Even though they won 97 games and advanced to the World Series, the Rays knew they had to improve their roster during the offseason. They seemed to fill their biggest needs, adding the right-handed power bat of Pat Burrell, improving their outfield depth with Gabe Kapler and Matt Joyce, and fortifying their bullpen with the additions of RHPs Joe Nelson and Lance Cormier and LHP Brian Shouse. With a nod to their stash of young arms, they traded 14-game winner Edwin Jackson, and they also allowed fan favorite Rocco Baldelli to leave as a free agent.
ARRIVALS: RHP Joe Nelson (free agent from Marlins), OF Matt Joyce (trade with Tigers), RHP Derek Rodriguez (Rule 5 selection from White Sox), OF/DH Pat Burrell (free agent from Phillies), OF Gabe Kapler (free agent from Brewers), RHP Lance Cormier (free agent from Orioles), LHP Brian Shouse (free agent from Brewers), INF Morgan Ensberg (minor league free agent from Indians), 2B Adam Kennedy (minor league free agent from Cardinals), RHP Jason Isringhausen (minor league free agent from Cardinals).
DEPARTURES: LHP Trever Miller (free agent, signed with Cardinals), RHP Edwin Jackson (traded to Tigers), OF Rocco Baldelli (free agent, signed with Red Sox), OF Eric Hinske (free agent, signed with Pirates); DH Cliff Floyd (free agent, signed with Padres).
SPRING FOCUS: On the field, the areas of interest are right field, where new acquisition Matt Joyce will have a chance to prove he is ready for everyday big-league duty, and the mound, as manager Joe Maddon tries to sort out his bullpen from nearly a dozen candidates and pick a fifth starter, from a field that may include rookie sensation David Price, Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann. There also will be eyes on the trainers' room as the Rays get a sense of how deep into the regular season CF B.J. Upton and RHP Troy Percival will be recovered from offseason surgeries.
1. RHP James Shields
2. LHP Scott Kazmir
3. RHP Matt Garza
4. RHP Andy Sonnanstine
5. LHP David Price, RHP Jeff Niemann or RHP Jason Hammel
The Rays felt good enough about their front four to trade 14-game winner RHP Edwin Jackson in a deal for OF Matt Joyce, who might not make their team this season. Shields, Garza and Sonnanstine are all solid and relatively consistent. Kazmir, who missed the first five weeks last season because of an elbow strain, has shown to be inconsistent, and there might be some concerns about his plans to pitch in the World Baseball Classic. All pitchers will be brought along slowly given their extended workloads last season.
The other spot in the rotation will go -- eventually -- to LHP David Price, though the Rays, given their conservative nature, could well send him back to Class AAA Durham to open the season. Then it would be a battle between Hammel and Niemann, who are out of options. Hammel adapted last season into a dependable long reliever, so that might make Niemann the leading candidate.
RHP Dan Wheeler (closer)
RHP Grant Balfour
LHP J.P. Howell
RHP Joe Nelson
LHP Brian Shouse
RHP Lance Cormier or RHP Jason Hammel
The Rays are of the belief that bullpens are made to be remade, and they did just that this offseason, signing free agents Cormier, Nelson and Shouse. They needed the depth because they don't know yet, and may not until the end of the spring, how closer Troy Percival will recover from offseason back surgery and when he will be ready, through Percival said he "absolutely" will be ready to start the season. If not, the assumption is that Wheeler and Balfour will handle most of the save opportunities in Joe Maddon's committee format. RH reliever Chad Bradford is likely to be out until June following surgery to remove loose bodies from his right elbow.
The addition of Shouse was important because the Rays had only one returning lefty in Howell. RHP Jeff Niemann could end up in the mix, too, depending on what happens with the fifth spot in the rotation. Both he and Hammel are out of options.
1. 2B Akinori Iwamura
2. CF B.J. Upton
3. LF Carl Crawford
4. 3B Evan Longoria
5. 1B Carlos Pena
6. DH Pat Burrell
7. C Dioner Navarro
8. RF Gabe Gross/Gabe Kapler
9. SS Jason Bartlett
With the addition of DH Pat Burrell, manager Joe Maddon will get the opportunity to tinker with his lineup, figuring how to best stack his hitters to take advantage of their athleticism and abilities. One question will be whether they move Upton to the leadoff spot and drop Iwamura down, which could make him more productive since he was not comfortable at the top. No matter how Maddon lines them up, they should be more productive than last season.
The other question will be in right field, where newly acquired Matt Joyce, a left-handed hitter, will get the chance to win the starting job, though the Rays have a solid platoon in place with Gross and Kapler if he doesn't.
C Shawn Riggans
INF Ben Zobrist
INF Willy Aybar
OF Gabe Gross or Gabe Kapler
Riggans has been injury prone throughout his career, but the Rays are confident he can handle the backup role. Zobrist emerged as a valuable super utility player last season, providing backup at the middle infield spots and the outfield, and is expected to fill a similar role. Aybar also has an important role, filling in at first, second and third and DH. Whichever Gabe doesn't start will be the fourth outfielder, with Kapler considered more versatile because he is most comfortable in center field.
TOP ROOKIES: LHP David Price worked his way from Class A to the big leagues last season and was so impressive during his September (0-0, 1.93) and postseason (1-1-1, 1.59) appearances that the question is much more about when the Rays will put him in their rotation than if. SS Reid Brignac (.250 at Class AAA last year, 0-for-10 in four big-league games) needs a good spring just to retain his standing as the shortstop-in-waiting.
OF Matt Joyce (right calf) hoped to be back on the field in early March.
CF B.J. Upton (left shoulder surgery in November 2008) might miss the first week of the regular season.
RHP Chad Bradford (arthroscopic right elbow surgery in February 2008) is expected to be out until June. Bradford experienced some soreness last fall, and he had considerable discomfort when he started throwing in late January.
OF Fernando Perez (dislocated left wrist) was hurt March 10, and he will miss a minimum of three months.
Copyright (C) 2009 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.