Retooled Rays see a chance to prove doubters wrong
ST. PETERSBURG -- Just to make one thing clear, Rays management has not been dismantling the 1927 Yankees this offseason.
The 2014 Rays won 77 games. That's a 15-win drop-off from the previous season. So keep that in mind while throwing salvos at the makeover that new president of baseball operations Matt Silverman has directed this offseason. Did anybody really think the organization should have stood pat?
Since the end of the season, Tampa Bay has experienced a whirlwind of change. Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman are gone. Wil Myers, Joel Peralta, Jeremy Hellickson, Cesar Ramos, Matt Joyce, Ryan Hanigan, Sean Rodriguez, Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar have all been traded. Also gone is Jose Molina.
All were familiar faces who enjoyed some modicum of success during their stays with the team. But the conglomerate of their actions did not compute last season. That prompted change.
If you're keeping score, here's what this year's team looks like at this juncture.
The starting rotation again will be the foundation. Alex Cobb will lead a solid group that also contains Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly. Matt Moore (Tommy John surgery) should be back by late June or early July. Until then, the Rays will likely go with Nathan Karns or Alex Colome in the fifth spot. Newcomer Burch Smith could also be an option as well.
Jake McGee will be missing from the bullpen at the beginning of the season, so that will leave the late innings to Grant Balfour, Brad Boxberger, Ernesto Frieri and Kevin Jepsen in the early going. The hard-throwing McGee expects to be back in May, which should feel like a midseason acquisition at that point.
The infield will be anchored by Evan Longoria and James Loney at the corners, with new acquisition Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop. Second base could be a group effort that includes Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe in the mix -- and perhaps Tim Beckham.
Catching duties will fall mostly to newly acquired Rene Rivera and Curt Casali. Though John Jaso was acquired in the Zobrist deal, Tampa Bay traded for him primarily because of his bat.
Steven Souza, who came to the Rays from the Nationals in the three-way deal that sent Myers to the Padres, should become the everyday right fielder. Desmond Jennings and Kevin Kiermaier could platoon in center, with Kiermaier occasionally spotting Souza in right. And left appears to be a platoon situation between David DeJesus and Brandon Guyer at this point -- though there's still a chance DeJesus could be dealt before the start of the season.
Cobb recently noted that the group remaining is excited about this year's team.
"We'll talk back and forth about how everybody's saying we're selling everyone off and we're headed back to last place," Cobb said. "We think the complete opposite. We think the team has gotten better, and we know we're going to contend in this division.
"We know we had a down year last year, but we feel like we have a better team than last year. We expect the core guys to produce more than they did last year. And you accompany that with some great acquisitions that we've had, and we're going to be a very successful team this year."
Added Moore: "I absolutely trust everything they've been doing, because they've all been a part of what's going on in here in the past. So it's not necessarily new leadership. I feel like we're still moving in the same direction."