Notable additions: RHP Chris Archer, RHP Kyle Farnsworth, RHP Joel Peralta
Notable subtractions: LF Carl Crawford, 1B Carlos Peña, SS Jason Bartlett, RP Rafael Soriano, RP Joaquin Benoit, RP Lance Cormier*, RP Dan Wheeler, RP Randy Choate, RP Grant Balfour*, RP Chad Qualls*, C Dioner Navarro, DH Brad Hawpe, IF Willy Aybar*, RHP Matt Garza
Everyone thinks the Tampa Bay Rays will take a significant step backwards in 2011, but I am not numbered among those doubters. Tampa is one of the best-run organizations in baseball, and they have the young horses needed to minimize the impact of the losses of veterans Carl Crawford, Matt Garza and CarlosPena.. While I don’t believe they can make a playoff run, I think it’s likely they will remain competitive as they re-tool both the lineup and rotation.
Prospect Desmond Jennings will remind fans of a younger version of Carl Crawford—the key will be whether he proves to be proficient at getting on base. The front office will likely sign Johnny Damon or Manny Ramirez to be the DH, enabling Matt Joyce to serve as the right fielder and Ben Zobrist to return to the infield, possibly in place of Pena at first base.
Reid Brignac will take over at shortstop and should provide substantially more offense than the steadily declining Jason Bartlett. The key to the offense will be the development of Jennings.
The starting rotation will be fine and will help to minimize the impact of the losses in the bullpen (Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour, et al). David Price is one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball. Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis will improve as they gain experience, and I expect Jeremy Hellicksen to contend for the American League Rookie of the Year Award. The success of the rotation will largely rest on whether RHP James Sheilds can get back to being the pitcher he was a few years ago.
If the rotation consistently gets deep into games, then the bullpen will survive. Once manager Joe Maddon selects a closer in spring training, the rest of the bullpen should fall into place. The prime candidates for 9th-inning duties are RHPs Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta and LHPs Jake McGee (a rookie) and JP Howell (who missed last year due to injury). The pitchers who lose that battle will join former starting pitcher Andy Sonnanstine to provide a serviceable bullpen.