The Rays made one of the most improbable end-season runs to sneak into the playoffs as the wild card. Literally minutes after Boston lost in Baltimore on the season's final day to set up a movie-ending scenario, Evan Longoria roped a homer down the left field line to send the Rays to the postseason. Lost in the Longoria homer was that Dan Johnson saved the game in the bottom of the ninth with a clutch home run with two outs and a 2-2 count. Unfortunately, the Rays couldn't get past the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, losing the series 3-1. This season the Rays return with arguably their strongest lineup and best chance of winning their first World Series. The rotation should be one of the best and the offense will be capable of putting up runs on the board on a nightly basis. There's rightfully a lot of optimism in Tampa.
Signed Carlos Pena to a one-year deal.
Pena reportedly turned down more money for a chance to come back and play for the Rays. He'll provide the Rays with solid defense and although his batting average is well below league-average he'll provide a solid OBP. Look for him to flirt with 30 home runs and hit in the heart of the Rays' lineup.
Signed Luke Scott to a one-year deal.
After the signing of Pena, Scott will likely see the majority of his at-bats at DH. Coming off of shoulder surgery he was given a clean bill of health by the Rays and should provide some pop in the middle of the lineup. Scott has had success in Baltimore filling the DH spot so there's no reason to think he'll be the 2010 version of Pat Burrell.
Signed Fernando Rodney to a one-year deal.
Rodney came relatively cheap at $1.75 million and could carve out a seventh inning role. It's unlikely he'll factor into the closer's role but the Rays have a good history of maximizing the potential out of their relievers. If Rodney can keep his stuff under control, his ground ball tendencies should play nicely to the Rays stellar defense.
Signed Jeff Keppinger to a one-year deal.
Keppinger will be used as a utility player who can also come off the bench in late innings and bat against left-handed pitching. His defense is average at best but he's versatile enough to play any position in the field.
Signed Matt Moore to a five-year deal.
With all the club options and extras, the overall value of the contract could be worth $39.5 million. The Rays were likely wise to do this. While pitcher's are tough to predict what will happen with them health-wise, they don't come any better in the pedigree department as Moore. He dominated at Triple-A and with the Rays, winning the only game against Texas in the postseason. The deal should mean he starts the season towards the back of the rotation although the Tampa brass has stated he could start in the minors. That's an unlikely scenario unless something goes terribly wrong in the spring.
Traded Russ Canzler to the Indians, lost Justin Ruggiano to free agency after he refused assignment to Triple-A, non-tendered Dan Johnson, Juan Cruz and Andy Sonnanstine.
Canzler didn't figure into the Rays plans after they signed Carlos Pena and while he's shown some power in the minors it comes with a lot of strikeouts. Justin Ruggiano will have a better chance at playing time after signing with Houston and the Rays finally gave up on Andy Sonnanstine. Dan Johnson will always hold a special place in the hearts of Rays' fans given his clutch hitting over the years. Juan Cruz was a replaceable piece in the bullpen.
Acquired Burke Badenhop via trade from the Marlins.
Badenhop is a sinkerball pitcher who will induce a lot of ground balls. Look for Badenhop to work himself into some type of middle relief role out of the bullpen.
Lineup (vs. RH and LH)
1. Desmond Jennings, LF
2. Ben Zobrist , 2B
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. Carlos Pena, 1B
5. Luke Scott, DH
6. Matt Joyce, RF
7. B.J. Upton, CF
8. Reid Brignac/Sean Rodriguez, SS
9. Jose Lobaton/Jose Molina, C
The lineup has more power than the Rays are used to after adding Carlos Pena and Luke Scott. Desmond Jennings will look to build on a successful rookie campaign and provide a stolen base threat at the top of the order. The heart of the lineup will provide the ability to hit the long ball and protect Evan Longoria. Matt Joyce will look to build on his first season as a starter and could be in line for more playing time if he figures out how to hit lefties. The enigma that is B.J. Upton will provide solid defense and brings an intriguing blend of speed and power that comes with a poor batting average. The bottom two spots in the order won't be relied heavily on for production but Sean Rodriguez trumps Reid Brignac as the player with the higher offensive upside. Newcomer Jose Molina will be expected to handle the pitching staff and provide a good defensive option behind the plate.
1. James Shields
2. David Price
3. Jeremy Hellickson
4. Matt Moore
5. Jeff Niemann
6. Wade Davis/Alex Cobb
The Rays will use a six-man rotation - adding Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis to James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore - this spring and sort out the top 5 as Opening Day nears. The first four spots in the rotation are probably set sans a meltdown or injury in the spring. The Rays likely will deal either Davis or Niemann, perhaps if another team gets hit by the injury bug or has an ineffective spot in their rotation. Top to bottom this is one of the best rotations in all of baseball and gives the Rays a chance to compete with big market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East.
Closer: Kyle Farnsworth
Farnsworth turned in one of his best seasons finishing with a 2.18 ERA and .988 WHIP. He had some arm issues late in the season but is expected to be fine once pitchers and catchers show up to camp. One of the keys to his success is that Farnsworth has turned into more of a ground ball pitcher, playing into one of the Rays' strengths: defense. If he falters or has more arm issues Joel Peralta would be next in line to close. As it stands now, Peralta will handle eighth inning duties, a job he excelled at last season.
Notes of Importance, Fantasy or Otherwise:
Who gets the majority of starts at shortstop?
Chances are both Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez will split time there with Brignac being the better defensive option while Rodriguez is the better offensive option. For fantasy purposes Sean Rodriguez is an interesting player to keep tabs on considering his floor with 400 plate appearances is around a 10/10 season. Rodriguez also has a lot of versatility and is likely eligible at second, shortstop and third base in most leagues. Brignac's .448 OPS last season shows the limited ceiling for his potential. It's possible that if both players slump the Rays could call up Tim Beckum at some point during the season.
Who gets the final spot in the rotation?
Whoever ends up with the spot should have fantasy relevance considering how good all three pitchers - Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb - have looked at times. Niemann lost his arbitration case (not a shocker considering the Rays history) and ended up with a one-year deal for $2.75 million. As good as the Evan Longoria deal is looking now, Davis' deal isn't looking as good. If the Rays can find a trade partner for either and address their needs, look for either pitcher to wearing a different uniform at some point this season.
What's the deal with B.J. Upton?
Upton has long been the subject of trade rumors, the question is will the Rays ever pull the trigger? He provides the team with excellent defense and is a virtual lock to finish with around 20 homers and 40 stolen bases. Those stats come at the expense of a batting average that's been south of .250 the last three seasons. If he was ever to improve the average, he'd provide top-25 value for a player that usually is taken in the middle rounds.
Excellent rotation top to bottom, a solid defensive unit, a good minor league system and an upgrade in the power department.
Questionable offensive production from the shortstop and catcher positions, relief pitching outside of Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth.
Rising: Desmond Jennings - This will likely be the last season you can pick Jennings up in the middle rounds and get excellent value out of him. He'll likely cost much higher next season if he's able to build on what he did in 2011. Jennings tailed off towards the end of last season but should find himself batting leadoff on Opening Day. He finally displayed some power last season, finishing with 22 home runs between Triple-A and the Rays. Known for his speed, he should approach 40 stolen bases as well. A 59:31 K:BB ratio shows he wasn't overmatched at the plate and he has excellent range patrolling left field. He has the potential to be B.J. Upton but with a better batting average.
Falling: Wade Davis - A once promising prospect, some of the shine has faded for Davis' potential. He finished his 2011 campaign with a paltry 5.14 K/9IP and isn't going to be handed a spot in the rotation. He's typically a slow starter and that may land him in the bullpen in a long relief role. Davis has a manageable contract and a move out of the AL East could be what he needs to right the ship. There's still upside here but last season was definitely a step in the wrong direction.
Sleeper: Brandon Guyer - With all due respect to Sam Fuld, the bench player with the best upside this season is definitely Guyer. At 26 he's not an elite prospect but has displayed a nice blend of speed and power in the minors. His one walk in 43 plate appearances with Tampa last season tells you about his patience at the plate, an area he should improve in. If one of the regulars gets hurt or slumps, Guyer could find his way to four or five starts a week. Keep in mind he could start the season in Durham to play every day but he'll be a player to keep tabs on.
Supersleeper: Jose Lobaton - The trade of John Jaso to the Mariners should give Lobaton the opportunity to platoon with Jose Molina. While Lobaton isn't as good defensively as Molina, he's show solid upside in the minors hitting eight home runs in only 184 at-bats for Durham last season. In the minors he's been extremely patient, consistently posting a walk rate higher than 10 percent. If he shows he can handle the pitching staff and can hold his own with the bat, he could end up with more playing time than Molina.
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