Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Joe Maddon’

Tampa Bay Rays Opening Day Primer

2011 Record: 91-71 Manager: Joe Maddon

The scrappiest team in baseball, the Rays are a tough matchup because of their talent, but also their overall tenacity. That comes from Maddon, who might be the best manager in baseball. Their starting rotation might be the best in baseball and they have a solid, if not spectacular lineup. There is good reason for the high expectations on the Gulf Coast.

Player in the spotlight: Evan Longoria 3B

Longoria got off to a slow start last year, partially due to injuries, but he ended the season strong and went over 30 HRs again. He’s the everyday face of the franchise and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be a MVP candidate again.

Biggest question mark in the lineup: BJ Upton CF

Upton annually teases the Rays and fans alike with his immense talent. Especially since younger brother Justin’s performance in Arizona has been so impressive. But Upton probably enters his last season with the Rays as he will become a free agent at the end of the season. If he is able to finally put it all together with a big contract as motivation, the Rays lineup suddenly becomes deep with high quality hitters and they could top triple digit wins.

Pitcher in the spotlight: David Price

The big, hard throwing lefty is an annual Cy Young candidate and after a slightly disappointing 2011, Price should be really good this year. If he can keep his ERA back under 3.00, Price should win 20 games for the first time in his career.

Biggest pitching question mark: Kyle Farnsworth   Closer

Part of this concern is due to Farnsworth starting the season on the DL. But expecting consecutive stellar seasons at 36, including a season starting trip to the DL, might be too much. Expect to see one of the other solid bullpen arms like Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta to get some looks at the closer role. Maddon might decide to go with a committee for the first half of the season before they settle on one option for the ninth inning.

Prospect with a chance to make an impact this year: Alex Torres SP

Torres is a major league ready, high quality 24 year old lefty starter. Only the Rays can keep a talent like this in AAA due to the incredible starting pitching depth. Look for Torres to be the trade bait to either upgrade the lineup or to get a closer.

Prediction: 2nd in AL East and wildcard

The Rays are primed to give the Yankees all they can handle in the AL East. This could be a great two-team battle for first that goes down to the final week. The division title means more now with the added wildcard team setting up that one game playoff so teams are much better off getting in as a division winner. The Rays should win at least 95 games and could possibly win triple digits for the first time in club history. As long as they can find a solution for closing out ballgames, the Rays could become the favorites to win the AL.

MLB Daily Balk 5/13 plus Jimmy Rollins Phillies Future

J-Roll could be gone from Philly next year

Jimmy Rollins‘ Future with the Phillies

Jimmy Rollins‘ 5-year/$40M contract that included an $8.5M option for 2011 is going to expire after this season. Rollins won the 2007 NL MVP and helped the Phillies win the 2008 World Series. In his first 7 seasons, Rollins was incredibly durable as he played in at least 154 games each year for the Phils. But Rollins only played in 137 games in 2008 and was limited to 88 games last season. While most players get injured at some point in their career, Rollins’ age could play a role in his potential return to the Phillies after this season.

There appears to be three issues that should play a role in the Phillies decision with whether to bring back their unofficial captain.

The first issue is how much money Rollins is going to expect to receive and how many years he will want on his contract. Rollins enters a shortstop market that will include a 28-year old Jose Reyes as the premier player at the position. While Reyes will probably command a 5 or 6 year contract approaching $100 million, Rollins can’t realistically expect anything more than 3 or 4 years. He currently makes $8.5M and might be able to convince a loser in the Reyes sweepstakes to pay him $10-$12M annually for 4 years. Would the Phillies be willing to go to those levels?

The Phillies are tied up with contracts for fellow 30+ infielders Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Placido Polanco. They can’t realistically expect this infield to be together in another 2 to 3 years, if not sooner. The Yankees have let their core players get rich and old together and they are dealing with age related injuries and drops in production. The Phillies have to be apprehensive about duplicating that model.

Overall, the Phillies have six players under contract for at least $9.5M for 2012 and that becomes seven if Roy Oswalt returns. Cliff Lee’s annual payout increases from $11M this season to $21.5M next year. The good news is that Raul Ibanez’ $12M and Brad Lidge’s $12M are coming off the books but Ryan Madson is a free agent as well and might become a higher priority to the Phillies than Rollins, especially if he continues to excel as the closer.

Realistically, the Phillies probably wouldn’t want to go more than 3 years and $27 to $30 million, giving Rollins up to $10M annually. If Rollins wants anything more than that, he’s probably going to have to look elsewhere.

The other two issues are age and his future production at the plate and in the field, which are intertwined. Rollins turns 33 in November and shortstops don’t typically retain their all star ability deep into their 30’s. Rollins hasn’t hit above .250 since hitting .277 in 2008. Rollins’ game is based on his elite speed and Gold Glove work in the field.

Rollins has led the NL in triples four times, but hasn’t gotten to double digits since 2007. What can anybody expect out of Rollins over the next 3 to 4 years? Whoever signs Rollins will most likely fail to receive commensurate production for his contract, especially as he moves into his mid-30’s.

The Phillies have light-hitting, great glove shortstop Freddy Galvis at AA Reading. He’s probably not going to be ready until at least 2013. That means the Phillies will need a shortstop for at least two more years. If the Phillies were to approach Rollins about an extension right now, would he be open to signing a two-year extension for around $20M? That would be the safest deal that the Phillies could make given their situation.

Rollins might have to change his position somewhere down the road. He’s got a rifle for an arm and wil always have good speed. Would he be able to move to center field? Shane Victorino’s contract runs through 2012 and Rollins could transition to center if Galvis’ hitting catches up to his glove and he makes the big club.

In the end, it’s probably going to come down to money and how much Rollins will be willing to leave on the table elsewhere if he’s going to be a Phillie in 2012. The Phillies chances of retaining Rollins will likely fall below 30% if they let his contract expire and give him a chance to explore the open market.  Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has appeared to have an unlimited bankroll when it comes to re-signing everybody but Jayson Werth. Will Rollins get the Werth treatment or do the Phils show him the same undying loyalty that Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have received?

 

Best of Yesterday May 12

Last Night’s Games  
American  
Tampa Bay 7 Cleveland 4
Seattle 1 Baltimore 2 F/12
Kansas City 11 New York 4
National  
St. Louis 9 Chicago 1
New York 9 Colorado 5
Arizona 2 San Francisco 3
Los Angeles PPD Pittsburgh
Washington 5 Atlanta 6

 

Top Aces    
Player Team Stats
Zach Britton BAL 9 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 5 K
Jason Vargas SEA 9 IP, 0 ER, 4 K, 7 H, BB
Jaime Garcia W (5-0) STL 7 IP, 1 ER, 4 K, BB
Matt Cain W (3-2) SFG 7 2/3 IP, 2 ER, 7 K, BB
James Shields W (4-1) TBD 7 IP, 2 ER, 7 K, BB

 

Hitting Heroes    
Player Team Stats
Carlos Beltran NYM 3-5, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 3 R
Martin Prado ATL 2-4, HR, 4 RBI, 2 R
Eric Hosmer KCR 3-5, HR, 2 RBI, R
Billy Butler KCR 4-6, 2 RBI, R
Jon Jay STL 3-6, 3 RBI, R

 

 

What Happened (!!)Yesterday?

Rays star Evan Longoria was drilled in the back by Justin Germano on Wednesday night and then hit again yesterday afternoon by Chad Durbin. The Rays didn’t retaliate against the Indians for either HBP. Longoria is the Rays best everyday player and old school managers like Joe Maddon typically mandate retaliation for hitting a team’s best player, but it didn’t happen. The Rays host the Indians later this month and something HAS to happen to one of the Indians better players. If not, that indicates a divide in the locker room between Longoria and the rest of his teammates.

Ubaldo Jimenez got hammered again for the Rockies and they have to be getting concerned about their ace. Since winning at Target Field on June 17 last season, Jimenez is 6-10 with a 4.80 ERA, including 6.67 this season over 25 total starts. He’s averaging fewer than 5 innings per start and those types of numbers lead to problems in Denver. The Rockies bullpen is usually very active and they need their ace to work effectively for more innings than he has.

 

AL News/Notes

It looks like the Royals will be without Bruce Chen for at least three weeks. Chen leads the club with 4 wins. Vin Mazzaro will remain in Chen’s rotation spot.

Leonys Martin made an impressive debut for the Rangers at Double A. The Cuban defector just signed on May 4 and might move quickly through the minors.

  

NL News/Notes

The Phillies had three regulars playing at single A Clearwater on Thursday. Chase Utley hit a homer, but Roy Oswalt struggled in 5 innings. Carlos Ruiz was pain free and will be activated for the weekend series with the Braves. The Phillies are unclear about Utley and Oswalt.

Zach Braddock looks to be closer to rejoining the Brewers after a dominating rehab appearance.

The Dodgers’ May payroll is still in limbo as MLB is still investigating the operations of the club.

 

Streaks of the Day

  • San Francisco Giants won their 6th straight game

 

Top Friday Matchups

7:05 EDT Red Sox (Buchholz 3-3, 4.19) at Yankees (Colon 2-1, 3.86) — MLB Network

7:10 EDT Cardinals (Lohse 4-2, 2.24) at Reds (Arroyo 3-3, 3.68)

7:35 EDT Phillies (Hamels 4-2, 2.83) at Braves (Beachy 1-1, 2.98)

8:05 EDT Angels (Weaver 6-2, 1.87) at Rangers (Ogando 3-0, 2.17)

10:05 EDT White Sox (Humber 2-3, 2.97) at Athletics (McCarthy 1-3, 3.26)

 

Yesterday’s Balks: 0

MLB Daily Balk Morning Rundown 4/24

CC finally won on Saturday

Best of Yesterday April 23

Ike Davis hit a homer for the third consecutive game and Dillon Gee has now made two pretty good starts for the Mets since filling in for the injured Chris Young. After Saturday’s 6 innings with 2 earned runs (2 unearned) which helped the Mets to a 6-4 win over the Diamondbacks, Gee’s ERA is at 2.31 and he’s 2-0.

Starlin Castro went 4 for 5 and raised his average to .393 in the Cubs 10-8 win over the Dodgers on Saturday afternoon. Castro has now scored 16 runs in 20 games this season.

Johnny Damon fought through his broken finger to hit a 2-run homer and drive in another run in the Rays 6-4 win over the Blue Jays. Damon might end up hitting cleanup for this team if his power production continues. He’s got 4 homers and 17 RBI in 17 games this season. Last year’s AL home run champion, Jose Bautista, hit two for the Jays in the loss.

Brian Duensing is turning into the Twins early season ace as they beat the Indians 10-3 behind his 7 inning effort in which he only gave up one run. Duensing’s record is 2-0 and he’s got a 3.00 ERA, but the Twins are now 4-0 when he pitches, and 4-12 when Duensing doesn’t pitch.

Brad Penny led the Tigers pitchers in shutting out the White Sox for 7 innings and only gave up one fairly controversial hit as the Tigers won 9-0 on Saturday afternoon. Once again, Sox manager Ozzie Guillen didn’t have any need for a closer.

The Braves got solid pitching from Tim Hudson and their hitters beat up on Tim Lincecum in their 5-2 win on Saturday afternoon. Hudson won his third game and Craig Kimbrel his second consecutive game in as many days against the Giants.

CC Sabathia earned his first win of the season as the Yankees blasted the Orioles 15-3 on Saturday night. Russell Martin hit two homers for the second time this season as he is at 6 overall. Every starter except for Nick Swisher got a hit for the Yankees.

Fifteen of the 16 everyday players in the Astros and Brewers game got a hit on Saturday night. Newly annointed $100 million man Ryan Braun hit his 7th homer, but the Astros won 9-6 in 10 innings.

Alexi Ogando continues to pitch well in his first month as a starting pitcher for the Rangers. He lowered his ERA to 2.13 and got his third win, beating the Royals 3-1. The only area of concern was the 114 pitches in only 6 innings. Too much like Nolan Ryan.

Padres manager Bud Black decided to walk Jimmy Rollins to get to Ryan Howard in the 11th. Well, the Phillies ended up winning 4-2 in 11 innings after Howard slugged a 2-run double off Cory Luebke.

Dice-K pitched another great game as he struck out 9 in 8 scoreless innings to win his 2nd game of the season on Saturday night for the Red Sox over the Angels 5-0.

Kevin Kouzmanoff and Cliff Pennington each homered and Trevor Cahill gave up 1 run in 6 innings to win as the Athletics beat the Mariners 9-1 on Saturday night. The M’s had shutout the A’s in the first two games of the series, but weren’t as good this time.

What Happened (!!)Yesterday?

The Cardinals David Freese threw the ball away on a groundout by the Reds Drew Stubbs in the 8th inning on Saturday. What followed was a strikeout for what should have been the third out of the inning. Instead, the inning continued and the Reds plated 3 unearned runs to win the game 5-3.

Brad Bergeson headlined a group of Orioles pitchers who gave up at least 3 runs each to the Yankees on Saturday night. Bergeson gave up 6 earned in 6 innings. They gave up 14 hits, 5 walks, and 5 homers to the Bronx Bombers.

Ervin Santana of the Angels suggested in spring training that the Angels starting pitching would be as good or better than the Phillies this season. After the Red Sox put five on the board against him on Saturday night, Santana’s ERA is now 5.51 and he’s 0-3. Maybe he was just comparing himself to Joe Blanton?

AL News/Notes

The Orioles are facing some pitching issues right now and manager Buck Showalter‘s alternative choices are dubious at best. If the O’s can stay close in the AL East standings through June, GM Andy MacPhail should be able to find another starter or two in a trade. But the O’s have to be close enough to justify a move like that.

Take a seat, Felipe Lopez. At least that’s what Rays manager Joe Maddon told the utility man as he held Lopez out for Saturday’s game against the Blue Jays. Lopez was cited for a lack of hustle and we all know that Maddon doesn’t go for that.

Despite the early cold and rainy weather, Indians manager Manny Acta doesn’t want to hear excuses for hitters starting slowly. It looks like Acta isn’t going to let the young Tribe players get comfortable in first place.

Andrew Bailey had a good throwing session before the Athletics game on Saturday. Also, the A’s starting pitchers are using Twitter to give fans some insight into their clubhouse-style banter.

There’s bad news for the Rangers as they had to put closer Neftali Feliz on the DL because of rotator cuff inflammation. Reliever Cody Eppley was called up from AAA to take his spot. Eppley pitched  a pair of scoreless innings and Darren Oliver picked up the save on Saturday night in place of Feliz.

NL News/Notes

Last year’s NL batting champion, Rockies Carlos Gonzalez, is battling a slump and an early season case of the flu. The Rockies also acquired former Mets Rule 5 draft pick Brad Emaus from the Blue Jays for a minor league pitcher. Emaus struggled at bat and in the field in New York, but will get a chance to develop more in AAA with the Rockies.

 The Braves sat #3 hitter Chipper Jones on Saturday and called on rookie Freddie Freeman to hit third. Freeman has hit well over the past two weeks and has only struck out once in 10 games.

The Phillies are hoping that Chase Utley is able to return to the team by June. Although Jimmy Rollins is struggling hitting in Utley’s third spot, manager Charlie Manuel has no plans to move him out of there.

Giants injured players Andres Torres and Santiago Casilla are going to Arizona to continue rehabbing instead of coming off the DL this week. That means both are unlikely to join the team for their upcoming 10 game road trip.

Streaks of the Day

  • Dodgers Andre Ethier extended his hitting streak to 20 games
  • Royals Alex Gordon extended his career long hitting streak to 17 games
  • Rangers Michael Young extended his hitting streak to 13 games
  • Royals Jeff Francouer extended his hitting streak to 13 games
  • Yankees Robinson Cano extended his hitting streak to 12 games

 

Top Sunday Matchups

1:05 EDT White Sox (Danks 0-2, 3.00) at Tigers (Scherzer 3-0, 4.30)

1:07 EDT Rays (Shields 1-1, 3.07) at Blue Jays (Romero 1-2, 3.12)

1:10 EDT Rockies (Jimenez 0-1, 7.36) at Marlins (Johnson 3-0, 1.00)

2:20 EDT Dodgers (Kuroda 2-2, 3.33) at Cubs (Zambrano 2-0, 4.21)

3:05 EDT Royals (Chen 3-0, 2.42) at Rangers (Wilson 2-0, 3.08)

Last night’s balks: 1

  • David Hernandez of the Diamondbacks against the Mets
    • Resulted in a run scored by Jose Reyes on following hit

MLB Daily Balk Morning Rundown 4/23

Sanchez almost got carried off for another no-hitter on Friday

Best of Yesterday April 22

Justin Verlander registered his 1,000th career strikeout as the Tigers beat the White Sox 9-3 on Friday night. Ryan Raburn was the offensive hero for the Tigers with a homer and four RBI.

John McDonald hit a walk off homer for the Blue Jays in the 11th inning to win the game 6-4 over the Rays. McDonald replaced Jayson Nix who injured his knee turning a double play earlier in the game. Jose Bautista finished the game 3 for 3 only a single short away from the cycle. During the game, Rays manager Joe Maddon pulled Felipe Lopez for lack of hustle. CF BJ Upton has incurred the wrath of Maddon in the past for the same transgression.

John Pelfrey finally pitched well for the Mets as he went 7 innings and only gave up a run. Ike Davis hit a home run for the second night in the row as the Mets won 4-1 over the Diamondbacks.

Anibal Sanchez took a no-hitter into the 9th inning against the Rockies on Friday night as the Marlins won the game 4-1. Sanchez gave up an unearned run in the 1st and dominated the rest of the way with 9 strikeouts and only 3 walks. Sanchez even knocked in a run at the plate as he won his first game of the season.

Five different Rangers hitters knocked in 2 runs apiece as they beat the Royals 11-6 on Friday night. In total, the Rangers hit 15 for 35 with 5 homers on the night. Oh, and Josh Hamilton isn’t close to returning. Scary.

Ryan Braun wasted no time in justifying the Brewers faith in his ability as he went 3 for 4 with a homer and 3 RBI in the win over the Astros 14-7 on Friday night. Brewers starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo even hit a homer as he won his 2nd game of the season.

A long rain delay led to the Cardinals bringing in “starting pitcher” Kyle McClellan in after one batter to save him from getting cold during the delay. McClellan was solid as he won his 3rd game of the season as the Cards beat the Reds 4-2 on Friday night. Mitchell Boggs looks like the new closer as he saved his second game with 1 1/3 innings giving up only a hit.

Jon Lester threw 6 scoreless innings, striking out 8 to lead the Red Sox over the Angels 4-3 on Friday night. Jonathan Papelbon pitched a scoreless 9th for his 5th save. The Angels Dan Haren dropped his first decision to go to 4-1 on the season.

Ryan Howard drove in two runs with a 3rd inning triple and Cole Hamels shut out the Padres for 8 innings as the Phillies won 2-0 on Friday night. Hamels has gone 2-0 with only 2 runs allowed in 22 innings since the Phils fans booed him off the mound at Citizens Bank Park during his first start against the Mets. Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee all have long-term contracts; the 27 year old Hamels needs to be next.

The Mariners have shut out the Athletics in both games to begin their four game weekend series in Seattle. This time it was rookie Michael Pineda who went 6 scoreless innings, lowering his ERA to 1.78 and running his record to 3-1 for the M’s as they won 4-0 on Friday night. You want a reason why the Mariners aren’t going to trade Felix Hernandez? King Felix and Pineda might become the best 1-2 combo in baseball by next summer. That’s a winning combo at any track.

Tommy Hanson was very good as he only gave up one run in 7 innings in the Braves 4-1 win over the Giants on Friday night. Hanson registered his 2nd win and Craig Kimbrel bounced back from a blown save in LA on Thursday to get his 5th save of the season.

 

What Happened (!!)Yesterday?

Cubs pitchers walked 10 hitters and needed 230 pitches to complete Friday afternoon’s game against the Dodgers. There’s nothing else that can really be added to this.

Seventeen of the 24 teams that played on Friday night scored 4 or less runs. It can’t be the weather, because the Dodgers scored 12 in miserable conditions at Wrigley and the Tigers got 9 at frigid Comerica. Yes, there were some very good pitching performances but the lack of offense early in this season is incredible.

 

AL News/Notes

Some interesting stats and information on the Royals surprising start. One notable item, closer Joakim Soria, at 26, is the oldest member of the Royals bullpen.

There’s been a Big Foot sighting in the Athletics clubhouse. Wonder how many cows it takes to cover David Purcey‘s feet?

DL’d all star Evan Longoria made the Rays trip to Toronto an adventure on Thursday night as he left his passport at home. That’s the lighter news in Tampa as the worse news is that Johnny Damon is going to try and play through a broken finger tip. How effective he can be is enormous to the Rays offense, especially with Longoria still out.

Good news for the Twins as Delmon Young and Justin Morneau are getting healthy and could be in the lineup on Saturday.

The Rangers appear to want to keep Alexi Ogando in the rotation after his very impressive start to the season. Manager Ron Washington said he doesn’t even see any limitations on Ogando’s pitch count either. Maybe Washington shouldn’t get that carried away. The Rangers are going to need Ogando in October.

  

NL News/Notes

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle says that NL steals leader Jose Tabata reminds him of…. Jim Brown? Yes, Hurdle likens Tabata’s sneaky speed to the great NFL running back; interesting comparison. The Pirates also strike out more than any team in MLB.

The Braves have called up Cory Gearrin to bolster their worn out bullpen. With Peter Moylan on the DL and Jonny Venters suffering from muscle soreness, the Braves need another arm for their series in San Francisco this weekend.

The Giants CF Andres Torres is working hard to be ready to come off the DL next week when he’s eligible, but manager Bruce Bochy isn’t too optimistic about his return yet. The good news for the Giants is that Aaron Rowand has performed well during Torres’ absence.

Former Dodgers icon Steve Garvey is involved with a group of investors that would like to purchase the Dodgers from embattled owner Frank McCourt. Garvey’s main investor, Ron Burkle, helped Mario Lemieux buy the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1999 and has tried to buy other franchises since.

 

Streak of the Day

  • Dodgers Andre Ethier extending his hitting streak to 19 games
  • Royals Alex Gordon extended his career long hitting streak to 16 games
  • Royals Wilson Betemit extended his career long hitting streak to 13 games
  • Royals Jeff Francouer extended his hitting streak to 12 games
  • Rangers Michael Young extended his hitting streak to 12 games

 

Top Saturday Matchups

1:07 EDT Rays (Price 2-2, 2.83) at Blue Jays (Morrow 10-7, 3.99-2010 stats)

4:10 EDT Braves (Hudson 2-2, 4.05) at Giants (Lincecum 2-1, 1.67)

7:05 EDT Yankees (Sabathia 0-1, 2.52) at Orioles (Bergeson 0-2, 3.38)

7:10 EDT Astros (Myers 1-0, 2.39) at Brewers (Marcum 2-1, 1.90)

 

Last night’s balks: 0

Tampa Bay Rays Opening Day Overview

Tampa Bay Rays Opening Day Overview

Manager: Joe Maddon  GM: Andrew Friedman

  Lineup:
1 2B Ben Zobrist
2 LF Johnny Damon
3 3B Evan Longoria/Sean Rodriguez
4 DH Manny Ramirez
5 1B Dan Johnson
6 CF BJ Upton
7 RF Matt Joyce
8 SS Reid Brignac
9 C John Jaso/Kelly Shoppach

 

Zobrist couldn’t replicate his 2009 career year, but his ability to draw walks make him a viable top or the order hitter. Zobrist played RF, 2B, 1B, and CF at least 10 games each. His versatility allows Maddon added flexibility to mix and match different lineup combinations. As long as his OBP remains near .350, he’ll produce enough to justify his spot in the lineup.

Damon is another high OBP hitter due to his ability to draw walks. While Damon isn’t the dynamic offensive player that he was a few years ago, he still hits for doubles and remains .270+ hitter.

Longoria is a potential MVP and at 25, will still improve his already impressive numbers. His power dropped last season but his OPS was only off by about .010 due to his increased batting average and slightly better eye at the plate. He’s always a threat get an extra base hit, as his 73 XBH last year and his 77 XBH in 2009 show. He’s going to miss a few weeks after straining an oblique in his side. Rodriguez will get the majority of the time and primarily fill in for Longoria. He’s much better against lefties and will be the regular second baseman against lefties when Longoria returns. The drop off from Longoria to Rodriguez is enough that the Rays could lose a few games in the standings due to the lack of production.

Ramirez hit well with the Dodgers last year but didn’t with the White Sox. The Rays are hoping that Manny can just concentrate on hitting for a small market team that doesn’t have media distractions or anything that could get Manny off his game. When focused, Manny still hits at a high level and walks a lot. If he gets 500 at bats, the Rays should have one of the better cleanup hitters in the AL.

Johnson has been a big OPS guy in the past with Oakland and in the minors. His OBP was .343 despite only hitting .198 last season. The Rays are putting him at first base hoping that he’s able to get on base and hit for power. It remains to be seen how long the Rays can continue with a first baseman that has an atrocious average. Former Cuban defector and AAA 1B Leslie Anderson could be in the mix here as the season goes on.

Upton rediscovered his power last season but still only hit .237. The ceiling for Upton has been considered sky high but at 26, he’s still searching for consistency at the plate and his ability to get on base was better in 2007-2008 than it’s been the past two seasons. Upton could move to right field at some point this season to make room for top prospect Desmond Jennings. If Upton is unable to improve his offensive numbers, then the Rays will most likely look to move him either during this season or after the season as 2012 is the final year for Upton before free agency.

Joyce is another of the Rays low average, good power, high on base guys and will be in right field against righties. Joyce was pretty effective as he hada .837 OPS in limited at bats last year and could be pretty valuable if he gets 400-450 at bats against righties this year. Zobrist moves to right field against lefties.

Brignac has settled in as the starter at short with Jason Bartlett gone. With modest improvement of his .692 OPS, the Rays could use Brignac to improve to at least a .750 OPS, especially if he ends up in a platoon. Rookie Elliott Johnson is a candidate to share time with him if Brignac has trouble with lefties.

Jaso will hit either 9th or leadoff depending on who’s in the lineup. He’s a high OBP guy and will hit better than his platoon partner, Kelly Shoppach. Shoppach is the perfect complement to the lefty Jaso as he has solid numbers against lefties.

  Starting Pitching
1 LHP David Price
2 RHP James Shields
3 RHP Wade Davis
4 RHP Jeff Niemann
5 RHP Jeremy Hellickson

 

Price was one of the top 3 starting pitchers in the AL last season and should be in that group again this year. The next step for Price to become an elite starting pitcher is to become a 220+ IP guy. The true aces can pitch at a high level and do it over a lot of innings. With the depleted bullpen, Price might have to go deeper into games to ensure that he gets the winning decision.

Shields took a major step back last season after pitching well for three years. He led the AL in HRs allowed, earned runs allowed, and hits allowed. He did this despite increasing his strikeout rate. The Rays will have to make a major decision on Shields, whose contract increases substantially with high priced options starting next season. If he can’t turn around his numbers to be more in line with 2007-2009, then he’ll probably be moved at the July trade deadline or in the winter. This summer would be more likely if his performance knocks the Rays out of the race early.

Davis just signed a long term contract to keep him in place, with options, until 2017. That was a reward for a solid rookie season in which Davis won 12 games and had a 4.07 ERA. With plenty of room for improvement, this could be a very good signing. The Rays need Davis to improve his strikeout rate to be more in line with his minor league numbers and cut down on his walks as well. He gave up 24 HRs and will need to cut that down while his workload increases from 168 IP to around 200 IP.  

Niemann isn’t tough to find. He’s the 6’9″ guy. He’s been solid but not great with 13 and 12 wins each of the last two seasons with ERAs of 3.94 and 4.39. He also gives up way too many homers and needs to improve his K-BB ratio. Currently at just above 2 to 1, his K-BB ratio needs to improve to at least 3 to 1 and he needs to cut his HR allowed to become a top of the rotation pitcher.

Hellickson is the Rays top prospect and pitched pretty well in limited innings last season. Hellickson is a high strikeout, low walk pitcher who could be a 15 game winner this season if he can sustain his numbers in the majors. The key for all Rays pitchers is keeping the ball in the park and doing so would keep Hellickson’s ERA in the low 3’s or better.

  Bullpen
CL LHP JP Howell (DL)
SET RHP Kyle Farnsworth
  RHP Joel Peralta
  RHP Andrew Sonnanstine
  LHP Jake McGee
  RHP Adam Russell
  LHP Cesar Ramos/RHP Juan Cruz

 

Howell will lead the revamped bullpen when he returns. The hope is for him to be back in the bullpen by June. Howell was a very effective late inning reliever in 2008-2009 and if he returns to his pre-injury production, the Rays will have at least one bullpen question solved.  

Farnsworth was solid last season after four seasons of subpar results. He’s now 35 and he’s going to be in the back of the bullpen to begin the season but his history should have the Rays proactively searching for late inning alternatives if they want to remain in the AL East race this season.

Peralta pitched well for the Nationals last season but has never been a highly reliable contributor to a major league bullpen. At 35, that’s unlikely to change, despite last year’s performance.

Sonnanstine was a starting prospect that is now working middle relief and spot starting. He’ll have a job until somebody better comes around.

McGee is a top prospect that is projected as a potential closer and the sooner the better for the Rays. McGee is a lefty who blows away hitters consistently and had great control numbers and kept the ball in the park in the minors. His development as a reliable late innings pitcher could be the biggest key to the Rays season.

Russell comes over from the Padres for Jason Bartlett. He’s been rather unremarkable in parts of three major league seasons as he’s dealt with a high walk rate. Ramos will probably be a long man and lefty specialist with limited upside after coming over from the Padres. Cruz is at the back end of the pen to provide innings and provides little to no upside.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 OF Desmond Jennings
2 LHP Alex Torres
3 1B/OF Leslie Anderson

 

Jennings is the Rays top everyday prospect and should get the call as soon as a need arises in the outfield. His major league success could make it easier for the Rays front office to eventually trade Upton. Torres is the next in the line of solid starting pitching prospects that the Rays have churned out. He could see action later in the summer or could be used as trade bait if the Rays need to make a deal to win the AL East. Anderson is a Cuban defector who hits fairly well at AAA without much power. He could get a look at first if Johnson has problems reaching base.

Three Questions:

1. How will the revamped Rays lineup replace Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena?

  • The Rays are trying to address that void with Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Dan Johnson and others this season. If Manny and Damon can hit close to their recent production levels playing about 80% of the time, a lot of the lost production will be replaced. Then it comes down to the others in the lineup, like Pena’s replacement, Johnson, to make up the rest. In addition, with the questionable quality of the bullpen, the Rays might need to have a more powerful offense this season to achieve similar results.

2. Can the starting pitching sustain or improve their performance without solid #2 starter Matt Garza?

  • The Rays replace Garza with Jeremy Hellickson and the rookie might be better than Garza already. But another factor is how David Price adjusts to a slightly increased workload. To be a true ace, Price will need to increase his IP to around 220 if healthy. James Shields had a terrible season last year and needs to revert to his previous form. Wade Davis had a nice enough rookie season to warrant a long term commitment, but he’ll have to continue to prove his worth. Jeff Niemann has the potential for more, but he’s performed the same for two seasons and that might be who he is.

3. Will the Rays bullpen solidify or torpedo their postseason chances early?

  • The Rays bullpen could be a major issue this season as almost all of their relievers are new to the team. With the exception of the injured JP Howell, nobody stands out as a reliable option to close right now. Maybe rookie Jake McGee fulfills his potential quickly and takes the reins in the 9th inning early in the season. But even if that happens, there very little depth in the pen and the Rays don’t have any other major league ready prospects to put in the pen.

 

Projection

The Rays offense should be solid all season barring some major injuries or a lingering one to Longoria. Their pitching could be another story as they need steady improvement from their young starters to offset the lack of depth and quality backing them up in the bullpen. McGee almost has to grab the closer’s job and do a very good job for this team to be successful. Maybe Maddon can sort of “do it with mirrors” for the first half of the season. If the Rays can stay close, they might be able to take on some salary to bolster the bullpen. When the story of the Rays season is told, most likely the bullpen performance will tell the story. If it becomes settled, then the Rays will play meaningful games into late September and maybe get a playoff spot. If the bullpen struggles, then the Rays will struggle to finish with a winning record.