FIRST INNING (A look back)…
The Hot Stove season has been very quiet so far. In addition, several surprise names were not offered arbitration by their former teams…How will this affect the Rays as they begin to mold the 2009 roster?

Some are speculating that the current state of the economy has many teams scared to commit too much money to free agents. While the Rays are not immune to the market woes, they could ultimately benefit. The Rays were not in the market for any high-priced free agents to begin with, but if other teams are less likely to spend big bucks, some players that would normally be off the Rays’ radar, may have to lower their demands. But more importantly, the market may increase the demand for some of the Rays pitchers, ultimately driving up the price as other teams seek young, cheap alternatives and are more willing to pay for pitching with players than they would be with a free agent contract. This could make it easier for the Rays to part with players like Edwin Jackson and Jeff Niemann. And the Rays may actually find a trade partner for Jason Hammel when it looked previously that he may be a candidate to be DFA’d…RAYS MORE LIKELY TO BE ACTIVE

SECOND INNING (Headlines)…
It is beginning to look as if Eddie Morlan will be selected early in the Rule 5 draft. Many are wondering why JK Ryu was not removed from the 40-man roster to make room for Morlan…Do they have a legitimate gripe?

On the surface it is hard to argue Ryu over Morlan, both right-handed relievers. Morlan is three years younger. Ryu is coming off a season in which an injury limited him to 6 appearances. Ryu has made 28 major league appearances over the past three seasons and his numbers (7.3 K/9, 1.8 K/bb, 1.82 WHIP) reek of a four-A player. And while Morlan did not dominate at double-A in 2008, his numbers were still respectable (3.64 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 8.62 K/9, 3.0 K/BB). And Morlan is one season removed from looking like he was on the fast-track to the majors (12.8 K/9, 5.0 K/BB in A+ and AA in ’07). So there must be something the Rays know that we do not. Is Morlan healthy? Does he have bad habits? Is Ryu close to breaking out? Keep in mind, Ryu only has 27 appearances as a relief pitcher in the last 3 seasons. Maybe the Rays are projecting something better once Ryu becomes acclimated to the bullpen. Still, there must be a fear that Morlan will realize his higher upside…THERE IS NOW PRESSURE ON RYU TO STEP UP

THIRD INNING (Headlines)…
Ken Griffey Jr is practically begging for a job and would be willing to accept a one-year deal with incentives for a chance to win a ring…Will The Kid be the Rays’ most-days DH in 2009?

Certainly there are other players RAYSHEADS would prefer to see at DH next season (ie. Jason Giambi), but one only need look at the Rays’ track record to see that Griffey makes much more sense. Prior to the 2008 season the Rays needed a closer and a DH. In both cases, the Rays signed a former all-star in the twilight of his career, and a recent history of injuries that scared off other teams. With Troy Percival and Cliff Floyd, the Rays were able to fill two openings with players that were cheaper than other, more attractive options. And in both cases, the Rays added a veteran player to the clubhouse that the younger stars could look up to and lean on. Griffey is basically Cliff Floyd with 378 more career home runs. And while Griffey played 2008 with a bad knee, off-season surgery and a role as DH, the Rays should be able to count on 120+ games. In fact, the more we think about it, the more it makes sense. So, unless another team is willing to go to two guaranteed years…KEN GRIFFEY JR WILL PROBABLY BE THE RAYS DH IN 2009

FOURTH INNING (Headlines)…
The Bucs keep winning, the latest being an important divisional win over the Saints. You already said their was a 100% chance they are going to the playoffs…How important is next Monday’s matchup with the Panthers?

With four games remaining, the Bucs basically have a 2 game lead for a playoff spot. Even with a loss at Carolina, the worst the Bucs would be is tied with Atlanta and Dallas, for two playoff spots. The Bucs currently have the tie-breaker over the Falcons. But, if the Bucs lose to the Panthers, they would be in line for a wild card game in Arizona. Not terrible, but that would just mean a second-round game in New Jersey against the Giants. Not fun. On the other hand, a win against the Panthers means a 2-game lead in the division (Bucs would have tie-breaker over CAR) with three games to play. Winning the division will most likely be the 2-seed, a first-round bye and a home game in the second round against maybe the Vikings. At that point the Bucs could hope for another team to upset the Giants. Either way, the Bucs would be one step away from being the first team to ever play a Super Bowl in their home stadium…BIGGEST REGULAR SEASON GAME SINCE 2003 WEEK 1 IN PHILADELPHIA?

FIFTH INNING (Headlines)…
Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Adam Dunn were three of the bigger names to not be offered arbitration by their former teams. As a result a team would not have to surrender a draft pick if they sign one of them. All three would fill either RF or DH nicely for the Rays…Does the lack of arbitration offers increase the chance of one of these players landing with the Rays?

Based on the slow market, the price on all three players will be lower than most thought a month ago. But even Abreu, maybe the cheapest option of the three, will still command $8-10 million per season. The Rays will only be able to afford a player at that price if they are able to cut payroll in other areas. And the lack of arbitration offers from their former teams will only increase their value as there is no additional cost to a prospective bidder. Lack of arbitration only makes these players more of a long shot for the Rays…STILL NOT LIKELY

SIXTH INNING (A look outside the box)…
[Rain delay: queue The Baseball Bunch]

Ken Griffey Jr or Jason Giambi?

In 2008 Giambi was the better hitter. In 2009 Giambi will still be the better hitter. While the market may bring Giambi’s price down, we still think one of the big clubs will eventually ante up something that is beyond the budget of the Rays. That leaves the Rays looking elsewhere and Griffey seems to make sense…KEN GRIFFEY JR

Raul Ibanez or Gabe Gross?

Again. Ibanez is clearly the better player. But he would cost the Rays $10 million per season and a first round draft pick. The Rays have done nothing in the last three years to indicate that this is even remotely possible…GABE GROSS

Edwin Jackson or Jeff Niemann?

Assuming Andy Sonnanstine and David Price are in the rotation, one of the final spots in the bullpen could come down to Jackson or Niemann. Jackson will probably command in the neighborhood of $2.5 million in his first season of arbitration eligibility. Niemann will make close to $400K. Choosing Niemann will free up ~$2 million for the Rays to spend elsewhere. Jackson also figures to be worth more in the trade market. Unless the Rays think Jackson is head and shoulders better than The Giraffe, Niemann should be the guy…JEFF NIEMANN

Wade Davis will be one of the top pitching prospects in baseball in 2009…Is there any chance we will see Davis at the major league level this season?

This could depend on who the Rays are able to trade prior to the season. Including Davis, the Rays currently have 9 major league-caliber starting pitchers. Based on the current roster projection, Edwin Jackson, Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot figure to have dibs on a spot in the rotation should one of the top five fall to injury. But there is a good chance Jackson and/or Niemann could be moved at some point. If that happens, Davis could suddenly be second in line. No matter what happens, we expect to see Davis at some point, even if it is as a reliever in September…YES

NINTH INNING (Putting out the fire)…
Grant Balfour hinted that he will use the World Baseball Classic as a bargaining chip in negotiations this winter (he is arbitration eligible)…Do you have a problem with this?

We would be surprised if more players don’t use this tactic. Clearly the teams don’t want their pitchers playing in the WBC and the Rays need to be especially concerned with an already shortened off-season. The Rays are just going to have to accept that they will have to pay to keep Balfour out of the international competition…IT IS BUSINESS

Troy Percival finally decided to have surgery and will not be able to throw until March…Should RAYSHEADS be angry?

Angry? Not sure. But they might have a reason to be bothered by this. Did it take Percival a month to figure out he needed surgery on his back? Or did it take him a month to figure out he still wanted to play baseball?…DISAPPOINTED MIGHT BE A BETTER WORD

Her Rays is back with their series of “Rays as leading men in chick flicks” series. The latest is Dioner Navarro as Seth Rogen’s character in “Knocked Up”…Good choice?

Great googly moogly. We like it. But we wonder if Danny DeVito’s character in “Romancing the Stone” might be more on target or maybe Joe Pesci’s character in the “Lethal Weapon” series. Then again, maybe we are dating ourselves…IT WORKS



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