Rays Notes: Stadium Situation Gets Crazy, Rays Executive to Dodgers, Brooks Conrad to Japan?
By Robbie Knopf
The latest chapter in the Rays’ stadium saga now has an interesting twist. After Rays owner Stuart Sternberg asked St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster to amend the Tropicana Field lease to make stadium talks progress, Foster has yet to respond and the City of St. Petersburg has threatened to sue officials in Hillsborough County if they discuss the Rays playing anywhere other than Tropicana Field, meaning that if the Rays meet with Hillsborough County officials, they would be at risk of being sued by St. Pete if they talk about possible locations for a new Rays stadium even without a concrete proposal in mind. Hillsborough County chairman Ken Hagan downplayed St. Petersburg’s threat after talking with county attorneys. Hopefully Foster will just agree to the Rays’ amendment to the Trop contract in some form eventually, but until Foster makes a decision about what to do, St. Pete basically wants to stall and prevent progression in talks regarding any site other than the latest Carillon proposal. The Rays and Hillsborough County may meet nevertheless and find a way around the threat of legal action by talking in vaguer terms. A meeting date has yet to be set between the Rays and Hillsborough County, but they agreed to meet back in August.
Gerry Hunsicker, the senior vice president of baseball operations for the Rays since the ownership group led by Sternberg purchased the team and former general manager of the Houston Astros, has left the Rays to become a senior advisor of baseball operations for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hinsicker will advise Dodgers GM Ned Colletti on everything from the Dodgers’ big league team to the development of their international scouting facilities. Here’s what Rays executive vice president of baseball operations (and acting general manager) Andrew Friedman had to say on Hunsicker leaving:
"“I have worked side by side with Gerry for the past seven years, and I am extremely grateful for all he has done for me and the Rays organization. He has been instrumental in the growth and development of our department, and I am proud of the successes we have enjoyed together. We will miss his contributions and presence, and we wish him well in his new role in Los Angeles.”"
Hunsicker talked fondly about his time in Tampa Bay, calling it a “great run,” and that he has “nothing but respect and admiration” for Sternberg and Friedman. He said that he wanted to leave the Rays because he felt “more than anything, that it was time to look for another challenge.” Hunsicker will certainly be part of a very different situation in Los Angeles going to a team with about as much financial resources as anyone in baseball. He will be reunited with former Rays outfielder Carl Crawford after Crawford was traded to LA in the August 31st blockbuster between the Red Sox and Dodgers. Good luck to Hunsicker with the Dodgers and it will be interesting to see how he applies the small-market mindset he had in Houston and Tampa Bay and applies to the Dodgers.
A Yomiuri newspaper has reported (don’t click the link, it’s in Japanese) that the Yomiuri Giants are interested in signing Rays infielder Brooks Conrad (complete credit to Patrick Newman for pointing that out on Twitter). Glancing at the horrible Google translation of the article (maybe view it for kicks- “15 RBIs in phosphorous”), the article notes that Conrad was a teammate to former Japanese baseball stars Hideki Matsui and Norichika Aoki this past season and the Giants want him for his power and defensive versatility. The Rays had another player who appeared for them in 2012, Brandon Allen, go to Japan in at the end of the season to play for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. Good luck to Conrad wherever he does end up.
In his latest Insider-only piece, Keith Law talked a bit about Rays top prospect Hak-Ju Lee, praising his defense and speed but criticizing his bat.
"“…even though the Rays have him keeping his hands back better after a midseason mechanical adjustment, he’s struggled to square the ball up so far, showing difficulty picking up some better off-speed stuff and a weakness when pitchers can locate under his hands.”"
Lee has just been in a slump- but he had a great day on Thursday, going 1 for 3 with 2 walks, and although this isn’t any comfort, Lee’s bat has always been the weakest part of this game. Lee is in the Arizona Fall League to continue working on his hitting and hopefully with continued work he’ll be able to smooth out most of his problems and become a good enough hitter that he can be a great player given his outstanding defense.
And to close, Jeff Zimmerman of Fangraphs looked at the amount of time each team’s players spent on the DL in 2012 and the past three years. The Rays were in an interesting situation in 2012, ranking 19th in baseball in terms of total time that their players spent on the DL this season, but with their pitchers spending the second-fewest days on the DL, with all but 15 of those days coming from Kyle Farnsworth and Jeff Niemann, while their hitters spent the fourth-most time on the DL. It was the end of a recent run of good luck in terms of injuries for the Rays as they had the fourth-fewest average days on the DL from 2010 to 2012 (they were neck-and-neck with the Chicago White Sox for the fewest days from 2010 to 2011). It’s pretty amazing how well the Rays were able to play with the weakest part of their team to begin with, their hitters, missing so much time. Hopefully they can get a little luckier next year with injuries, especially for one Evan Longoria.