Alright ladies and gents, with this being Opening Day, I figured that it couldn’t hurt to repost the Rays season preview that I wrote for All Sports Talk. I made a few changes to make it relevant to where we are, just shy of t-minus two days and counting until the Rays officially start the 2013 season. The Rays also made some roster moves which you can read about below.
As Cole Stevenson of Opposing Views put it, “The Tampa Bay Rays continue to be the perfect model of how an organization should be run. Not just in baseball, but in all of sports.” And though the head of the players union, Michael Weiner, may see things a bit differently, there is something to be said about a team that’s won 90 games in four of the last five seasons. Though Tampa Bay lost a few key pieces following the 2012 season – namely Wade Davis, J.P. Howell, Jeff Keppinger, James Shields, and B.J. Upton – I think that the Rays are in line for another 90+ win season. Whether they can eke out a playoff spot is still unwritten. I’d reckon that it (somewhat) depends on the Orioles and Blue Jays; one team that had a quiet off-season following an incredible run in 2012, and another that made some monster moves though may not congeal as a team, at least in 2013.
Tampa Bay made some key off-season acquisitions that promise to shore up the Rays defensively. The Rays will likely ask Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar to do what they couldn’t in 2012 with the Blue Jays: match their career norms on offense while provide a steady middle infield defense. Escobar and Johnson’s contact skills have been in steady decline in recent years, but they could bolster the Rays offense if they if they can sort things out at the plate. It will also be interesting to see what impact Wil Myers and Tim Beckham could make this season, assuming they get called up at some point.
Then there’s the starting rotation. Following the Shields trade, the 2013 Rays success/failure will rest on the young and talented arms of the starting rotation. Joe Maddon and Co made an interesting choice in moving Jeff Niemann to the bullpen, making Roberto Hernandez the fifth starter in the rotation. If he can keep the ball on the ground — as he’s wan to do — and if the Rays infielders are as defensively sound as they have been in previous years, Hernandez could be another quality starter in a long line of quality pitchers. In the end, Niemann has everything to gain in the pen, while the fifth starter spot is Hernandez’ to lose.
Personally, I’d prefer to see Chris Archer on the Opening Day roster. However, the odds are good that we’ll see Archer at some point this season, especially if Niemann goes down again or is traded. Whatever the case, the upside potential of Moore and Hellickson is off the chart. We all saw what Cobb could do last season. And what more can be said about the 2012 Cy Young Award winner, David Price? USA Today has all 5 of the Rays starters in the top 81 (out of 150). If this staff can stay healthy and live up to expectations, they could singlehandedly keep the Rays in contention.
Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors put things in perspective, “The Rays won’t have an imposing offense in 2013. It’s a shortcoming, but one they’re accustomed to dealing with. Jose Molina’s pitch-framing skills, the versatility of Ben Zobrist and the depth of their pitching staff enable the Rays to prevent runs as well as any team (they allowed the fewest runs in MLB in 2012). As long as newcomers such as Escobar, Johnson and Loney contribute something on offense, the Rays should continue to outscore their opponents often enough to remain a threat in the AL East.”
Offense. Though Tampa Bay has done a lot to assure they’ll make fewer errors and give up fewer unearned runs, the question remains whether they’ll have enough offensive oomph to compensate for the loss of BJ Upton. What’s more, there’s also the question of Evan Longoria’s health.
Longoria, the Rays’ franchise player, has missed considerable time with injuries in 2011-12. The Rays had to compensate for the loss of Longo in 2012 by signing a laundry list of inferior players. Do the Rays have enough depth if, god forbid, Evan Longoria goes down again in 2013? To that end, can Luke “All Talk” Scott make an impact in 2013 after spending a considerable amount of time on the DL in 2012?
“The surgery is an 18-month process and I’m not even at that mark yet,” Scott was quoted as saying in October. “Reflecting back on my season personally, I had the 0-for-41 slump. That stunk. And I had the back and the oblique, but other than that, man, besides hitting .230, my production numbers for the amount of at-bats I had, they’re not bad.”
Scott has a point. His .439 slugging percentage was respectable, and another offseason of rest could make a difference. Then again, he’s always been a streaky player and has never gotten 500 at-bats in a season. Plus, if his stint on the DL to start the season is indicative of anything, Scott will be more of an injury risk than ever as a 34-year-old entering 2013.
- The Rays made a few roster moves Sunday to compensate for the loss of Luke Scott to the DL (let that be a lesson kids, don’t drink water) as well as to make room for Jamey Wright and Juan Carlos Oviedo on the roster. MLB Trade Rumors reported that Tampa Bay has DFA’d both Robinson Chirinos and Stephen Vogt to open up a couple of spots on the 40-man roster. They also promoted Shelley Duncan who will fill in at DH while Scott is incapacitated. Oviedo has been placed on the 60-day DL as he continues to recover from Tommy John surgery.