But there is one big decision that won’t so easy.
Difficult decision: Toby Hall
Say what you want about Tampa Bay Rays reliever Grant Balfour. Some comments center on his spiral anger issues, while other wonder why during years with even numbers his stats tend to go a bit south.
So it is no surprise to me that Balfour along with Chicago Cubs P Andre Rienzo and Milwaukee Brewers Manager Ron Roenicke will make up an extremely diverse Major League Baseball trio of Ambassadors during their trek to Balfour’s homeland of Australia from Dec 12-21st.
Some people say the “Angry Aussie” has easily compiled the best career mark ever in the M L B among those bearing Aussie roots, and so many around the baseball world and in his home country view him as a bit of a cult hero because of his tirades with those white Rawlings baseballs, and has ruffled quite a few feathers among M L N hitters.
Few players display their passion on their sleeves like Balfour in the game today and his outward pouring of high energy emotions and a few choice words can polarize some baseball fans opinions of the pitcher.
But that persona of anger and disdain for baseballs of aspects of the game is not the true essence of Balfour, or the Balfour I have known during his times with the Rays. He has always been cordial to fans, stopping to talk with them, hold endearing conversations and offering friendship to many who sit around the area of the Rays Bullpen.
During my time in that same area of Tropicana Field, I have not seen Balfour refuse an autograph, not stop to at least acknowledge a fan calling out his name and for the most part being a great ambassador of the Rays.
So it must be thrilling for Balfour to get the chance to visit his homeland and I imagine a stop in his hometown of Kings Langley which is a suburb of Sydney.
But the fact is Balfour has done some amazing things over his 11 years playing professional baseball in the U.S. with visits to the World Series with the Rays, plus being selected to the American League All-Star squad during his tenure with the Oakland Athletics back in 2013.
Balfour and crew are expected to arrive in Sydney on Thursday, Dec 11th and enjoy a free day before commencing on the 8-day M L B Ambassador Tour.
Here is a tentative sampling of the events and activities that Balfour will attend and participate in during the 8-day MLB Ambassadors Tour:
On Friday, Dec 12th, Balfour will be present at a Welcome Home Press Conference in Sydney and then to Blue Sox Stadium and will meet fans before throwing out the First Pitch at the Sydney Blue Sox and Adelaide Bite game.
On Saturday, Dec 13th , Balfour and his fellow Ambassadors will hold a MLB Training with the Pros session at Sydney’s Blue Sox’s stadium for local junior players. If you have not heard about the Training with the Pros sessions, it is a long standing MLB program in partnership with Baseball Australia and the teams of the Australian Baseball League which provides hands on skill-training from Australian and foreign-born professional baseball players.
Balfour and the group will then travel to meet fans who attend the Canberra Cavalry and Melbourne Aces match later in the day.
On Sunday, Dec. 14th, Balfour will be in attendance in Sydney and also take part in what should be an emotionally-charged tribute to his father, David Balfour, acknowledging his contributions to Australian baseball. Balfour will also be on hand to meet fans pre-game who came to watch that days Sydney Blue Sox versus Adelaide Bite game.
The group will take Monday off as a travel day and land in Melbourne.
On Tuesday, Dec. 16th, Balfour and his fellow Ambassadors will hold a press conference at Melbourne Ballpark and meet with the Australian Baseball All-Stars team members.
On Weds., Dec 17th, Balfour will serve as an honorary Team Australian Captain during the Australian All-Baseball League All-Star game that pits the best home grown Aussie talents against the best of the imported players in the league.
On Thursday, Dec 18th, the group will travel to the Gold Coast and hold a special Training with the Pros session in Coomera with local junior players.
On Friday, Dec 19th the Ambassadors will travel to Brisbane and hold a MLB Training with the Pros session at AFA Stadium at Holloway Field. The group will then meet fans and attend the Brisbane Bandits versus Canberra Cavalry game.
It is great to see Balfour and his MLB colleagues hit Australia this off season and give back. You have to believe it will be especially satisfying for Balfour to see how the game has grown in his home country and the heights it has reached in each of these vistas he and the MLB Ambassadors will visit during their trip.
I have no worries Balfour and his MLB crew will not only make a difference, but I know Balfour will bring back so many grand stories of how much the game has changed and how it has further impacted his life.
Can’t wait to hear a few of them while leaning on the Right Field rail this spring.
I am a huge dog and overall animal fan. I have on numerous occasions told people that my pure black German Shepherd Hansel was my DFF (Dog Friend Forever). Animals have dotted my entire life and sometimes I do get an affliction of treating them almost like another human.
So maybe it is just me, but I’m appalled at the recent video surfaced on August 21st showing a man with his dog on a leash basically beating discipline into his dog while traveling in a closed elevator while staying at a hotel in Vancouver, BC.
Sure we all have disciplined our pets, but not while they are seated on an elevator floor and by kicks to their middle regions or applying foot to hind quarters. For me it was a newspaper slight pop and putting their nose near their badly placed deposits. And neither of these actions were done out of anger, frustrations or even a hint of hurting my beloved pet.
Subsequently after the British Columbia SPCA viewed the actions a search warrant was issued for Desmond Hague the current CEO of Centerplate Inc., which is the largest food services vendor that provides food options for us locally at Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Lightning, Orlando Magic games and at many other major sports venues in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.
Even though the investigation into the animal abuse case involving Hague is on-going, it will be interesting to see how this event will effect in-stadium sales for Centerplate for the rest of the baseball season and possibly hurt the conglomerate during the upcoming MLB post season.
Hague has issued an apology for his actions, but maybe it is a bit too late to possibly fend off the extremely negative effect such actions will have on devote animal loving fans and if the vendor will feel any significant financial pains while the case is open.
I can definitely see fans possibly making a choice in the coming weeks by possibly invoking an in-stadium silent protest and just stroll by the Centerplate booths instead buying their food items at Centerplate vendors located within your stadium or arena.
Centerplate also caters the Rays VIP areas like the suite area, Dex Imaging Home Plate Club, Hancock Bank Club, 162 Landing, Papa John’s Bullpen Box, Left Field Terrace, and new Back Porch group seating areas. They also provide food and beverage items for the Everglades Brewhouse and the Rays Press Club.
But even if you feel Centerplate should feel some sort of financial pain because of their CEO’s disregard, the vendor might not be the only one to feel less dollars in their pocket because of this animal abuse.
A lot of the charities or team organizations also run booths that have to use Centerplate food and drink items and they could also feel a significant pinch to their fundraising efforts if fans decide to boycott buying in-stadium food or beverage items.
Even worse, the beer, ice cream and cotton candy vendors who patrol both the bowl and upper deck areas are independent contractors who do not work for Centerplate but work on a commission basis when they sell you that cool beverage or neon-colored cotton candy. Such a protest could affect them.
So if you do plan a silent protest of Centerplate please be sure decide individually who you want to hurt the most.
You are permitted to bring outside food into Tropicana Field as long as they fit into these parameters. All items must be for individual or single family consumption. The items should be wrapped, bagged or contained in individual proportions in a soft-sided container not to exceed 16 in. by 16 in. by 8 inches. Only sealed water bottles no larger than 1 liter and child single-serving juice boxes are permitted into the stadium.
I’m a firm believer in discipline in your animals, but not by forcing fear of physical retaliation into their training or projecting violent interactions with an animal that can’t defend or speak for themselves.
My actions is in no way a negative reflection on the Rays overall organization, their staff and hope my stand is not viewed as a disapproval of their connection with Centerplate because no one could of seen this event coming without psychic ability.
But I feel strongly about this issue and have decided to partake in this action on my own, but if others want to follow my action……
As of this moment, and during the rest of the Rays 2014 season (which hopefully extends into October), I personally do not plan on buying a single food or drink item from a Centerplate operated stand.
I do however plan to show support for the volunteer fundraising organizations throughout the Trop. by donating to their cause via tips not food or drink purchases, the tips will never touch the hands of Centerplate and will be the sole monetary property of that organization.
The fundraising organizations should not be collateral damage for this event and hopefully will see a lot more tips coming their way.
I’m going to eat before I hit the stadium for a while and lug around a 1-liter bottle of Aquafina I purchased before entering Tropicana Field. It is as much in a sign of protest as it is cheaper on my wallet overall and will give me my own small sense of doing the right thing.
I worked with Centerplate for many years as their Pepsi representative and most of the employees, supervisors and managers are good people who would or could not do such actions privately.
I am venting my disgust upwards way beyond their pay grades to the highest level who has done the unthinkable in my opinion. I am not an active animal right activist, but I do believe in the fair treatment of all creatures not mosquito, brown recluse spider or cockroach, but that is just me.
Unfortunately I do not have the means or proper media influence to let the visiting fans coming into the Trop know about this event. But hopefully the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Yankees and White Sox faithful are abreast of the Centerplate situation and will take their own actions.
Hopefully Hague will get what coming to him in the coming months, but even in Canada you can’t strike Hague in punishment with the same swiftness he hit his defenseless dog.
There has been alot of chatter and speculation that the Tampa Bay Rays might be talking to former Yankee Jason Giambi about a possible Designated Hitters’ position with the club. I have always been a defender and distractor of the “Giambino” because his past behavior and his hitting prowness .
To say that the Rays would not listen to his agent would be obsurb. We will listen to anyone talk about their client or even tap dance on the top of the dugout, but the price has to be right for the Rays to bite on Giambi. He would have to be willing to give the team a “AL East” discount.
By this I mean he will have to give them a discount to be able to face his former team at least 17 times in 2009 and rub their noses in their refusal to even consider him for the team. He would be an upgrade to the DH position without a doubt, but he will also have to come with the stipulation that fater BP he throws his gloves into his locker and doesn’t look at them again until the next day.
To say he would be a defensive downgrade would be a joke. He has gone from being an ample first baseman, to being a liability with a glove. He no longer has the range or the motion to adequately play the position for an extended time. And considering the Rays have one of the best at the position in house, He will need to stow the gloves after BP.
For the Rays sake, that might have to be written into the contract. For intimidation factor, Giambi gets a “10”. I always say when I see him on the big screen that he has serial killer eyes. Those baby blues seem to stare right through you even from 50 yeards away. I can only imagine what they look like when he sees a hanging curveball or breaking pitch and is about to thrust it over the wall in one long swing.
Jermaine Dye is another guy who has been getting a lot of Rays trade talk in recent weeks. He is a powerful hitter who is also right-handed. that plays right into the Rays plans looking for a above average bat who can also play a great defensive outfield position.
But what might not play into the Chicago White Sox plans is the fact that the team is asking for a proven starter and a fielder player at the triple-A level for Dye. He is still under contract for the 2009 season, and will certainly be considered a prime free agent next season.
He has been pretty injury free and has taken his batting game up a notch the last 2 seasons. In the recent American League Divisional Series, the Rays got a lot of first hand looks at Dye as he hit and drove in runs for the White Sox in the series against the Rays.
What is also known around baseball is that White Sox GM, Ken Williams wants to lower his payroll a bit before filling his holes on his squad. He will have to start to make deal soon to be able to capitalize on the top tier players before the market goes thin and he will have to trade for his desired postions.
Also of consideration is if the Rays are on the list of 6 potential trade destinations that Dye will veto any trades. The Rays might have been on that list in 2007, but would Dye either void the list or are the Rays a desination that suits Dye………..We shall see in the coming weeks.
The New York Mets have been actively asking and looking for information on the Rays 4 and 5 starters this off-season. Edwin Jackson had early interest from the team, but based on his career numbers and his consistant pitching, they have moved onto inquiring about Andy Sonnanstine.
Sonnanstine has been a fierce competitor for a long time. He was not an orignal target of the Rays in the amatuer draft, but former owner Vince Namoli was interested in Sonnanstine after a win against his alma mater, the Norte Dame Fighting Irish. The Kent State pitcher had always fought the Irish hard and Namoli liked the young pitcher’s style.
So the team drafted him and Sonnanstine displayed this same knack for consistancy all the way through the minor leagues. When he got to the majors, he had already been selected as the Rays “minor League Pitcher of the Year” twice during his tour in the Rays farm system.
He came to the majors and set a presence of consitant pitching and low run and walks totals, which have kept him into games deep last year and this season for the Rays. He was the first pitcher to hit the 11 win plateau this season, but got mired at that number before finally posting his 12th win. He is one of those inning eater pitchers who can make a staff better by pitching his game and staying on top of the opposition.
I really do not think the Mets have the fair trade prospects in their farm system to make a ideal trade with the Rays. If they were to get Sonnanstine, it would have to be a 3-team deal that would bring in a few pieces that would be heading Tampa Bay’s way.
That is not say that the wheels are not already at work trying to locate pieces that would entice the Rays to give up their young pitcher. The Rays are still under control of Sonnanstine until 2010, when he will be up for his first taste of arbitration.
But there is one big decision that won’t so easy.
Difficult decision: Toby Hall
Why keep Hall?
The last three years have illustrated that getting a competent backup catcher isn’t as easy at it seems. Back-up catching prospects wander from the inexperienced rookies’ looking for a chance to succeed, to veterans on their last few years of organized ball before looking beyond the game for a job. Putting another year on the trusty backup catcher chart, Hall posted the best OPS for the position since 2005:
Compared to Chris Widger, Gustavo Molina, Sandy Alomar Jr. and one-armed Toby Hall, the two-armed version was a marked improvement, even if still below-average — especially considering he more than held up his end against lefties.
Hall hit southpaws to the tune of .377/.411/509 over 56 at-bats, with more homers (2) than strikeouts (1). Even while his overall numbers took a nosedive in the second half, he had seven hits in 21 at-bats when the match-up was in his favor.
He also saw significant improvements in his catcher’s ERA (3.68, compared to 6.12 in 2007) and his caught stealing rate (17 percent, up from 10), which isn’t awful.
The Sox don’t really have anybody else, as Cole Armstrong is still a season or so away at the very least. And even if you don’t like Hall, it’s hard to say he was much of a problem. The Sox went 22-14 when he started, a near reversal of his 2007 record. Perhaps they played better because his teammates were hoping for one of his delightful pies.
The case against Hall
A.J. Pierzynski is 31 years old and has a two-year extension ahead of him, and yet his plate appearances keep shooting up. He set a personal record for plate appearances while catching more than 130 games for the third consecutive year. Not surprisingly, he went into a major slump at the end of the year.
Hall isn’t helping lighten Pierzynski’s workload much, mainly because he’s so miserable against righties. He posted a .431 OPS in such situations, including a .321 OPS after the break (.133/188/.133 in 30 ABs). God forbid a foul tip ever catch Pierzynski the wrong way, because the Sox would likely receive zero production in his absence.
And one full year after his shoulder injury, he still had trouble generating extra-base power. Part of it was due to his inside-out swing that is built to dump singles to right field, but he lost out on a handful of doubles because he couldn’t outrun a glacier. Paul Konerko grows impatient watching him.
He’s part of the reason why the Sox struggle against the turf teams (Minnesota, Toronto, Tampa Bay). He can’t turn deep gappers into doubles easily, and he can’t throw runners out unless he gets a lot of help from the pitcher.
So what to do?
There’s actually an OK crop of backup catchers’ out there, with a few interesting buy-low candidates like Javier Valentin, Josh Bard and David Ross. But Bard is an offense-first catcher who stopped hitting (his rate against basestealers is worse than Hall’s, although Padres pitchers are more indifferent to runners than even Sox pitchers), and Valentin and Ross both lost their jobs on a bad Cincinnati ballclub.
Below them are guys like, well, Paul Phillips. That wouldn’t help, either.
Everybody else would cost more than Hall’s $2.25 million salary (especially adding the $150,000 it’d take to buy out Hall in the first place). So I see the Sox picking up his option, citing the way he handles the pitching staff and his antics as clown prince of the dugout.
Perhaps one more year off his shoulder injury coinciding with a contract year will show Sox fans they haven’t seen the best of him yet. Chances are he’ll make Pierzynski the most valuable member of the club for a third straight year, so hold your breath that he survives.