Looking Back on my 2009 Rays Resolutions
Sorry I have been able to post anything since New Year’s Eve, but things have been a little upside down in my little slice of the world. Not going to get into it, but if you know me, you know the restricted economical parameters of my lone wolf existence.
I was thinking last night about turning the pages back to my post back on January 1,2009 where I listed my 2009 New Year’s Rays Resolutions blog and see if my quarter-tossing guesses and totally dillusional dreams for the Tampa Bay Rays had either mysteriously evaporated or suddenly materialized for the team.
We all know just how difficult it is sometimes to partition our post-baseball lives to readjust back into our normal lifestyles with the absence of games nightly. And with my 2009 resolutions coming just a few months off the heels of the Rays first playoff push in team history, I am more than a bit curious to see if now those resolutions might have been a bit over zealous, or might have struck true center and be totally in line with the team’s seasonal performance.
But even if I did get a bit over excited and tranform my hopes and dreams into slight misguided illusions, isn’t that within the vein of the competitive spirit of the fan, who always wants to see the birght side of life in regards to their team? We all want to trust and believe that bigger and better things are always on the horizon for our squads, even as the skies turn suddenly dark and the wind begins to howl. You want to believe in solidarity of the true existence of the team dream.
You have to actively possess that unrelentless faith that the “much needed” team weapons will somehow materialize like that weird frost upon your car windshield in the morning, or that the Bullpen will again be a brickwall to your team’s lofty and ever-rising ride of success. So lets take a short jaunt back about 365 days and formally check out my bubble-headed prognostications to see if any of my 2009 resolutions for the Rays might have actually had some merit to them, or the whole thing was just dust in the wind.
Find a right-handed bat that can help the offense take it to the next level. Wow! This resolution could go a few different directions at the same time. But the true fact is that it might all actually depend on if you want to throw Pat Burrell’s 2009 fiasco into the pot here. I have thrown Burrell under the bus enough times during 2009 for this resolution to actually take on water and headed for the briny deep waters near Egmont Key.
But lost in the shuffle was the fact to totally look at the last two prior Rays season performances at the Designated Hitter spot and seeing that Burrell’s stats were really about average for the Rays. But that pure instance doesn’t get him out of Elvis’s locker room doghouse because Burrell was brought onto this squad to boost a sagging offense and was paid hansomely for his efforts.
I am willing to give him a slight partial pass here due to his neck situation that might have thrown a confidence and concentration monkey wrench into his “game shape” for 2009. Burrell did show some offensive firepower, but we are starving to see it on a more consistent basis, and it will be demanded of him in 2010. Not lost in all of this negativity is the fact he did produce 14 homers in the season, but they were all hit against right-handers, so Burrell definitely needs to readjust and refocus this off season to come in and conquer in 2010, or he will be considered a huge bust maybe in the company of Vinny Castilla.
Find a southpaw reliever to compliment the Bullpen.
This simple resolution might have actually been achieved by the Rays stockpiling a few left-handed experienced relievers at the Triple-A level prior to the team’s 2009 Opening Day. We did have southpaw lefty-specialist Brian Shouse primarily on the 25-man roster as a leftie specialist, but like Burrell, Shouse had his own series of ups and down via the injury bug in 2009 amd might not be considered a totally successful signing by the team.
And because the Rays hide a few options in their minor league system, when Shouse was put on the diasabled list on May 25th with a left elbow strain, it opened the door for a former Yankee reliever to come up and dramatically change the late inning game from the left-side of the mound. Randy Choate seemed at times to be a man on a mission and gained more and more confidence as the Rays 2009 season progressed. You can not discount his stellar .141 batting average against left-handers, or even his 5-for-5 perfect mark in save possibilities for the Rays this past season.
Just when the Rays were craving a clutch performer after a few unforeseen blown save situations, and a quickly downward spiraling in relief performances, Choate came up to appear in 61 of the Rays final 114 games. To throw a huge exclamation point on Choate’s 2009 performances, before his call-up by the team in 2009, Choate had appeared in 196 games and had never produced a save. Choate definitely did not choke for the Rays in 2009.
Get 1 of the 2 best young players on your team a contract extension.
This was one of the 2009 resolutions that I thought would definitely get some extreme attention by the Rays front office at some moment in the 2009 season. With the team stressing they are “borrowing on tomorrow” right now with their increasing payroll demands, you thought Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman might chart a clear map on this one as a top priority to supplant a possible unforeseen huge arbitration dollar figure, or a series of multiple arbitration seasons by a number of players to substancially see a rise of ever increasing salary demands without a solid prediction for the Rays future payrolls.
I thought for sure the Rays first comfirmed target here would be to entice Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza to a contract extension for “services rendered”, and to reward him now for the huge upside he could provide the Rays in the next three years. Sure everyone wants to bring up moments with his emotional and temper situations as fodder to not extend him, but lost in that mumbo jumbo shuffle might be the pure fact he has the ability to be the first pitcher to post a no-hitter for the Rays.
Sign Jason Giambi already.I actually thought Giambi might have been a great addition to the Rays, and we know this whole scenario never materialized, so this might be a short resolution explanation. Even though Giambi did go on to play over 102 games in Oakland before heading onto the Rockies post season roster, the “Giambino” had a subpar season and actually did not even hit the low average plateau achieved by Burrell with the Rays in 2009.
It is actually funny to think Giambi hit worse than Pat “The Bat” Burrell, but then again, both did do a few mis-timed stints on the disabled list this season and neither seemed to get into a solid flow at the plate. In hindsight, 2009 might actually turn out to be Giambi’s last chance to play full-time with a potential off-the-bench position staring him in the face for 2010 and beyond.
Keep the team chemistry up high and the success will come again.
Here is another resolution that might totally be up to your own personal interpretation on the Rays 2009 season. We all know the stories of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s great inspirational speeches and motivational quotes that are meant to boost and inflate confidence like a balloon, but this Rays team did seem to miss a huge chunk of clubhouse chemistry in 2009.
Some say it was the departure of type-A personalities like Eric Hinske, Cliff Floyd and Johnny Gomes took a huge presence and electric feel out of the clubhouse. But even with the two bigger than life cartoon characters of Gomes and Hinske gone, there still was the increasing confidence and emotional moment stature of “El Presidente” Carlos Pena. And you have to admire the guy for trying to step it up a few notches trying to fill those big shoes left by the trio, but Pena was only one guy, and could only beat the drum so loud in 2009.
Most of Pena’s teammates seemed to be relying on themselves and their close knit groups formed within the team to boost their confidence and act as support systems throughout the season. The Bullpen definitely had their own “vibe” in the clubhouse, and the Rays starters seemed to have their own “inside jokes” throughout the season. Dioner Navarro took the role of the “shaving cream pie” bandit in 2009, and even got Madddon during one post-game interview on television.
And the Rays did try and promote their road trips like a Carnival cruise night with events like the “White Party” and “Cowboy Up” during roadtrips. Some had great success, and a few might have been better left in the closet. One idea did seem to backfire a bit on the Rays. Maddon, being a huge Johnny Cash fan, had the inspirational idea of the “Ring of Fire” all-black traveling party during the Rays push towards the playoff in 2009. But from the first moment Maddon came out of his Manager’s office in the Rays clubhouse sporting that jet black hair, the idea seemed headed quickly like lemmings to the cliff.
Not sure why the idea ended up backfiring to produce a loss spiral that quickly deflated the Rays playoff hopes like a lead balloon. The Rays ended up losing 11 out of their first 13 games in September. Adding insult to injury was the disasterious timing of imploding against their American League East foes for the rest of the season. From the first dark-haired moment on August 19th by Maddon,the Rays posted only 3 wins against Boston and New York in their 13 games during September/October.
I actually think I went 1-4 in my quest to throw some early logical explanation into 2009 prior to the season. Sure we all want to think that as fans, we truly have such an underlying persona that we can make people hit the ball or even throw a bit harder, but in reality, we can only encourage and become louder in the stands hoping that more positive results take root on the field.
Even if my 2009 resolutions did fall on hard times, the Rays season was filled with great unexpected moments and showed more than a few times those glimpses of unforeseen promise that makes you proud to follow the team. Even the best at “predicting” seem to get it wrong most of the time, so my first dive into the resolution pool did not produce a total failure, but did produce a few questions. For we got to see baseball played again in the Tampa Bay area during 2009. We got to again gather as an extended family to root, boo and even console each other after some great games in 2009.
I have always been one of those firm believers in that you “win some, and you lose some” mentality both inside and outside of the sporting world. I mean if I really believed everything that has been written about teams just in our own division, then I would pack it up after April 1st and throw out that immortal Chicago Cubs line, “We will get ’em next year!” But I go into day like this first one in 2010 thinking we have as good a chance as the other 30 Major League Baseball teams to hoist that golden trophy to the heavens this October. And who knows……….