Rays Annual FanFest, February 18

The Rays have formally released the date for their annual celebration of the upcoming season, FanFest. FanFest will take place on Saturday, February 18th at the Trop. All of the pertinent information is below. We here at Raysbaseball.co will be there shaking hands, kissing babies, and passing out stickers.

Official Team Release:

The Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest presented by MetroPCS is scheduled for Saturday, February 18 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. at Tropicana Field. The event is also sponsored by Chevrolet, Sweetbay Supermarket and Tradewinds Island Resorts. Admission and parking are free.

This year’s Fan Fest will feature an unprecedented number of activities for kids. Youth stations include clinics by Rays coaches, “Reading with the Rays,” kids running the bases, high five stations with Rays players, photos with Rays mascot Raymond and DJ Kitty, baseball interactive activities for all ages and appearances by Rays players and coaches at various stations throughout the day.

A donation to the ALS Association will allow fans to receive a wristband which grants the opportunity to get autographs from Rays players and coaches. Rays TV and radio broadcasters and more than 25 former major league players will also sign autographs for free throughout the day.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon will again serve up his traditional Thanksmas meal. A limited number of fans will have the opportunity to enjoy a plate of Maddon’s homemade spaghetti, meatballs, sausage and pierogies, a meal he has served at area homeless shelters over the last six winters as part of his Thanksmas initiative. Meals also include salad, mixed desserts, water and soda. Those fans purchasing tickets will also be eligible to win raffle prizes including autographed memorabilia and more. All proceeds benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation and local Salvation Army centers. Presale tickets to the lunch can be purchased on raysbaseball.com.

The Rays Yard Sale returns for a second year giving fans the opportunity to purchase unique game-used and autographed memorabilia dating back to the inaugural season. All proceeds benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation. In 2011, the Rays Yard Sale raised $80,000. Proceeds were split among Rays community partners, the ALS Association, Suncoast Law Enforcement Charities and the Rays Baseball Foundation.

To promote “Reading with the Rays,” the club’s summer reading program, Rays players will read select stories to kids throughout the day.

In the kids’ interactive zone, fans can swing away in a big league batting cage, try out their fastball in the speed pitch booth and hit a home run in the Wiffle Ball Home Run Derby.

Sweetbay Supermarket High Five Station will once again allow kids to run the bases and get high fives from players as they cross home plate.

In addition, Rays broadcasters and special guests will hold panel discussions, Rays coaches and staff will conduct free clinics for kids of all ages and clubhouse tours will be offered throughout the day.

Fans are encouraged to stop by the MetroPCS Call-A-Friend Stage to have the opportunity for a Rays player to call a friend or family member and receive the most up-to-date information on MetroPCS products.

Rays ticket sales personnel will be available to assist fans throughout the day in the purchase of season tickets, Opening Day tickets, single game tickets and a special Fan Fest pack offer.

Fans can call 888-FAN-RAYS or log on to raysbaseball.com for more information about 2012 Rays Fan Fest. More event details will be released next month.The Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest presented by MetroPCS is scheduled for Saturday, February 18 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. at Tropicana Field. The event is also sponsored by Chevrolet, Sweetbay Supermarket and Tradewinds Island Resorts. Admission and parking are free.

This year’s Fan Fest will feature an unprecedented number of activities for kids. Youth stations include clinics by Rays coaches, “Reading with the Rays,” kids running the bases, high five stations with Rays players, photos with Rays mascot Raymond and DJ Kitty, baseball interactive activities for all ages and appearances by Rays players and coaches at various stations throughout the day.

A donation to the ALS Association will allow fans to receive a wristband which grants the opportunity to get autographs from Rays players and coaches. Rays TV and radio broadcasters and more than 25 former major league players will also sign autographs for free throughout the day.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon will again serve up his traditional Thanksmas meal. A limited number of fans will have the opportunity to enjoy a plate of Maddon’s homemade spaghetti, meatballs, sausage and pierogies, a meal he has served at area homeless shelters over the last six winters as part of his Thanksmas initiative. Meals also include salad, mixed desserts, water and soda. Those fans purchasing tickets will also be eligible to win raffle prizes including autographed memorabilia and more. All proceeds benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation and local Salvation Army centers. Presale tickets to the lunch can be purchased on raysbaseball.com.

The Rays Yard Sale returns for a second year giving fans the opportunity to purchase unique game-used and autographed memorabilia dating back to the inaugural season. All proceeds benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation. In 2011, the Rays Yard Sale raised $80,000. Proceeds were split among Rays community partners, the ALS Association, Suncoast Law Enforcement Charities and the Rays Baseball Foundation.

To promote “Reading with the Rays,” the club’s summer reading program, Rays players will read select stories to kids throughout the day.

In the kids’ interactive zone, fans can swing away in a big league batting cage, try out their fastball in the speed pitch booth and hit a home run in the Wiffle Ball Home Run Derby.

Sweetbay Supermarket High Five Station will once again allow kids to run the bases and get high fives from players as they cross home plate.

In addition, Rays broadcasters and special guests will hold panel discussions, Rays coaches and staff will conduct free clinics for kids of all ages and clubhouse tours will be offered throughout the day.

Fans are encouraged to stop by the MetroPCS Call-A-Friend Stage to have the opportunity for a Rays player to call a friend or family member and receive the most up-to-date information on MetroPCS products.

Rays ticket sales personnel will be available to assist fans throughout the day in the purchase of season tickets, Opening Day tickets, single game tickets and a special Fan Fest pack offer.

Fans can call 888-FAN-RAYS or log on to raysbaseball.com for more information about 2012 Rays Fan Fest. More event details will be released next month.

Hot-Stove: Great Scott, Did You Hear What Damon Said? AKA A Poorly Used Pun For the Title of A Piece on the Two

With yesterday’s news of the Luke Scott acquisition by Friedman and Co., it’s time to formally bid Johnny Damon adieu. Admittedly, I’m still in a bit of shock over this whole thing. When it became apparent that we were staring at a “you can only choose A or B” type of situation, with regards to the return of either Johnny Damon or Casey Kotchman, a part of me thought that as long as the Rays could find some power at first, Damon would return. This is especially so when you took a look at the designated hitters on the free agent market; if I may be so blunt, there really weren’t many head turners listed…at least within the Rays parameters. I honestly thought, that when Friedman said the Rays would be looking for more production out of first base and the DH spot, that he was actually saying, “we’re looking for a first baseman that can crank the ball out with the best of them.” But no, that wasn’t the case. If I may say so, I feel that Damon’s comments regarding the whole situation are somewhat valid and warranted, though a bit un-Johnny like. But that’s beside the point.

Damon offered a few qualities to the clubhouse, which the Rays desperately needed last year: stability, maturity and leadership. We all knew those three qualities would be lacking when Tampa Bays beloved former first baseman, Carlos Pena, wasn’t re-signed and inevitably left for the north-side of Chicago. Damon also exemplified the Rays way: go out and hustle, play hard, and get the job done. Damon will go down in the books, and rightly so, with the best of them even if his tenure in the Rays organization was short.

I don’t see the Pena/Damon-like qualities in their newest acquisition. I do, however, see blatant the narcissism of someone that could be described as somewhat of a loose-nut. Then again, it could be argued that the player leadership and discipline can come from within the current members of the Rays.

The core Rays players; Longoria, Upton, Zobrist, Shields, and Price have now been in at least two post-season appearances, that should be enough to mentor the younger players on the team. That also means that there really aren’t any opportunities for on or off of the field distractions, cough…Longo and Upton. It’s going to be important for Zobrist, Longoria, Shields, and Upton to use their day in and day out experience to lead the team. We in the area know very well the potential of failure when an undisciplined, leaderless, team takes the field. We needn’t look any farther than the Bucs for a glaring example.

And to be fair, Luke Scott should be judged on his on-field performance. We all know that he’s got the potential to hit 25-27 home runs and hit in the .270-.285 range if he stays healthy. From a production standpoint, he could be what the Rays need to push them to the next level. With the all but forgotten comments regarding president Obama’s birth, guns, and those of Matt Garza, now in the past, there’s a hope that Scott’s performance on the field will be enough to rinse the sour taste from our mouths, enough to drown out the off field shenanigans and controversies.

A good friend and fellow blogger summed it up best,

So, (I have) mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, Damon was a middling contributor in a mediocre offense last year. On the other hand, he’s right that the big holes in the lineup came from the SS and C positions. Then again, Luke Scott’s upside is way bigger than Damon’s at this point. But the only person in the Rays clubhouse might be happy about the addition of Scott is Kyle Farnsworth, who might like to have another totally crazy person nearby for comparison’s sake. But if Damon’s supposed to be a great team leader, why’s he publicly bagging on the front office, referencing the low attendance numbers, and griping about the possible diminution of his personal chances of reaching 3000 hits?

Johnny Damon is a likeable guy. Luke Scott is not. But Scott might hit 25 homers next year with something like a .275 average and a solid OBP. Damon can only hope to sniff one of those marks. I don’t think I’ll know what to think till like July.

So now it’s time to move on. Johnny will find a home soon enough. Johnny, to you I say thank you. I loved having you on the Rays, and I look forward to watching you get that 3,000th hit with someone, even if that someone isn’t the Rays.

And to Andrew Friedman, as much as I’d love to see you make a deal with Mark Trumbo, at this point it might almost be the wisest decision to re-sign Carlos Pena. Another bat with pop couldn’t hurt, nor could the positive leadership role he offers. In the very least, re-sign Kotchman. Even if Kotchman hit in the .275-.280 range (which is still higher than his career numbers), at least you’d know what to expect defensively…Though I still like the idea of acquiring Trumbo, just saying.

3:50 Update: The terms of the Luke Scott deal have been released: According to the Times’ Marc
Topkin, “He (Scott) will get $5-million in 2012, and has a $6-million option in 2013, or a $1-million buyout. With incentives, he could make another $2-million over the two years.”

Hot-Stove: The Ballad of Damon, Pena, Kotchman, Scott, and Trumbo.

Super agent extraordinaire, Scott Boras, noted Tuesday that both Johnny Damon and Carlos Pena remain as first-base and DH hole filling possibilities for the Rays. However, you can scratch both Damon and DH off of the list of needs with the news of the signing of Luke Scott, who’ll fill the DH role. But lingering questions abound of what to do at first, especially now that you’ve got some pop in the lineup with Scott. Imagine with me, if you will, that Luke Scott stays healthy,, and they sign either Pena or Trumbo…both who have power? If only I was willed with the powers to see into the future, but unfortunately, I’m not. Nevertheless, there’s still an opening at first, and there are also options to fill that position. Let’s revisit Carlos Pena, Casey Kotchman, and Mark Trumbo.

Pena is coming off of a somewhat lackluster 2011 season, average wise at least, hitting a paltry .225 with 28 homers, where he earned $10 MM with the Cubs. Boras expects that Pena will have the option of multi-year offers, and if anything I’d think a multi-year deal with whoever starts at first, is in line. CP represents a veteran presence in the club-house, and a quality glove at first. You also can’t discount his prior experience with the Rays organization, nor can you overlook his wanton desire to return. Part of me feels that he would cut the Rays some slack, contract wise, because of that experience with the team. I’d think a return of Pena to the Rays could be a good thing, especially if the price is right. Granted, a .225 BA is well, uh…but factor in 28 homers, 80 RBI’s, and an .819 OPS, and his worth to the team is apparent. The question begs, would the Rays spend more money on Pena even if the total sum for one year is less than the $10 MM he earned last year, yet higher than someone like Damon, who earned $5.25 MM last year?

If not, would they turn to Casey Kotchman who’s still on the market? Kotchman was solid all around in 2011? There’s never been a question of how well Kotchman could perform defensively, and the Rays know what they’d be getting on that side of things. He’s a sure bet. But, one wonders if his .300+ BA was a career high, and would that production fall off in 2012? The Rays have been adamant in their desire of more production out of both first-base and DH, and you really have to factor in Kotchman’s career numbers in to the equation. Is Kotchman’s defensive prowess enough to get him a new contract, or would the Rays look elsewhere?

We’ve mentioned Mark Trumbo on a few occasions now, and he’s still a viable option. Let’s quickly run through the Trumbo checklist, shall we? Solid defensively? Check. Power hitting potential? Check. A younger player with less experience than a Pena or Kotchman, yet, with the potential to be a solid player for years to come…not to mention the possibility of signing him to a multi-year deal on the cheap? Check. This, of course, is assuming that there’s still some interest in Trumbo, and Tampa Bay can cull together a good enough deal.

Personally, I’d love to see a Trumbo deal. Who do you think they’ll either sign or acquire to fill the hole at first?

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Hot-Stove: Topkin on the Return of Both Kotchman and Damon

Adding a credible voice to what we at Raysbaseball.co believe about the prospects of both 2011 DH Johnny Damon, and first baseman Casey Kotchman returning for the 2012 season, Rays beat writer, Marc Topkin, had this to say in a Heater (the Times Rays blog) piece today,

Friedman maintained his off-season long position that both DH Johnny Damon and 1B Casey Kotchman are candidates to return. But realistically if the Rays are going to improve they’d have to upgrade at at least one of those positions, so at most only one would return.

As noted yesterday, former Padres first baseman, Anthony Rizzo, was picked up by the Cubs yesterday, leaving free agents Carlos Pena and Casey Kotchman, and the Angels Mark Trumbo, as the three most looked at candidates who could fill Tampa Bay’s hole at first base.

This humble blogger thinks that if it comes down to a case of one-or-the-other, Tampa Bay is more apt to re-sign Damon than Kotchman.
Unless the Rays are willing to trade for a DH, which I don’t think they are, there really aren’t many designated hitters left on the free agent market.

So, what are your thoughts on this minor conundrum?