Inside Pulse » Tampa Bay Rays A pop culture mega-site with Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games coverage for diehards, including news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary. Tue, 25 Nov 2014 00:10:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A pop culture mega-site with Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games coverage for diehards, including news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary. Inside Pulse no A pop culture mega-site with Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games coverage for diehards, including news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary. Inside Pulse » Tampa Bay Rays Instant Reaction: Tampa Bay Rays Make the Playoffs, Boston Red Sox Out Thu, 29 Sep 2011 04:32:58 +0000 Around a decade ago, the Yankees were shamelessly signing everyone who was clearly on steroids with no shame.  As a Bronx boy, I was a fan for as long as I could remember, but as if their competitive disadvantage wasn’t enough, they quickly went from Roger Clemens to Jason Giambi to Gary Sheffield.  It stopped being fun to root for them and, well, sports without fun aren’t worth the time.  It was the height of my time  as a baseball junkie, so I decided to root for the worst team in baseball that had exciting young players and promise.  A bit of Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford later, and I was a Rays fan.  I haven’t regretted it once.


For those that somehow missed it, the Rays became one of the best run organizations in baseball under Andrew Friedman by drafting top talent, getting extra draft picks, brilliant trading, and finding awesome bargain bin players to contribute.  With their quality has come success, and this is the third of the past four post-seasons they’ll be in the playoffs.


Oh, wait?  Did I forget to mention that?  Despite the second lowest payroll in a rebuilding year, the Rays came back from about a bajillion games down in September, the most anyone has ever been down during that month, and came back to top the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card.  Those same Red Sox whose massive payroll of over $200 million is second only to that of the Yankees.  To get there, they had to win their 162nd and very last game, coming down from 7-0 in the bottom of the eighth, triumphing in extra innings, and beating the Yankees.  Meanwhile, the Red Sox had to lose, and did so to the worst team in baseball as Robert Andino continued to crush them and former Ray dropped a ball that allowed the game winner to cross the plate in the bottom of the 9th.  What’s even the right word for that?  Miraculous?  Satisfying?  Thrilling?  Cathartic?  I’ll take all of the above.


The Rays now head out to the ALDS against the Texas Rangers, another really well run team, although one with more leeway financially.  Win or lose, this is going to be the stuff of legend, but win, and this is one of the most historic seasons in baseball history.  This year, for the second in a row, I just cared less about baseball.  I love saber and the closed-mindedness, anger and ignorance of fans and media turned me off, along with the sheer grind of the intensely long season and the seeming pot-luck of the playoffs.  Well, the Rays, and their epic comeback serve as a reminder of all that’s right with the game.  I won’t be tuning out of the playoffs now and am psyched for next season.  Maybe that’s the best word for these Rays: Redemptive.

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The Big Orange Guy’s Top 5 Questions About The American League East Mon, 31 Jan 2011 19:28:15 +0000 The baseball season is coming.  Trades and signings are happening almost daily.  The rumors of this player going there and where this player is signing are all over the internet.   There are still many free agents out there, although those free agents with big names are off the board.  Soriano, and Pavano are off the board.  Manny and Damon are supposed to be reuniting.  Teams are starting to take shape.  I just got asked if the Yankees traded A.J. Burnett today.  Spring training is just around the corner.

The last few weeks, I have picked a division and asked five questions regarding their 2011 season.  With the divisions that have five teams, it makes it easy.  Each team has many questions facing them with the upcoming season, so I ask one per team and a little background behind the question.  This week, I look at the American League East.  This division has been a division of the haves and have-nots for the past few seasons.  Is this the year that some power changes?  Let’s ask a few questions and take a look.

So, here are The Big Orange Guy’s Top 5 Questions of the American League East.

#1 – Can the Red Sox be beat? Let’s be honest, this team is loaded.  The pitching staff is strong with Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Bobby Jenks, Jonathon Papelbon and others.  They acquired Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.  They may have lost Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre, but they still have a solid core that includes Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia.  The 2010 Red Sox won 89 games even though their team seemed like a M.A.S.H. unit.  Beckett, Buchholz, Pedroia, Dice-K and nearly every single star spent time on the disabled list.  With all of those games lost, they still won nearly 90 games.  Now, they are improved as well.  Can the Red Sox be beat?

#2 – What will a full season of Buck Showalter mean to the Baltimore Orioles?  The Orioles had three managers in 2010.  David Trembley had a record of 15-39 and Juan Samuel had a record of 17-34. That is a combined record of 34-73.  Showalter’s record was 34-23.  He led the Orioles to the same number of wins and 50 less losses.  That was last year.  In the off season, the Orioles signed Derrek Lee, Cesar Itzuris, Kevin Gregg and Jeremy Accardo.  They traded for J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds.  They have new coaches with a tremendous amount of experience.  Willie Randolph is the new bench coach and Mark Connor is the new pitching coach.  These additions of coaches are because of Showalter.  Free agents signing can be possibly and partially because of Buck.  So with a full season with Showalter leading the team, how many wins will the Orioles have in 2011?

#3 – Are the Tampa Bay Rays done?  First, let’s start with the free agents that left the team.  Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate, Carl Crawford, Brad Hawpe, Carlos Pena, Chad Qualls, Rafael Soriano and Dan Wheeler are all gone.  They replaced these names with Kyle Farnsworth, J.P. Howell and rumored to have signed Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez.  They traded Matt Garza to the Cubs.  They are loaded with young talent but is that enough to compete?  In a division where they play the Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays and the improved Orioles will they be able to continue their winning ways of the past three years?   Or, are they done?

#4 – Will anyone pay attention to the Toronto Blue Jays?  Everyone is talking about the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays and the improved Orioles.  The Blue Jays won 85 games in 2010 and finished only 11 games behind the Rays for the division crown.  This team is undergoing a chance for 2011.  Somehow, the team was able to trade Vernon Wells and his contract to the Angels.  They have very good young pitching.  They have Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek.  They signed Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch who were both signed to help the bullpen.  They are a team with many young players.  They recently traded Shaun Marcum for Brett Lawrie.  They obtained Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera for Wells.  Their team is young and has a lot to prove in the American League East.  But, as October 2011 rolls around, will anyone pay attention to the Toronto Blue Jays?

#5 – Do the New York Yankees have enough pitching?  They have C.C Sabathia and Phil Hughes.  They have Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano, but what other proven commodities do they have?  A.J. Burnett pitches like Dr. Jeckyll or Mr. Hyde.  Andy Pettitte did not file retirement papers but he is still working out in Texas.  Bartolo Colon has not pitched in the majors since 2009 and the other potential starters are either named Joba, Ivan or some pitcher that does not have a proven track record.  The bullpen will have Boone Logan and Pedro Feliciano, but will also have Joba (potentially), David Robertson and Damaso Marte.  Looking at the names, it is not enough.  The Yankees have young prospects to trade, expect it to happen.  So, you tell me, do the Yankees have enough pitching?

That is all for this week.  It is February soon and the baseball season is just around the corner.  As I go back outside to dig out from ANOTHER snowstorm, stay safe all.  See you on the other side.

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MLB News: Yankees Sign Soriano Fri, 14 Jan 2011 18:55:18 +0000 It is being reported that the New York Yankees have signed former Tampa Bay Rays closer Rafael Soriano to a 3-year/$35 million contract to be their setup man for Mariano Rivera.

Not only does this give the Yankees a setup man for Rivera, but it gives them the potential heir apparent to their closer role as Rivera’s contract expires in two years.

Soriano saved 45 of 48 games in 2010 and as 3-2 with a 1.73 ERA in earning a spot ont he American League All-Star team.

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The Big Orange Guy Remembers The Top 5 Picks of the 2001 Amateur Draft Thu, 25 Nov 2010 00:42:40 +0000 As we get ready for the 2011 baseball season, I want to look back 10 years ago to the 2001 Amateur Draft.  The first round consisted of 44 players, with 26 of them playing in the major leagues in the past ten years.  Those players drafted in the first round and not in the Top 5 were Casey Kotchman, Aaron Heilman, Bobby Crosby, Jeremy Bonderman, Noah Lowry, David Wright and Jayson Nix.

Aaron Heilman and David Wright were picked as compensation for the Mets losing Mike Hampton to free agency.  Jeremy Bonderman was picked by the Athletics as the Mets signing free agent Kevin Appier.  Jayson Nix was selected as a pick for the Rockies failing to sign their first round pick of 2000.  Other free agents that season that allowed players to be selected in the supplemental rounds were Mike Mussina, Juan Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez.

But who were the first five players selected?  All five have played in the major leagues, although you may not have heard of a couple of them.  So, the Top 5 Players drafted in 2001 were:

#1 – Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins, drafted out of Cretin HS in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Mauer went to school in Cretin, which was also the high school of Hall of Famer Paul Molitor.  He was selected by the USA Today as the High School Player of the Year in football and baseball.  He turned down a scholarship to Florida State University to enter the baseball draft.

Since his Major League debut in 2004, Mauer has a career batting average of .327 while leading the American League three times in batting.  He is a four time All-Star, winning the Most Valuable Player Award in 2009.  He is also a three-time Gold Glove winner.  He has never hit less than .293 and became a hero to all people from Minnesota as he extended his contract through the end of 2018.

#2 – Mark Prior of the Chicago Cubs, drafted out of the University of Sou0thern California in Los Angeles, California

Prior won the Dick Howser Trophy as the national collegiate player of the year.  He was originally drafted by the New York Yankees in 1998 but did not sign and went off to college.  Going intot he 2001 draft, Prior was considered by some to be the top player in the draft. He publicly announced he did not want to play for the Twins, an announcement that probably gets Prior Christmas cards from every Twins fan each year

After a great 2003 baseball season, Prior’s injuries started.  Before the 2004 season, he injured his Achilles tendon.  He started having arm trouble in 2005 with his elbow and his shoulder.  After his great 2003 season, Prior only won 18 more games in his career to date.  He has not pitched in the Major Leagues since 2006.

He had a loose shoulder in 2007, a shoulder tear in 2008 and could not make the San Diego Padres roster in 2009 and was released by them.  Since 2009 he was signed by the Orange County Flyers of the Golden Baseball League and the Texas Rangers as he tried to reinvent himself as a middle reliever.

The Cubs had considered the fifth player selected in the draft, however went with a pitcher.  When you see the fifth player, you will see that they possible should have went with their second choice.

#3 – Dewon Brazelton of the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays, drafted out of Middle Tennessee State University of Murfreesboro,Tennessee

Brazelton set the strikeout and wins records at Middle Tennessee State University.  He was selected by Tampa Bay with the third pick of the 2001 draft.

As a major leagues, Brazelton never lived up to his potential.  In 2003, he had a 1-6 record and in 2004 and 2005, his combined records were 7-16.  He was traded in the winter of 2005 to the San Diego Padres for Sean Burroughs.  In 2006, he started in the Padres rotation but was quickly demoted to the bullpen.  The last time he pitched in the major leagues was May 11, 2006 against the Milwaukee Brewers.  He came into a game with a 8-0 lead and gave up 4 runs without getting an out.  Since then he has pitched in the minor leagues and the independent baseball leagues as well.

During the 2010 season, while pitching for the Kansas City T-Bones, Brazelton had a shoulder injury that ended his season.  He was interviewed for the Kansas City Star about his rise to the major leagues.  He said, “I had glaring holes in my game. Some holes take some time to fix. I didn’t have a breaking ball — a very good curveball or slider at that point. I didn’t have a lot of things you need to be successful on a daily basis.”

The Cardinals, with the 72nd pick of the draft of 2001 selected Dan Haren who has won 91 games since his major league debut.  Do you think that the Rays wished they selected Haren instead?

#4 – Gavin Floyd of the Philadelphia Phillies, drafted out of Mount St. Joseph’s High School of Baltimore, Maryland.

The Phillies drafted Floyd and had him bouncing between the majors and the minors from 2004 to 2006.  At the end of the 2006 season, he was traded by the Phillies with Gio Gonzalez for Freddy Garcia.  It was after being traded to the White Sox that Floyd became a full-time starting pitcher.  In his first season of starting more than 30 games (33), Floyd was 17-8 in 2008.  He had an ERA of 3.84, striking out 163.  During that season, he won the game to force the one-game playoff to decide who would represent the Central Division in the playoffs.

Prior to the 2009 season, Floyd signed a four-year contract with the White Sox for $15.5 million.  In his last start of 2010m he left with right shoulder tightness.  He should be okay to start the 2011 season for the White Sox in their rotation.

#5 – Mark Teixera of the Texas Rangers, drafted out of Georgia Institute of Technology out of Atlanta, Georgia

In his 2001 season at Georgia Tech, Teixera hit .427 with an OPS of 1.319 and won the Dick Howser Trophy as the Collegiate Player of the Year.

Teixera played for the Rangers from 2003 to 2007, where he was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Elvis Andrus, Neftali Perez, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He was then traded a year later to the Angels.

We all know about Teixera and his history.  Since his major league debut, he has been a multiple All-Star, multiple Golden Glove Winner and placed in the Top 10 of the MVP voting twice.  He is a career .286 hitter, with 275 career home runs with a career OPS of .913.  He is also considered one of the top defensive first baseman in the major leagues.  He also is a World Series Winner, with the Yankees in 2009.

Looking further into the draft of 2001, Ryan Howard and C.J. Wilson was selected in the 5th Round.  Kevin Youkilis was selected in the 8th Round.  The 11th Round featured Dan Uggla and Stephen Drew.  As you can see, the 2001 draft featured many excellent players and some not so memorable.  In any case, that draft was ten years ago and the players have all their day in the sun.  As we get ready for the 2011 draft, I wonder who will be this year’s hits and misses.  I guess I will review this draft in ten years in The Big Orange Guy’s Top 5 during the week of November 21, 2020.  That will be Edition # 543.

Okay, enough dreaming and time to start planning a wedding.  I got engaged last week, popping the question while on one knee in front of Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Miller Huggins while in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. How can I go wrong, she is a Yankees fan.  See you on the other side all, have a great week.

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Diamondbacks Trade Chad Qualls Sun, 01 Aug 2010 01:20:56 +0000 Chad Qualls, who has struggled mightily in 2010, was traded by the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Tampa Bay Rays for the immortal player to be named later. Qualls’ 2010 season has been nothing less than a total abomination—he is 1-4 with an 8.29 ERA, allowing 61 hits in 38 innings of work. On the bright side, he has 12 saves.

Qualls’ performance this year is atypical—prior to this season, he never posted an ERA above 3.76. In fact, prior to 2010 his career ERA was 3.32. It is now 3.74. Either this season is a fluke—an implosion paralleling the rest of the relief corps—or it is an early indication of the onset of Steve Blass Syndrome, the inexplicable, irrecoverable loss of pitching talent.

Qualls served as the Diamondbacks’ closer in 2009, saving 24 games in 51 appearances, though he struggled late that season a well. During the month of August, he posted a 5.40 ERA, before missing the rest of the season. In 2008 he posted the best ERA of his career, 2.81, despite going only 4-8.

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Phillies Close to Making Moves? Wed, 21 Jul 2010 18:30:06 +0000 Reports are coming in that the Philadelphia Phillies are close to making a deal for a starting pitcher. While the pitcher isn’t know, it’s expected that it could be Roy Oswalt.

The Phillies don’t want a rental and could take on some money. Oswalt is owed quite a bit and may require his 2012 option for $16MM to be picked up.

How can the Phillies be able to take on this money? By trading Jayson Werth.

Werth is a free agent after the season and many expect the Phillies to lose him. He’ll get a large contract and it’s rumored that the Yankees really like him. The Phillies would require more than the level of the 2 draft picks they’d receive for Werth, who profiles as a Type A free agent.

An Oswalt deal would have to be contingent on dealing Werth; the Phillies don’t have the prospects that the Astros want for Oswalt and they’d have to give up top prospect Domonic Brown. Brown would be the most likely guy to take Werth’s spot if he’s dealt. So, the Phillies could take prospects that they get for Werth and use them to land Oswalt.

Right now, the leader for Werth would have to be the Rays; they have the prospects needed to get him and they could use a slugger to help in the outfield and at DH. The Red Sox, Giants, Padres, and White Sox could also be a fit for Werth.

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New Leader for Cliff Lee Fri, 09 Jul 2010 13:00:08 +0000 It appears that the Minnesota Twins are the favorite for the Mariners’ second ace, Cliff Lee.

The New York Yankees appear to be close to acquiring Lee this morning. While there haven’t been reports of the deal, you can expect that the Yankees will have to deal one of their catching prospects. Jesus Montero, one of the top catching prospects in the game, would be hard to give up for the rental of Lee; Austin Romine would seem to be more likely to be dealt, as he is looking almost as good as Montero. Montero is closer to the majors, which is something that the Mariners are requiring. David Adams, a second base prospect, is also expected to be included, as is a third prospect.

The Twins are still in on Lee; Wilson Ramos is still included, but there are multiple rumors about what else is being talked about. Reports show that Aaron Hicks was offered, but the Mariners wanted more. There was also a report showing that the Twins offered Ramos with Kevin Slowey.

The Rays have been hitting the Lee rumors too. There hasn’t been reports of what they’d give up, but it’s apparent that they would be moving B.J. Upton. If Upton is to be dealt, it’s expected a third team would have to be involved. The Mariners are interested in Wade Davis, but I don’t know if he’s available.

The Rangers are the other main suitor. They don’t want to give up first baseman Justin Smoak, which is the sticking point. I think they’d rather deal first baseman Chris Davis, who’s been killing it in Triple A but hasn’t had much success in the majors. A catcher, most likely Jarrod Saltalamacchia, would be included. Rangers players are pushing upper management for a Lee deal.

I think the Yankees are making this move to block Lee from the Rays. They don’t need the ace, but he can’t hurt the major league team. The Yankees have been reluctant to part with minor leaguers in the recent years, as they’ve worked to rebuild their farm system.

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MLB: Tampa Bay Rays Catcher Dioner Navarro Suspended Two Games For Bumping Umpire Tue, 27 Apr 2010 16:25:39 +0000 After arguing balls and strikes Rays Catcher Dioner Navarro was ejected from Monday nights game. After being ejected he confronted the home plate umpire Dan Bellino and made chest to chest contact with Bellino reulting a two game suspension handed down today.

The Rays have called up catcher Jose Lobaton to catch as the Rays don’t carry a back-up catcher. Sean Rodriguez is the teams emergency catcher.

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Tampa Bay Rays Top 10 Prospects Sat, 27 Mar 2010 23:00:51 +0000 Rays

1. Desmond Jennings, OF – Jennings will be the perfect lead off hitter if/when Carl Crawford leaves. He was drafted as a tools guy and was able to translate them into skills. He’s got great discipline and pitch recognition to go with plus speed. He’s also got average power that should translate to double digit teen homers. He won’t strikeout much. His defense is pretty good for center due to his speed; his arm is also good for the position.

2. Wade Davis, P – Davis saw some MLB time last year, and should be a fixture in the rotation this year. He’s got 4 major league pitches. His fastball hits the mid-90s and is his top pitch. He also has a plus curve ball that keeps hitters honest. He’s also got an average change-up and cutter. I see him as a 2-3 starter, especially if he keeps control of all 4 pitches.

3. Jeremy Hellickson, P – Hellickson is close to being ready for the Rays. He split last year between Double A and Triple A, posting strong strike out, walk, and hit rates. He needs to work on his groundball rate, which sat at a low 35%. He’s got 3 pitches that are all average – a mid-90s fastball, a curve, and a change-up. He needs another half season and an opening in the rotation before he’s ready.

4. Matt Moore, P – Moore had a little bit of a down season. He posted strong strike out numbers (over 12 per 9 innings for his career). He also saw a jump in his walk rate, which shows that his command still needs work. He’s got a decent groundball rate – 45.8% – and doesn’t give up many homers. He’s got a while to go before he’s ready.

5. Tim Beckham, SS – Beckham has been considered a little bit of a disappointment by baseball people, which is unfair. He just turned 20 and he’s not doing horrible. In Lo-A, he wasn’t hitting bad; he just didn’t show much power and the ability to get on base. His power right now is doubles power, but as he matures it will turn into homer power. Scouts are also concerned about his base running; he was caught stealing 10 out of 23 times.

6. Alexander Colome, P – Colome didn’t impress many with his North American debut, but shows he was a much better pitcher in his second season. His strikeout rate is over 11 per 9 innings. He doesn’t give up many hits (less than 1 per inning) and didn’t give up a homer last year. His ground ball rate and line drive rate also look pretty good. He’s got a mid-90s fastball that could see another MPH or 2 added to it, along with a curve and change. We’ll see what happens as he faces more advanced competition.

7. Jacob McGee, P – There was a time that McGee was named with Wade Davis and was a top of the rotation arm. Then he was forced to have Tommy John surgery and miss a year of development. He’s shown that he’s back over the last season, and could jump up rankings with another strong season. He’s got a mid-90s fastball, a great curve, and a solid change-up. He could see some bullpen time for the Rays this year to get used to the Majors.

8. Reid Brignac, SS – Brignac is in a bad spot in this system; he’s seen a lot of talent pass him by and he’s been blocked by Jason Bartlett. Brignac’s power never developed like they had hoped and he doesn’t have the speed needed to make up for the lace of power. He’s got to be hoping for a trade at this point, because it doesn’t appear he’s going to get his shot in Tampa.

9. Nick Barnese, P – Barnese’s main concern right now is health; last season started late due to an injury. As a result, he saw his strikeout rate drop by 4 and his walk rate increase slightly. His low-90s fastball has some good sinking action, which resulted in a ground ball rate of 52%. His curve ball and change-up are good, which makes him project as a mid-rotation starter.

10. Kyle Lobstein, P – Lobstein is a promising arm that’s a work in progress. His fastball sits in the low-90s, but has a good curve and change-up to complement it. He’s gets groundballs and had good command of his pitches. This season should be his first taste of full-season ball, so we’ll see how his endurance is. At this time, I’d say he’s anywhere between a 3 and 5 starter.

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Tampa Bay Rays Roundtable Sat, 27 Mar 2010 18:00:26 +0000 Rays

Our guest bloggers is Matt Seybold from The Sporting Hippeaux and Thomas Gemkow from Tampa Bay Rays Fan.

Question 1 – What will Pat Burrell do this year?
Thomas: It is hard to imagine Pat Burrell being much worse than we was last year. Burrell, .221 batting average, 14 home runs and 64 RBIs last year were certainly disappointing, and not the norm for Burrell. As Rays fan, I really hope that Burrell can rebound. I can see the reasoning behind people saying his adjustment to being a DH versus outfielder could have contributed to his decline in numbers. I also know that Burrell battled back problems all last year. So far this spring, Burrell’s attitude has been rather “blah” for lack of a better term. Burrell has hinted at being bored while playing in Tampa Bay, and their has been talk of him splitting at bats with Hank Blalock, should he make the 25 man roster–but the likelihood of carrying two players on the 25 man roster who are liabillites in the field is not very good.

All in all, I would not be surprised to see Burrell bat a .235 with 18-20 home runs and 65-75 home runs–and improvement over last year for sure, but not the numbers that the Andrew Friedman and the Rays expected when they signed the slugger to a 2 year, $16 million dollar deal in 2009. However, do not be surprised if the Rays continue to find a match to trade Burrell, even if they have to eat a large portion of his salary this year.

For more on Pat Burrell, check out Tampa Bay Rays Fan.

Eugene: Also, Burrell has had some huge numbers in walk years in the past. I could see him playing much better with a contract on the line again.

I’ve also heard that the transition to DH can be rough for some players. When they were in the field, they’d be moving and involved the game. When DHing, they sit on the bench until they hit; they can lose focus easily. Sure, some may go to the cage, but it’s not the same.

Thomas: I would agree with you there. The thing that has been just as disappointing as his numbers is Burrell’s attitude. When the Rays were courting him, Jason Giambi and Milton Bradley last season, I was all for bringing in Burrell, whom had never been in the press for his arrogance, or for any sort of outbursts or steroid abuse. Given that he was a huge under performer last season, you would think he would be “johnny go get em” this spring, and be the most positive guy in the club house, but so far this has not been the case.

Matt: I don’t have high hopes for Burrell this year. If he doesn’t get off to a blazing start, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rays just released him outright, or sent him to an NL team for a bag of balls and a bullpen catcher.

Frankly, the Rays may be able to do better right out of the gate. Sean Rodriguez has owned the Grapefruit League (1567 OPS), and several other Tampa Bay prospects have played well also. The Rays are going to be looking to find at-bats for Rodriguez, Matt Joyce, Wily Aybar, and, maybe, Blalock, not to mention guys who could be inseason callups, like Justin Ruggiano and Desmond Jennings.

I just don’t see a franchise with playoff aspirations being patient with Pat the Bat for more than six weeks.

Question 2 – If the Rays are out of the race by the deadline, will they trade Carl Crawford?
Thomas: Well here is the deal. The Rays have two key guys with expiring contracts–Carl Crawford & Carlos Pena.

We know with a low budget like the Rays have, they can not afford to keep BOTH past this season, however the talk is they are going to do their best to try and keep either one around.

If they are out of the playoff run before the deadline comes, I would say we definitely see one move, although I don’t know if we can count on it to be Crawford.

The Rays spent some money to bring in first base prospect Leslie Anderson, a Cuban defector with a tremendous upside. They also signed Hank Blalock to a minor league deal, so these moves lead me to believe that Pena, not Crawford could be the one to get moved. Though Pena has been a great find for the Rays, and really resurrected his career, it is safe to say a slugging first baseman that is aging is easier to find than a young outfielder who is going to bat above .300 each year and is a threat to lead the league in stolen bases every year.

I envision Pena being traded if we are out of the run, and Blalock combining with Willy Aybar to bridge the gap until we can develop someone like Anderson to take over at first.

I really believe that the Rays are going to make every effort to keep Crawford. Their is even talk that they would pass on resigning BJ Upton after this year to focus on keeping Crawford around. Crawford has been open about not being opposed to staying in Tampa.

Though I like Crawford and Pena both–you couldn’t ask for better people to represent your team–I think that long term, and star power wise–it makes more sense to keep Crawford and unload Pena.

Eugene: I agree that Pena is the more likely to be traded, but I wouldn’t rule out both being in play. Tampa has a crowded outfield that will be cost controlled for some time – Jennings, Joyce, Ruggiano, Perez – on top of Upton. Zobrist can play the outfield if they want to use Brignac or Sean Rodriguez at second. Trading Crawford would be able to bring in some more talent to join their great farm system and they can absorb the hit of losing Crawford.

Thomas: I feel that we will see Rodriguez in the outfield before Zobrist…he has been my surprise of the spring. The outfield is certainly loaded, I just see Crawford as one of the rare, once in a life time guys–no matter how good Jennings is, he will never put up the numbers on the base path like Crawford did. From 02-07 Crawford’s average increased each year…from a paltry.259 to a stellar .315. He lapsed in 08 hitting .273 but jumped back to .305 in 09. I remember reading somewhere that the increase he saw each season from 2002-2007 had never been replicated.

Matt: There’s no denying Crawford is a special player, which is why I fear his future is inevitably elsewhere. Crawford will get a nine-figure deal in 2011, and even if the Rays are willing to give out such a contract (which I doubt, based on their “Moneyball” philosophy), I think other teams (New York, Boston, San Francisco, etc.) will be able to go $10-$20 Million higher than they would ever dare to reach. Pena, on the other hand, might be available for half the price, which makes him slightly more likely to resign.

In the end, I think both players are probably playing somewhere else by 2011. And, if the Rays are out of it by July, Tampa Bay will extort another contender for a huge package of prospects by dealing one or both of them. However, I don’t expect the Rays to be out of contention in July. In fact, I expect them to be in the hunt all the way to the end of the season, so I think they’ll end up settling for a couple of compensation picks, which is just fine, if it means they are still playing in October.

Question 3 – Which player will surprise everyone this year – good or bad?
Matt: On the positive side, I think the Rays have a plethora of good options in right field. Sean Rodriguez and Justin Ruggiano have been tearing up the Grapefruit League. Both Rodriguez and Matt Joyce could bring added power to the Rays lineup and, of course, Desmond Jennings isn’t far off either. I think both Rodriguez and Joyce will make the Opening Day roster, and both are capable of putting up solid numbers immediately. By midseason, the Rays may be trying to find ways to get both in the lineup.

Jason Bartlett may be the one endangered. He had a great year in 2009, but his .320 average and his .490 slugging percentage were both dramatically out of line with his career norms. Bartlett hit more homers in ’09 (14) than in his previous 1700 plate appearances (11). Rarely does a 30-year-old player discover new skills. What should worry the Rays most of all is that while Bartlett was knocking the cover off the ball in ’09, he suffered the worst season of his career defensively (-5.5 UZR). If he returns to being the “slick-field, no-hit” shortstop he was in ’07 and ’08, when he was definitely among the top three defensive shortstop in the AL, he’ll be fine. But if he becomes a “no-field, no-hit” shortstop, the Rays may consider moving Rodriguez or Ben Zobrist into his position.

Eugene: I was pretty happy that the Rays got Rodriguez last year; he was blocked with the Angels and deserved a shot. The Rays can use him at multiple positions and is a nice player off the bench.

Question 4 – How will the Rays finish?
Thomas: I think they will finish no higher than 2nd in the AL East–New York should by all means be the top in the division, but I think the Red Sox team this year is weaker than in years past, and I feel Baltimore and Toronto will be able to take some wins from Boston, where as in years past, Boston did very well in those series. I feel the Rays will be too strong for those two teams…I anticipate the Rays getting the Wild Card nod this year also.

Matt: I think the Rays are one of the top three teams in the American League. Unfortunately, the other two are also in their division. I expect the Rays to challenge the Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East and for the Wild Card. I think that advancement with eventually be determined by whether the Yankees can stay healthy. They have the best roster on paper, but the Rays and Red Sox both have substantially more depth. If the Yankees suffer a couple of key injuries, the Rays and Red Sox should surpass them. If they don’t, I think the Rays may be the odd man out, again.

Eugene: I really want the Rays to make the playoffs again, but I just can’t see if happening. Both New York and Boston have better teams. Tampa will finish a close third.

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