Rays Notes: Travis Hafner Chooses Yankees Over Rays, Rodney Situation Cleared Up, Lou Pinella


This offseason, the Rays would up re-signing Luke Scott to fill their designated hitter vacancy. But don’t think that he was the only player the Rays were seriously considering. After former Cleveland Indians DH Travis Hafner signed with the Rays’ rival New York Yankees yesterday, Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted that Hafner had chosen the Yankees’ offer over a comparable one from the Rays. The Rays were ready to give him a chance to be their DH, but he decided the opportunity he received from the Yankees was more attractive- with the opportunity to play his home games in Yankee Stadium, a lefty hitter’s dream, instead of Tropicana Field presumably playing a big role in that decision. As we discussed previously, Hafner was a good fit for the Rays given his power and the fact that the Rays really only needed him to stay healthy for half the season with Wil Myers coming from the minor leagues, but he decided to go elsewhere and there’s nothing the Rays can do now. The lesson from this story is to realize that even when the Rays re-sign players they always do their due diligence on every available option on the market. The Rays have made several big moves this offseason, but nearly as interesting as the moves they made were all the ones that just missed occurring. Only time will tell whether ending up with Scott over Hafner will be the right decision or not, with how long each stays healthy being the key question.

Yesterday, we talked about the bizarre situation  regarding Fernando Rodney where he told the Dominican newspaper El Día that he was about to sign a two-year extension with the Rays when he and the Rays hadn’t even talked about an extension. The situation has apparently been resolved. Rodney’s agent, Dan Lozano, told Marc Topkin that what happened was that Rodney had a “misunderstanding” with the El Día writer. Can’t be too sure what exactly that means- Rodney seemed to say pretty clearly in Spanish that the finishing touches were being placed on an extension- but in any event, Lozano did acknowledge that he and Rodney “have talked numerous times” about Rodney’s future. Rodney will make $2.5MM in 2012 after the Rays exercised his team option this offseason, a major bargain for the Rays after Rodney’s historic 0.60 ERA season, and it will be interesting to see what happens to him following the season.

An exciting event will be happening at the Trop on Saturday as former Yankees and Royals outfielder and Reds, Mariners, Cubs, and Devil Rays manager Lou Pinella will be inducted into the Ted Williams Hitters’ Hall of Fame during David Price‘s charity event that day. Marc Topkin took the opportunity to talk with Pinella about his managerial career and it’s worth the read as Pinella give quite a few interesting answers. Here’s a sample, Pinella’s comments about managing the Devil Rays and the Rays’ success after he left.

"With all you’ve gotten to do in baseball, are there any regrets?The places where I managed, I went for the different challenges involved. I didn’t really wait for a team that you’d say, “Boy, this team is ready to go to the World Series.” I enjoyed each and every one. The place I had the least success was Tampa Bay, and the reason being our payroll was supposed to grow and it never grew past $20-something million, and I couldn’t compete in that division. But everywhere else — we won two divisions with the Cubs, in Seattle we went to a lot of postseason games, in Cincinnati we won a world championship, in New York we won 90 games. But there’s nothing really that I would have done different. Losing in my hometown (200-285 in 2003-05) wasn’t fun, but, look, I did the best I could. What can I say?It was tough on you, right?I just wasn’t used to the losing. I thought I could go anywhere and win. I took a little bit of a beating there, no question.Ever think you shouldn’t have done it?As soon as I took the job there was like a rift between the owners (Vince Naimoli and his original partners) and because of it our payroll never really increased. When the (Stuart) Sternberg group bought the team, I told them it was going to take about $60 million or so to have a good team, that they had some good young players but needed some veteran players also. And when the payroll finally got to that number, they started to win some games. They’ve had a good run. I’m proud of the job they’ve done."

Some interesting to note is that Pinella’s .412 winning percentage during his three years as D-Rays manager was significantly better than the .362 winning percentage the previous two years under Hal McRae (.01 probability of occurring by chance alone) and also solidly above the .392 winning percentage that Joe Maddon led the Rays to in 2006 and 2007. Pinella did what he could, but the team just wasn’t good enough. He had his moments- his 2004 team set the Rays’ team record of 70 wins that would last until 2008 and actually was above .500 in June before collapsing in the second half- but it was simply a tough situation all around and it was tough to watch Pinella try to fight through it. If those last comments are to be believed, Pinella knew what it would take to win but the Naimoli ownership group never gave it to him, which is especially depressing. Thankfully, Stuart Sternberg has raised the payroll enough to keep them a perennial contender, and it’s nice to see Pinella appreciating what his former team has done since he has been gone.