The Tampa Bay Rays were outstanding in 2010 as they won an American League best 96 games on their way to the AL East crown. They were derailed by the Rangers in the playoffs and lost star outfielder Carl Crawford to free agency. To make matters worse on the Crawford front, he signed with a division foe, the Boston Red Sox. Other players the Rays will have to replace this season include; Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, Rafael Soriano, and Joaquin Benoit. The question Rays fans will be asking themselves is, did this team peak last year? It is going to be extremely difficult for them to keep pace with the deep-pockets in New York and Boston.
All is not lost for the Rays as they still have some very talented players on the roster and they boast a tremendous pitching staff. Evan Longoria is the cornerstone of this franchise and that is a good thing for Tampa. The going will be tough in the AL East, but this team won’t back down from the challenge. Defense and pitching wins championships and the Rays are strong in both of those areas.
The bad news is that Tampa signed Manny Ramirez to help fill the void left by all the departures. I’m not sure Manny has much left in the tank and he is a complete head case who could self-destruct at any moment. They also signed Johnny Damon who offered very little firepower to the Detroit Tigers line up last year and became a role player. Relying on that duo is a calculated gamble that could pay off or it could be the equivalent of sevening out on the craps table.
Best case scenario: In an ideal world the Rays would be able to hold off the Yankees and Red Sox and win another AL East title. Their young pitching staff would lead the charge and they can somehow get some quality production out of Manny Ramirez.
Most Valuable Player: Evan Longoria is the face of this franchise and he is the best third baseman on the planet. He is a Gold Glove defender and a run producer at the plate. David Price isn’t far behind Longoria in the most valuable player discussion. The young hurler was dominant last season and will have to be again in 2011.
Potential Breakout Players: Barring injury, Matt Joyce should be in line for regular playing time this year. In 77 games during the 2010 season, Joyce hit .241 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs. Also keep an eye on Desmond Jennings. The 24 year old prospect is an athletic player who the Rays hope can eventually replace the void left by Crawford’s departure.
Worst case scenario: The Yankees and Red Sox roll and the Rays bullpen implodes. New York and their ridiculous payroll will always be good. Boston reloaded an already impressive team by adding Adrian Gonzalez and Crawford. It’s very possible that the Rays will not be able to keep pace with those two juggernaut teams.
Biggest areas of concern: The bullpen is a major question mark. Gone are closer Rafael Soriano and set up men Joaquin Benoit and Grant Balfour. They will be replaced by; Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta and Adam Russell. On paper that appears to be a significant downgrade.
Player who must rebound from a down 2010: James Shields entered the 2010 season as a player most felt would blossom. Instead he was wildly inconsistent and finished with a bulging 5.18 ERA. The Rays need more from him. The other player the Rays need to rebound is BJ Upton. He hit a paltry .237 last year with 164 Ks. He did swat 18 homers and swipe 42 bags though. Upton is more than capable of getting his average up into the .270 range.
Be sure to check out our Spring Training Central where we put the “i-ball” on all 30 MLB teams