Upton says Rays will be fine, but who's going to hit the home runs?

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- B.J. Upton doesn't worry about how the Rays will do without him.

It's not that he doesn't care. It's that he believes in what the Rays are.

"They'll be fine," Upton said last week at the Braves spring training camp. "They always find a way to win."

Without Upton, it may well take a different way.

Listen to this somewhat surprising statistic: Upton led the Rays last year with 28 home runs. The Rays have only one player in their entire spring training camp who has ever hit 28 home runs in a major-league season (Evan Longoria).

Or maybe it's not surprising.

Power is expensive, or at least dependable power is. Power (the 12 home runs he hit in one month last September) helped get Upton $75.25 million from the Braves, a contract the low-budget Rays could never even think of handing out.

The question is whether the Rays really will be fine without Upton, without those home runs.

Obviously, a lot has to do with whether Longoria can make it through a season without getting hurt. Manager Joe Maddon would like to see his third baseman play 150 games, a total he hasn't reached since 2010.

"Longo is going to stay healthy," teammate Matt Joyce predicted Thursday. "He's so determined."

Joyce and other Rays scoff at the idea that they could have a home run-challenged lineup this year. Hitting coach Derek Shelton suggests that they Rays will be good enough to score runs without home runs, while Maddon pointed out that they should have a bunch of guys capable of 15-plus homers, even if they have only one (Longoria) who figures to hit 25 or more.

It's easy to say it shouldn't be a concern. The team that hit the fewest home runs in baseball last season was the team that ended up winning the World Series.

But the Rays aren't saying that home runs don't matter. In fact, general manager Andrew Friedman said his concerns about a power deficit were a big part of the reason he signed Kelly Johnson and Luke Scott as the winter went on.

"The value of power is certainly not lost on us," Friedman said.

Of course it isn't. When the Rays made their big trade with the Royals last winter, they demanded and got Wil Myers, who hit 37 home runs in 134 minor-league games last year.

Myers is the unknown factor in the 2013 Rays lineup. He's the one they don't mention when you ask who will hit the home runs, because they're not sure how soon he'll even be in the major-league lineup.

While the Rays are technically leaving the door open for Myers to make their team out of spring training, the overwhelming sense you get is that that's very unlikely to happen.

Maybe Myers will make it right away. Maybe he'll come up later and hit the home runs that make a difference. Or maybe the Rays will find enough other ways to score.

Maybe, as Upton said, they really will be fine.

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