PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays always have been dependent on B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria. But after taking massive losses this winter, especially in Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay is going to be need those two more than ever.
Upton is coming off of a highly disappointing year in which he batted a career-low .237 with 164 strikeouts. Only Detroit's Austin Jackson (170) had more in the AL.
The Rays are bullish on him bouncing back strongly this year, partly because his talent is so rich and partly because they know his character.
"B.J. does a lot of things really well," general manager Andrew Friedman says. "The fact that he had such an incredible year in 2007 (.300, 24 homers, 82 RBI, 22 steals), the expectation bar is extremely high.
"At times, we all get caught up in the 'He's not matching or exceeding that.' But when you just step back and watch what he does do, he brings a lot to a team in terms of what he does defensively, what he does on the bases."
As Friedman notes, Upton is one of only two players last year who had 40 or more stolen bases and 60 or more extra-base hits.
"The other one got $142 million from the Red Sox," the GM says.
Longoria, a three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner, quietly has grown into a leader in just three seasons. That said, he is not looking to force things in that department in this post-Crawford and Pena spring.
"I'm not going to look at myself as the veteran," Longoria said. "I'm going to look at myself as I have every year, come here and work hard and maybe continue to set that precedent or be a leader but not vocally. Mainly based just off of my actions and what I do both on and off the field to prepare myself."
-- Tampa Bay has won two of the past three AL East titles, but this is a completely different challenge this year. Which suits this eclectic bunch just fine. Maddon already has chosen his theme for the season: "Another Way."
"One, you've got to look at our manager," Longoria says. He's a player's manager, a real easy manager to play for. A lot of guys who haven't been here in the past have come in here and feel very comfortable playing for him. In turn, it makes it comfortable for them to play, it's an easy environment.
"In turn, I think that's going to play a big part in how we come together as a team. Everybody understanding that we're all here for a reason and Joe's going to make it easy playing for him. The challenge is there, but the challenge is there every year. We understand that."
Sunblock Day: Starting to sound like a broken record, but simply exquisite. Sun, 80s, no humidity.
Likes: The three signs Maddon has posted on the wall in the clubhouse for the players to soak in. One is from legendary coach John Wooden: "Discipline yourself so no one else has to." Another is from Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve: "Rules cannot take the place of character." And the third is from philosopher Albert Camus: "Integrity has no need of rules." ... Bill Chastain, Rays beat writer for MLB.com, has just had a new paperback novel published, Peachtree Corvette Club. It's available on Amazon. ... Can't wait to see the Hank Steinbrenner-Derek Jeter Visa commercial. Tweeted that the other day and few seemed to get the joke. Remember, Hank's dad one year accused Jeter of staying out too late and next thing you knew, Jeter and George Steinbrenner were doing the conga line through a club in the classic Visa ad?
Dislikes: In a development more rare than an appearance from Halley's Comet, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band are firing up for a tour beginning next month. But they've only announced it a couple of shows at a time. We're up to a month's worth, the first 11 shows. Come on, man. Some of us have schedules to keep and summers to plan! Announce the whole tour already.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"You made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter"
-- Taylor Swift, Mine