan Johnson could replace Carlos Pena at first base, and that Reid Brignac could step in and be the everyday shortstop.
On March 8, 2011 Jonah Keri's book The Extra 2% was released. Brad Woodrum had an excellent look at the casting call for who would play Vince Namoli, Stu Sternberg, Lou Piniella, Andrew Friedman, and Joe Maddon.
One of the greatest Movie Promotions of ALL TIME:
Joe Maddon was optimistic as he sat down with Tim Kirkjian to discuss the team prior to opening day. A great interview where Maddon talks about bullpen, bullpen, and more bullpen. Admits he wouldn't be as comfortable as he is in 2011 if his rotation had left via free agency. Discusses Casey Kotchman in terms of being at the same point as Carlos Pena was when the Rays acquired him, Damon, and Manny.
On March 31, 2011 the Rays announced that they had signed Wade Davis to a contract extension for up to 7 years and be worth 35.1 million dollars.
As they say, the rest is history. We all know about the trials and tribulations of the 2011 regular season. Hopefully, the Rays will continue to acquire either through trade, free agency, or minor league signings the same sort of depth and production they received from the 2011 crop of players picked up after the ball dropped ending 2010.