2011 MLB Team Preview: Tampa Bay Rays 2011 MLB Team Preview: Tampa Bay Rays 2011 MLB Team Preview: Tampa Bay Rays
 

2011 MLB Team Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays finished last season with 96-66 record, the top in the AL and were the AL East champs for the second time in the last three seasons.

Heading into the off-season, as expected this homegrown, dynamic group was going to take a hit.

Rays fans are complaining, but they shoulder a lot of the blame for the team’s $40-$45 million dollar payroll. The Rays were awesome the last three seasons, but no one came to watch. Yes, they play in a dumpy dome known as Tropicana Field, but for only 12,000+ fans to show up on the night the Rays clinched the AL East is sad.

Winning normally fills ballparks, which means more revenue for a team to invest in good players.

No Rays fans can criticize that the 2011 season is already over because the door was open for three seasons to give their stars a reason not to want to leave.

The Positives:

The Rays still have 3B Evan Longoria, who is arguably the best in baseball. Longoria was named Rookie Of The Year in 2008; he has also won two Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger all before turning his current age of 25. Longoria is only going to get better.

Voted second behind King Felix in the 2010 CY Young ballot, the Rays still have their staff ace David Price. He finished 19-6, with an ERA of 2.72, with 188 strikeouts and only giving up 15 home-runs pitching just shy of 205 innings.

Price is the leader of a still very viable starting rotation.  Trading Matt Garza for a slew of prospects was a move that the Rays could afford with the emergence of ace prospect Jeremy Hellickson, who scouts say will dominate in his first full season, at the bottom of the order. In between sits Wade Davis, James Shields and Jeff Niemann, which is still a solid group.

Skipper Joe Maddon is an oddball, but he has molded so many youngsters into superstars that it overrides anything else. For two seasons straight, not one Rays starting pitcher went on the DL for an arm issue and that is all due to Maddon.

The Rays signed old teammates Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, which give them a needed veteran presence. Nothing calls for incentive more for these two than sticking it to both the Red Sox and Yankees. This was a great move by the Rays front office, as it gives the youngsters something to get excited about.

The Negatives:

Where should I begin?

The Rays already have no fan-base, no money and have to call the Trop home. Oh wait that was last season.

Other than losing Crawford, Soriano, Garza, Pena, Bartlett and many others the Rays biggest problem will be they have no bullpen.

What was once the team’s lethal weapon is now the biggest weakness.

In 2010 Joaquin Benoit and Rafael Soriano, who both had ERA’s below 2.00, led the Rays middlemen and the team finished with 51 saves. It was easily in the top three best in all of baseball.

Soriano, Benoit, Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler are all gone, and the Rays are left with the worst hole to fill for a team. In baseball, having a good bullpen to call on is essential to a team’s success.

Handing the ball in the ninth to veteran Joel Peralta, a 35-year-old with fewer career saves than Soriano had in just 2010, is just not going to cut it.

The Rays will be reminded of how vital Soriano was, as he signed with the Yankees to be Mariano Rivera’s set-up man. This gives a good indication of how bad this bullpen will be in 2011.

Than there is the sure bet that Manny will be Manny, as when has a season gone by when Ramirez hasn’t pulled some crap. To predict what Manny is capable of is impossible because it is usually ridiculous and can be quite distracting. Whether Manny will care to give the Rays a solid DH for the whole season is not certain.

Manny only played in 90 games last season, with nine home runs and 42 RBIs as part of the Dodgers and White Sox organizations. He will have a lot more at-bats with the Rays and this team really needs him to produce.

Even with Damon being a solid clubhouse guy, he will have to play in the outfield. Damon is not physically close to making up for Carl Crawford, both on the field and on the bases. In 2010, Damon played in 145 games posting his lowest numbers with eight home runs, 51 RBIs and 11 steals. There is no doubt Damon is on the decline and injuries could sideline him again.

Finally, if the Rays didn’t attract fans in 2008-2010 there is no way anyone will be driving to the Trop in 2011.

Players To Watch:

LF BJ Upton has so much natural baseball talent it is unnerving. Which is why it is nauseating to watch this kid take it for granted. Upton’s attitude and laziness finally pissed off his teammates to the point of publicly calling him out in the dugout. Upton is 26-years-old and could have been an All-Star multiple times if he would build on his talents instead of his arrogance. Even if Upton didn’t grow-up during the off-season, the Rays can get Manny and Damon to give him a good kick in the ass because the potential here is beyond enormous. If Upton wants to stay a Ray, he better dazzle in the first half of 2011 or else he will be traded away.

2011 AL East Prediction:

Sadly, the Tampa Bay Rays biggest fight will be against the O’s and the Jays.

Is it realistic or even possible that Maddon could figure out a way to make the Rays a playoff competitive team in 2011? Maybe.

Problem is that the AL East is where 100 wins can leave you in third place, and that is right where the Rays should land in 2011.




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