Key Additions—Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon
Key Losses—Matt Garza, Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano
Lineup—With the loss of 2 of their better hitters in Crawford and Pena, naturally there are many questions about this lineup. The big one is what to expect from stud prospect Desmond Jennings. Can he fill in for what Crawford did as the face of this franchise for so many years?? While Evan Longoria is still entrenched in the middle of this lineup, there are still many question marks surrounding the rest of the lineup. Can Ben Zobrist bounce back from a terrible 2010, and what will they get from the catcher, 1b and 2b positions? In a division with the Yankees and Red Sox, and a Baltimore team who on paper is better, can we really expect the Rays to continue to contend?
Rotation—Yes David Price is a stud, but in order for the Rays to have a successful year he is going to have to pitch deep into games in nearly all of his starts. Because of the youth of this rotation, Joe Madden will expect Price to give the much revamped bullpen a break when he is on the mound. Losing Matt Garza is a big loss, as you know you were going to get big innings out of him. But by dealing him, you opened up the path for Jeremy Hellickson, who could make a huge impact his rookie year. He will need to in order for this team to be successful yet again.
Bullpen—When you lose all 4 guys that were the stalwarts to the back end of your bullpen to free agency, and you are relying on Kyle Farnsworth to be your closer, you know things are not going to be pretty. But that is what Madden has to deal with. Not only does he not have guys to bridge the gap to his closer, he also doesn’t have a guy who you can fully trust to close out games. Unless they do something to address this or find lightning in a bottle, Rays fans are going to cringe every time a starter gets pulled.
Impact Rookie—Jeremy Hellickson, RHP. The Garza trade created a rotation opening for Hellickson who has started 30 games in AAA over the past two seasons. Hellickson has uncommon poise for a rookie, and he’ll need it pitching in the AL East.
Outlook—The Rays have had a great run, and for baseball I hope it continues. But the fact is small market teams are not built for the long run. Sure you have Jennings and Hellickson ready to make a splash, and I give them credit for going out and getting Manny and Damon(although quite possibly more to sell tickets than win games), they just don’t have the depth that the other teams in their division has. I expect this year to be quite frustrating for the Rays, and one that will have them dreaming of the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent.
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