It’s really hard to not like the Rays if you are just a fan of baseball. They do more with less than pretty much any team in the league. They have the worst ball park in the majors, they play in front of sparse crowds most nights (19k on average – lowest in the league), and still manage to compete in usually the toughest division in baseball year in and year out. They haven’t finished lower than 3rd in the AL East since 2007. Their highest paid player is David Price who signed for a one year arbitration deal of $10M. There only long term contracts are Evan Longoria and Matt Moore who both are likely under market value. They aren’t afraid to trade away great players or even just simply let them go in FA (see Carl Crawford and BJ Upton). They have managed to keep the farm system stocked for years. They are what every smaller market team wishes their team could be like. (given financial constraints) This past offseason they parted with two major contributors in James Shields and BJ Upton, both of whom were in line for market priced pay days the Rays couldn’t afford.
What did they do to replace that production?
Major Off-Season Moves:
This looks about like what the Rays would do. Traded for one blue chip prospect in Wil Myers. He’ll likely be a superstar for the Rays while they control him and he’ll either sign him to a team friendly extension or trade him for more prospects. The rest of the signings look like mildly liked veterans that the Rays could get for discounted prices and hope to hit on a few of them. Kelly Johnson is a solid player and will allow Ben Zobrist to play full time in the OF. Yunel Escobar didn’t endear himself in Toronto after an unfortunate makeup incident. He’s talented, but comes with some baggage. I’m not so sure the talent will come to fruition in Tampa. James Loney will play first, but will likely platoon a decent amount while Ryan Roberts slides over to fill in.
Let’s get tot he rest of that lineup.
Likely Starting Lineup:
Desmond Jennings is a poor man’s BJ Upton? I think that’s a question. Jennings will be taking Upton’s spot in center and will lead off. Jennings posted a very nice half season in 2011, but couldn’t quite repeat the pace in 2012. I think he has 20/40 in him, but am not confident he gets there this year. The aforementioned Escobar will come next. I expect a .260/10HR line from him if he plays the whole season. Zobrist is awesome. He can pretty much do anything in the field. He plays 2B, SS and OF and I’m sure he could play 3B and 1B. He’ll drop a bomb and then steal second and is very unassuming doing so. He’s a glue guy if there is such a thing. Love to watch him play. The crown jewel of Tampa, Evan Longoria will bat cleanup. I don’t really buy the Longoria isn’t durable story. He played in 157 and 151 games in his first two full seasons. He dipped a bit the next year to 133 before missing half of the year last year. He’s going to need to play 152 plus this year and he will if he ever wants to win that MVP some predicted. Matt Joyce and Loney will platoon. The Rays also have Ryan Roberts who is a super sub and will play a decent amount. The wildcard is Wil Myers. The super prospect shoudl have played last year for the Royals and I’m sure the Rays will hold him back to save service time, but he’ll play this year and we are very much looking forward to it. He hit .314/.387/.600 with 37 homers split between Double-A and Triple-A last year…yeah…he’ll be good.
Oh…I forgot Luke Scott. He can mash, but he won’t sniff .270 and he does some ‘”interesting” things.
Likely Starting Rotation:
The reigning Mr. Cy Young is atop of the rotation this year. Price is past the point of signing a club friendly extension, so unless the financial situation for the Rays changes, he’ll be a hot commodity on the trade market in the future. But Tampa should enjoy him while he can. It seems like yesterday he was killing it in relief during the Rays World series run. Matt Moore is another young stud that is potentially on the David Price track. He didn’t have a breakout year in his first year, but I expect him to just get better. Jeremy Hellickson and Jeff Niemann both have a few years experience and I think they pretty much are what they are. Alex Cobb is the youngest of the bunch and the 2006 draft pick will take his turn to try and be the next Rays pitcher to breakout. Let’s not forget Chris Archer who may get into this rotation at some point in the season if one of the back three stumbles. Fernando Rodney pitched out of his mind last year. A 0.60 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and 48 saves. Yeah…that’s not going to happen again, but I still think Rodney has success this year.
83-79, 4th place in AL East
As I said earlier, the Rays have done great. They continue to compete despite clear disadvantages. Unfortunately, the AL East is always tough and the Blue Jays took a big step forward. I have the Orioles edging out the Rays for 3rd place this year, but it will be close. Even if most of the pieces fall into place, I can’t see the Rays making the playoffs this year. The good news is they can still finish in 4th place and have a winning record.