I am back on MLBlogs for my first offseason update regarding the Rays. As the title of the post states, while the Rays failed to acquire Matt Holliday, they captured a mantle full of hardware.
Carlos Pena’s defense was given its due recognition as he won his first Gold Glove Award at first base. Seeing as he lead the American League with a .998 fielding percentage at his position, worked in sync with his infielders by catching throws at all different angles and served as a motivational leader to them and his pitchers, he really earned this distinction. He takes pride in defense, which is often undervalued at first base. I can’t recall how many times I saw him reach low to the ground to grab throws from across the diamond and save runs. Congratulations, Carlos hopefully this is the beginning of a streak.
Evan Longoria won the award he only had one chance to capture, and did so unanimously. He became the first unanimous Rookie of the Year since Nomar Garciaparra in 1997, one year before Tampa Bay’s team first played. Hitting .272 with 27 home runs despite spending two weeks in AAA and over a month out injured, he banked on his opportunity in every possible way. He was a defensive wizard with an explosive bat who earned a longterm contract after only two months, and an All Star Game appearance after three months. Without his contributions, there was no way the Rays would have won their division. By the way, Alexei Ramirez finished in second place and Jacoby Ellsbury third, albeit distantly.
Finally, Joe Maddon was given the Manager of the Year Award by the biggest landslide ever seen in that award’s voting. Had one voter not cast a first place vote for easy runner up Ron Gardenhire, it would have been unanimous. Maddon, who recently got married, also won the Chuck Tanner MLB Manager of the Year Award in its second year of existence. This was an obvious choice on so many levels. Maddon is a teacher of the game who excels with young players. He can even find ways to teach lessons the hard way (just ask B.J. Upton). He is also a methodical philosopher of a manager, motivating his team through innovative catchphrases and positive attitude. Joe finally did prove once and for all that, given the right team, his style works. It brought a perennial doormat in the Tampa Bay Rays all the way to the World Series. And to think, I predicted the team would fire this guy in 2007. There’s something I’m thankful to have called incorrectly.
I’ll be back with more insight and analysis when more offseason moves have been made. Right now, the only news is about the declining of Cliff Floyd and Trever Miller’s options for 2009. Miller may or may not return pending the search for a replacement, and Floyd may very well retire. He should go into coaching. Until next time, go American League Champion Rays.
Hello all MLBloggers across the world, this is your Tampa Bay Rays (and Atlanta Braves whenever applicable) blogger, Brenton (AKA Rising From The Ashes), back here with you for my first post of 2008…in February. Well, this new year has been a good one to date, as the Rays have locked up Carlos Pena and James Shields long-term, as well as signing Trever Miller and Eric Hinske to add depth to all parts of the team. Before this, we traded possible All-Star/problem child Delmon Young and probable one-year wonder Brendan Harris to Minnesota for quick, reliable shortstop Jason Bartlett and quality third starter Matt Garza. We acquired Troy Percival and Cliff Floyd as free agents to add veteran leadership. I think that, finally, every move in this offseason has been a positive one for this organization. The Rays are finally making the right steps to climb the ladder. And the Braves plugged in a huge hole, trading for Mark Kotsay to bridge the gap in center field for 2008.
Meanwhile, our friends in Baltimore continue to self destruct. Seemingly half the team appeared in the Mitchell Report (more comment on that as I see fit), then they started trading every good player they had left. Miguel Tejada, who may be on his way out anyway for reasons related to said report, was shipped off to Houston, and now Erik Bedard has been sent to the Seattle Mariners as a left-handed compliment to Felix Hernandez. The rumors also have Brian Roberts going to the Cubs to solve their middle infield dilemma. They’re not even trading these guys for top prospects, just borderline players who won’t add up to the worth of those they’re giving up. We’ll finish way ahead of these guys in the standings this season, as they’re not just rebuilding, they’re imploding.
I have at least three Rays-related events to attend in the next two months. First, on Saturday, February 23, I am going to Rays FanFest at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. It’s going on from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, featuring autograph tables, memorabilia exhibits from The Ted Williams Museum, panel discussions led by Harold Reynolds, various contests and fun activities, and more. I’ll be there, and I advise all true Rays fans to show up as well. Next, on March 15, I’m off to Kissimmee to witness the Spring Training matchup I’ve waited years for. Every year I take a weekend vacation there to see the Braves play, and this year their opponents are, that’s right, the Rays. So I can’t lose…I’ll have on my Rays shirt and Braves hat for that one, just as I did when I attended their regular season game on June 23, 2006, one of the best games I’ve ever been to. Finally, on April 8, the Rays play their home opener against the Seattle Mariners, and I have tickets to see this one from aisle seats in section 125. It’s the eighth game of the year, so by my calculations we’ll probably have Matt Garza on the mound. It should be very exciting, thousands of fans to see us finally escape from the ground floor of our division.
I have some Rays rookie and minor league cards that I will be attempting to get signed at FanFest. To add to my Kazmir, Crawford, Baldelli, and Iwamura cards, I’ve recently purchased cards of James Shields, Evan Longoria, Cliff Floyd, and Carlos Pena. The one I really want to get signed is Iwamura’s, because it’s a rare BBM 1997 Japan rookie card. That would be priceless. In non-Rays card news, I also bought a 2005 Felix Hernandez prospect card, as well as some Eli Manning rookie cards to cash in on his Super Bowl stardom. (Classic game there, by the way.) I also got one of Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew.
Now that NFL season is over, it’s time to put baseball back into full swing. It all starts with FanFest, and the Rays begin their ascent up the ladder. I don’t think we’ll see the 1991 Braves this season, but the best Rays team ever, most likely so. Roger Clemens is in deep sewage with his pesky trainer ratting him out to the government, and that’s another story I’ll be keeping tabs on, as well as the Barry Bonds saga. Until next time, go Rays.