30 Clubs in 30 Days: Tampa Bay Rays

Posted: February 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

Image2012 was a marginally successful year for the Tampa Bay Rays. For the fourth time in five seasons, the 1998 expansion franchise won 90+ games. Unfortunately for the seventeen Rays fans in existence, their 90-72 finish was only good for third place in the competitive AL East. Manager Joe Maddon has established himself as one of the premier skippers in baseball, leading the small-budget Rays to postseason berths in 2008, 2010, and 2011. This offseason was one of great change for his team. Gone is ace RHP James Shields, traded to Kansas City for a haul of prospects including the #4 youngster in the nation, OF Wil Myers (.314-37-109 between AA/AAA). Also departed is erratic CF BJ Upton, who joins his brother in Atlanta after signing a monster deal with the Braves in December.

The Rays begin anew in 2013 with a lineup filled with promise and platoons. It is expected that DH Luke Scott, 2B Kelly Johnson, and 1B James Loney will play their respective positions against RHP. Against southpaws, DH/1B Shelley Duncan, 2B Sean Rodriguez, and IF/OF Ryan Roberts will fill in accordingly. All of these players have had their moments during their respective careers. But, platoons rarely last a whole season. Expect whomever performs the best to take over full time.

The top performers in their lineup remains RF Ben Zobrist (.270-20-74) and 3B Evan Longoria (.289-17-55). The latter missed half of 2012 with injuries. Getting 150+ games out of Longoria would give the Rays a fighting chance in the AL East.

Even with the loss of Shields, the Rays’ rotation is still strong. David Price (20-5, 2.56) and Jeremy Hellickson (10-11, 3.10) have established themselves as two of the finest young arms in the business. Promising LHP Matt Moore (11-11, 3.81) and a hoard of young hurlers will bring up the rear of a very deep and potentially dominant rotation. In the bullpen, Fernando Rodney returns and will look to build off his career year in 2012 (2-2, 0.60, 48 Sv).

Five Year Review:
2012: 90-72
2011: 91-71
Lost ALDS to Texas, 3-1
2010: 96-66
Lost ALDS to Texas, 3-2
2009: 84-78
2008: 97-65
Lost World Series to Phillies, 4-1

2012 Team MVP: LHP David Price: An argument can be made for Rodney, whose Brad Lidge’esque performance helped nearly send the Rays to the postseason. But, when a player wins an award like the AL Cy Young, they kind of cemented their status as best player on the team. Price, 27, has been steadily improving ever since the former #1 pick made his debut in 2008. It all came together in 2012 for the Vanderbilt product. His 20 victories led the league, as did his paltry 2.56 ERA and .800 winning percentage. After finishing second in the voting for the award in 2010, when he went 19.6, 2.72, Price narrowly edged defending Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, 153-149 in voting. Price’s best performance of the season? A complete game, seven-hit victory against Boston on September 25th in which the southpaw struck out 12 without surrendering a walk.

2012 Team LVP: 1B Carlos Pena: The Rays did not have many candidates for this award. But, it is pretty obvious that Pena was their worst player in 2012. A former 40+ home run talent, Pena has devolved into a walking, talking strikeout machine. In 2007, during his first stint with Tampa Bay, the former Tiger broke out with a statistical anomaly season (.282-46-121). He managed to knock in 100+ runs every season between 07-09. However, his batting average continued to decline from .282, to .247, to .227. In 2010, Pena completely forgot how to hit a baseball. His average dropped below the Mendoza-line at .196 despite 28 home runs and 84 RBI. That offseason, Pena signed with the Chicago Cubs, hoping that a move from the pitching rich AL East to the pitching challenged NL Central would improve his stock. It did, slightly. Pena hit .225-28-80 with Chicago and Tampa Bay gave him another shot last season.

Unfortunately for the Rays, Pena showed that hitting in the AL East was, in fact, a problem for him. His average sank all the way to an absolutely abysmal .197. Yes, he did clout 19 HR and 61 RBI. But, he also played a career high 160 games. That is a whole lot of failure for $7.25 million. It is not as if he was clutch either, as evidenced by Pena’s .151-3-35 line with RISP and .138-1-13 line with 2-outs and RISP. Pena signed with the Astros in the offseason. In other words, this is his last shot to prove that he belongs in the major.

Key Acquisitions:

1B James Loney (Boston)
2B Kelly Johnson (Toronto)
SS Yunel Escobar (Toronto/Miami)
1B/OF Shelley Duncan (Cleveland)
OF Wil Myers (Kansas City)
RHP Jake Odorizzi (Kansas City)

Key Departures:
1B Carlos Pena (Houston)
IF Jeff Keppinger (Chicago White Sox)
OF Ben Francisco (Cleveland)
OF BJ Upton (Atlanta)
RHP James Shields (Kansas City)
LHP JP Howell (Los Angeles Dodgers)

Projected Lineup/Rotation (w/composite 2013 projections):

CF Desmond Jennings (.248-13-52)
SS Yunel Escobar (.263-8-50)
RF Ben Zobrist (.264-18-82)
3B Evan Longoria (.271-28-96)
LF Matt Joyce (.248-18-68)
DH Luke Scott (.242-13-44)
2B Kelly Johnson (.231-11-39)
1B James Loney (.271-6-40)
C Jose Molina (.230-6-27)

OF Wil Myers (.249-12-41)
DH Ryan Roberts (.234-6-24)
IF Sean Rodriguez (.230-5-23)

LHP David Price (15-9, 3.12)
RHP Jeremy Hellickson (12-10, 3.88)
LHP Matt Moore (11-9, 3.83)
RHP Jeff Niemann (9-8, 4.11)
RHP Alex Cobb (9-8, 3.96)

2013 Outlook:

The Rays have not had a losing season since 2007, a year before their magical run to the World Series. However, they have also never had an offense as mediocre looking as this years iteration. There are question marks everywhere. Even Longoria and Zobrist are less-than sure things because of their injury histories. I like the Loney pickup as anyone is better than Pena at the plate. But, the Escobar move brings in an under-performing hot-head to replace their old version of that criteria in BJ Upton. The Rays have been waiting on Desmond Jennings to break out for a few years now. We’ll see if he can finally do that now that Upton is gone.

Their pitching staff should keep them in most games. I love the rotation. But, I love it more for 2014 than I do for this season. I’d wager that the Rays will be looking to deal one-or-two of their SP during the season in order to boost their offense. They have so much depth at the high-minor league level that they could afford to let a Niemann or Cobb go and replace them with one or more of Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome, Chris Archer, Alex Torres, or Enny Romero. Like I said, I love Tampa’s pitching staff but am not too fond of their lineup. Pitching wins games, though, so, I have Tampa penciled in for between 80-86 wins. Good enough to call it a successful season for the small-market franchise. But, not nearly good enough to make the postseason in a daunting division.


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