ST. PETERSBURG -- Before the Rays turn their attention toward the offseason and the roster reshuffling that always comes along with it, they'll play their usually prominent part in the awards season.
Tampa Bay will be well-represented yet again in the 2013 Greatness in Baseball Yearly Awards, having received nominations for best rookie, defensive player, manager, executive and walk-off of the year. The Rays are also up for awards for best play, oddity and Cut4 topic -- and, believe it or not, the last two had nothing to do with manager Joe Maddon's "unusual" clubhouse guests throughout the year.
Major League Baseball's A-listers will take home 2013 GIBBY trophies -- the ultimate honors of the industry's awards season -- based on votes by media, front-office personnel, MLB alumni, fans at MLB.com and the Society for American Baseball Research.
This year's GIBBY Awards feature nominees in 22 categories. Individual honors will go to the MLB MVP, in addition to the year's best starting pitcher, hitter, closer, setup man, rookie, breakout hitter, breakout pitcher, comeback player, defensive player, manager, executive and postseason performer.
GIBBY trophies also will be awarded for the year's top play, storyline, hitting performance, pitching performance, oddity, walk-off, Cut4 topic, regular-season moment and postseason moment, from MLB.com's Must C highlight reels.
In the past five years, fans have cast more than 50 million votes across the various GIBBY categories, none of which was restricted to individual League affiliation. Fan voting runs through Dec. 1.
Winners will be presented their GIBBY trophies at the MLB.com Greatness in Baseball Yearly Awards extravaganza during the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla.
It's no surprise to anyone who follows baseball that Maddon is being considered for the nod as the Majors' top manager. Maddon has proven to be gifted at managing his players' personalities as well as in-game tactics, guiding the club to a 92-win season in the highly competitive American League East. Tampa Bay has won at least 90 games in five of the last six seasons under Maddon and reached the postseason four of the last six years.
Similarly, it seems as if Andrew Friedman could be up for the executive of the year honor just about every season. The Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations made a few key moves last winter that ultimately helped Tampa Bay get back into the playoffs. Among Friedman's recent highlights are the acquisition of Wil Myers, trading for Yunel Escobar, and signing James Loney and Jamey Wright. Don't forget that he locked up Evan Longoria until at least 2022 last offseason, too.
Longoria is among the nominees for defensive player of the year. The third baseman recorded 12 Defensive Runs Saved, a 14.6 Ultimate Zone Rating and a .972 fielding percentage, committing 11 errors in 290 chances at the hot corner. But these are perhaps the most important numbers to Longoria: After appearing in only 74 games in an injury-ravaged 2012 season, he played third base in 145 games in 2013.
The Rays will have two players up for rookie of the year in Myers and right-hander Chris Archer. Both played major roles down the stretch as the Rays pushed their way into the postseason. Called up midseason, the 22-year-old Myers hit .293/.354/.478 with 13 homers and 53 RBIs in 88 games. Archer, 24, joined Tampa Bay's rotation, then went 9-7 with a 3.22 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 128 2/3 innings.
Loney was responsible for the Rays' entry into the walk-off of the year category, as he wrapped up the Rays' regular-season home schedule with a pinch-hit homer off Orioles reliever Tommy Hunter on Sept. 23. Loney was out of the lineup that day due to fatigue -- and who could blame him, as the Rays were only a few days removed from an 18-inning marathon victory -- but he connected on an 0-1 pitch and sent Tropicana Field into a frenzy as Tampa Bay finished off a huge four-game sweep of Baltimore.
Tampa Bay's infield defense produced four Gold Glove Award finalists and one nominee for play of the year. On July 24 at Fenway Park, Escobar ranged to his left to field Dustin Pedroia's grounder, scooped it into his glove and flipped it behind his back to Ben Zobrist at second base. Zobrist caught it with his bare hand before flinging it to Loney at first base to complete the double play.
That may have been the Rays' most memorable play, but they had a couple of odd ones this season as well -- deserving of the nominations in the oddity category. There was Desmond Jennings' eight-unassisted double play against the A's on April 20, when he snagged a shallow fly ball and trotted all the way to first base for the first such play since 1992. The Rays also played a part in the revival of the hidden ball trick in Los Angeles on Aug. 10. Loney flipped the ball to Escobar, who tossed it to Longoria, who slapped an unsuspecting Juan Uribe for an 8-3-6-5 double play.
There were plenty of oddities to be found at Tropicana Field even when the Rays weren't playing, of course. Maddon's clubhouse menagerie -- a cockatoo, python and penguins -- certainly come to mind, as do the appearances by a DJ, a magician and a merengue band. But the Rays' entry into the Cut4 topic of the year is Carly Rae Jepsen's first-pitch folly. The "Call Me Maybe" singer uncorked a pitch that landed about 2 feet in front of the mound, rolling toward the home dugout and far, far away from lefty Matt Moore, squatting behind the plate.