Welcome to another edition of Thaddeus' Tampa Bay Rays Offseason Report. Each and every Friday, we're going to recap the moves, trades, signings, and other nonsense of the previous week in the wonderful world of Tampa Bay baseball; keeping you, Dear Reader, up to date with the team until Opening Day in April 2010 against the Baltimore Orioles.
Today, Friday, Nov. 20, marks the first day of the most exciting part of winter: free-agent season. As of 12:01 am this morning, teams no longer have exclusive signing rights to their free-agents from 2009, and so the Hot Stove frenzy begins. Big names and big bucks will be flying around the news wire over the next few months, and keep your browsers right here for all the Rays' transactions.
As of today, the Rays have yet to re-sign any of their free-agents (major leaguers RP Chad Bradford, RP Jason Isringhausen, RP Troy Percival, RP Brian Shouse, RP Russ Springer, and C Gregg Zaun and minor leaguer RP Winston Abreu) but they have expressed interest in keeping Zaun on the team.
Also, expect news of more bullpen help being brought in and at least one new catcher, with Dioner Navarro on the mend and slumping and Gregg Zaun testing the market, the backstop is the number one priority on the Rays' front office's mind.
But for now, let's recap the moves of the past week.
Nov. 14, 2009: Signed RP R.J. Swindle to a minor league deal with Spring Training invitation.
R.J. Swindle had been claimed by the Rays in August 2009 from the Brewers after they designated him for assignment, and he never threw a pitch; the Rays DFA'd him less than 24 hours later, where he was scooped up by the Cleveland Indians. Skipper Joe Maddon and the front office liked what they saw, however, and now he's back in Rays blue.
Swindle throws five pitches: a fastball, slider, change, cutter, and a Casey Fossum-esque 55 mph curve with a sidearm delivery. He will most likely compete with RP Randy Choate in Spring Training as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen in 2010.
Nov. 15, 2009: 11 Minor Leaguers apply for free-agency.
Nothing too soul-crushing came from this news, but some fan favorites did elect for free agency, including AAA Durham's RHP Joe Bateman, RHP Jason Childers, RHP Winston Abreu, LF Rashad Eldridge, and LHP Jason Cromer and A Charlotte's RHP Richard de los Santos.
As of today, none of them have been offered new contracts with the Rays, and with the Rule V Draft coming up next month, expect to see some other minor league names leave town for other teams.
Nov. 16, 2009: SP Jeff Niemann finishes fourth in American League Rookie of the Year voting.
Niemann, 26, went 13-6 with a 3.94 ERA, two complete-game shutouts, and 125 strikeouts over 31 games in his rookie season after beating David Price, Mitch Talbot, and now-Rockies SP Jason Hammel for the fifth spot in the rotation. Niemann's winning percentage of .684 was the second-highest for a rookie since 1969, second only to 2001's CC Sabathia.
Niemann finished with 21 points, behind Tiger SP Rick Porcello's 64, Ranger SS Elvis Andrus' 65, and the AL ROY, Oakland RP Andrew Bailey's 88, as decided by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Nov. 19, 2009: OF Desmond Jennings, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, and LHP Alexander Torres added to the 40-man roster; 1B Carlos Peña recalled from 60-day DL.
Peña is no surprise, but adding the three minor leaguers not only protects them from being signed in the Rule V Draft come December (where teams from last place to first can sign a minor leaguer from any other team not on the 40-man roster, but must have that player on their 25-man roster and in the majors for the remainder of the season), but also greatly increases the chances that these young fan favorites see time at Tropicana Field in 2010.
Hellickson, 22, was named Minor League Pitcher of the Year for the Rays, going a combined 9-2 with a 2.45 ERA as a starter for both AA Montgomery and AAA Durham in 2009. Overall, "Hellboy" struck out 10.42 batters per nine innings, and held opponents to a .178 batting average.
Jennings (pictured above at the Futures Game), who turned 23 after the season, was named Rays Minor League Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player of both Montgomery and the Southern League, despite being sent to AAA Durham in late July.
Overall, he hit .318 with 11 home runs, 52 out of 59 stolen bases, 62 RBI, 92 runs scored, and an .881 OPS. Baseball America named him the No. 18 prospect in baseball in their mid-season rankings.
Torres, 21, was acquired (along with fellow 40-manner IF Sean Rodriguez) on August 28 as part of the trade that sent Scott Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels. Between A Cucamonga, AA Arkansas (both Angels organization) and AAA Montgomery, he went 13-6 with a 2.77 ERA in 28 appearances and 26 starts.
That wraps up this week in Rays baseball, but keep checking back each week Dear Reader; there's a lot of Hot Stove madness to come.
Only 91 days until pitchers and catchers report. Stay strong, friends.