Tuesday, March 1, 2011

2011 MLB Season Preview: AL East Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays took plenty of hits this past off season, losing 12 players off their roster last year. There bullpen, which was one of their big time strengths last year, was torn about in free agency. Their dominant closer Rafael Soriano went to the Yankees, they saw Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour go to the Red Sox and Athletics respectively. While they took plenty of big hits, the Rays always seem to be able to piece together solid bullpens among players that are on the scrap heap, or through their internal options.

They also lost a fair amount of offense. Carl Crawford joined a rejuvenated Red Sox line up, Jason Bartlett was shipped to the Padres, and Carlos Pena signed with the Cubs, so they have plenty of holes to fill. The Rays will most likely rely on Reid Brignac and Ben Zobrist to handle the SS position. Brignac showed some promise last year with a few break out games, but hasn't shown his true potential. Zobrist is a solid player where ever the Rays put him, and will be a vital piece this year for the Rays to succeed. While Pena's production took a big hit, especially in the BA department, his defense was still highly regarded. Dan Johnson was solid last year, and the Rays would love to see a continuation on last year, that most likely won't be the case, and they will be looking for another first basemen to platoon with him. Additions Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon were brought in to pick up some of the slack left from the loses stated above. While neither offer much in the form of defense anymore (never did Ramirez's case), if either one of them see some of their success from a few years ago in this season, they will be a bargain.

Their starting pitching should continue to be a strength. If their youngest improve they could be looking at one of the best rotations in baseball. Behind ace David Price they have James Shields, who hopes to rebound from a slightly disappointing 2010 season, Jeff Niemann, Jeremey Hellickson, and Wade Davis. Hellickson could have a breakout year, as he looked pretty good in some late season call up work. Niemann and Davis had their up's and down's as any young pitchers will have, but still figure to be better this year.

The Rays knew this year was coming, where they'd lose some of their core players to free agency, but they still have a good solid young core headlined by Evan Longoria. I'm not sure if Longoria and Zobrist can carry this lineup into the postseason, but if Manny or Damon can put together a decent season, look for the Rays to be in the upper parts of the standings.

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