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A few big names have left, the payroll has been drastically reduced, but this is still a very, very strong club.

1.  There's been a lot of player movement over the winter for the Rays - who is in and out?
It's quite the list:
Out:  Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, Joaquin Benoit, Lance Cormier, Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler, Randy Choate, Willy Aybar, Dioner Navarro, Rocco Baldelli, Chad Qualls.
In: Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Kyle Farnsworth, J.P Howell, Joel Peralta, Brandon Gomes, Adam Russell, Cesar Ramos, Cole, Figueroa, Chris Archer, Hak-Ju Lee, Robinson Chirinos, Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer, Dirk Hayhurst, Casey Kotchman, Joe Inglett, Felipe Lopez.

2. The story all winter has been the payroll - where did it end up?
At around $43 million and thats down from  $72 million in 2010.   All last years big earners, Crawford, Pena, Burrell and Soriano, have left and they only spent $12.5 million to bring in Manny, Damon, Farnsworth and Joel Peralta and re-sign J.P Howell, which is a pretty good haul.  The highest paid players this season are Damon, Upton,  Zobrist and Shields and they're the only guys making over $3 million.  To put that in some perspective, the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles all have middle relievers who'd be the highest player on the Rays.

3. How big a loss is Carl Crawford?
If you've been following the AL East for the last few years you don't need to be told how great a player Crawford is or what he brings to the table.  Over the last three years he's fourth in the AL in fWAR (with 15) behind only Longoria, Mauer and Youkillis.  It's a double whammy of course, because he's taken his skills to the place where he can hurt the Rays the most - the presumptive favourite for their division.  He'll be replaced by the 37 year old Johnny Damon who struggled to a .756 OPS last year.  That's a big step down.

4. How big a gain is Manny Ramirez?
For $2 million, I can't see this as anything other than a major bargain.  Manny could easily be the Rays second best hitter (by rate stats) behind Longoria - Marcel for instance projects him with a .283/.385/.478 slash line.  His big home run days are obviously long gone, but he can still post an elite level OBP and he seems to be dialed-in - he's apparently been blowing away Joe Maddon and the Rays coaches all spring with his professionalism and work ethic.  This might have been the best value signing of the winter.  The improvement Manny should bring to the DH spot - which was a problem all last year for the Rays - will go a good way towards off-setting the loss of Crawford.

5.  Who's going to be hitting every day?
Joe Maddon is always capable of the unexpected, but this seems to be the most likely setup out of the gate:

vs RHP
C.   Jaso
1B. Johnson
2B. Zobrist
3B. Longoria
SS. Brignac
LF. Damon
CF. Upton
LF. Joyce
DH. Manny

vs LHP
C.   Shoppach
1B. Johnson
2B. Rodriguez
3B. Longoria
SS. Brignac
LF. Damon
CF. Upton
RF. Zobrist
DH. Manny

The catchers will platoon, and Zobrist's positional flexibility will allow Rodriguez and Joyce to platoon between second and right-field.  The batting order still seems to be a little bit up in the air, the big issue being whether to put Manny in front of or behind Longoria.  This line-up is short of star power, only Longoria is going to be a league leader offensively, but they should be average to above-average everywhere.

6. Wasn't  this supposed to be the year of Desmond Jennings?
Jennings was sent down to AAA a few days ago. He's long being seen as the replacement for Carl Crawford.  I don't think anything much has changed here, Jennings is still very much at the front of the Rays' plans for left-field in the long term, this is just another example of Friedman and his minor league team being ultra cautious with bringing their prospects up.   Jennings is still only 24, and a few extra months in AAA should help his development as he will be guaranteed to play every day.  I wouldn't be at all surprised if he is in Tampa for good before the end of this season.

7. Is the rotation still good with Garza gone?
This is still the real strength of the club. Price, Shields, Davis, Neimann and Hellickson is a very solid group.  Price flattered to deceive a little last year, his peripherals don't quite back up his 2.72 ERA and 145 ERA+. James Shields on the other hand seems to have had atrocious luck, his K/BB was actually better than in 2009, though his ERA was a full run higher, I think he'll bounce back and have another strong year.  Jeremy Hellickson definitely looks ready, he has dominated everywhere he has been in the minors and showed the same kind of strengths in a limited role in Tampa last year.  He could well have a big season.

8. Almost all of last year's bullpen has left - what have they been replaced with?
Jeff Blair on his radio show this week claimed he is thinking of picking the Rays to finish below the Jays - mainly because of their bullpen.  This is driven I guess by a few things - the lack of a big name closer, the presence of Kyle Farnsworth in a high profile role and the phrase 'closer by committee' being thrown around.  Farnsworth and Jake McGee ( a former top twenty prospect) will get the bulk of the high profile opportunities in the 8th and 9th Innings, followed by Juan Cruz and Adam Russell in the earlier Innings, Joel Peralta will likely come in as a righty specialist for an out or two , and Cesar Ramos from the other side as the LOOGY.  Andy Sonnanstine will do the long relief and be available for spot starts.  That's not a particularly impressive group on paper, let's be honest.  But, there's guys there who have had some success and J.P Howell, who was terrific in 2008 and 2009, should be back early in May.   Howell, McGee and Farnsworth could well turn into a perfectably serviceable trio at the back of the bullpen, but it's no sure thing.  My hunch is they'll be ok, but if anything does go wrong for the Rays this year it's likely to be in the pen.  It's going to be very interesting to see how Maddon handles the assignments and to see how Friedman reacts if they do struggle in the first couple of months.

9.  Who's a likely breakout player?
Don't sleep on Matt Joyce.  His name's been around for a couple of years now, as he's been waiting for an opportunity.  He got 216 at-bats last year and hit 10 homers with a .477 SLG.  He's not a perfect hitter by any means, he doesn't seem to be able to hit lefties at all, but he can absolutely rake against righties - he had a .910 OPS against right handed pitching last year.  His opportunity should come this year, he's slated to be the starting right-fielder against righties (and reverse-split lefties) and that could net him something north of 400 plate appearances and could easily result in 25 dingers and a reputation by the end of the year as a legitimate big league power threat.  Maddon has stressed that he eventually sees Joyce as an everyday player, but that he'll be eased in gradually against southpaws.
Another name who is generating a lot of buzz at Spring Training is Robinson Chirinos, the young catcher who came over from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade.  Jonah Keri has gone so far as to predict that he could be the starting catcher in 2012.

10.  What is this Danks theory thing?
Jonah Keri has been promoting his new book about the Rays recenty* and this is one of stories he likes to tell.  Joe Maddon last year started going against conventional wisdom and starting same-handed batters against pitchers with reverse platoon splits and dominant change-ups - the theory was first tried against John Danks, but also saw great success against Shawn Marcum.  Keri likes to tell the story to illustrate two things, firstly that Maddon is quite willing to experiment and secondly that the idea came from Erik Neander (the teams R&D Manager), who was able to go straight to Maddon with it, showing how open the communication lines are within the club.  It's a good story, but I prefer the one he tells about Friedman going off with one of his assistants and playing an RBI Baseball marathon whilst the 2007 draft was going on, he uses this one to demonstrate how much Friedman delegates to and trusts the guys who work for him - the draft was left entirely in the hands of the scouting department.

* I haven't read it, but it's got some very good reviews.

11. How will they do ?
Within a couple of games either way of 90 wins and probably neck and neck with the Yankees.
11 Questions for the 2011 Rays | 9 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
johnny was - Saturday, March 26 2011 @ 09:12 PM EDT (#231722) #
Green Party by a landslide.  What, are people talking baseball already?
Mick Doherty - Saturday, March 26 2011 @ 09:36 PM EDT (#231723) #
Great review. My Yankee preview on Tuesday morning will disagree with your conclusion quite strongly, but wait and see and rip me then if you want! P.S. ....

... the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles all have middle relievers who'd be the highest player on the Rays.

Alert the media,! We have a scoop on what goes on, illegally, in AL East bullpens! Or did you mean "highest-paid"??


ayjackson - Saturday, March 26 2011 @ 10:58 PM EDT (#231725) #
The Jays have four relievers making north of $3m too - surely one has to be considered middle relief?  (Francisco, Dotel, Rauch, Frasor)
joeblow - Sunday, March 27 2011 @ 11:53 AM EDT (#231728) #
Rays will win 76 and Jays will be better. Teams with such a low payroll playing above .500 is an outlier.
Mike Green - Sunday, March 27 2011 @ 12:10 PM EDT (#231729) #
I haven't been following the Rays' situation this spring. Who are the #6 and #7 starters in the event that one or two of the starters goes down? Sonnanstine would presumably move to the rotation from the pen, but after that? The Rays have, however, done a superb job in building depth on a budget outside the rotation.

It is quite possible though that Price and Hellickson are the top two pitchers in the league when October 1 rolls around, if they are both healthy. That is a big if.

Nice summary, Gwyn.
Chuck - Sunday, March 27 2011 @ 12:39 PM EDT (#231730) #
I am a big fan of this team and the brains behind it, but my gut tells me that they might be trying to stretch their young talent a little too far and that this cheapo payroll may not get the job done. I wish I had more confidence in what Damon and Ramirez were bringing to the table.
Gwyn - Sunday, March 27 2011 @ 01:32 PM EDT (#231732) #
Mike - Alexander Torres, Alex Cobb, Richard De Los Santos and Jeremy Hall are all in the Durham rotation, presumably one of them would be next in line - I have no idea which one though.
uglyone - Sunday, March 27 2011 @ 04:58 PM EDT (#231735) #
IF E.Johnson (27): 19ab
RP J.McGee (24): 5.0ip
RP C.Ramos (26): 23.0ip
SP J.Hellickson (24): 36.1ip
OF S.Fuld (29): 131ab
C J.Jaso (27): 349ab
SS R.Brignac (25): 401ab
RP A.Russel (28): 54.0ip
RF M.Joyce (26): 490ab
2B S.Rodriguez (26): 535ab
1B D.Johnson (31): 1214ab (137ab last 3yrs)

that's a whole lotta inexperience on that roster, and aside from the two good pitching prospects Hellickson and McGee, those inexperienced players aren't that young, and aren't that good. the bulk of them could arguably be called AAAA guys or evem career minor leaguers.
greenfrog - Sunday, March 27 2011 @ 07:38 PM EDT (#231739) #
Looks like the Rays are building a pipeline (in the form of a heavily subsidized 29-acre baseball academy) into the Brazilian market:
11 Questions for the 2011 Rays | 9 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.