Ah, here we are yet again, sports fans: the offseason.
Just a week after the Yankees won their 27th World Series trophy, the baseball world is itching and ready to go for next April, when our stars will finally take the field again for another season of America's Pastime.
Of course, not all is quiet in the land of baseball from November to March, and teams are shuffling both players and coaches to try to stand where the Yankees do now in 12 short months. Everyone has a plan to get them into October 2010 and beyond.
GM meetings have come and gone with no real news to speak of (No expanded instant replay?! Are you blind?!), but for the Tampa Bay Rays, only one year removed from an AL crown of their own, the work has started furiously and shows no signs of stopping.
This writer has decided to do a weekly report on the Rays and their offseason transactions, starting with October and going right on up to Opening Day against the Orioles. Stay tuned over the winter as we look at comings, goings, awards, and other such nonsense.
Let's recap the past few weeks in the world of Rays baseball, in order of date.
Oct. 6, 2009: Announced the contract of hitting coach Steve Henderson will not be renewed and the position of quality assurance coach, held by Todd Greene, will be discontinued.
The move away from Steve Henderson has been seen by many Rays fans as the final result of a year dubbed "Operation Fix B.J. Upton," which, to be frank, didn't happen.
A year after posting a blistering .894 OPS in 2007, Bossman Jr. lost 100 points off his slugging percentage in 2008, a trend that skipper Joe Maddon would have loved to have nipped in the bud. Unfortunately for Upton (and ultimately, for Henderson), B.J. continued to decline in 2009, hitting only .281 and seeing his OPS drop to below .690.
Some people blame injury, some blame the opposing pitchers; Andrew Friedman and the front office chose to blame Steve Henderson.
Of course, Dioner Navarro also had one of the worst years in Rays history after being an All-Star in 2008, but I don't like talking about him. Jerk.
Also, Jim Hickey was allowed to stay on as pitching coach even after a September full of bullpen collapses and ineffective starting throughout the season that may (or may not) have cost the Rays a second playoff appearance.
Oct. 22, 2009: Named Derek Shelton hitting coach.
Derek Shelton spent five years as the hitting coach for the Cleveland Indians and has a similar philosophy as the Rays recently when it comes to hitting: a low number of sacrifices.
Teams under Shelton have about the same strikeout to walk ratio as the Rays lineup in 2009; however, never before has Shelton seen a power lineup like Carlos Peña, Evan Longoria, and Ben Zobrist on a team in Cleveland. Only time will tell if he can break some of the players out of their slumps and bring the offense back to elite status.
Oct. 28, 2009: Agreed to terms with OF Gabe Kapler on a one-year contract.
I wrote an article about this signing on the day the deal was completed (see it here ), so I won't go into too much detail here, but for the most part this is a reward for Kap's effective hitting against lefties during the 2009 campaign.
He will most likely play in late innings as a pinch hitter against southpaw relievers for whoever starts in right field in 2010 (expected to be Zobrist, Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings, or a platoon).
Nov. 4, 2009: Traded 2B Akinori Iwamura to Pittsburgh for RHP Jesse Chavez.
Again, I wrote an article about this trade on the signing day (see this one here ), but this trade looks like one that won't have any discernible impacts on the two teams until things get played out a bit more.
Aki is a strong defensive player with great leadoff potential, but the Pirates are not expected to hold on to him for Opening Day, and I wouldn't be surprised if he plays in the AL Central in 2010.
Chavez is a young pitcher with a bland fastball but good mop-up numbers in his years with Texas and Pittsburgh. He will be competing with more than a few newcomers in spring training for the 2010 Rays.
Nov. 5, 2009: RP Troy Percival files for free agency.
Good riddance. Hope you enjoyed a huge 2009 salary sitting on your couch and eating Fritos "contemplating retirement." All I'm gonna say.
Nov. 6, 2009: RPs Chad Bradford and Russ Springer file for free agency.
"Chadford" was picked up in 2008 from the O's to help bolster a dreadful 2007 Rays bullpen and was crucial in the Rays' bid for the World Series, appearing in 21 games and throwing scoreless in 18. In 2009, age and injuries caught up with him, and he went 1-0 with a 4.29 ERA after missing the first two months of the season recuperating from surgery.
Springer was acquired by the Rays in August from Oakland and went 1-3 with a 4.11 ERA over 26 games.
Nov. 7, 2009: Dewayne Staats agrees to contract extension.
Not a big move per se, but Staats has been calling (Devil) Rays games since Day One in 1998 and has become the face and voice of the franchise, and he will call his 5,000th game in 2010. After Joe Magrane left to be on MLB Network, it's great to see Dewayne is going to be back in the announcers' booth for many more years to come.
Nov. 9, 2009: RP Jason Isringhausen, C Gregg Zaun, and RP Brian Shouse become free agents; claimed RP Ramon A. Ramirez off waivers from Cincinnati.
Izzy was signed out of the free agent pool in February by the Rays but didn't see action until May. He pitched moderately well (0-1 with a 2.22 ERA) but only pitched in nine games before blowing out his elbow and landing on the DL. Again. Lots of money poured into that elbow. *grumblegrumble...*
Gregg Zaun and Brian Shouse had club options that were declined by the Rays; nothing too surprising there. However, there have been rumblings that the Rays may try to re-sign Zaun for a smaller amount and keep his veteran presence and solid defense in St. Pete. We'll see...
Ramirez is a young pitcher out of the Reds organization with a fastball in the low 90s and a ridiculous K/9 ratio in AAA. He has regressed some in his major league experience, but scouts show he has a good aversion to walks and a changeup with a 15 percent swinging strike percentage.
Of course, that wasn't the biggest news to come on Nov. 9...
Nov. 9, 2009: Rays pick up Carl Crawford's $10 million option.
Ahhhh, a huge sigh of relief from the Rays faithful: CC will be back in blue in 2010. Carl is the longest-tenured player in club history and is the Rays' all-time leader in hits, at-bats, runs, stolen bases, triples, games played, and RBI. In 2009 he hit .305 (his fourth season of .300 or better) with 15 homers, 68 RBI, 96 runs scored, and a club record 60 steals.
A lot of rumors had been flying around that the Rays were going to try to deal Crawford to save money, but with the trade of Scott Kazmir to Los Angeles and Akinori Iwamura to Pittsburgh, money was not an issue. He will become a free agent in 2011 if the Rays don't sign him to a long-term deal, but we'll get to that when the time comes around.
Welcome back, CC.
Nov. 11, 2009: Evan Longoria wins AL Gold Glove at 3B.
Longoria had the second-best fielding percentage for third basemen in the AL and led the majors in double plays with 43. He also became the first player in Rays history to start more than 120 games at the hot corner; they had gone through 34 different starters since 1998 before he showed up on the scene in early 2008.
Longo, 24, is the youngest player to win the Gold Glove since 2001 and only the second Ray ever to win it (Carlos Peña won it at 1B in 2008).
On another note, B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford were cheated out of a Glove yet again. But I'm biased. (Adam Jones? And Ichiro Suzuki and Torii Hunter won eight in a row, so they automatically get a ninth, right? GAH.)
Nov. 11, 2009: Ben Zobrist wins Rays MVP award, Michel Hernandez signed by Baltimore.
Ben "Zorilla" Zobrist came completely out of left field (and right field, and center, and shortstop, and...) in 2009. Ben had entered the season known only as the "super utility" guy; he could start just about any position and play comfortably, so he was used as just that: a spot starter or late-innings substitute.
After Iwamura tore his ACL in May, Zobrist started most of the rest of the season at 2B and shined both defensively and at the plate. He had easily his finest season of his career, finishing with an OPS of .948 with 27 taters and 91 RBI.
He also may have the hottest wife in baseball. Moving on.
Michel Hernandez played backup to Dioner Navarro in the 2009 season and started 35 games, but found himself without a solid job when Zaun was signed in August. Baltimore signed him to a minor league contract.
Nov. 12, 2009: Evan Longoria wins AL Silver Slugger at 3B.
A day after being awarded the best defensive award, Evan won the best offensive award for his blistering start to the season and his power throughout. He finished slower than he started in April but nevertheless hit for an .889 OPS with 33 homers and 113 RBI.
The 2008 AL Rookie of the Year hit .369 in April with six homers and 24 RBI, tying Tampa Bay records and making him look like a shoo-in for AL MVP if he kept up the pace. The pace slid, but his production never did, blasting many memorable hits, including a bottom-of-the-13th walkoff homer against the hated Red Sox.
Only three other players have ever won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in the same season at a younger age: Ken Griffey Jr., Ivan Rodriguez, and Benito Santiago. Not bad company, Evan.
That just about does it for this report, but come back next week and we'll recap the moves that the Rays make as mid-November comes and goes.
98 days until pitchers and catchers report. We can make it.
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