I was just about to start reading Chapter 16 of Ben and Julianna Zobrist’s book “Double Play” today when the Tampa Bay Rays announced that the team was picking up Benzo’s $7.5 million Club Option securing his services as a Ray for 2015.
The title of Chapter 16 is “A New Lineup Card”, and with the Rays recent juggling of upper level positions and internal desk swapping, a positive bit of press coming out of One Tropicana Field felt like a cool sea breeze on a hot September night.
After the weeks the Rays front office has had seeing their VP of Baseball Ops and their Manager both pack their bags and head for distant pastures, the announcement of Zobrist coming back again next season brought a well needed hint of normalcy to the Rays as well as kept one of their most consistent offensive weapon in the Rays lineup.
Seriously, Zorilla is the type of player that every M L B team yearns for or hopes at least once in a decade to develop within their farm system and see established long-term on their major league 25-Man rosters.
But you also hope the Rays front office did not have to think more than 15 minutes, or every even ponder the conclusion that this team might benefit more with that $7.5 million and set Zorilla free onto the M L B landscape.
Zobrist’s $7.5 million salary might be considered expensive by Rays standards, but if you collected players with similar fielding and offensive stats from around the M L B, the Rays are getting a great bargain for his services in 2015.
I shudder to think that declining Benzo’s Club Option was ever on the table, or seriously considered even for a nanosecond.
With the Rays losing two top tier pieces of their management puzzle, letting a player of Benzo’s caliber go would have sent a clear message that the 2015 edition of the Rays were either going into a deep re-development and roster structuring mode, or were willing to further frustrate and agitate their bewildered Season Ticket base.
Believe me, if Zorilla would have been turned loose I would of been one of the first to hurdle a fine chunk of limestone.
But now is a time to rejoice and thank our lucky stars Silverman and company made the right move and selected the Club Option that will keep #18 in our Rays lineup and again in our hearts during the 2015 season.
So here we are Day 1 A J (After Joe).
The sky is still that beautiful shade of blue, the Sun still an amazing orange mass in the sky and not a dark cloud to be seen.
The Zombies did not attack, the Trop is still a tilted cap, and for now, the Tampa Bay Rays might want to retrofit and possibly introduce once again their 2007 “Under Construction” motif. For the Rays will most definitely be in a bit of a rebuilding mode both in talent and confidence heading into the Spring of 2015.
Sure some of that once solid Rays Way foundation that Maddon created so elegantly during his tenure is going to show some cracks with his unexpected exit stage right, but they can and will be fixed.
Problem is while most of the Tampa Bay fan base are still in a bit of shock and bewilderment, the Rays front office has to be swift and plug the Rays current void in leadership as fast as a well-placed 2-seamer.
Matt Silverman, who some says might have hastened Maddon’s exit when he advised him of his opt-out option after Andrew Friedman’s departure for the pastures of Los Angeles needs to now fill this managerial void while the wound is still fresh.
He needs to strap on those “big boy” pants, take the lead with authority in finding Maddon’s replacement and pop him into place before the wound has time to fester and the fan base loses anymore confidence in the Rays want to stay here in Tampa Bay at all.
Names are already swirling around the circular roof of Tropicana Field. Some have a MLB pedigree while others might be unknown to us, but the MLB establishment know their talents and are eager to add their expertise to their franchises.
I mean yesterday on a local Tampa Bay radio station it even seemed for a moment like the Rays current Pitching Coach Jim Hickey was throwing his hat in the ring, but he might have the talent and the respect of the Rays pitching staff, but he is not who the Rays should be focused on if they truly want to seek an internal choice for their next Manager.
Honestly right now a lot of the Rays Republic is feeling a bit vulnerable with 2 key elements of their past success peeling rubber out of the Trop parking lot for more financial vistas. Right now this whole scenario has to be Silverman’s to fix, and if he does due diligence and a dash of due diligence he will notice the right fit is already located under the Teflon roof of the Trop.
Screw the extended interview process.
Dave Martinez, who began his Coaching ascent as an unpaid outfield consultant and rose to be mentored and molded by Maddon to be his right-hand Lt is the guy who should be given the keys to the Rays Clubhouse.
The same Martinez that stood on the Tropicana Field Firs Base chalk line on March 31, 1998 during the first D-Rays player introductions and was a mainstay in Right Field until his departure in 2000. The same Davey Baseball who has worn #4 both as a player and Coach of the Rays.
An interesting trivia note is not only did Martinez start the Rays first contest ever, but he also recorded the Rays first hit, a 3rd inning single off Tigers starter Justin Thompson that also during its flight, struck the First Base bag.
That by itself should be a perfect pedigree for a team to hire Martinez as he has training in the modernization of baseball tactics and strategies spent alongside the true professor who challenged the old school thought processes of the game and initiated innovation and strategic upgrades in thought and situational decision-making during contests.
Sure Martinez doesn’t have a lot of resume material as the head honcho of the Rays, but has been near Maddon’s side since the spring of 2006 has been responsible for the Rays base running and bunting strategies which were responsible for more than a few Rays victories.
Has post season experience having been to the post season 4 times in the last 7 years as a Rays Coach after only going to the playoffs once as a player in 16 years.
At any moment during a Rays game you could of glanced into the Rays dugout and seen Martinez and Maddon locked into their statistical matchups, situational probabilities and voicing their valid opinions or preferred preferences. That by itself is a hard thing for two people to coordinate on a regular basis, Maddon and Martinez proceeded in their conversations like they were second nature.
I mean look at the fairy tale storyline that could emulate with Martinez as the Rays skipper. He played in and provided the first hit ever for this franchise, became a consultant with the team and rose through the ranks to become Maddon’s confidante and trusted ally.
Heck, the players, staff and the Rays front office already know he is personable, is a Rays fan favorite and if we could elect a new Manager, Martinez could possibly win the post in a landslide. He has been a positive Rays fixture, a mentor, an M L B Draft day participant and always willing and able to speak, listen or help anyone within the organization at a moment’s notice.
He has roots in this area and even had his son drafted by the Rays in the MLB Draft (31st Round) back in 2013. If anyone not only deserved a shot at the Rays helm, but seemed destined for the spot, it is Martinez.
I understand fully that the Rays truly need to do now is find the right fit, the right guy to not only move upward again, but truly mange the Rays ship with integrity and command instant respect from bow to stern.
In my opinion the right guy has been standing next to Maddon and not only has the respect of this team already, but the confidence in them and himself that he can take this team to another level, and quite possibly further than they have ventured before.
Come on Matt, you know he has the league cred and knows the Rays inherently infectious team philosophy and has all the qualities to be the Rays main guy.
Now all Martinez needs is the chance to show all those other teams why they should of hired him, or why he quite possibly waited in the wings for just this perfect hometown opportunity.
Davey Baseball is Rays baseball.
I so want to pop on one of those hipster caps, clutch a bundle of newspapers and wander outside Ava’s in South Tampa right now and mimic that great cinematic scene and scream: “Say it ain’t so Joe, say it ain’t so!”
I wasn’t a firm believer in Maddon when he was announced as the Tampa Bay Rays Manager almost a decade ago. But then I did not want that other “Joe” either who wears pinstripes to manage my then D-Rays.
I was uninformed of his love of computerized stats, reports, graphs and believing in the numbers as much as a hunch, feeling or a spur of the moment stroke of genius.
But I quickly became a follower.
So yeah, it irks me a bit today when I heard the Rays will lose their in-house musical and entertainment savant who decided his tenure with the Rays will cease now rather than extend his stay or do a “farewell” year as a lame duck Rays skipper.
I was on pins and needles the first few times I heard Maddon during interviews and as my resistance to his style of baseball waned, I began to march to the beat of his drum and began to stand solid behind this new essence of the Rays with this Mad Man with his black-rimmed glasses at the helm.
From his want to “give back” to his adopted Tampa Bay community with his “ThanksMas” innovative program that fed and let struggling and homeless individuals around this region know that the Rays, their employees and Maddon believed in them through their culinary show of love.
Maddon quickly won my heart by his charity, intelligence and want to make his Rays teams not only successful, but a benchmark of how to evolve and transform players and veteran into a victorious hodge-podge of inspiring and aspiring Tampa Bay sports icons.
I was one of the first to pop my name and money down for the inaugural first rendition of the “Maddon’s Mad Men” that quickly reformed as the “Maddon’s Maniacs” and became a spirited group of Rays fans who voiced and showed their support for the Rays main guy.
Maddon grew on me. From his courage to bench a disgruntled Delmon Young, then sending the ROY candidate to Minnesota. It showed courage, but it also showed that he was not above jettisoning a promising player if he felt it might poison the Rays clubhouse, or provide unneeded drama.
What was really amazing was how when Delmon returned 6 years later in the final month of the 2013 season there was a level of respect shown towards Maddon that was not there in 2007. It was never said aloud, but you got to know Maddon was pleased Young had matured, developed and could again help the Rays cause, now as a veteran.
I was amazed at the way the “Magical Summer of Baseball” transpired this franchise and energize not only the Rays, but the whole Tampa Bay community. That process started with Maddon chatting with the guys on the turf of the Namoli Complex in St. Petersburg, transformed during the season peaking as he accepted the American League Championship Trophy from his former boss’s wife and ended among the rain puddles in Citizen Bank Park.
But that 2008 success only made you want to root for him more, want to again see him on the post season stage ready to pull a wily play out of his notepad, or pop up his palm for a enthusiastic high-five as a Ray returned to the dugout.
It saddens me we will not see Joe hoist a World Series trophy here in Tampa Bay. Bothers me that this happens now when the sting and bite of Andrew Friedman leaving for western pastures in Chavez Ravine and his team maybe again on the verge of something special.
I’m going to miss the team head cheerleader who brought fun back to road trips via planned events, the manning of T-shirts, jerseys or even PJ’s to bring some comic relief and energy into leaving the confines of home for 7-10 day ventures around the country.
I mean Maddon was a man who embraced our region for its positives and negatives, became a R V owner, a local restaurateur and somehow during all of this got some of us (even me) back on a bike wandering this great area on trails and back road rediscovering our region.
He helped transform the Rays culture on the field, in the stands and even might have instilled the first healthy clubhouse in the MLB when fresh food, healthy options and smoothies intertwined into the Rays pre and postgame lifestyle.
But most of all I’m going to miss the guy who truly had become the Captain of our Rays ship. Taking us to places no one else had, be it post season, managing an All-Star team or even giving us all cause to further embrace our community be it through humanitarian or even social efforts.
While some are going to have to take some time to come to terms with this, get over their confusion and angry moments, we all knew this day was going to come. We all knew that one day you would take that Rays hoodie off for the last time. Hang up the Elmer Fudd winter Rays cap and venture on with your life somewhere else, but we had envisioned that years away.
But even if the time was only 9 season, it was a true pleasure knowing you Skipper. Was a treat to hear you take, to see what antic or item might show up at a press conference or be presented to your players in the Club house (my favorite was Cliff, the penguin).
Joe, where ever you go, whatever your next destination I want you to know I still cherish, relish and embrace all the “Maddon Maniacs” knickknacks, T-shirts and photos taken with you over your Rays tenure.
But seriously Joe……..”Say it ain’t so!”
I swear I wish I could have been a bug in Kansas City Royals P James Shields ear when he was handed the American League Trophy tonight because I would have had him scream, “Hello Gorgeous, Did you miss me? I sure missed you?”
Has it really been 6 years since Shields last grasped this golden lady as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. It seems like oh so long ago that Shields and one of his team again ventured into the Fall Classic.
But this is one of the reasons Shields plays this game. To be a part of the team that elevates their game to the highest level of style and play to showcase their young and veteran talents on the World Series stage.
Sure this time around Shields might have a few more miles on his arm, but with his added bonus of being on this stage before, he can inspire and show some of his younger teammates how to harness the energy and bottle it up for game time.
Some have even wondered recently which team got the better end of that deal, and at this moment if you ask anyone….You might imagine the scale is tipped in the Royals favor. How ironic was it that the main player in that Rays and Royals deal was one of the first people to take to Twitter and show his enthusiasm and joy for the Royals team that drafted him not so long ago.
“Congrats to the #Royals! Happy for everyone in that organization.”
I am so happy for Shields. He is one of the former Rays players I hoped would again grace the biggest stage in baseball. I wanted see “Big Game” again get a chance at collecting another bit of baseball immortality by winning a World Series.
I know his 2008 Tampa Bay Rays teammate Jonny Gomes got his piece of bling first, but you know Shields will cherish it, caress it, possibly design some sort of epic new fashion statement around it. (I’m wearing his 1st Rays T-shirt creation as I write this post).
And you know who I want to win….and thrust skyward the World Series MVP Trophy.
Now it’s up to Shields and the Royals to finish the season on a grand scale on a year that can never be tarnished.
Come on Orioles faithful, I always thought you had a thicker skin.
I mean seriously, you are going to get all hot and bothered about a T-shirt won by a starter that beat you in a competitive fight for who gets to host the first 2014 World Series game?
Doesn’t sound like the same team, or the same confident fan base right now. I should not matter one iota if the O’s are not royalty outside the friendly confines of the Charm City, you knew there were going to be peril ahead, but letting a cotton blend T-shirt be your albatross……Did not see that coming.
I mean this is a city that boasts such nicknames as Mobtown, Monument City, The City of Firsts and my personal favorite, The Land of Pleasant Living. Hate to say it, but being down 0-3 in a 7 game series doesn’t project pleasant images or optimism to me at this critical juncture.
Seriously, you got to give it to the imagination of your mid-West foes to come up with something like this that got so deep under your fan base’s feathers that it bothers you to this extent. I always thought the Balti crew had thick feathers, but now maybe we have seen someone show a crack in your 2014 armor.
Just chalk this one episode up to the creative juices possibly flowing from the fountains of Kauffman Stadium and hope your team doesn’t see a raven, but an oriole perched upon their visiting dugout during your 4th chance at trying to break the Royal’s ever tightening grip and choke out your 2014 black and orange hopes and dreams of getting to the World Series.
I actually applaud wearing the T-shirt to a winning post-game presser. I was not done to directly humiliate the Baltimore team, your squad has humiliated themselves quite nicely being down 3-0 and currently losing Game 4, which would be a bit Poe-etic.
Heck, I would have made a celebratory Royals tongue-in-cheek T-shirt for your possible elimination featuring a Royal with a mason’s trowel in hand placing bricks with a bound and sweating Oriole within the wall……My own twisted ALCS head tilt to your homegrown macabre master Edgar Allan Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado”.
Jeremy Guthrie was just having fun in the moment. Chill out, or this series will be quickly over and we might not be able to “Quote the Oriole…nevermore…nevermore!”
I’m going to miss Andrew Friedman.
I think we all kind of saw this coming whether you wanted to admit it or not. Friedman was truly that proverbial fish thrown into the deep end of the Major League Baseball pond where money ruled and stockpiling talent and expecting grand results was but a pipedream.
He was a part of a franchise where other teams fan bases flooded Tropicana Field and branded it such names as “Fenway South”. He inherited a job that had broken more experienced men and because of the Rays formidable financial restrictions, a team payroll that basically tied his fins together until he found his own unique way to swim alongside and eventually surpass the once omnipotent MLB sharks.
I mean the guy started out as a optimistic minnow learning to swim in infested waters that could have easily made the Rays into consistent seasonal fodder for the large market sharks, but Friedman brought his experience and innovative tactics he honed as a rising star in the financial field and evolved it into a solid and marketable foundation for a small market franchise to find success in these infested waters.
Friedman used the essence of risk management combined with largely successful algorithms and processes that turned a franchise once mired in a losing persona that emerged within a few years into the 2008 American League Champions.
And that my friends is one glorious legacy to pen onto your baseball resume.
Sure Friedman was but one sharp point of the Rays successful trident during his tenure that also contained Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg and then Team President Matt Silverman, but Friedman was the man out front of it all taking the good and bad hits, being the confident and consistent soldier.
Silverman will now man Friedman’s old VP of Baseball Operations chair and Brain Auld will take a step up and become the Rays new Team President, but do not expect too much of a backslide as Friedman, Sternberg and Silverman it is said could finish each other’s sentences.
Some will be quick to point out that Friedman is vacating his seat as the Rays saw their 6 consecutive winning seasons and 4 post season appearances since 2008 come to an unexpected end.
It is easy to point to another’s person’s faults as they leave to embark on another challenge especially with a large market franchise that is the total opposite of the Rays organization. But no matter your personal opinion on Friedman’s departure, ponder for a moment where this franchise might of ended up without his ideas, guidance and up-tempo perseverance.
ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian once said of Friedman: “ His emphasis on scouting and player development, his ability to piece together a contending team each year despite limited financial resources and his astute use of sabermetrics have made the Rays an organization that others try to emulate, though usually without nearly as much success”.
Say what you want about Friedman’s departure, but realize he has grown so much from that small minnow in the pond surrounded by hungry predators that commanded the other 20-odd M L B franchises.
Friedman has definitely matured within the game in his years with the Rays, brought targeted innovations as blueprints for other small market teams successes as well as brought the Rays out of the deep darkness within the MLB pond to become a consistent antagonist to the rest of the MLB fishery.
Guess it is time to admit for one last time the once defensive minded minnow that was Friedman has now fully evolved into a species of the same predatory animal that commanded the MLB for years.
Maturing from a minnow to a shark, now that’s the Rays Way.
Ever wonder who among your friends, family or even those you might not care for too much would be victims, victors or conscientious observers if there was a Zombie Apocalypse?
The Tampa Bay Rays media zombinos’, who really do not have much Rays baseball right now to produce or edit right now came up with a great little Q&A clip asking some of the current Rays how they thought might be the first tasty nugget, be oblivious or might even volunteer to partake in the Zombie lifestyle.
But seriously, if something were to transpire, would anyone on the Rays squad or staff have the supplies, courage or gumption to stave off a possible invasion of pinstriped or zombies speaking a crazy New England accent?
You bet there are a few I think might have thought this out ahead, possibly using the University of Florida Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide devised by the college a few years ago.
The thing that might worry me most is if it would happen during the season or during the team’s time off? I mean if the team were spread all over the country without their Rays resources, I suspect it would raise the percentages of players like Chris Archer, Wil Myers or maybe even Drew Smyly being devoured as they would not have the support and resources of the Rays as they both like to be outside supporting their causes with the masses.
I know for sure Rays Travel Sec/Clubhouse Zombie Survivalist Chris Westmoreland (a Gator lover) would have supplies and maybe even a few nifty tricks of his own hidden among the many storerooms and darkened spaces underneath Tropicana Field. I mean the guy goes everywhere prepared for the best and worst scenarios, so you know he has something planned out, even if it never happens (or so they say).
And we all know Rays Manager Joe Maddon, Third Base Coach Tom Foley will organize a eat-in possibility for the zombies featuring a buffet meal made by the Rays skipper and Rays staffers serving brains, entrails and other delicacies every zombie craves along with a T-shirt so they can show others they were at the “Zom Nom Nom” event.
As for guys on the squad, I agree Jeremy Hellickson would surrender, possibly offer himself as an autograph signer and early appetizer for Maddon’s Zom Nom Nom as the guy already has the perfect zombie nickname ”Hellboy”.
I know Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi, Video Coordinator aka “Wichita” or “Chico” Fernandez will have Cursi’s back as they seem to always be a team effort off the field. Seriously, with the gear Cursi wears for games and Chico’s cunning and skill set, these two might be the guys to be around if it ever hit the fan.
But there are a few other who might not go down so easy such as Grant Balfour who might just scare the zombies away with his blue-streaked verbal altercation followed by a nice stiff fastball to the cranium. If I was a zombie I do not think I would mess with the “Agitated Aussie”, or wear the 162 stitch reminder of the encounter on my forehead forever.
Along that same line you might see Rays VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman transform his inner want to not be a part of the “walking dead” , but give the Rays every opportunity on the battlefield to be successful. Possibly get a few players from the Las Vegas Area 51 minor league squad or the Albuquerque Isotopes for a few Bowling Green Hot Rods prospects.
Seriously here folks with shows on the air like “The Walking Dead”, “The Last Ship”, “The Strain” and possibly many more in production, are the people in the entertainment world trying to tell and warn us of something currently just beyond our horizon?
Who knows what the answer is, but if there is just such an event and you see that Rays players James Loney, Jose Molina and Jeremy Hellickson are signing for fans……Be wary, be very wary of them being used as bait for that always hungry pinstriped mob.
Wonder if Luke Scott would be willing to sign a Zombie incentive-laced contract? We know that guy can shoot, plus he has the right mental aptitude, but he has to wear the Chewy mask….That would be a moral imperative.
Who do you think among the Rays squad would survive, be devoured or just plain go bonkers on some undead rival fans?
This weekend as teams in the American League made their final pushed to secure a American League Divisional Series crown, several former Tampa Bay Rays had their own imprints on who and how these ALDS series would end.
With regards to hurlers, we saw 2 American League Central division rivals who on Sunday took to their pitching mounds on opposite sides of our nation’s shores battle it out to either extinguish or extend their team’s post season dream.
We all sat and witnessed early on Sunday as Detroit Tigers southpaw David Price provided his team an ample chance to extend their A L D S series, their once potent bats went suddenly silent and with it the Tigers were swept by the Baltimore Orioles.
Price only made one untimely judgment during his 8 inning, 5-hit, 2-run appearance on a lone pitch that Baltimore DH Nelson Cruz sent to right field for a 2-run Home Run that also secured all the runs the Orioles would need to sweep their A L D S series against the Tigers in away confines of Comerica Field.
And as Price and his team gathered their packed their gear for the last time in 2014 , another former Rays pitcher was to write himself into the M L B history books.
Just a time zone away as the Orioles celebrated their A L D S conclusion with their home fans, James Shields and his Royals teammates were in the midst of securing their own ticket to the ALCS and provided yet another unique story line to the Royals ever-expanding Cinderella storybook postseason.
Shields might have given up an early Home Run to Mike Trout to spot the Angels a 1-0 lead, but his teammates had his back on this day. The Royals provided their own 3-run barrage in the bottom of the 1st to give Shields some much needed run support and with additional 2-run bursts in the bottom of the 3rd and 4th innings, provided all the offensive firepower needed for the Royals.
The Royals did not only defeat the heavily favored Angels on Sunday, but finished off their A L D S sweep of the Angels in front of their home fans.
Shields provided an adequate 6 inning, 6-hit, 2-run outing that were only tarnished by Home Runs by Trout and Albert Pujols. The Angels 2 most powerful hitters could of changed the series landscape , but their solo HRs were the only runs given up by Shields.
Interesting side note, the only other Angels run was given up by former Rays RP Wade Davis who came on in the top of the 8th inning when former Rays farm hand Josh Hamilton scored Howie Kendrick from Third Base to plate the last run of the contest for the visiting Angels.
The Orioles also boast two other former Rays in INF Kelly Johnson and DH/OF Delmon Young. Now I’m really happy to see Johnson get a chance at the post season and especially as he has been on the roster of almost everyone in the American League East at some point in the last 2 seasons.
Johnson deserves this kind of celebratory goodness as the guy is a team player who just enjoys the game and still gets excited when he sees his name on the line-up card.
My personal feelings aside about Delmon Young, I’m glad he got to see his former team, the Tigers, leave the field as he enjoyed celebrating a A L D S title with his new O’s squad.
Johnson was an intricate pick-up for the O’s near the end of the season bringing in the versatile Johnson to play wherever needed, and providing a stop-gap at Third Base that was left vulnerable by Manny Machado’s late season ending injury.
Johnson’s only appearance in the A L D S was as a pinch-hitter for Caleb Joseph in Game 2 in the 8th inning and he flied out to center field.
Young’s heroic pinch hit during game 2 got him a start in left field for Game 3, but he was lifted for David Lough in the top of the 9th inning after going 0-3 on the day.
Still, Young and Johnson should be on the Baltimore A L D S roster when the A L C S contests begin Friday, October 10th in Camden Yards with the Royals sending Shields to the hill to try and give the Orioles their first defeat of the 2014 post seeason.
Going to be interesting to see if Shields or Davis get a chance (or two) to face their former teammate Young, or Johnson during the A L C S.
No matter who’s squad ends up winning the 2013 American League crown, I am proud as heck of Shields, Davis, Johnson and even Young for being parts of their team want and hope to raise not only banners, but champagne on their quest for a World Series journey.
And lest we forget, because the American League defeated the National League in the 2014 All-Star Game, the World Series will ultimately begin soon enough in either Baltimore or Kansas City.
Never would have envisioned these two teams fighting for the right to represent their league in the World Series. Proves once again there is no such thing as a “sure thing” in regards to baseball, and I would not have it any other way.P