Were the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays a Fluke? No Way!
C: Dioner Navarro
1B: Carlos Pena
2B: Akinori Iwamura
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Jason Bartlett
LF: Carl Crawford
CF: B.J. Upton
RF: Gabe Gross
DH: Pat Burrell
SP: James Shields
SP: Scott Kazmir
SP: Matt Garza
SP: Andy Sonnanstine
SP: David Price
RP: Chad Bradford
RP: Brian Shouse
RP: Joe Nelson
RP: Grant Balfour
RP: J.P. Howell
RP: Dan Wheeler
CL: Troy Percival
But, in my opinion, the most important part may be the manager:
The new guys
Pat Burrell: The veteran slugger comes to the Rays as their top free-agent acquisition of the off-season. He gives Tampa Bay a much-needed power bat from the right side and should fit in well as the team's designated hitter.
This is a good situation for Burrell since he won't be counted on to carry the team, only to augment the lineup's overall power.
Joe Nelson: A free-agent signee, Nelson worked 54 innings with a 2.00 ERA for the Marlins last season. He should be a critical piece to push along the team's bullpen for the 2009 season.
Maddon has always favored having four pitchers he can hand the ball over to in the late innings with the score tied or with his club ahead by one run, and Nelson can be one of those guys.
Gabe Kapler: The Rays added to their outfield depth by signing the veteran outfielder. He upgrades the lineup against left-handed pitching, can play all of the outfield positions and he gives Tampa Bay insurance in the event Upton is not ready for Opening Day.
Kapler played in 96 games for the Brewers in 2008, hitting .301 with eight home runs and 38 RBIs.
Matt Joyce: Joyce came to the Rays from the Tigers in exchange for right-hander Edwin Jackson. Tampa Bay is not certain what the immediate future holds for its newly-acquired outfielder.
One thing is certain; the left-handed-hitting Joyce has a large upside if he can realize his potential. He is an above-average outfielder with a strong arm and he has some power.
While the Rays hope the trade will impact the team in 2009, they are looking to the future with Joyce, which is the only way for the club to remain competitive in the American League East.
Brian Shouse: Though he is not a big name, the Rays filled a bullpen need by signing the veteran left-handed specialist.
Shouse, 40, went 5-1 with a 2.81 ERA in 69 games last season for the Brewers and was particularly effective against lefties, whom he held to a .180 average.
Lance Cormier: The veteran right-hander was signed to add depth to the bullpen. He has pitched in parts of five Major League seasons for the Diamondbacks, Braves and Orioles. He went 3-3 with a 4.02 ERA in 45 appearances for Baltimore in 2008.
Derek Rodriguez: He is a right-hander the Rays selected from the White Sox with the 19th pick of the Rule 5 Draft. During the 2008 season, he combined to go 5-2 with a 3.29 ERA and one save in 49 appearances while pitching for Double-Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte.
In 79 1/3 total innings, Rodriguez struck out 88 batters, walked 33 and allowed 54 hits, holding opponents to a .191 batting average.
Following the season, he pitched for the Peoria Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League and made 13 appearances, going 1-0 with a 4.26 ERA and 14 strikeouts. This was his first season as a reliever.
I think that because of all of these signings, the Rays are definitely better than last year. But, they have three questions:
1.Who will win the Right Field job?
My early prediction is Gabe Gross, but Kapler and a few other prospects may give him a challenge.
2. Will Price be able to start?
I say yes. He showed some promise last year, and should have an okay season, and very good for a No. 5 starter.
3. Will Troy Percival be healthy enough to be an efficient closer?
No. However, I like Wheeler as a closer, and Maddon has filled his bullpen with many good players, and Troy Percival's absence would be felt, but not too bad.
Look for another good year from the Rays.
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