However, considering the latest news concerning their top slugger, the next two months could find them struggling to stay afloat.
Third baseman Evan Longoria left Monday night’s game with the Seattle Mariners after attempting to steal second base in the bottom of the third. Longoria’s feet got tangled up with Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan, and he immediately winced in pain before getting up and being helped off the field.
On Tuesday morning, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweeted that Longoria could miss a significant amount of time.
Hearing #Rays Longoria has a hamstring issue, guesstimate is he'll be out 6-8 weeks. Could have been worse.— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) May 1, 2012
Shortly after Topkin sent that tweet, Rays vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman tried to dispel that rumor.
Friedman told TBO.com that the report was “premature” and that no tests have been performed on Longoria as of yet.
"We'll see how he feels today," Friedman said. "He's been a very good healer."
For anyone who witnessed the play in question, it certainly looked like something serious. Until any diagnosis of Longoria’s condition is confirmed, there’s no way of telling how Longoria’s absence will affect the Rays in the short or long term. However, if Topkin’s sources are in fact correct, the Rays will need to come up with a Plan B.
Just what would that Plan B entail? Will Friedman be on the horn with other GMs around the league? Will the Rays stick with internal candidates to replace Longoria in the lineup?
The AL East is absolutely up for grabs, and the Rays certainly don’t want to lose any momentum as they head into the month of May.
Here are six potential replacements who could replace Longoria in the lineup, should he be out for an extended period of time.
In what could only be classified as a very short-term solution, Tampa Bay Rays utility infielder Elliot Johnson will likely see time at third in place of the injured Evan Longoria.
However, considering Johnson's ineffectiveness with the bat, it's not the obvious solution by any means.
Johnson is currently hitting .182 through 13 games, coming off the heels of hitting a paltry .194 in 70 games for the Rays last season. Johnson, Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez combined last year to hit just .193 from the shortstop position, so manager Joe Maddon is already challenged offensively on the left side of the infield.
This could actually be a perfect option for both the Los Angeles Angels and the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Angels have a logjam at third, with incumbent Albert Callaspo along with Mark Trumbo and Maicer Izturis. Manager Mike Scioscia has been challenged in trying to get Trumbo at-bats each day, and shipping Callaspo off to Tampa Bay would certainly help in that regard.
Callaspo is off to a slow start in 2012, hitting just .182 in 15 games. However, if Evan Longoria is indeed gone from the Rays for a significant period of time, Callaspo would benefit from playing every day and would likely see his average creep up closer to his .279 lifetime mark.
While Callaspo can't replace Longoria's power, he can provide a solid glove and more-than-capable bat toward the bottom of the lineup. It's certainly a bat that is better than the previous choice, Elliot Johnson.
As mentioned in the previous slide, the Los Angeles Angels have a logjam third, with manager Mike Scioscia scrambling to get at-bats for last year's AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Mark Trumbo.
Utility infielder Maicer Izturis would be a more-than-capable option for the Tampa Bay Rays in the absence of injured star Evan Longoria. However, Angels GM Jerry Dipoto may loathe to give Izturis up, given his ability to play third, second and shortstop.
The Colorado Rockies signed free-agent third baseman Casey Blake this offseason as a stopgap solution while waiting for heralded prospect Nolan Arenado to continue his development.
Unfortunately for Blake, a horrid spring training saw him released. While he is clearly on the downside of his career, the Rays could take a chance on a minimum contract and see if there's anything left in the tank for Blake. At under $500,000, it may be a risk worth taking.
Over the course of his now-15-year career, utility infielder Jerry Hairston Jr. has provided several teams with a needed spark off the bench. He has filled in as a capable replacement for other stars who have been injured.
Hairston could give Tampa Bay the same type of spark on a short-term basis with Longoria out of the lineup.
With the Miami Marlins having transitioned former shortstop Hanley Ramirez to the hot corner, Greg Dobbs will see limited time at best throughout his career in Miami.
Dobbs is a career .264 hitter with some power and, while he'll never be confused with Evan Longoria, he's a far better option than what Tampa Bay currently has available.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.