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2011 MLB Rumors: Tampa Bay Rays Sign Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez

Attention all national pundits:  Please put all talk of the Rays shrinking back into the bottom of the AL East.  Tampa Bay Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman has a different memo for you to report:

A Third AL East Division Crown in four years.

Don’t think it can happen?  The Rays lost Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano and pretty much their entire bullpen, you say?  They traded away Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza, you say?

Friedman has a different update for you:  The Tampa Bay Rays have signed Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to one-year contracts.

What in the name of Fred McGriff and Wade Boggs is going on here?  No matter what Friedman says, you can translate it best this way:  How do you like me now?

The Rays have added Damon and Ramirez for a combined $7.25 million, with up to a total of 8 million dollars, including incentives.  That’s less than the Yankees paid for Soriano to be a set up man.  Or less than half of what Boston paid Crawford to man left field at Fenway.

A new Rays lineup will look something like this:

 C   John Jaso

LF  Johnny Damon

DH  Manny Ramirez

3B  Evan Longoria

CF  B.J. Upton

RF  Matt Joyce

2B  Ben Zobrist

1B  Dan Johnson

SS  Reid Brignac

In these two signings the Rays have added power, on-base skills, contact hitting and some major lineup protection for star third baseman Evan Longoria.  In 2010, the Rays struggled with strikeouts.  They had major holes in their swings and struggled with hot and cold streaks because of it.  Now, the Rays lineup is much more balanced.  And much more dangerous.

You may say Ramirez has injury and attitude question marks.  A move to DH should help his injury problems.  And as for attitude issues, nothing could motivate him more than getting back at his former Red Sox team and sticking it to the Yankees.

On a day that included the Toronto Blue Jays being able to get rid of the albatross contract of Vernon Wells, the Tampa Bay Rays have stolen the headlines.  But no matter what you may think of this deal, this much is sure: 

The AL East will be the best division in baseball.  Again.

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Tampa Bay Rays Rumors: Rays Sign Veteran Reliever Kyle Farnsworth

As the Rays continue to bargain shop, it appears that Kyle Farnsworth is the latest find in the bin. 

Early reports indicate the Tampa Bay Rays have signed Farnsworth to a one-year,$2-3 million contract.  

Consider what the Rays have lost: (most likely) Rafael Soriano and Grant Balfour, along with Dan Wheeler (Red Sox), Randy Choate (Marlins) and Joaquin Benoit (Tigers).

Here’s how the 2011 bullpen appears: Joel Peralta, Adam Russell, Kyle Farnsworth, Jake McGee, Cesar Ramos and Andy Sonnanstine.

Now, those names may not be impressive, but neither was Grant Balfour, Randy Choate and Dan Wheeler when they came to the Rays.  Soriano and Benoit had good years elsewhere, but neither put up the type of numbers they did last year with the Rays.

If Friedman can sign someone with closing experience such as Jon Rauch or Brian Fuentes, he will have effectively rebuilt an entire bullpen in one season. 

When the Rays entered this offseason, other GMs from around the league, such as Oakland‘s Billy Beane, felt Friedman’s hardest challenge was rebuilding an entire bullpen from scratch.  If the Rays contend again this year, it will be Friedman’s biggest accomplishment to date.

Considering the fact that he has not one, but two AL East Division titles in the last three years on his resume, that’s saying a lot.

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MLB Rumors: The Carl Crawford Ripple Effect—5 Moves Other Teams Now Must Make

Carl Crawford has signed the richest outfield contract in Major League Baseball history, and it has left other teams in the American League scrambling.

It has been a bizarre and very cash-driven start to the 2011 Winter Meetings.

Boston has clearly emerged with potentially the best offense in the American League.

But other teams will try to make sure that it’s not enough to get them the AL pennant.

Here are five moves other AL teams will make to keep themselves in contention.

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Carl Crawford, Boston Red Sox the Big Winners of the 2010 MLB Winter Meetings

Gold glove left fielder with five-tool ability?  Check.  Gold glove First Baseman who is also one of the five best bats in MLB?  Check.

Anything else?

Theo Epstein got to dream big at Disney, and he turned his dreams into a mighty fine reality.

Signing Carl Crawford and trading for Adrian Gonzalez has infused life into a Boston offense that it hasn’t seen since the Manny Ramirez hay day.  Have you honestly thought about this lineup?

1.  CF  Jacoby Ellsbury

2.  2B  Dustin Pedroia

3.  LF  Carl Crawford

4.  1B  Adrian Gonzalez

5.  3B  Kevin Youkilis

6.  DH  David Ortiz

7.  RF  J.D. Drew

8.   C   Jarod Saltamacchia

9.  SS  Marco Scutaro

Incredible.  Meet the new Boston Bombers.

And consider Crawford the happiest of them all.

It’s hard not to be smiling when you just signed the largest contract for an outfielder in MLB history.  Everyone knew the price went up when Jayson Werth signed his 10 figure deal.  And now Crawford is the newest 100 million dollar man.

But with big signings come big expectations.

Can Crawford handle the higher media and fan scrutiny after years of a relaxed atmosphere in Tampa Bay?  Will he be pressing out of the gate trying to prove he’s worth every bit of that 140 million dollar deal?  Will his defense be wasted in the short left field porch of Fenway?  Will Crawford and Gonzalez give that much more offense than what Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez provided?

There still are some questions left to be answered, namely the health of the rotation and a suspect bullpen.  But make no mistake:  No team has improved themselves as much as the Red Sox at this year’s winter meetings.

Now that Boston has stolen the headlines for the Winter Meetings, it’s time for the arms race to begin yet again.

Cliff Lee, I believe there is a Brian Cashman waiting to speak to you on line one?

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MLB Trade Rumors: A Trade That Needs To Happen: Matt Garza For Casey McGehee

As of this early evening, three General Managers were rumored to have given Rays GM Andrew Friedman a call about starting pitcher and 15 game winner Matt Garza.

While I won’t reveal the names of those GMs, let’s just say that fans of the Texas Rangers, Milwaukee Brewers, and Washington Nationals should pay attention.

The Rays have a rare luxury that most teams don’t have: excess starting pitching.  With the emergence and MLB-readiness of young phenom Jeremy Hellickson, the Rays can move one of their other pitchers to help off-set an offense that is set to lose All Stars Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena.

Texas could offer young first basemen such as Mitch Mooreland or Chris Davis.  If they want to hold onto their younger talent, they could offer oft-injured right fielder Nelson Cruz.  Washington could offer left fielder Josh Willingham or shortstop Ian Desmond.

But the Milwaukee Brewers could offer the best deal.

Enter Casey McGehee.

After trading for Toronto Blue Jays right hander Shaun Marcum, the Brewers could complete a trio of playoff-caliber starters by acquiring Garza (15-10, 3.91 ERA).  And they can do it without giving up their No. 3 or No. 4 hitter.

It would hurt to lose McGehee, but hasn’t it hurt missing the playoffs more?

The Brewers have seen that it takes good pitching to make it to the playoffs.  And better pitching to win in the playoffs.  And more than just one pitcher.  With Yovanni Gallardo, Marcum, Garza, and even Randy Wolf (who pitched much better after the All Star Break, 7-4, 3.74 ERA), the Brewers would be ready to challenge the Cardinals and Reds for the division.

To make up for the loss of offense, perhaps the Brewers could expand the deal to include centerfielder B.J. Upton, in exchange for their rising 24-year-old centerfielder Lorenzo Cain.  Having a 3-4-5 of Ryan Braun-Prince Fielder-B.J. Upton would be more than enough to get the job done in the NL.

As for the Rays, they would have a middle-of-the-order slugger under team control for another four seasons.

Now, yes, the Rays have some guy by the name of Longoria at third base already.  But they also have a huge hole at first base, where McGehee (.285 avg, 62 extra-base hits in 2010) could slide across the diamond.  McGehee and Longoria sets the Rays up at the corners for years.

Not only does this allow Friedman to rebuild on the fly, but also to still be able to compete in the AL East.  And if they can acquire Cain (.306 avg, 7 SB in 43 games) for Upton, Friedman has rebuilt the Rays at two positions for players who are no longer in their long-term plans

It’s the nature of the beast for the small market team.

And yet, this is a trade that helps both teams compete for a division crown.

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2011 MLB Free Agency: Five DHs More Valuable Than Adam Dunn In 2011

Adam Dunn finally got his wish.  When Dunn’s signing with the Chicago White Sox becomes official, he will have the longest contract of his career.  Last time he went through free agency, he could only find a two year deal.  But, thanks to GM Kenny Williams, Dunn has long-term security through 2014.

And Williams will have another albatross contract.

Before the ink is even dry on Dunn’s deal, Williams will be stuck with a contract he can’t move.  Dunn is a great power hitter.  This is not in question.  But Dunn wasn’t even the best left handed power hitter available.  And some of Dunn’s numbers are cause for long-term concern.

In 2010, Dunn hit .280 against right handed pitching.  But he only hit .199 versus lefties.  His numbers from 2007-2009 vs. LHP: .268/.195/.238.  Dunn isn’t a complete player, and yet he’s going to be banking the highest number of any designated hitter.

Another cause for concern is after six straight seasons of 100 or more walks, Dunn’s free bags fell to 77 in 2010, and his on-base percentage dropped nearly 50 points from 2009 to 2010.  His strike outs also increased to 199, up from 177 in 2009 and 164 in 2008.

That being said, here are five players who will provide better bang for the buck of their future 2011 teams.

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New York Yankees Accuse Cliff Lee, Then Fall Off Cliff

This just in: Cliff Lee is good. I mean really good.

Cliff Lee could pull a Ron Burgundy right now: “Hey everyone, come see how good I look!”

Sometimes when you are getting ready to stare fate in the face, you may not be ready for the outcome.  Especially if you’ve seen it before.

Enter the New York Yankees.

Everyone has been drooling over Cliff Lee’s postseason dominance.  As a Tampa Bay Rays fan, I’ve seen it first hand.  You get one crack at Lee, typically early on in the game.  If you do not take advantage of it, then you might as well go home early. 

Once Lee gets in a groove, the only thing you can root for is a high pitch count.  And with a pitcher who paints the corners nearly as good as a guy named Greg Maddux, rooting for a high pitch count is almost the equivalent of chasing the wind.

Yes, Lee has been incredible, which might lead some to say he’s been too incredible.

Consider the New York Yankees one of them. 

Oh, of course, it was just a announcer who got opinion-happy.  It was a freudian slip of the tongue.  It doesn’t represent the feelings from the dugout.  He’s not even management.

This is the New York Yankees we’re talking about, right? You mean to tell me that this team has fallen so far and ownership has changed so much that the apple has fallen that far from the tree?

Please. This smells of Steinbrenner.

Use any tactic possible.  Any means necessary.  Do it in a way in which you can deflect any heat.

It sounds like the Boss is alive and well.  Use a rogue announcer.  Deflect blame.  And while this is happening, you can hope to get in Lee’s head.  Or at least the umpire’s head.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The Yankees know full well of what Lee is capable of.  Last year in the postseason against the Yankees, he threw a complete game, giving up only one unearned run.  He was 2-0 against the Yankees in the World Series.  Unfortunately, the Phillies couldn’t put Lee on the mound for every game and lost.

But there is no getting to this kid.  No accusation, no strike zone, there is nothing Lee can’t handle right now.

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon remarked that the main reason why the Rays lost is because they faced some guy named “Sandy.”

Perhaps you’ve heard of him.  Sandy Koufax?

Sandy Koufax, career, postseason:
57 innings, 32 hits, 10 runs, 2 home runs, 11 walks, 61 strikeouts

Cliff Lee, career, postseason:
56.1 innings, 32 hits, 11 runs, 1 home run, 6 walks, 54 strikeouts

If anyone thinks Lee has been too incredible, you would be right.  Except there’s nothing you can do about it.

The Yankees’ best shot at Lee would be to follow a tried and true slogan that has worked in their family for years: If you can’t beat him, pay him.

If the Yankees have had problems sleeping because they’ve been dreaming of Lee in pinstripes, this will only add to the infatuation.  The Yankees pretty much gave a blank check to CC Sabathia.  Expect the same thing for the Lee.

The Yankees’ struggle to the finish is about to end.  As they fall off a Cliff named Lee, expect them to not try to climb that mountain again.

It’s much easier to try to move the mountain to New York.

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2010 MLB Playoffs: Tampa Bay Rays Rest Playoff Hopes on Rookie Wade Davis

In 2009, Davis enjoyed a taste of the bigs with a September call up.  In 2010, Davis is getting more than a taste, as the Rays turn to their 25-year-old rookie right hander to keep their playoff hopes alive.  Davis will make his postseason debut against one of the most fearsome offenses in baseball.  Oh yeah, there’s this teeny tiny bit of pressure about a must-win game if the Rays season isn’t to end.

The Rays, after staving off elimination by winning Game 3 last night (P.S. Thank you to the Rays offense for showing they had a pulse) could have turned to ace lefty David Price to start Game 4 on three days rest.  But Price of all people would be able to tell you how much the Rays trust their young guns to make the team’s biggest outs.

In 2008 as a rookie with all of 20 or so innings of major league experience, the Rays called on Price to close out Game 7 of the ALCS.  And we all know how that turned out.

So it is only fitting that the Rays once again turn to a young gun to force a Game 5. And here’s the funny thing:

Davis actually might be up to the task.

Davis appeared to turn a corner after the All-Star break.  After baseball’s midseason classic, Davis went 6-1 with a 3.28 ERA.  Since coming off the DL in mid-August, his ERA is 3.06. 

Davis did not do well against Texas in his last start in Arlington in July.  He lasted only into the fourth inning before giving up eight runs.  But something clicked for Davis after that start.  Thirteen of his final 17 starts were quality starts, pitching six innings or more, giving up three earned runs or fewer.

Game 4 can mean a lot more than just bringing the series back to St. Pete for a Game 5 Price vs. Lee, winner-take-all matchup.  How well Davis performs can be a litmus test for how ready Davis is to handle big games.  It’s a lot to put on Davis, and probably unfair to read too much into one game. 

But the Rays may trade a starting pitcher in the offseason in an efforts to land a big bat, and I’m sure they would feel a lot better about it if they felt Davis was ready to take on a larger role.

Is Davis a front-line starter?  Is he ready to have that role in 2011? 

The Rays can start to answer that question with the very first pitch of Game 4 against Texas.

Tampa Bay gets another shot at sending the series back home, another shot to dig themselves out of a huge hole.  A hole that only one team has ever climbed out of.

Leave it to the Rays to put their hopes in a rookie.

They wouldn’t have it any other way.

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MLB Playoff Prediction: 10 Reasons Evan Longoria Will Be ALCS MVP

As the Tampa Bay Rays prepare to begin their 2010 post-season quest, they are not wide eyed, or star glazed.  This isn’t their first rodeo.  Their first postseason experience opened their eyes. 

They are ready.  They are hungry for more.  Last time they made it to the big dance.  This time they want to be the last ones standing.

If the Rays are to get as far as they did in 2008, they will need to ride the coattails of third year star third baseman Evan Longoria.  Here are 10 reasons why Longoria will lead his team back to the promised land.

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Why the Tampa Bay Rays Will Again Compete for the AL East Division Crown

We interrupt this 2010 AL East Division Chase to bring you this important update:

The Tampa Bay Rays are “All In” in 2010, and have no chips left for 2011.

Can we hit the pause button here?

Instead of focusing on how the Rays are defying logic, gravity, and every law possible by going neck-and-neck with the New York Yankees for 150 games, the attention in this huge final series showdown against New York is this:

The Rays will cut their payroll in 2011 and in turn cut their playoff chances as well.

The New York media swarmed around Rays owner Stu Sternberg, and as always the case, the conversation turned to payroll and attendance.  Sternberg reiterated the payroll will go down.  And with the Rays drawing less than 1.9 million fans for the season, it’s no wonder why.  The outgoing expenses must match the incoming revenues.

Imagine that:  An American living within a budget.

At first glance, it would appear that Sternberg is the one who is saying the Rays playoff hopes end this year.  Nay, nay!  National media such as ESPN’s Buster Olney and local media such as St. Pete Times John Romano have taken Sternberg’s comments about payroll and given the assumption of a step back forthcoming.  They have essentially told fans to enjoy what they have because after this year they won’t have it anymore.  And when these players leave, you should temper expectations of keeping up with the Joneses, or in this case, Boston and New York.

Is it 2008 again?  Have I taken a nap and somehow went back in time instead of forward?  Have I fallen and hit my head? 

The Rays’ Cinderella ’08 season was considered a fluke. One-year wonder.  And national media used the 2009 season as the evidence.  But then a funny thing happened:

The Rays started winning again.

Never mind that this is the Rays’ third consecutive winning season.  Never mind that this is the Rays’ second division crown chase in three years.  Never mind this is the Rays’ second postseason berth in three years.

It cannot be sustained.  The Rays cannot win without Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, and Carlos Pena.  The Rays cannot win by trading Matt Garza, B.J. Upton, and Jason Bartlett.  The Rays cannot win by reducing their payroll.

The national pundits sure like to be proven wrong.

Consider them wrong again.

Here are six reasons why the Tampa Bay Rays will contend for their third postseason berth in four years in 2011:

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