Tampa Bay Rays
2013: 92-71, 2d place, 5.5 games back, wild card berth
2014 projection: 93-69, 1st place (tie)
Manager: Joe Maddon, 9th season
Projected 2014 payroll: $72.5 million
The Rays rivalry with the Red Sox continues to escalate each year, and 2014 should be no exception. The Sox topped the Rays in four games during last year’s ALDS, and the Sons of Joe Maddon should be in the playoff battle again this season.
Tampa Bay made plenty of small moves this offseason, but the biggest move was signing ace lefty David Price for $14 million one-year deal to head up the venerable starting rotation.
The Rays hope to shore up their spotty bullpen with the addition of former A’s closer Grant Balfour who was with the Rays back from 2007-10. The 36-year-old Australia native is expected to succeed the departed Fernando Rodney to close out games and will be backed up by ageing flamethrower Heath Bell. Bell was 5-2 with a 4.11 ERA with 15 saves in 69 appearances for the Diamondbacks last season.
Andover native Ryan Hanigan, one of the best defensive catchers in the game, was added from the Reds to take over behind the plate with both Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton remaining in the mix for now.
Others not returning to the Trop as a member of the Rays in 2014 include infielder Kelly Johnson, outfielder Sam Fuld, Red Sox fan nemesis Luke Scott, DH Delmon Young, starter Roberto Hernandez, relievers Alex Torres, Jamey Wright, Wesley Wright, and Jeff Niemann.
Infielder Logan Forsythe and righthander Brad Boxberger are also new editions.
Projected lineup: David DeJesus, CF, Ben Zobrist, 2B; Wil Myers, RF; Evan Longoria, 3B; James Loney, 1B; Yunel Escobar, SS; Desmond Jennings, LF; Jose Lobaton/Ryan Hanigan, C, Sean Rodriguez, DH
Rotation: David Price, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi/Jeremy Hellickson
Bullpen: Grant Balfour, CL, Joel Peralta, Heath Bell
Off the bench: Matt Joyce, Jose Molina, Logan Forsythe
Outlook: Rays starters were third in the AL with a 3.81 ERA in 2013, and they may be able to improve upon that this season if Price, Moore, and Cobb pitch to their potential and stay healthy while they get a full season out of Archer. The Rays, like the A’s out west, always seem to replenish the fountain of great young pitching. This season, it’s 23-year-old righthander Jake Odorizzi who could become an intriging part of the rotation.
The 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, who was 12-10 with a 5.17 ERA last season, will miss the first six to eight weeks of the season after having arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow.
Evan Longoria leads the offensive attack and now he’ll have budding superstar Wil Myers to hit in front of him and help produce runs for a full season. The Rays could still use another righthanded power bat, particularly at DH.
First baseman and Red Sox castoff James Loney had a terrific 2013 at the place – batting .299/.348/.430 – and was re-signed to a three-year $21 million deal. David DeJesus, who joined the Rays late last season, will be in center for the full schedule this time around.
After all the offseason shuffling, the bullpen remains a question mark heading into 2014, but this Rays team looks better on paper than any Joe Maddon club in recent memory. They should make it to the postseason, but winning a playoff series is another story.