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
SHUT UP. Go see this team now, or you can continue the bitchfest when they leave for good.
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
RHP James Shields
RHP Matt Garza
LHP David Price
RHP Jeff Niemann
RHP Wade Davis
RHP Rafael Soriano
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
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.
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.