2013 Preview: Tampa Bay Rays
Manager: Joe Maddon (8th season as ML manager)
WHO'S NEW: 1B James Loney (BOS), SS Yunel Escobar (TOR), 2B Kelly Johnson (TOR), INF Mike Fontenot (PHI), OF/1B Shelley Duncan (CLE), SP Roberto Hernandez (CLE)
WHO'S GONE: OF B.J. Upton (ATL), OF/DH Hideki Matsui (retired), OF Ben Francisco (NYY), 2B Will Rhymes (WAS), 1B Carlos Pena (HOU), INF Jeff Keppinger (CWS), 2B Elliot Johnson (KC), INF Brooks Conrad (Japan), SS Reid Brignac (COL), SP James Shields (KC), SP Wade Davis (KC), RP Burke Badenhop (MIL)
Another competitive 90-win season wasn't enough for Tampa Bay to qualify for postseason play for the third straight year in 2012. The offseason was filled with transactions of the payroll cost-cutting variety, in particular losing B.J. Upton in free agency and trading away consistent pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis. Given the state of the division with Toronto the clear favorite, Tampa Bay will be looking to try and compete for a .500 record before they can talk wild card. First baseman James Loney replaces Carlos Pena. Both play good defense, but Loney is not the power hitter that Pena is. Desmond Jennings now moves from left to center replacing Upton. Jennings is not the run producer or home run threat that Upton was, but similar in terms of average and speed and considerably cheaper. The corner outfield positions could be an interchangeable game of musical chairs with Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist, Shelley Duncan and Sean Rodriguez all seeing time. Joyce and Zobrist will start. Evan Longoria has a long-term contract and a new season to stay on the field after hamstring issues limited him to 74 games in 2012. Former Blue Jays Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson will now command the middle of the infield for another A.L. East squad. Johnson provides solid run production despite his low batting average last season (.225 AVG. in 142 games) Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton do the catching. Tampa Bay ranked 11th or worse in the A.L. in runs scored, hits and average in 2012 while also whiffing the most times next to Oakland. They also earned the most walks in 2012. On paper, this team offensively has team speed, good patience and a few solid hitters but should regress slightly with their power and pitching. The rotation consists of Cy Young winner David Price along with Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Jeff Niemann who replaces Shields after he missed the season with a leg injury. Aside from Price, the Rays middle three starters are essentially 500 pitchers and Niemann has had productive seasons in the past, but he hasn't pitched since May 2012. Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta lead the bullpen. Fernando Rodney is lights out as the closer (0.60 ERA, 48 saves).
BOTTOM LINE: This team will be heavily reliant on stars David Price and Evan Longoria. The losses of Upton, Shields and Davis can't be understated and it doesn't appear the Rays replaced those pieces adequately. The concerns are at first, catcher and the starting pitching doesn't look consistent enough beyond Price. A lot of things need to break Tampa's way for them to stay above 500, but expect a regression in the standings. Too many personel losses to overcome.