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Springtime Storylines: Did the Rays lose too many guys?

Mar 23, 2011, 8:30 AM EDT

Johnny Damon, Many Ramirez

Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season. Next up: A team that always has to try 2% harder, the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Big Question: Did the Rays lose too many guys?

It’s hard to say otherwise, isn’t it?  Gone are Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, Rafael Soriano, Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit and Jason Bartlett. It was a pretty mass exodus.

That said, not all of those departures are critical. A couple of those guys — Pena and Bartlett — didn’t contribute a whole heck of a lot in 2010, and their replacements — Dan Johnson and Reid Brignac — don’t represent a ton of falloff.  Likewise, I’m of the mind that Jeremy Hellickson will be an improvement over a somewhat overrated Matt Garza.

But losing Carl Crawford will be a toughie. To say Johnny Damon is a step down from Crawford defensively is criminal understatement. There is no escaping the fact that losing a player the caliber of Crawford — to a division rival no less — could be a mortal wound.

And actually, the defections from the bullpen seem to be the most critical loss for the reigning AL East champs. Kyle FarnsworthJake McGee, and Adam Russell all have their charms, but to suggest that the bullpen will be anything other than a profound weakness seems like unwarranted optimism to me. I know Rafael Soriano. I watched Rafael Soriano pitch. You, Mr. Farnsworth, are no Rafael Soriano.

So what else is going on?

  • While the bullpen seems like a nightmare, you have to like the rotation. Neither David Price, James Shields nor Jeff Niemann are dominant pitchers, necessarily, but all are workhorses, with Price an ace.  I think Shields will bounce back from a rough 2010 and while Wade Davis was a bit sketchy at times last season, he was a better pitcher in the second half, and that bodes well.  Hellickson may be the key to the group, though. One expects rookie pitchers to struggle, but I just have a feeling that he’ll bring more to the table than your typical rookie pitcher.
  • Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon are the big imports this year. I’m somewhat optimistic regarding both of those guys. Ramirez was hampered by injuries in 2010, but when he played he was still effective, even if his power was down.  He has seemed energized this spring and has something to prove back in the AL East so I expect good things from him, even if it’s not as good as vintage Manny.  Likewise Damon’s falloff in Detroit was not as sharp as it may have seemed. He went from a lefty hitter’s haven in Yankees Stadium in 2009 to a tough park for him in 2010 which killed his power numbers, but he should provide some decent production. At least on offense.
  • I predict a B.J. Upton breakout every year. I’ve yet to have my predictions vindicated.  I shall nonetheless, once again, predict a B.J. Uption breakout year.  Please feel free to remind me of my folly come October. Thanks.
  • While the Rays are going through a ton of changes this year, the fact that Joe Maddon is in charge may mitigate some of the disruption.  He’s a smart guy who is not married to any one strategy and, because of that, will be far more willing to make changes on the fly if and when the best laid plans of the winter go astray.

So how are they going to do?

Not well enough. Ultimately there are just too many holes to fill. For the Rays to make noise, every uncertainty — of which there are a lot — will have to break in their favor.  Manny and Johnny need to flash something akin to their production of old. Three of their starters will have to show improvement from last year, one — Price — will have to more or less maintain his production, and a rookie starter will have to excel in the AL East.  Finally, a bullpen of misfits will have to coalesce into something grand.  That’s a tall, tall order.

I think they’ll be respectable and, if the Yankees suffer some sort of disaster, they can compete for the wild card.  But I think the long haul of the season will be too much for them and I predict a third place finish.

  1. Mark - Mar 23, 2011 at 8:40 AM

    The bullpen was going to regress no matter what. Benoit isn’t a 2.00 ERA guy. Both him and Soriano stayed pretty healthy the entire season. The odds of that happening again isn’t likely. It’ll be worse, but mostly because every guy had a career year last year.

    The Rays had one of the worst DH’s in the league (713 OPS), so if Manny is productive that’s huge for them. Crawford’s a loss, but coming off a career year he was gonna be a little less productive anyways.

    I still think they’re one of the 4 best teams in the AL. Getting a full season out of Matt Joyce (910 OPS vs RHP) and Brignac should help them make up for most of their losses. There’s just so much upside on this team.

  2. yankeesfanlen - Mar 23, 2011 at 8:45 AM

    Nothing like having ol’ Kyle hang on to a 7-2 lead and turn it into a 10-7 loss.

    • Rosenthals Speling Instrukter - Mar 23, 2011 at 8:55 AM

      Rumors say Joba can take the 7-2 lead and turn it into extra innings. Not the same but he is working on it, give it time.

  3. proudlycanadian - Mar 23, 2011 at 8:46 AM

    Hellickson has been held back by injuries this spring; however, I was very impressed by his last start. I think that he has the potential to become an ace.

  4. BC - Mar 23, 2011 at 8:59 AM

    A question to start off. David Price isn’t dominant???!?! You’re kidding, right?
    I think you’re spot-on otherwise. Their starting pitching will survive, they have some young depth to draw on. Losing Crawford is big, and losing Pena (yeah, I know he hit like .198, but he’s a power bat who’s always a HR threat, and he’s a heck of a fielder) hurts as well. And their bullpen stands to be a disaster. I’m thinking right around .500 for these guys, maybe 82-80 or something like that.

    • florida76 - Mar 23, 2011 at 11:48 AM

      3rd place without a doubt, the Rays main competition will be the O’s and Jays. You simply don’t replace one of the game’s elite players with two washed up players, and Manny will lose interest once the Rays quickly fall from contention.

      Smaller market teams usually have about a three year window, and last year was it for Tampa. This season will also see a big decline in attendance, which will force another cut in payroll moving forward. Without a new stadium soon, the Rays have no hope, and the club can wiggle out of that Tropicana lease by the end of this decade.

      • indaburg - Mar 23, 2011 at 3:50 PM

        Losing Crawford was not a catastrophe. Losing the dominant bullpen is. The Rays were awful offensively with Crawford in the lineup. We’ll miss his arm in left field but we’ll miss the arms warming up in the right field bullpen way more.

  5. spudchukar - Mar 23, 2011 at 11:58 AM

    The Rays know what they are doing. Hellickson will replace Garza without a hiccup. Only Pena’s defense will be missed. Both Brignac and Rodriguez are emerging stars and upgrades defensively. Look for Zobrist to rebound, somewhere between 2009 and 2010 levels and Longoria should also improve. A healthy Shoppach platoons nicely with Jaso either of which would be starting for the Yanks or Sox. The upgrade at DH and 1B will offset Crawford’s bat. They will miss his speed. The bullpen is the only real question mark. If the Spring is any indication they may well have rectified the fall off. I am no Farnsworth supporter but Peralta et al may solidify pen. The Rays will, as has been the case past three years, be fighting for the top spot.

    • spudchukar - Mar 23, 2011 at 11:59 AM

      should read: “may solidify THE pen.

    • florida76 - Mar 23, 2011 at 6:05 PM

      Actually, the Rays did not contend for division title in 2009, they only finished several games over .500 that year. In fact, they finished 11 games out of the wildcard spot that year, it was quite a fall from the miracle year of 2008.

    • spudchukar - Mar 23, 2011 at 6:24 PM

      On August 1st they were 5 games out. In my book anytime you are 5 back with two months to go, you are in the hunt.

  6. Old Gator - Mar 23, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    I have a feeling that when the dust settles in October, the Razed will be looking up at the Feather Lice. Eventually, the heat, the humidity, the occasional cholera outbreak and, most of all, the strain of having to look at the Tropicana Wart every morning on the way in from the parking lot will take its toll. This bullpen looks to me a lot like the Feesh boolpen last spring. And the spectacle of runners going from first to third on bloop singles while Johnny Damon windmills his throwing arm to get up the velocity to propel the ball to the cutoff man – who will be about ten or twelve feet away – should be de rigeur in the sea of plastic grass. This will be a good summer to plan on leaving day games in the sixth inning and strolling over to the Salvador Dali Museum for some real entertainment.

    • spudchukar - Mar 23, 2011 at 1:02 PM

      Just visited the surreal shrine of the Muses. Something odd about it located in “Wrinkle City”.

    • indaburg - Mar 23, 2011 at 3:57 PM

      Really, Gator? You don’t like the Trop? I couldn’t tell since you never miss a chance to write something negative about it. We get it. It’s a dump. Got the memo. Normally I like your esoteric posts but seriously, leave the Trop alone. I feel the same way about it as I did as a kid in Shea. Yeah, it’s dump, but it is our dump, so back off already.

      • Old Gator - Mar 23, 2011 at 10:36 PM

        Ah, but there is a difference. Shea had sunshine and fresh air and you could sit in it and be outside with summertime. Sure, you had the occasional Black Sunday moment when it looked like one of those 727s or Eastern Shuttle Super Connies was going to plough into the scoreboard but other than that, you could still have a fun day at the park. I sure did.

        On the other hand, instead of graceful Constellations and three-holers cutting majestically through a blue sky, you’ve got that predator drone with glandular problems that sounds like an old Remington battery powered razor – you know, the ones that yanked each bit of stubble out of your face instead of slicing it off – bungling around in the rafters, and the sunniest, sultriest tropical afternoon still feels like you’ve locked yourself in the broom closet what with that Chernobyl sarcophagus of a tilted scab of a roof repelling the sunshine like it thought it was doing your latent melanoma a big favor.

        Look, don’t get me wrong – in several of the last few years the Razed have been a comfort to me, as a heartnsoul Floridian, when my Feesh have gone pectorals up like the late midseason had brought in a Pfiesteria infestation into Biscayne Bay with its usual depressing regularity. But that concrete Cahokia of a stadium, man, that’d be an eyesore on a cyclops.

      • qb211 - Mar 30, 2011 at 1:11 PM

        Old Gaytor sounds like a Dennis Miller wannabe clone. Seriously guy…’s his act, get a life of your own. Jack off

  7. florida727 - Mar 30, 2011 at 4:35 PM

    Going to The Masters next week. Just hope the Rays are still in the pennant race when I get back.

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