Alright folks, it’s a new year, and along with all of the excitement that a new year brings, so too does it bring the excitement of the promise of a new baseball season. As of today, we’re only a mere 50 days away from the unofficial start of Spring Training: when the pitchers and catchers report. Will Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann be a part of the starting rotation…a part of the Rays? Will the Tampa Bay re-sign Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon? We’ll know soon enough.
Unlike last year, we fans haven’t had to watch our team get disassembled and rebuilt, in a manner of speaking, from scratch. That is to say, with the exception of a few players that didn’t get re-signed or were traded away, we’re basically looking at the same team which is a good thing. And though there are still a few puzzle pieces that need to fall into place, with the flexibility to expand the payroll by approximately $15 MM this season, it looks as though that Rays past reliance on 4A players, like Dan Johnson and Felipe Lopez, will not be in the cards in 2012.
I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that we’re coming into one of the best times of the off-season; a time of year that we here at Raysbaseball.co like to call Friedmanary.
As has been well documented in a number of places, including here on this site, January is typically the month that Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman, is most active. Most of us hardcore Rays fans have sat on pins and needles the last few months waiting for any news or even a sign from above, of who will be Tampa Bays DH, first baseman, and second catcher. Well friends and dear readers, to you I say our wait shall be over soon!
A lot of audible rumblings have been heard lately concerning who’ll be the Rays first baseman in both the short and long-terms. The hottest, loudest rumblings seem to be surrounding the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Angels (respective) ousted first basemen, Anthony Rizzo and Mark Trumbo, as well as former Rays first baseman, and current free agent, Carlos Pena. Ryan Theriot’s name has been thrown around here and there too, though more so as a backup infielder.
In order for the Rays to pick up the likes of an Anthony Rizzo or Mark Trumbo, they’re going to have to deal, or create a package deal including, Wade Davis and/or Jeff Niemann. Lest we forget too, that Reid Brignac’s name has also been mentioned as trade fodder. In my opinion, with the lack of trade equity in both Niemann and Brignac, they’d have to be bundled together. I think Davis could potentially do OK on his own. Roy Oswalt still being on the market is having an effect on things to an extent. The sooner he’s off of the market, the sooner others will be focusing a discerning eye on who the Rays have on the table.
I’d be more apt to think that Tampa Bay would sooner go after a Rizzo or Trumbo than they would Pena. Why? A couple of reasons. They fit the Rays MO. They’re younger, and they wouldn’t come with such a hefty price tag. If they can lock down a Rizzo or Trumbo for a number of years on the cheap, they will. We also don’t know how much Pena is asking for. Last year he made $10 MM, which I think is more than the Rays are willing to pay, even with an expanded payroll. Of the two, I’d have to say Trumbo would be a better fit. Trumbo hit .254 BA/.291 OBP/.477 SLG/.768 OPS with 29 home-runs in 539 at bats, in 2011. Those are very 2011, Carlos Pena like numbers, at (probably) a fraction of the cost.
It would be reasonable to think that the Rays would be interested in re-signing Johnny Damon if they were to get the likes of a first baseman, like Trumbo, with some pop in his bat. Then again, with the flexibility to expand the payroll and no, as of yet, contracts for either Damon or Casey Kotchman, it could be assumed that the Rays are looking for more production out of first base and DH. That then begs the question: would they be interested in signing Pena to a short term (in the least) contract as DH?
Even though Tampa Bay signed Jose Molina in this off-season, catching is another spot that needs to be looked at. Rays beat writer, Marc Topkin, summed things up in his January 1st piece in the Times:
A key catch: As much as Rays officials say they are, they really can’t be comfortable going into the season with the catching pairing of veteran Jose Molina (who hasn’t started more than 51 games since the 2008 season) and either Robinson Chirinos or Jose Lobaton. The overall team is too good to leave it in their hands; expect another addition.
In any case, there’s a lot to be excited about. Even ESPNs Buster Olney, in a very un-ESPN like moment of clarity, ranked the Rays as number one in his 2012 power rankings. Soon enough, the off-season rumors and rumblings will come to an end, and our boys will again take the field in preparation for another exciting season. The Rays proved last season that, even when the rest of the AL had their numbers, their resilience and willingness to grind it out (especially when others couldn’t do the same…cough the Red Sox) found them in the post-season. Now it’s up to us fans to get excited for what’s to come. It’s imperative that we keep up that enthusiasm for our Rays over the course of 162 games. They had an axe to grind last season, and they have just as much to prove in 2012. It’s up to us to match that “gotta prove ourselves” affect as fans, and consistently get out there and show the Rays (our Rays) organization that we, indeed, love our small market team.