30 Teams in 30 Days: Tampa Bay Rays Preview

Rays

Tampa Bay Rays – American League East

2009 Record: 84-78, 3rd Place in American League East

2009 Review:
At the end of the 2008 season, only the Phillies were higher than the Rays. They had represented the American League in the World Series, and they had a very young team, with almost unlimited potential. For the most part, the 2008 Rays remained in 2009. Some players, such as Eric Hinske, Rocco Baldelli, Cliff Floyd and Edwin Jackson were longer with the team. However, they were replaced with Pat Burrell and Gabe Kapler, among others.

The Rays were going into 2009 led by players such as Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, BJ Upton, Carlos Pena and pitchers Scott Kazmir, Andy Sonnanstine and Troy Percival. They expected to take on the Red Sox and the Yankees for the American League East title. However, these hopes were not reality. What happened to this promising team?

First, injuries happened. The team lost Percival and Sonnanstine to stints on the Disabled List. They also lost second baseman Akinori Iwamura with a leg injury. Second, the bullpen fell apart. After Percival’s injury and after being placed on the disabled list, he never pitched again. J.P Howell took over as the closer and finished the season with 17 saves. He also blew eight saves while two other members of the bullpen blew nine more. If the rays had won nine of those 17 games, they would have tied the Red Sox for the wildcard.

BJ Upton had a year that would be considered disappointing. After batting .273 with an on-bas percentage of .383 in 2008, his average fell to .241 and his OBP fell to .313.

The starting rotation had no pitcher with more than 13 wins. There was no ace, no one to take control and ask for the ball. And, at a time when the Rays needed someone to step up, they traded Scott Kazmir to the Angels. Although no one would admit it, money was partially a reason for the team’s all-time leader in wins, strikeouts and games started to be traded for two minor leaguers.

There were bright spots for the Rays. Carlos Pena had 39 home runs and drove in 100 runs throughout the season (he did strike out over 160 times). Ben Zobrist batted .297, with 27 home runs and 91 runs batted in. Zobrist also had an on-base percentage of .405 (he also struck out over 100 times). Evan Longoria, the up and coming star for these Rays, batted .281 with 113 runs batted in (he also struck out 140 times). Carl Crawford was a big part of the offense as was Shortstop Jason Bartlett. The Rays ranked in the Top 5 in runs, triples, home runs, stolen bases, walks, on-base percentage and on-base plus slugging percentage.

With all of that offense and a pitching staff with the sixth best ERA in the American League, the team finished a disappointing third in the A.L. East and failing to make the playoffs.

Key Transactions since 2009:
Losses:

Akinori Iwamura – After the 2009 season, Iwamura was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for reliever Jesse Chavez (who was also traded away from the Rays). He has played three years in the majors after coming over from Japan, and has a career batting average of .281. His career high was 172 hits during the 2008 season.

Joe Nelson – After being granted free agency by the Rays, the owner of the “Vulcan” change up signed with the Red Sox. He appeared in over 40 games for the Rays in 2009 (his only season with the Rays) and had a 3-0 record, with a 4,02 ERA.

Other Losses from the 2009 team includes: Losses: Chad Bradford, Gabe Gross, Michel Hernandez, Jason Isringhausen, Troy Percival, Ramon Ramirez, Shawn Riggans, Brian Shouse, Russ Springer, Mitch Talbot, Gregg Zaun

Gains:
Key Addition for the 2010 Season, Rafael Soriano – Soriano was traded for to be the closer for the 2010 season. Before 2009, Soriano had been a setup man but in his time with the Braves, he became a closer that saved 27 games in 2009. He has a career ERA under 3.00 and should be able to build on his 2009 and stabilize the bullpen for the Rays in 2010.

Other Additions to the Tampa Bay Rays are: Joaquin Benoit, Angel Chavez, Alvin Colina, Mike Ekstrom, J.J. Furmaniak, Dan Johnson, Heath Phillips, Kelly Shoppach, Ryan Shealy

2010 Preview: An enigma to the American League, people are already wondering which Rays team will show up this season, 2008 or 2009. Looking at their season, there are a few question marks for the Rays. If all of their question marks perform, this team should revert to their 2008 ways.

The bullpen has been anchored by the acquisition of Rafael Soriano. Soriano was 27 for 31 in save opportunities in 2009 for the Braves. With Soriano taking over the closer role, the Rays will have a quality replacement for Troy Percival, the closer in 2008.

Pat Burrell will need to return from his 2009 production to production more to his career statistics. In 2008, with the Phillies, Burrell hit 33 home runs and had an on-base plus slugging percentage of .875. In 2009, those numbers dropped to 14 and .682 respectively. Some feel that his first season in the American League was the reason for his lower than standard statistics. In his second season in the American League, the familiarity with the pitchers in the American League should help Burrell return to his former self in the batters box.

Another distraction which may hurt the Rays this season is Carl Crawford. Crawford, one of the most exciting players in baseball is to become a free agent in 2011. The Rays, a team not known for spending money will have a decision to make about Crawford before July 31. If they feel that they have the ability to sign him for a reduced amount or they are out of the divisional race, they will trade Crawford to the highest bidder of low cost talent. This can become a team distraction and take away from an organization that has prided itself through team chemistry.

Will James Shields continue to improve? Will Dioner Navarro have a better offensive season? Will Desmond Jennings find a way to break into the Rays lineup?

The Rays play in the most talented division in the American League facing the Yankees and red Sox 38 times during the year. Based upon the Rays talent level and the questions, the Rays should reach between 85 and 90 wins this season and fall just short of the playoffs in the American League.

Stay tuned, they could win the World Series with their talent as well.

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