Yesterday, there was some pretty big news around the Rays as they signed four players to minor league contracts, all of whom have a chance to see time in the major leagues next season. Right-hander Juan Carlos Oviedo is the former Florida Marlins closer who had been known as Leo Nunez. Oviedo, who I discussed last night, is coming off of Tommy John Surgery and won’t be ready to return to the big leagues until at least late July, but he was a really good closer for a couple of years with electric stuff and the Rays also hold a 2014 option on him, so he could end up being another sneaky great signing. It’s hard to get around the fact that Oviedo is the second pitcher the Rays have signed this offseason who has been caught pitching under a false identity.
Right-hander Jamey Wright is a 38 year old looking to come back for his 18th major league season. Wright had a solid season for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012, going 5-3 with a 7.2 K/9, a 4.0 BB/9, and a 0.3 HR/9 in 66 appearances and 67.2 innings pitched. A groundball specialist who posted a 67.3% groundball rate in 2012, Wright is armed with a low-90′s sinker along with a solid cutter and curveball, and he has a chance to fill the role that Burke Badenhop played for the Rays in 2012. More on him later today here at RCG.
Outfielder and first baseman Shelley Duncan, 33, is the former Yankee and Indians who has slammed 11 MLB home runs each of the last three season but is best known for something entirely different. Back in spring training of 2008, Duncan slid high into Akinori Iwamura in spring training 2008 in retaliation for Elliot Johnson breaking Francisco Cervelli‘s wrist, inciting a brawl and getting Duncan and other suspended to begin the season. It’s certainly ironic to say this because Duncan was on the other side at the time, but Duncan’s fire fits right into the way the Rays play the game of baseball. Duncan is certainly no prospect at 33 year old, but he could compete in spring training for the role of a right-handed platoon partner for James Loney at first base who could also see time in the outfield and at first base. One issue is that he really has never hit lefties that well, managing a .747 career OPS against them compared to .720 versus righties, but the Rays will bring him to spring training and see what he can do. We’ll also elaborate on him by the time today is through.
Finally, there’s right-hander Juan Sandoval, 32, an unbelievable story who David talked about a few days ago. Sandoval was a solid prospect in the Mariners organization back in 2006 when he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got struck by a bullet in the right eye after two men had gotten into an argument. Sandoval lost vision in his eye and had to undergo several surgeries to keep it altogether, but he managed to relearn how to pitch and field his position with only one eye and managed to make the Mariners’ major league camp the next year. Sandoval last appeared in affiliated ball back in 2010, but he was excellent in 2012 in the Mexican League, going 7-3 with a 2.97 ERA, a 7.4 K/9, a 2.8 BB/9, and a 0.3 HR/9 in 67 relief appearances and 69.2 innings pitched between the teams in Mexico City and Oaxaca (for the uninformed, it’s pronounced “Wahaka”). It’s amazing that he was able to pitch well enough to earn another opportunity, and good luck to him as he tries to make the most of it.
Speaking of bullpen options, the Rays are about to find out whether one is going to re-join their team or not. According to ESPN’s Jim Caple, Free agent reliever Kyle Farnsworth, who spent the last two years with the Rays, is down to just two options for where he wants to play next season, and one of those teams is the Rays. Farnsworth may never be the pitcher that he was in 2011 again, but he still has great stuff and the ability to contribute quite a bit to a major league bullpen. One big consideration for Farnsworth is going to be that he’s unlikely to get too many late-inning appearances if he returns to the Rays thanks to the presences of Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta, and even Jake McGee, but if he’s willing to settle for more of a middle relief role, the Rays will be glad to welcome him back.
In ex-Rays news, Delmon Young, who the Rays selected first overall back in 2003, has signed a one-year, $725,000 contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. There was some talk of Young returning to the Rays, but that never wound up coming together. It seemed like the sky was the limit for Young after his abilities were lauded in the minors and then he hit .288 with 38 doubles, 13 homers, 93 RBI, and 10 stolen bases while playing in all 162 games as a rookie in 2007. But then the Rays decided to trade him to the Minnesota Twins, receiving Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett in return in what has been one of the best transactions in the history of their franchise as Garza and Bartlett played key roles in the Rays’ playoff runs in 2008 and 2010 while stubbornness, an unwillingness to make adjustments (specifically regarding plate discipline), and attitude problems have doomed Young’s career. The promise is still there- we saw him 8 home runs in the postseason for the Detroit Tigers the last two years- and Young is only 27 years old, but it’s sad how far Young has fallen and there seems to be little chance he’ll ever be able to return to anything more than a shadow of his former self.
In 2012, Jeremy Hellickson followed up his AL Rookie of the Year campaign of 2011 with a Gold Glove in 2012. Now Hellickson isn’t the only pitcher with some hardware. Rays left-handed pitching prospect Alex Torres tweeted (in Spanish) that he won the Venezuelan Winter League equivalent of Gold Glove. Torres didn’t need to field very much- he struck out a ridiculous 86 batters in 60.1 innings pitched- but apparently when he did field, he did quite well. Torres delivered big-time in the VWL, overpowering hitters and keeping walks to a minimum (he walked only 27), and hopefully he’s primed for a breakout season in 2013.
To close, an editorial in the Tampa Bay Times talked about how Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties need to work together to figure out a course of action for a new Rays stadium in order to keep the Rays to stay in the Tampa Bay area. Noah Pransky of WTSP TV adds that the best way to fund a stadium would be a tax effort across multiple counties that wouldn’t raise tax rates too much for each county but generate the necessary funding to make a stadium happen. The Rays are meeting with the Hillsborough and Pinellas County Commissions over the next few weeks, and hopefully we can begin to see the ball start rolling once again in the stadium talks- and this time reach an ending that isn’t disappointment and malice like it has been seemingly every other time but instead actual progress.