Obviously, the most important thing the Rays are playing for during this final week of the season is to win one of the wild-card spots, hoping that by next Sunday afternoon in Toronto they are celebrating their fourth postseason appearance in six seasons and making plans for an Oct. 2 game. But there are some other things, short- and long-term, to play for as well.
Rookie of the year
There's a good chance a Ray will win the AL rookie of the year award. The question is which one. OF Wil Myers would seem a more likely choice than RHP Chris Archer, primarily on the bias toward everyday players over starting pitchers.
And Myers has a good case, going into play Saturday at or near the top of AL rookies in batting, homers and RBIs, and he has been hot down the stretch as the Rays are battling for a playoff spot and has gotten plenty of national attention (votes are cast by two BBWAA members in each league city). However, he wasn't called up until June 18, and no position player has ever won the AL award playing in fewer than 100 games.
Archer also has a good case, for many of the same reasons, measuring up well against the other candidates and making a significant impact. Wins in his final two starts, scheduled for Monday and Saturday's penultimate game, could definitely catch the attention of some voters. (And/or create the possibility of the two Rays "splitting" some votes.)
The Rays actually have a third, though not as impressive, candidate, in LHP Alex Torres, who has a 1.49 ERA in 36 relief appearances and a .155 opponents' average. Candidates from other teams include Texas LHP Martin Perez (9-5, 3.54), Oakland RHP Dan Straily (10-7, 4.88), Detroit SS Jose Iglesias (.310-3-29), Seattle INF Nick Franklin (.222-12-44), Minnesota OF Oswaldo Arcia (.251-13-37) and Los Angeles OF J.B. Shuck (.293-2-39).
Making a case
Two Rays will be among top candidates for the AL rookie of the year award. Here is where they rank among other candidates in some key stat categories going into play Saturday:
OF Wil Myers
Avg.: .300 (3)
HRs: 13 (T1)
RBIs: 49 (1)
M-H games: 27 (3)
Runs: 41 (3)
Doubles: 18 (3)
OBP: .354 (2)
SLG: .483 (1)
E-B hits: 31 (3)
RHP Chris Archer
ERA: 3.02 (1)
Wins: 9 (T2)
Win Pct. .563 (3)
Ks: 90 (2)
Shutouts: 2 (1)
CGs: 2 (T1)
Opp. Avg. 219 (1)
Starts: 21 (2)
Innings: 122 (2)
Manager Joe Maddon goes into every season wanting to think the Rays could win Gold Gloves at all nine positions. The Rays have several candidates, including 3B Evan Longoria, 2B Ben Zobrist and 1B James Loney (and reigning P Jeremy Hellickson), but their best shot this year is SS Yunel Escobar, whose .988 fielding percentage (seven errors, only three since mid May) leads the league, excluding Detroit's suspended Jhonny Peralta.
Maddon said Escobar "absolutely" deserves to win and has been campaigning almost daily for him through the media, though the award is given on a combination of voting by coaches and managers and a statistical formula.
"I know the other guys are good and there's some really good, strong considerations. People might talk about (Jose) Iglesias with Detroit right now, very flashy, no question, he's got a lot of that. And they might talk about (Baltimore's) J.J. Hardy, who I also believe is a nice, blue-collar shortstop, and I'm a big fan. But the quality of work Yunel has done this year, consistently, is unparalleled. It's really been that solid."
The Rays hold options on four players for next season. Two are easy and obvious calls to get picked up — 2B Ben Zobrist for $7 million (vs. a $2.5 million buyout) and SS Yunel Escobar for $5 million (with no buyout). It seems unlikely they would do so with RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo, who didn't get through his rehab from Tommy John surgery in time to pitch this season and would be due $2 million, plus another $2 million in incentives. Unclear is a decision on a $6.5 million option/$1.5 million buyout with OF David DeJesus, who was acquired in August from Washington.
Potential free agents
Nine current Rays are set to be free agents after the season, and there will be some the Rays will at least explore hanging on to, such as 1B James Loney, C Jose Molina (who definitely wants to return) and DH Delmon Young. Those decisions will be made relative to the Rays' needs, and what they feel the players are worth and what the market reflects they may get elsewhere. For example, they'd probably love to have Fernando Rodney back at the right price and would have no interest at the wrong price. Among the potentially free:
RHP Jesse Crain INF Kelly Johnson
RHP Roberto Hernandez 1B James Loney
RHP Fernando Rodney C Jose Molina
RHP Jamey Wright DH Luke Scott DH Delmon Young
Whom the Rays will bring back will dictate what spots they need to fill. They would look to be set at five positions (3B, SS, 2B, CF, RF) and in the rotation, though a possible trade of LHP David Price would certainly alter that. And Jose Lobaton would be part of the catching platoon, with Jose Molina or whomever else. So that leaves 1B, LF, DH and the bullpen as the primary areas to be addressed, along with the bench.
• 3B Evan Longoria is four home runs from tying Carlos Peña's franchise record of 163.
• The Rays have made 55 errors total; the MLB record low for a season is 65 (Seattle 2003); however the O's have made 48.
• Yunel Escobar (currently .988) has a chance to break the team record for fielding percentage at shortstop (.980, Chris Gomez, 2002), and Ben Zobrist (.992) at second base (.990, Aki Iwamura, 2008).
• DH Delmon Young is two homers shy of 100 for his career.
• RHP Jamey Wright (18 seasons) and OF David DeJesus (11) are seeking their first career playoff appearances.
• RHP Joel Peralta has tied the team record for losses by a reliever (eight; Esteban Yan, 2002; Travis Harper, 2003).
• LHP Matt Moore is one wild pitch short of the team record (15, Victor Zambrano, 2003).
ESPN The Magazine ranked the Rays 17th among the 122 major-sport pro teams (tops in Florida), and fourth in MLB, in its Ultimate Standings, based on multiple categories including affordability, ownership, players and stadium experience. … ESPN also lauded the Rays for their promotions: "This year, no one did giveaways better than Tampa Bay." … It's one thing for today's Rays game to get bumped off flagship radio station 620-AM for the Bucs game, but Monday afternoon due to two Bucs talk shows? … The Rays will be the sideshow this week for Mariano Rivera's last three games at Yankee Stadium. … Calling the Rays' last-in-the-majors attendance issues "long past the point of absurd," Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal writes: "No one could blame the Rays if they ordered Mayflower moving vans and snuck out of town, Baltimore Colts-style." … The parody website etruesports.com picked up on it by "reporting" the Rays would next have an iPhone 5 giveaway night followed by "Big Screen TV and Tesla Roadster promotions."
Got a minute? with David Price
Best meal you can make?
Spaghetti. With Prego sauce.
Graceland, I like that show.
Band or singer you'd like to be on stage with?
Jay-Z AND Beyonce — with the AND in all caps.
The Preacher's Wife.
I've always been a big fan of Zoe Saldana.