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Rays go from good to better

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  January 5, 2009 07:45 PM

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In the wake of Pat Burrell agreeing to a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, here is something to consider: Tampa has shored up its two weakest spots in the lineup since the end of the 2008 season, when the Rays advanced to the World Series.

The point?

Tampa is getting even better.

Admittedly, Pat Burrell is not Albert Pujols, but that is not the point. Last season, Tampa’s designated hitters posted an OPS of .751, ninth in the American League. In terms of on-base percentage, Rays DHs ranked 11th. Agreeing with Burrell (a career .367 OBP) on a two-year, $16 million deal means Tampa will have greater depth in the middle of its order and serves as a nice follow-up to the trade that brought outfielder Matt Joyce to the Rays in the earlier offseason deal that sent Edwin Jackson to Detroit.

Joyce, too, projects as a nice upgrade. Last season, the Rays ranked 10th in the league in OPS from their right fielders and an even more dismal 11th in OBP. The 24-year-old Joyce should help the Rays in both areas, which does not even begin to measure the potential improvement in players like B.J. Upton (who was a beast in October) and Evan Longoria.

So, with all of the moves the Yankees have made -- and based on how the Rays ended last season - Tampa’s lineup now looks something like this:

1. Akinori Iwamura, 2b
2. B.J. Upton, cf
3. Carlos Pena, 1b
4. Evan Longoria, 3b
5. Carl Crawford, lf
6. Pat Burrell, dh
7. Matt Joyce, rf
8. Dioner Navarro, c
9. Jason Bartlett, ss

Pretty good, eh? Between the Yankees and Rays, it looks like the Red Sox are going to have their hands full this year.

Remember: Despite what happened in the postseason last year -- especially against the Red Sox -- the Rays struggled to score runs at times and finished ninth in the league in runs scored. The Rays have tons of young pitching -- David Price should join the rotation this year -- which means upgrading the offense was a priority. Nobody knows if the Tampa bullpen can match its performance from a year ago, but the Rays should have a more productive lineup this year, too.

One more thing about the Burrell deal: It is worth noting that he actually took a pay cut down to $8 million (from a base salary of $14 million in 2008) despite a season in which he finished with 33 home runs and 86 RBIs. Yes, Burrell had a brutal second half -- he hit a mere .215 after the break -- but he turned only 32 in October and has been quite streaky (and for long stretches) throughout his career.

Hmmm.

Wonder what this means for Manny Ramirez, who might have had $20 million from the Sox next year if he had behaved and encouraged them to exercise his option.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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