Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 2/12/13
99
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. The Tampa Bay Rays brain trust sat side by side under a clear sky, a frenetic offseason behind them, this day of fresh starts a reminder of the expectations to come. The phrase is worn but appropriate for the men steering one of the American League Easts most efficient franchises: The more things change, the more they stay the same for manager Joe Maddon and executive vice president Andrew Friedman, even if a winter makeover on the mound has produced questions about how the Rays intend to prolong their consistency. Gone is right-hander James Shields, sent to the Kansas City Royals in a December deal after he pitched no fewer than 215 innings in five of the past six years. Gone is right-hander Wade Davis, also sent to the Midwest in the six-player blockbuster trade after four productive seasons as a starter and a reliever. Enter new faces, a mix Maddon calls versatile and interesting, players such as shortstop Yunel Escobar and infielderoutfielder Kelly Johnson, first baseman James Loney and right-hander Roberto Hernandez, as well as promising talents from Kansas Citys system in outfielder Wil Myers and right-hander Jake Odorizzi. Enter new chemistry with reason to believe the same standard of success can be met. We did lose some really important people, Maddon said Tuesday at Charlotte Sports Park during his annual pre-spring training news conference with Friedman. These guys are great, and Im sure theyre going to continue to be successful when theyve ended up. But moving forward, what weve done is the group that weve brought in is a very versatile group, whether its pitchers that can do a variety of different things as well as position players that can do the same thing. Its a nod to Tampa Bays approach over the past five seasons a process that has produced one AL pennant and three playoff berths that those optimistic words spoken on the eve of the first workout for pitchers and catchers can be accepted with belief. After all, this is a franchise that has earned no fewer than 90 victories in each of the past three seasons and in four of the past five; its .565 winning percentage since 2008 is second among all AL teams and third in the major leagues. This is a watermark of the Rays creation, of course, and its a scenario Friedman and Maddon had in mind when they began stripping a losing culture together in 2006. Questions that accompany this season will be, in many ways, a worthy test of the pairs vision, one that has proven among the major leagues savviest despite competing within the sports most feared division: How will the rotation fill innings left by Shields absence? (He threw a team-high 227.2 last year.) How will the bullpen evolve without Davis? (He had a career-low 2.43 ERA in 70.1 innings last year.) How will veterans Loney and Johnson, Escobar and Hernandez fit? What impacts will Myers and Odorizzi have, and will they be worth what was lost to gain them? Were excited by where we ended up in terms of our infield defense, what its capable of and how much that can contribute to helping replace the innings that James Shields provided, Friedman said. When youre making outs more efficiently, it helps you eat more innings, which in turn helps keep your bullpen rested. The way it unfolded, with adding a James Loney, with adding a Yunel Escobar, we feel very, very good about where we ended up both in terms of what theyre capable of defensively and offensively as well. That statement reflects a theme of Friedman and Maddons message Tuesday. It went something like this: Were thankful for what Shields and Davis accomplished for us, but we have faith in the talent at our disposal; this journey is about pieces that make a greater whole, about continuing an attitude of winning by valuing the method over any single part. Thats not hubris, its reality. Its the right way to approach this season, despite uncertainty post-Shields and Davis. Its what proven, long-term winners do. Its how the good become great. Its an outlook learned, yes, but also earned. The Rays growth under Friedman and Maddon has led to this point: Faith that they can contend for their second AL East title despite not knowing in February how all the pieces, on the mound and elsewhere, will join to make it so. Of course, work will be required. Defending AL Cy Young Award winner David Price, a left-hander, threw 211 innings last year and likely must toss more. Left-hander Matt Moore had 177.1 innings, right-hander Jeremy Hellickson 177 and right-hander Alex Cobb 136.1. Each must lift a greater load. Its never easy to replace James Shields, Maddon said. My original thought was that the other guys I dont like to use the phrase, Pick up their game or whatever I just want them to continue to develop. There are certain guys like Helli (Hellickson) who can pitch more innings. Moore can pitch more innings. The guys we already have are capable of getting deeper and farther into the game and pitch more innings for the entire season just based on experience. Of course, the last pitcher within the group, whoever that guy may be, is also going to be capable of pitching a lot of innings. So were going to pick those innings up somewhere. Somewhere is a fitting word to frame the Rays situation. Somewhere, theyre confident theyll find an answer for life post-Shields and Davis. Somewhere, theyre confident theyll discover how to compensate for two valued arms. Somewhere, theyre confident theyll develop a new identity on the mound and be as effective as before. For them, fresh starts include familiar expectations. The more things change, the less they actually do. You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving ate the Celtics’ heart during the second half of Game 4

NFL to reportedly bring back fun touchdown celebrations

Mike Trout explains why he doesn’t look at advanced stats

Reds’ Joey Votto shuts down heckler with “I remember when you used to be thin”

Rob Gronkowski gets new contract, chance to double salary

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Padres offering $99 ticket plan for five June wins or 16 June games – whatever happens first

Former Jets WR Devin Smith found out he was cut via Twitter

Roger Goodell tweets ‘Key & Peele’ joke about relaxed celebration rules

Martavis Bryant: ‘I know this is my last chance’

Glennon: ‘This is my year and I’m not worried about the future’

Durant apologizes for response to fans complaining about blowouts

The 'Walk on home, boy' quiz

NBA Referee Hotline Bling: Dejounte Murray gets his calls blocked twice

It's reality check time for the Texas Rangers

Box Score 5/23: Preds, Warriors move on to respective Finals

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

Why wait? Our too soon Cavaliers-Warriors NBA Finals preview

NBA Weekend Awards: Who will take a bite of the Snow White Crystal Apple?

The 'How two award snubs might shake up the NBA' quiz

Preparing for the BIG3: Q&A with BIG3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz

Two months in and Nintendo's Switch dominates 2017 video game market

Getaway Day: League leaders falter allowing new teams to surge ahead

Best of Yardbarker: Gregg Popovich doesn't mince words

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

NBA Referee Hotline Bling: Dejounte Murray gets his calls blocked twice

It's reality check time for the Texas Rangers

The 'Walk on home, boy' quiz

NBA Weekend Awards: Who will take a bite of the Snow White Crystal Apple?

Why wait? Our too soon Cavaliers-Warriors NBA Finals preview

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

The 'How two award snubs might shake up the NBA' quiz

Preparing for the BIG3: Q&A with BIG3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz

Two months in and Nintendo's Switch dominates 2017 video game market

Getaway Day: League leaders falter allowing new teams to surge ahead

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker