August 30, 2012; Toronto, ON, CANADA; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher J.P. Howell (39) pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays in the eighth inning at the Rogers Centre. Toronto defeated Tampa 2-0. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Rays Notes: St. Pete Mayor Election Looms Large for Rays, Torra Signs with Nats, J.P. Howell Next?

I don’t think any Rays fan who lives in St. Petersburg wants to talk local politics right now. But come next November, they just might have to. A Tampa Bay Times editorial wrote about how the St. Pete mayor election will be happening next November. Expected to run for reelection is incumbent mayor Bill Foster, who has prevented the Rays’ talks to build a new stadium from progressing by refusing the Rays to look at stadium sites outside Pinellas County. The Rays would obviously like him to be voted out of office and get a more pro-Rays mayor into office. It will be interesting to see how big the Rays issue is in the election, and you have to wonder whether someone could ally themselves with Darryl LeClair, the developer who made the stadium proposal in the Carillon Business Park in  St. Pete, and make a bold statement like “If you elect me, plans to build a new Rays stadium in St. Pete will be in place within two years.”

Right-hander Matt Torra, 28, spent all of 2012 with the Rays’ Triple-A Durham affiliate but is moving on, signing a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals organzation. Torra had a solid season with Durham, going 12-7 with a 4.10 ERA, a 4.8 K/9, a 1.6 BB/9, and a 1.5 HR/9 in 23 starts, 3 relief appearances, and 147 innings pitched. Torra was a first round pick by the Diamondbacks back in 2005 but shoulder problems have reduced his repertoire to a fastball in the 87-91 MPH range and a couple of halfway-decent secondary pitches in a changeup and a curveball. It was nice to see Torra find some success in 2012 amid a career that never lived up to its potential prior to the injury, and good luck to him next season in the Nationals organization.

Torra signing with the Nationals on a minor league deal is far from a high-profile move. But could a more notable ex-Rays player be heading to the Nationals as well? Dan Kolko of MASN Sports reports that the Nats are interested in signing free agent lefty J.P. Howell after Mike Gonzalez left Washington to sign with the Milwaukee Brewers. Howell, who will turn 30 in April, had a nice season in 2012 in his first healthy season since shoulder surgery after the 2009 season, managing a 3.04 ERA, 7.5 K/9, a 3.9 BB/9, and a 1.3 HR/9 in 50.1 innings pitched across 55 appearances, but he was much better from June 14th to the end of the season, managing a 1.14 ERA, a 7.5 K/9, a 3.7 K/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 in his final 31 appearances including a Rays record 27.1 straight scoreless innings. Those numbers (other than the ERA) look awfully similar, but his groundball rate improved from 40% before June 14th to 61% from that day on as his command improved significantly (there’s just a 2.7% chance those values differed by chance alone), and there’s still hope that Howell could like more like his pre-surgery self, one of the best relievers in baseball as he struck out 9.9 batters per 9 innings while pitching a 2.48 ERA and 20 saves in 133 appearances with the Rays in 2008 and 2009. The Rays are also interested in bringing Howell back, but he might command a two-year deal and price himself out of the Rays’ budget. Good luck to Howell as he experiences free agency for the first time and figures out where he’s going to play next season.

Tags: J.P. Howell Matt Torra Rays Stadium Tampa Bay Rays Washington Nationals

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