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2010 Season Preview: Tampa Bay RaysChristopher Reina. 26th March, 2010 - 4:14 pm
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One season after shockingly reach the World Series, the monsters that are the Yankees and Red Sox squeezed the Rays out of the playoffs. Unless realignment does happen for Tampa Bay, this will be a familiar theme regardless of what kind of farm system they manage to build.
The Rays were just 20-25 in one-run games and though they battled the Yankees (7-11) and Boston (9-9) fairly well, they didn't fatten up enough against Baltimore (9-9), or the AL Central teams not named Kansas City. Out of the race in September, they also coast in with a 13-19 record in September and October.
2009 Opsera Finish: 9th
What Happened In The Winter
The Rays largely preserved the status quo this winter, allowing their very talented and affordable roster simply get older understanding the likelihood they would win more than 84 games in 2010 and that the Yankees and Red Sox wouldn't combine to win 198 again.
But they did make a bold move that added payroll in acquiring Rafael Soriano, who is a legitimate closer and turns J.P. Howell (when he is healthy) into a setup guy where he is better suited. The Rays had a 3.49 ERA in save situations, something Soriano will improve.
Kelly Shoppach was also acquired, which was needed to establish a platoon with Dioner Navarro, who hit for an OPS of just .583 in 2009. Since Shoppach is a righty and Navarro hit a dreadful .489 OPS from the left side, there could be a problem with the specifics of that platoon.
The Rays kicked some tires on Milton Bradley, but were probably wise to keep Pat Burrell.
Very late in the game, they did sign Hank Blalock, a player who hit for a .736 OPS in 2009 and was treated as anathema this winter. Blalock actually hit significantly better on the road in 2009, a rarity for a Texas hitter, having splits of .674/.802. On a minor league deal, the Red Sox and Yankees may regret not coming in to block that move.
My only concern is that I wish the Rays could have found a way to do a little bit more to improve their 2010 chances given the certainty that Carl Crawford won't be back in 2011 and I see Boston as being in a vulnerable transition season. I would have been interested in seeing the Rays sign someone like Orlando Hudson while moving Ben Zobrist to right field.
Rays Offensive Preview
The Rays got much better than expected production from their middle infielders in the form of a .948 OPS from Zobrist and .879 from Jason Bartlett than they did from their outfield and DH slots.
Since Bartlett is almost certain to regress back towards .800 and at least a little decline from Zobrist is to be expected, the Rays need much better season from B.J. Upton, Pat Burrell and whoever ends up in right field, whether it is Matt Joyce or Gabe Kapler.
The middle of the lineup guys, Evan Longoria, Crawford and Carlos Pena, are all expected to duplicate or better their 2009 numbers of .889, .816 an .893 respectively. With Crawford in a walk year, I can see him putting up outrageously better numbers, while Longoria needs to put in a season that makes him a legitimate top tier superstar instead of simply a fringe one.
The Rays were fifth in baseball in OPS in 2009 and likely will be in that range again in 2010, but they must improve upon their 13th ranked OPS with runners in scoring position and two outs. Tampa Bay stranded far too many runners in 2009 and they aren't quite good enough to get away with that kind of production. The Rays must be good and they must also be fortunate to reach the playoffs.
Rays Pitching Preview
Tampa Bay has lost a little bit of the name brand recognition they had with Scott Kazmir in the rotation, but his 5.92 ERA in 111 innings with them is tough to legitimately miss right now.
James Shields is Tampa Bay's ace and I expect him to lower his ERA back down below 4.00, provided he also lowers his WHIP.
Matt Garza is capable of being every bit as good as Shields, as he had a career best 8.4 K/9 rate, though it also came with a higher walk rate in 2009.
I don't expect Jeff Niemann to be quite as good as his 3.94 ERA indicated, but David Price should finally become the kind of pitcher everyone expected him to become when he was the first overall pick in the 2007 draft. He had a 4.442 ERA in 128.1 innings with a 7.2 K/9 rate, 3.8 BB/9 rate and 1.2 HR/9 rate. With more innings against big league hitters, I expect his numbers across the board to improve substantially and become a fringe All-Star.
Because of the Howell injury, maybe because more than just that, Wade Davis will begin the season as the Rays' fifth starter instead of Andy Sonnanstine. Based on their 2009 numbers, it is easy to follow the logic of the move, with Davis posting a 3.72 ERA in his six starts with a 8.9 K/9 rate, while Sonnanstine had a 6.77 ERA and a 5.4 K/9 rate. I expected Sonnanstine to decline from where he was in 2008, though that wasn't a huge ledge to be on. Davis is just 24 and though his minor league numbers don't indicate that his 2009 success will be quite so sustainable, he has a higher ceiling and is a better fifth starter option.
Depending on how Soriano fares, as well as the health of Howell, the Rays have the potential to have the best set of relief arms in the AL East. While Lance Cormier and his 4.2 K/9 rate of 2009 probably won't be as successful, I think Grant Balfour will bounce back closer to his 2008 ERA of 1.54 instead of the 4.81 in 2009. He mows people down, that is without question, he simply needs to watch that escalating walk rate.
Lefty Randy Choate and Dan Wheeler are both solid vets to round out the pen.
What Are Their 2010 Chances?
Even though Boston looks a little safer on paper, the Rays are my Wild Card pick since we all know it will come from the AL East. The Rays have a far more potent offense, particularly in the middle of it and I think they manage to exceed expectations on the mound. The Rays don't have anyone as automatic as Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, but they will throw enough quality on the wall that it sticks and I do expect we see a much better Price. Provided their starters keep things close, their bullpen will be stingy enough to be much better in those one-run games.
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