Team Ace: David Price
Most Valuable Position Player: Evan Longoria
Breakout Candidate: Matt Moore
Notable Offseason Additions: Wil Myres, Yunel Escobar, James Loney
Notable Offseason Losses: B.J. Upton, James Shields
Biggest Team Weakness: James Loney
How can a team lose two staples during the offseason and spend little money to acquire free agents to replace them, yet still crack the top ten in the rankings? By having the best front office and manager in the majors. If the Rays let a player walk or made a trade, it’s for good reason. Every season they sign players from the second and third tier of free agency to fill their presumed holes, and Joe Madden knows exactly how to get the best out of them. That’s why even though I think James Loney will be a huge liability as their every day first baseman, I wouldn’t be shocked if he turned his career around in Tampa. Besides, it would be hard to perform under Carlos Pena’s .197 average from last season. Trading Shields is defensible because the Rays’ pitching staff is extremely deep and Desmond Jennings has been a disappointment in center field, opening the door for Wil Myers to play sometime in the summer and add a spark to their offense. Myers will ultimately be B.J. Upton’s successor, and has the potential to be a lot more.
There has been a trend, however. The level of Rays’ success directly correlates with the health of their third baseman. If Evan Longoria plays more than 120 games at third, they’ll make the playoffs. If he doesn’t, their lineup will suffer and they’ll find themselves at the bottom of the division. Even when Longoria isn’t playing his best ball he seems to add a level of confidence to the rest of his teammates, and is the most clutch hitter of recent memory. Their second best player, Ben Zobrist, is a good hitter and versatile fielder but he can’t single handedly carry his team Longoria’s absence.
David Price won the Cy Young in 2012. There’s not much more to add to that statement except that closer Fernando Rodney was equally deserving of the award for his .60 ERA and 45 save season. Matt Moore started a little sluggishly but got his pitches working for him in the summer.
I know that on paper they shouldn’t be this good, but you could say that about any of Tampa’s previous 5 seasons. That’s why Joe Madden is the most valuable person in baseball, and he’s the reason this team will be extremely competitive again this year.