The Rays are reportedly interested in INF Jeff Keppinger, who split his time with the Astros and Giants in 2011. Keppinger hit .277 BA/.300 OBP/.377 SLG/.677 OPS with 39 runs (35 RBI) and 105 at-bats in 99 games last year. With the potential to add Keppinger to the Rodriguez-Brignac-Rhymes-Johnson infield fray, as they say, it just got real. More on this to come.
With the acquisitions of Luke Scott and Carlos Pena, many baseball analysts have ranked the Rays second, just behind the Yankees, in their power rankings for the upcoming season.
As can be expected, the Rays will consider numerous batting orders this year, predicated on the righty vs. lefty pitching match-ups. TBT Rays beat writer, Marc Topkin, put together a possible lineup (below) alternating right-handed and left-handed hitters:
1. LF Desmond Jennings (R)
2. DH Luke Scott (L)
3. 3B Evan Longoria (R)
4. 1B Carlos Peña (L)
5. 2B Ben Zobrist (S)
6. CF B.J. Upton (R)
7. RF Matt Joyce (L)
8. C Jose Molina (R)
9. SS Sean Rodriguez (R) or Reid Brignac (L)
At first, I thought this batting order was a bit off-putting. To be honest, I’d prefer to see Rodriguez bumped up in the batting order. He’s a smart and aggressive base runner, and we all saw what he could add offensively toward the end of last season. Then again, bumping SeanRod up in the order, based solely on his improved numbers at the plate in the last third of 2011, may not necessarily be the wisest decision. Keep in mind too, that the ninth spot is effectively the first in many instances over the span of nine innings.
You’d better believe that JoeMa, and the rest of his saber minded wizards, will obviously change things up based off of righty vs. lefty match ups. Just by looking at the first five hitters in this hypothetical batting order, my word, the Rays are going to be a beast this year!
With all of this in mind, we ask you this, dear reader: What would be your ideal batting order? Feel free to leave your comments below.
January 20th Update: This just in, Carlos Pena is again a Ray. Pena has signed a one year deal, reportedlyworth $7.25 MM. According to MLBTraderumors, the Cubs offered Pena arbitration after the season, so they’ll earn a compensatory draft pick for losing the Type B free agent. However, the Rays don’t have to surrender a pick to add Pena.
Pena will add substantial power to the Rays, who were looking to bolster the power in the lineup in this off-season. I’d be interested to see how the projected offensive numbers may change with the addition of Pena to the roster.
It is bittersweet to say goodbye to Casey Kotchman who will now, presumably, sign elsewhere. I’ve overstated this to a fault already, but it would have been nice to see the addition of a long term player (cough, Mark Trumbo) to the roster. In the end, we’ll be in the exact same spot next year. However, you know exactly what you’re getting in Pena who offers something that neither Trumbo or, arguably, Kotchman could: a motivating leader in the dugout.
The Rays signed three players to minor league contracts on Thursday: 28 year-old utility infielder Will Rhymes, 32 year-old outfielder Jesus Feliciano, and 27 year old RHP Romulo Sanchez. In addition, they also re-signed RHP Matt Torra, who spent the second half of the 2011 season in AAA Durham, to a minor league contract. All four are to receive invitations to major-league camp.
Rhymes spent the last two seasons in the Tigers organization where he hit .283 in 83 games. He was surprisingly non-tendered by the Tigers in 2011. You may also recall the name Jesus Feliciano. Feliciano was picked up as a free-agent in 2003 by the (then Devil) Rays. He’s spent the majority of his professional career in the Mets organization, with most of his experience coming at the minor league level.
Sanchez, 1-0 with a 4.04 ERA in 35.2 innings, relies mostly on his mid 90’s fastball, change-up, and slider, and is by all counts a pitch to contact type of pitcher. See Sanchez’s Contact vs. Whiffs pitch F/X below. Sanchez could be another decent arm in the pen that would be brought in, in key situations or used in specific matchups. Finally, Matt Torra went 5-1 with a 3.67 ERA in 11 games last season with AAA Durham. In those appearances Torra gave up 25 earned runs, struck out 31, and had an impressive 1.8 walks per nine innings ratio.
St. Petersburg mayor, Bill Foster, has made his first official statement with Bay News 9 regarding yesterdays two hour meeting with Rays principal owner, Stu Sternberg. Foster said he “came out of the meeting confident that Sternberg and the Rays organization are prepared to honor their current contract through 2027.” Foster also said he “tried to bring up the issue of tearing down the Trop and building a new stadium to Sternberg, but the Rays had no real interest in the idea.” That offer was left on the table.
If the mayor is not speaking in hyperbole, which he has been known to do in the past, why has Sternberg changed his expectation about the future of the Rays in the Trop? One wonders if he’s realized that building a new stadium, especially one in Tampa, is not going to effectively change the attendance woes, at least in the long run? I suspect more will come out from both sides over the course of the next few days and weeks.
The mayor and city council will meet Thursday to discuss ways to better market the Rays. One idea that, reportedly, will be discussed is the potential to make the Trop a stop on the proposed 24 mile long light-rail system, running from Clearwater to St. Petersburg, and eventually connecting with Tampa.
In the end, if we’re talking about a “value of a market, as opposed to the location of a new stadium” type of scenario, it will be incumbent on both the Rays organization and the city of St. Petersburg (as well as region wide leaders) to do exhaustive studies on what could put more bottoms in the seats, and maintain a steady fan-base. I predict that the narrative will soon change to where the Rays can move outside of the region, especially if improvements are not made on that end. With that in mind, asking the leaders in Detroit and those involved with the Tigers organization, how they are able to maintain a steady fan-base in an area that is, arguably, in greater economic dire straits than the Tampa Bay region is a good start. It would also be beneficial to look at, and begin conversations with, other smaller market teams (the Brewers come to mind) in order to see what they do to keep fans coming out to the ball-park. It’s obvious that those who want to make sure that the Rays stay within this community need to look no further than Oakland, as the perfect non-example of how to maintain and sustain a sports (rather multiple) organization in a non-economically viable environment. However, dialog with successful franchises in other small markets, or successful franchises in economically strapped regions need to be on both the leaders of our region, and the franchises, collective dockets.