Line Drives: Stadium Talk, The Rays’ Closer, Jeff Niemann

By David Egbert

The hot stove league is heating up and here are some of my brief thoughts (line drives, if you will) about the Rays and baseball as a whole.

There is a new player in the stadium game. The city of St. Petersburg held an election for mayor last Monday and the challenger Rick Kriseman soundly beat the incumbent, Bill Foster. Foster had been a strong proponent of keeping the Rays in St. Petersburg at any cost. Kriseman, meanwhile, has not made his views on the subject widely known but has stated that it will be “a top priority”. I would be surprised if his first words on the subject were “sure, go talk to Tampa”. After all, the citizens of St. Petersburg elected him, not Stuart Sternberg.

Maybe Tampa isn’t the Answer. A well-known Tampa public relations executive has put together a new plan to try to encourage people to come to downtown Tampa after five o’clock in the evening. Among the things he recommends is not building a baseball stadium in downtown Tampa. Hall says that downtown Tampa does not have room to build nor the ability to handle the traffic from a new stadium. He goes on to say that the concept of a stadium as an economic driver is “outdated thinking”. Wait until Bud Selig picks up on that one!

Who closes for the Rays? Right after potential David Price trades, the hottest topic in town is who will be the Rays closer. I’m here to put in a plug for Jesse Crain. Yes, I know that he cost $1.5 million and two prospects and never threw a pitch for the Rays. However, here are my reasons for signing Crain. He’s coming of an injury and teams will be leery of signing him and so he won’t cost a lot of money. And at the end of the day, he’s an excelelnt pitcher, sporting a career 3.05 ERA over ten years. He has only four saves in his career and probably would like a shot at proving himself as a closer and the money the job offers in the long-term. And, don’t forget that before he went down, he was a 2013 All Star selection and was sporting a 0.74 ERA. If he can’t pass a physical, all this goes out the window but if he’s healthy, I think it’s tempting. Signing an excellent non-closing reliever to be their closer sounds exactly like the type of move the Rays would make.

Winter Ball. What happened to the days when a young Triple-A or major league player went to winter ball in some Latin American county to work on his game? Today most you see in Latin American winter ball are over-the-hill players or former prospects trying to make a buck and stay in the game. I would think that Jake McGee would be south of the border trying to work on a breaking ball or Brandon Guyer trying to show he is healthy and capable of being David Dejesus’s platoon partner. It’s worked for a lot of guys in the past. Instead, we just have to hope that they’re making progress on their games as the offseason progresses.

A contract for Jeff Niemann? Of all of the Rays non-tender candidates, Niemann is the most interesting. Logic says that after two injury plagued years, the Rays would be done with Niemann. But with all of the talk of trading David Price, do they potentially need more competition for the rotation? If the price is right (no pun intended), maybe we’ll see the tall right hander in spring training. For just a couple million dollars, it may be too much to pass up.

That’s what I’m thinking about. What’s on your mind?