Rays Will Continue To Contend in 2010...and Continue to Do It In Front of Empty Seats

Rays Perfecting Small Money Winning, While Bay Area Population Perfects Indifference

3/16/10 in MLB   |   MarkTheShark   |   590 respect

One member of the opening day 2010 Tampa Bay Rays will have an impact on a contending team down the stretch. Carl Crawford is that player. Will it be as a member of the Rays? Unlikely. Such is the day-to-day realities of a Major League franchise that must cut payroll to be a viable business. Owner Stu Sternberg and the Rays couldn’t have possibly done any more with the low payrolls than they have in the last two seasons to get a fan base bolstered and rocked up. Wait, when you say “rocked up”, what exactly are you talking about? I will explain it to you:

/begin rant/
 
You have a greater market area of over 3 million people. Persons as diverse as mayors and city managers to cabbies and convenience store owners pined for a Major League team for the last two decades of the 21st century. Tampa/St. Petersburg, you have been jilted by the Giants, White Sox, Twins, Mariners and Expos. I probably left some team out. Finally, after the final sting of MLB choosing Miami over you in 1991, you got your team. 
They built it.              
You did not come.

That first season in 1998 hosted more fans in Tropicana Field than any season after it. Yes, you can be forgiven because of the farcical management that helmed the sorry Devil Rays in their first incarnation of life. But, since 2006 when Stu Sternberg put his staff that includes team President Matt Silverman and de facto GM Andrew Friedman together, all this franchise has done is this:

Changed the team’s logo and uniforms into much more palatable and wearable gear -  Told you that building a winner will take patience and a plan, but in the meantime enjoy FREE parking (yes I said free) and discounts galore on tickets - Brought in platinum-selling music artists by the dozens as part of the Concert Series that you enjoy with NO ticket price hike - WIN the AL East in 2008 - WIN the American freaking League pennant and lose to the Phillies in the 2008 World Series in one of the most surprising sports stories of this millennium - follow that up with a respectable 84 win season

STOP. The current ownership group has done everything they said they would.
SHUT UP. Go see this team now, or you can continue the bitchfest when they leave for good.
/end rant/

Ok, now you can get back to your Preview...
So, Crawford and Carlos Pena will be the focus of other team's playoff aspirations if the Rays don't break from the gate with a startling win total. Even then, it probably won't be enough to keep them in Rays uniforms in August. So who will pick up the slack?


Additions- Sean Rodriguez, Kelly Shoppach, Rafael Soriano

Gone- Scott Kazmir, Mitch Talbot

Starting Rotation
RHP James Shields
RHP Matt Garza
LHP David Price                                                                     
RHP Jeff Niemann
RHP Wade Davis

Closer
RHP Rafael Soriano

Lineup
SS Jason Bartlett
LF Carl Crawford
2B Ben Zobrist
1B Carlos Pena
3B Evan Longoria
DH Pat Burrell
CF B.J. Upton
C Kelly Shoppach/Dioner Navarro
RF Gabe Kapler/Matt Joyce/Fernando Perez/Sean Rodriguez

Strengths
Starting Pitching - To say that that the Rays are inundated with Major League caliber pitchers is an understatement. Besides the starting rotation that has set an achievable goal of 1000 innings, the Rays have top rated minor leaguers Jeremy Hellickson and Jake McGee, as well as veteran Andy Sonnanstine chomping at the bit. Do not underestimate the importance of Trainer Ron Porterfield and Manager Joe Maddon in keeping Rays starting pitchers games lost to injury in the bottom quarter of the majors.

Depth - It wasn't long ago that the Rays had players that didn't belong in training camp filling roster spots. Now? Joe Maddon says,  "...now you're sending guys back you believe belong here. That's quite a jump, quite a difference." Players like Perez, Reid Brignac, or John Jaso could wind up back in Durham. Uber prospect Desmond Jennings was injured early this spring training and will be back in the minors to start the season.

Weaknesses
Catchers - Dioner Navarro was a disappointment last year after his All-Star 2008. The Rays traded for Kelly Shoppach in December. Not exactly a loaded position, although I like John Jaso. Unfortunately, I believe the real Navarro stood up last season and Shoppach is maddeningly hot and cold. Neither are very good game callers nor great defensive catchers.

Projected Outcome - The Rays will be in the thick of things if the hitting of last year returns. They set a franchise high for HR's in a season. The pitching, and in particular the bullpen, should pick up about 4 wins that were given away last year with blown saves. Obviously, losing two of their best players will hurt. Still, look for 92 or 93 wins and an outside shot at the wild card berth.
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5/31/10   |   MarkTheShark   |   590 respect

gatorjoe0615 wrote:
You are so right. This team is really talented and should contend for the east as well as the AL this year. Any team except the Yankees would be alright with me. GO RAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 Rays are entering treacherous waters, with the catcher situation, Bartlett's injury, and Upton benching, and possible bullpen shuffling...maybe even Hellickson pushing Davis for the 5th spot. If Maddon pushes the right buttons, Rays will pull away...

4/6/10   |   gatorjoe0615   |   1693 respect

MarkTheShark wrote:
I think some casual fans forget how talented this Rays club is. Maddon will harness that. If this team breaks out early to the tune of 16-8 or something similar at the start of May: Watch out. They will only get stronger and have the horses in reserve that neither the Yankees nor the Sawx possess. In the battle of attrition that is a 162 game schedule, the Rays have depth to spare. They could even deal Crawford or Pena while in 1st place and still win the East.

You are so right. This team is really talented and should contend for the east as well as the AL this year. Any team except the Yankees would be alright with me. GO RAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

4/4/10   |   MarkTheShark   |   590 respect

I think some casual fans forget how talented this Rays club is. Maddon will harness that. If this team breaks out early to the tune of 16-8 or something similar at the start of May: Watch out. They will only get stronger and have the horses in reserve that neither the Yankees nor the Sawx possess. In the battle of attrition that is a 162 game schedule, the Rays have depth to spare. They could even deal Crawford or Pena while in 1st place and still win the East.

3/19/10   |   gatorjoe0615   |   1693 respect

The people in the Tampa Bay area are one of two things. Newlywed or nearly dead. The Rays have a great team and the people in the area should go to the Trop and support them ot they will leave. That stadium was built for a baseball team some 20 years ago and yes the area got stiffed more than once. There are those that say if the Rays move to Tampa the attendance will go up. I say bull****. If they arent coming to St. Pete than they are not going to Tampa either. The Rays play in the toughest division in the AL and have done extremely well the last two seasons. If the people in the Bay area can support the lousy Bucs than they should support the Rays. Tampa Bay has three of the four major sports in the area and should feel lucky to have them. I say that the owners should keep up the great job and maybe they will come to see MLB on a regular basis in Tampa Bay. The only time the Rays draw a huge crowd is when those damn Yankees come to town or even the Red Sox. I hope the Rays win the division and go back to the series this year and win the whole damn thing. Maybe then there would be sll outs every game at the Trop.

3/17/10   |   Boski93   |   375 respect

Excellent article, the Rays are up against it in that they play in the AL East and have two clubs that can put up 2 to 3$'s of everyone the Rays can put up. The fight to compete is made more troublesome when you have to fight fan apathy. But the Rays have been very shrewd with player dealings and have developed an excellent farm system that provides them the bargaining chips they need to acquire talent. They will win around 85 - 87 games and be in the mix till at least early September.

3/17/10   |   elevenbravo138again   |   1155 respect

qtowndogg wrote:
Yeah, I totally understand your frustration, Mark.  I've lived down here for 4 years as a resident (and 4 years before that for college), and I can't believe how low the Trop's attendance still is!  They were defending American League champs, free parking (for carpoolers), free after-game concerts seemingly every other weekend, the lowest ticket prices / amenities in all of pro sports, plus the most important factor: a winning team.  And fans still seem to make excuses for not coming, saying "I don't have enough money" or "20 miles is too far".  I remember living in Pennsylvania and driving 90 minutes through rush hour traffic to get to Phillies games, and it didn't bother me a bit.  This is one of the best experiences (for your money) that you can find in sports entertainment, and most people down here simply don't get it.  It's kind of annoying.  The Rays are my American League team (and as long as they're not playing the Phillies I will root for them), and it's disheartening to see such a quality product in such a fairweather market.  I hope something changes, but hey I guess there will always be great seats for you and me if noone else shows up!

Very well said, the Rays are the Twins- the fan support.

3/17/10   |   qtowndogg   |   1846 respect

Yeah, I totally understand your frustration, Mark.  I've lived down here for 4 years as a resident (and 4 years before that for college), and I can't believe how low the Trop's attendance still is!  They were defending American League champs, free parking (for carpoolers), free after-game concerts seemingly every other weekend, the lowest ticket prices / amenities in all of pro sports, plus the most important factor: a winning team.  And fans still seem to make excuses for not coming, saying "I don't have enough money" or "20 miles is too far".  I remember living in Pennsylvania and driving 90 minutes through rush hour traffic to get to Phillies games, and it didn't bother me a bit.  This is one of the best experiences (for your money) that you can find in sports entertainment, and most people down here simply don't get it.  It's kind of annoying.  The Rays are my American League team (and as long as they're not playing the Phillies I will root for them), and it's disheartening to see such a quality product in such a fairweather market.  I hope something changes, but hey I guess there will always be great seats for you and me if noone else shows up!

3/17/10   |   suedon70   |   144 respect

Awesome job on this preview Mark! If a few things fall into place for this team, I honestly think they can contend for a playoff spot this year. 

As for attendance issues, the Trop is far from being in an ideal location, as the majority of the area's population resides on the Tampa side of the bay.  But that is definitely no excuse for the baffling lack of support that this team gets.  It's pretty sad when they have to bring in third-rate performers to do Saturday nite concerts to get butts in the seats. 

3/16/10   |   Debi_L   |   11280 respect

I love this preview Mark, definitely one of the most original in a long time - love the rant, and I totally get where you are coming from!!

3/16/10   |   Lizzo   |   324 respect

wrote:
as a Mets fan who has been constantly raked over the coals by completely incompetent management (spending $140+ million to win 70 games) and an ownership that would squeeze their mother's last dollar then leave her in the street, I would kill a man with my bare hands to have the group running the Rays for 20 minutes in Queens.

I'm a Cards fan, but I get where you are coming from. Why don't they like baseball? Too much to do?