INSIDE PITCH Rays' additions came without much subtraction
The Rays went into the off-season hoping to improve their offense without diminishing their defense and willing to deal from their depth of starting pitching to do so.
And as they go into spring training, they feel pretty good that they were able to do that, adding first baseman Carlos Pena, designated hitter Luke Scott and infielder Jeff Keppinger.
And even better that they did so without trading a starter. Executive vice-president Andrew Friedman went so far in a radio interview to say it was "a dream scenario."
At the least, having right-handers Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann and Alex Cobb all still around, in addition to right-handers James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson and LHPs David Price and Matt Moore, gives the Rays options in the event of an injury, and even more depth in the bullpen.
But it also allows them to consider a trade during spring training if they have a need, such as at catcher.
The Rays have a lot to be excited about. No matter who fills the open spot, they have what is considered one of the best rotations in the majors, which will be the foundation for their success.
The offense, which scored the fewest runs in the AL East last season, has been bolstered by the three free agents (Pena and Scott will be regulars, Keppinger will play against left-hander pitchers).
In addition, they should get full seasons from third baseman Evan Longoria, who missed a month because of injury, and left fielder Desmond Jennings, who was called up in July.
The defense should again be one of the game's best, with above-average to premium glove men at each position, and the addition of veteran catcher Jose Molina.
And the bullpen, which was a surprising strength last season thanks to unexpected contributions from Kyle Farnsworth, should be deeper with the additions of Fernando Rodney, who has previous closing experience, and ground-ball specialist Burke Badenhop.
All that said, there are some concerns and questions that need to be answered during the spring.
The two most obvious are at shortstop, where Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez are expected to stage an all-out battle, although it's possible they will end up platooning, and for the second catcher's spot.
Molina probably will play fewer than 100 games. Jose Lobaton, Robinson Chirinos and minor-league signee Chris Gimenez are the top candidates.
Also, the Rays will have to gauge the effectiveness of LHP J.P. Howell., who struggled much of last season after returning in May from shoulder surgery that sidelined in 2010.
Maddon could have commanded more, stays with Rays for less
--Manager Joe Maddon removed the potential distraction of his contract issue by agreeing to a three-year extension, an under-market deal for about $6-million total, according to the Tampa Bay Times. That would keep him in the Rays' dugout through 2015, giving him 10 consecutive seasons on the job. Maddon said the decision to extend was easy given how much he relishes working for the Rays. "This is really the only place I wanted to be," Maddon said. "I think this is the most interesting place to be involved in Major League Baseball, because there is a lot of freedom here. There's a lot of freedom to get better, there's a lot of freedom to think. You talk about outside the box, it's just about thinking and trying new ideas and trying new things. And it's about having the people and the resources to make these new things come to fruition, which we have."
|The signing of Chris Gimenez to a minor league deal makes the Rays' catching situation even more interesting. |
--C Chris Gimenez was signed to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training, giving the Rays additional depth, and perhaps another option behind the plate. Veteran C Jose Molina is expected to start as many games as he can handle, partnering with either Jose Lobaton or Robinson Chirinos. Gimenez has more experience than either, having played 97 games over the previous three seasons with the Indians and Mariners.
--2B/RF Ben Zobrist and CF B.J. Upton are the two most likely candidates to fill the No. 2 spot in the Rays' batting order, slotting in behind LF Desmond Jennings and ahead of 3B Evan Longoria. Zobrist would seem a better fit as a switch-hitter between the two right-handers, but manager Joe Maddon said he can't ignore how well Upton did last season.
--OF Matt Joyce, heading into his final season before arbitration eligibility, switched agents, leaving David Meter, who was based on the Tampa area, to sign on with the New York-based ACES firm run by the Levinson brothers.
--OFs Jeff Salazar, who has major-league experience, and Brad Coon, who does not, were signed to minor-league deals to provide depth as the Rays prepare to open spring training. Coon, 29, has spent seven years in the minors; Salazar, 31, played parts of four seasons in the majors.
BY THE NUMBERS: 25 -- Managers in MLB history (modern era, from 1900 on) to manage at least 10 consecutive full seasons with the same team; Rays manager Joe Maddon could join them if he fulfills terms of his new contract extension.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We'll save the 'Benjamin Button of major-league managers' for another question." -- Rays' executive vice-president Andrew Friedman, referencing manager Joe Maddon's again darker hairstyle.