Ask Gary: Do you believe in the Rays?

by Gary Shelton on February 20, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Rays

(Each week, the readers take over GarySheltonsports.com and play Ask Gary. They send in a question, or a couple, on Thursday night or Friday morning and we all talk about the world of sports.  Think of it as a radio show where you don't have to be on hold. Join us and ask a question, make a comment or be funny. Send the questions to GarySheltonsports@gmail.com.)

Saturday, 6 a.m.

The sweet sounds of an early spring  "pitchers and catchers report." Are there reasons for optimism regarding the 2016 Tampa Bay Rays?

Howard Powders

Isn't there always a reason for optimism in the spring? A hitter hasn't struck out and a shortstop hasn't let a ball go between his legs yet. A manager hasn't overused his bullpen and a starting pitcher hasn't had a three-inning start. Yet.

With the Rays, there is a chance if most of their gambles pay

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off with bounce back years. That's the Rays' way. They invest in a player after a bad year thinking that he'll be better with good coaching and a change of scenery.

No, it doesn't always work. But this time, it has to if the Rays are going to be good. Steve Pearce had a lousy season last year. Logan Morrison was bad. Hank Conger struggled at the plate and behind it. Corey Dickerson was hurt. And even here, Steven Souza and Desmond Jennings had forgettable years.

It's a lot to count on several players to snap back at once. But there is a chance. The Rays were shredded by injuries last year. Just behind healthy would be an improvement.

I don't think the Rays are loaded in the way the Red Sox or Blue Jays are. But if they get great pitching and good defense, they have a shot. I've called it 85 wins.

What do I know, however? The computer-based analysis program PECOTA picked the Rays to be first in the East.

You recently quoted Matt Silverman saying: “Our payroll is what it is. Fortunately, payroll doesn’t dictate the standings.”

So isn't Matt saying the team doesn't need to draw more fans to increase payroll, and therefore, does not need a new stadium?

Scott Myers

I can't read a guy's mind, Scott, but that's not even close to what I got out of it, and I asked the question. A guy might try to put a good face on a bad knee, for instance. It doesn't mean he doesn't want his knee to be better. He's just dealing with the circumstances as they are.

I think Matt was doing that. He was saying that he wouldn't let a small payroll be an excuse not to compete. That doesn't mean he doesn't want a better stadium that would, in turn, lead to a bigger payroll. I think everyone who is employed by the Rays wants a new stadium and a better chance at winning the division.

One of my memories is of Stu Sternberg after the team had lost to Texas in the playoffs. He was wrecked over the loss. He stood in the middle of the room, shaking his head, because his payroll wouldn't fit the number of hitters in it that the Rangers would.

None of this affects whether you, as a voter, want the stadium or oppose it, whether you think it's a grand idea or a poor one. But, sure, a bigger payroll would be desirable to everyone who works for the  team.

Matt's job these days is to compete in the AL East. I'm sure if someone had asked what he thought about the impact of a stadium, he'd be behind it. Why wouldn't he be? Everyone wants a better circumstance even if you deal with the one you have.

By the same token, he said he can compete without Jake McGee. But I'm sure if McGee could have been affordable, he'd like to have him.

I know a lot depends on how the Rays mix and match their players, but as of today, of all the acquisitions the Rays have made, who do you look at to be the biggest (positive) difference-maker?

Cecil DeBald

I hope it's Brad Miller, because he's been counted on to be a great defensive player as well as a hitter. I think after him, the Rays really hope for a lot of pop out of Corey Dickerson. Steve Pearce has had a lot of good at-bats for the Orioles over the years.

As I wrote Friday, the problem I have with all of the newcomers is that so many are coming off bad seasons. Logic tells you that some of them might bounce back, but all of them won't.

I'm interested to see how many innings Ryan Webb can eat. He's a ground-ball pitcher, supposedly, and the Rays could use one of those.

I saw that Hope Solo said she would opt out of the Olympics if that decision had to be made today, due to zika. What is your gut feeling — will zika be a small problem with a few people opting out this summer, a huge problem with a significant number of people opting out, or much ado about nothing?

Cecil DeBald

I think this is Hope being hopeless, one more time. I don't think most athletes are afraid of a virus infecting the Olympic village, where they have the best medicine in the world. People are always worried about the Olympics. Back when the Games were in Athens, the fear was terrorism. Some newspapers even had their writers go to terrorist classes. I mentioned that to my boss at the time, and his response was "You want terrorist training. Here it is: Duck."

The Bucs were going to Japan one year, and there was concern over SARS. Someone asked one of the Bucs about it, and he said "It's in China and we're going to Japan. Learn your geometry." Also, geography.

My gut feeling is that it won't be a blip on the Olympics. I think the hungry athletes will still go, and they'll be okay. I'm not doctor, but if I were down to cover the Games, I'd certainly get on a plane.

As for Hope, she's always been great in the Olympics. In China, she practically provided a gold medal all by herself. She makes some horrible personal choices, but she's a talented athlete. Maybe it's just me, but I think she'll be there, too.

I’m a Lightning fan, support our local team and all that, but not a huge hockey fan, so I’m out of the loop. The Lightning aren’t doing well at the wrong time of the year, yet I hear or read very little about it from the fans — when the Rays and Bucs look like they are cratering, the sports rags and talk shows are full of raging fans, but I don’t hear that from the Lightning fans — are they just more laid back, or do they remain confident and pass on the raging stuff?

Cecil DeBald

I think the real hockey fans are concerned about the patches of poor  play from the Lightning. But in Tampa Bay, the Bolts are still the designer franchise who care more about the community and their fans than anyone. They're a hard place to direct your anger.

Also, there is this: the Lightning is still in it. No, it isn't the dynamic team we would have thought, but it's still a talented team with more fan favorites than anyone in town. And remember, they're not far removed from being in the Stanley Cup Finals.

But you raise a good point. I think, in general, football and baseball fans get angrier at their team than hockey fans. I think it's because you can get ticked at the owner, the g.m., the head coach, the offensive coordinator, the defensive coordinator and the quarterback in football.

I think the beauty of hockey is that it's a free-flow, ad-lib sport. You don't get mad at third-and-one, or at the hit-and-run, when it doesn't work.

Mainly, I think it's this simple: The Lightning has earned more community good will than the other two sports.

I was interested in Jerry Angelo's comments about the Jaguars moving to London.  Why is there still so much talk of that?   Their attendance is the same as the Bucs and Shad Khan has spent many millions on the stadium and around Jacksonville.   Do you think they will move?

Jim Willson

The NFL lusts after the new TV revenues that a franchise in London would draw. There would be new sponsorships, new corporate support. And if the NFL wants it, I think it will get it.

Honestly, I think it's a lousy idea. The travel is a killer, and the constant adjustment. I could see if there were four teams, or even two, so they could play each other and get a week away from jet lag. But what do you do? Play four straight home games and then four on the road? Does every division opponent have to travel to England every year?

But Roger Goodell makes a lot of money by making owners a lot of money. As long as the league offices want this, it'll probably happen. Sad, but true.

Who do you consider to be the best athlete in your lifetime?
Jim Willson
Easy. It's Bo Jackson, who I covered at Auburn.
Bo was incredible. I remember standing on a track and watching him run toward me. I squinted and tried to imagine tackling him. It was incredible.
Once, when the Tigers were in the Sugar Bowl, the quarterbacks were trying to hit a speaker at the top of the Super Dome. They couldn't. But Bo walked by, grabbed a ball and knocked it off its hinges of the first throw. I think it was his junior year when he made every tackle on an interception. Yeah, those "Bo knows...'' commercials were funny, but he really was terrific.
I covered Dan Marino during his great years. I covered Lawrence Taylor and Tony Gwynn and Ken Griffey Jr.  I covered Joe Montana and Michael Phelps and Serena Williams and Pete Sampras.
None of them were Bo.
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