Carl Crawford with the Boston Red Sox
After their offseason fire sale, the 2011 Tampa Bay Rays lost a lot of key players from their multiple playoff teams. In order to recover, they will need new players to step up to a more prominent role.
These power rankings take into consideration how much the loss hurts the Rays and if they have a viable replacement.
The key losses to the Rays roster are mostly in their bullpen. The reason being that they do not have many proven players to fill in. In other areas they have players that have at least a year or more experience in the majors.
Not all bad has come out of this offseason for the Rays. They picked up valuable draft picks in this season's entry draft. They received the No. 24 overall pick from the Boston Red Sox (Carl Crawford), and the No. 31 overall pick from the New York Yankees (Rafael Soriano). Aside from those picks, they received seven additional first and second round picks from other free agent signings.
They currently hold 12 of the first 90 picks in the draft. This is important for a team that has built up an impressive farm system from the draft.
In the next 10 slides you will see some of the Rays most important offseason losses. Who do you think should top the list?
Projected Replacement: Manny Ramirez
.230 BA, 6 HR, 43 RBI, 100 GP
Willy Aybar was never the biggest offensive producer in the Rays lineup, but his upside was that he can play multiple positions and, when given the opportunity to pinch hit, came up big.
In 2010, when Pat Burrell wasn't doing as well as expected, Aybar stepped in to fill in the DH spot. When Evan Longoria was hurt, Aybar replaced him at third base. In his time with the Rays, he came up with a couple of game winning hits and became known for his timely hitting.
Manny Ramirez can post up better numbers than Aybar without a doubt. In only 90 games last year, he batted .298 with nine home runs and 42 RBI. People are concerned about his past history of causing trouble with teams and whether he can still perform like he used to. A strong spring training will put any Manny Ramirez critics to sleep…for a while.
Projected Replacement: Andy Sonnanstine
3.92 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 30 SO, 62 IP
Lance Cormier was the Rays' long reliever last season, and did a decent job. The Rays lost a lot of key relievers and Cormier is part of that group.
The loss of Cormier hurts the least in the bullpen, because he can be replaced the easiest. He has a good slider with good location but does not surprise anyone with his velocity.
Cormier had a couple of bright moments, but was inconsistent throughout most of the season. Like most of the losses to the bullpen, they hurt because they have more experience than most of the newcomers .
Andy Sonnanstine is already one of the Rays' long relievers but he will be relied on more heavily this season if the Rays can’t find another quality reliever.
He made a couple of spot starts last season, but he might have to concentrate a little more on being a reliever this season. Because of all the young talent the Rays have at starting pitcher, he will have a little harder time getting starts. As a former starting pitcher he has the stamina to be a good long reliever and has shown that he is capable.
He had a high 4.44 ERA last season with 50 strike outs. The Rays would prefer a lower ERA this season, and so would Sonnanstine.
Projected Replacement: Mike Ekstrom
3.35 ERA, 46 SO, 1.08 WHIP, 48.1 IP
Dan Wheeler joined the Rays in 2007 and was a big part of the 2008 bullpen. Since then, his innings pitched have reduced from 66.1 in ’08 to 48.1 in 2010.
The main reason for the decrease is that the Rays have had better options in the bullpen in recent years. Wheeler has become very inconsistent and has lost some of his command. In ’08 and ’09, he pitched the Rays out of big jams all season. In '10 it seemed that he was getting them into jams.
Wheeler is still a good pitcher and can get back on track with the Boston Red Sox. Even with his struggles last season, the Rays will miss him in their depleted bullpen.
Mike Ekstrom is one of the young guys that will have to step up to make the Rays bullpen work. He played in only 15 games last season. Ekstrom started the season in the bullpen and was sent down after he gave up six runs in six games. He was then recalled in August and only gave up five hits in nine games.
The Rays were excited to have Ekstrom in the bullpen last spring training and has showed that he has the ability to be effective. He is one of the Rays’ many young and rising stars and he can prove a lot this season.
Projected Replacement: Kyle Farnsworth
2.28 ERA, 56 SO, 1.08 WHIP, 55.1 IP
When Grant Balfour stepped on the mound, opposing hitters were getting amped up to try and hit the fastball they all knew was coming. Yet, they still had trouble connecting.
Balfour was the stopper for the Rays. Any jam that came up, any time they needed a boost, they called for Balfour. He was a huge part of the 2008 team and came up big down the stretch.
Balfour was terrific in 2010 and only gave up two hits in three postseason games. If it wasn't for the amount of other players the Rays lost this year, he would have been one of their biggest losses.
One of my most memorable moments of Balfour was Game 1 of the 2008 American League Division Series against the Chicago White Sox. Balfour was on the mound yelling into his glove, getting pumped up and Orlando Cabrera took that as an insult.
After the first pitch was outside, Cabrera kicked dirt towards Balfour and then they exchanged words. Balfour went on to strike him out swinging and that intensity is what the Rays will miss.
Kyle Farnsworth is an 11-year veteran and has the skill set to replace Balfour. His size, at 6'4", is his intimidation factor that will be needed to replace him.
In 2010, Farnsworth had a 3.34 ERA, 61 SO and a 1.14 WHIP. He will be one of the biggest parts of the Rays bullpen next to a healthy J.P. Howell.
There have been rumors that Farnsworth will be asked to step in as the Rays closer. Farnsworth has 27 career saves, with 16 in 2005 being his career high. He most likely won't be the everyday closer, but if Joe Maddon goes to a closer-by-committee deal, he will be an important part of that.
Projected Replacement: Reid Brignac
.254 BA, 4 HR, 47 RBI
Jason Bartlett has been one of the most important players on the Rays the past three seasons. Bartlett has been a defensive star at shortstop, and a reliable hitter.
In 2009, he had a career year, posting a .320 batting average, 14 home runs and 66 RBI. With the 2010 season being his least productive it does not seem like much of a loss. His numbers took a hit last season mostly because of injury and maybe the Rays got rid of him at the right time.
It will be hard to replace his defensive skills. He was known more for his range then his arm strength and showed great leadership in the infield.
The young Reid Brignac played a lot in Bartlett’s absence when he was hurt last season. That experience will be huge moving forward. Brignac will go into spring training, knowing that the everyday shortstop position can be his with a solid showing.
In 2010, he hit .256 with eight home runs and 45 RBI. If he can raise his batting average and show a flashy glove, Jason Bartlett will be long forgotten.
Projected Replacement: Jeremy Hellickson
15-10, 3.91 ERA, 150 SO, 1.25 WHIP
At times Matt Garza looked like an ace on any team, other times he looked like a rookie. It was fun watching Garza mature into the pitcher he has become now, but who knows if he has grown out of his anger management issues.
Like many of the Rays starters, Garza was dominant in big games. Other games, if he gave up a home run and walked a couple of batters, he was all out of whack. He would lose his command and couldn't regain his composure.
There is more upside than downside with Garza and the Rays are losing a big pitcher from their rotation. 15 wins is his career high, and one can only see him getting better with the Cubs. Normally, rotations that lose a pitcher like Garza have trouble filling that spot or have to make a trade.
Luckily the Rays had Jeremy Hellickson waiting in Durham. Hellickson came up from Triple-A in August, and in four starts he posted a 3-0 record. In those starts he gave up only six runs and had 25 strike outs, while walking only four batters.
Hellickson is in line to be the next big Rays star, following the footsteps of Evan Longoria and David Price. The most interesting thing about him this season will be how well he does in a full season. In his four starts he showed great composure and a great command of his fastball.
Replacing Matt Garza is no easy task, but Hellickson has the right stuff to do it.
Projected Replacement: J.P. Howell (healthy)
1.34 ERA, 25 Holds, 75 SO, .68 WHIP, 60.1 IP
Normally Matt Garza would be ranked higher than Joaquin Benoit, but with a replacement like Jeremy Hellickson, the loss of Benoit hurts more.
When Benoit came into the game, there was a sense that he would get out of any jam he was presented with. He posted impressive numbers across the board last season, and Benoit was clearly the strongest reliever in the Rays bullpen next to Rafael Soriano. Who knows how far the Rays would have made it last season without him.
In 2008, J.P. Howell pitched in 89.1 innings and recorded 92 strike outs, which helped lead the Rays deep into the playoffs. In 2009, before he was injured, he had a 2.84 ERA with 79 strike outs and 17 saves.
In these past seasons he was the Joaquin Benoit of the team, getting out of big jams and doing it consistently. He doesn't overwhelm you with his velocity, but he has pinpoint accuracy with his change-up and sweeping curve.
It will take a complete bullpen effort to replace Benoit, but if J.P. Howell returns healthy and in his normal form, he can handle the load.
Howell is slated to return early in the season and possibly before the end of spring training. His return will give the Rays more confidence as a team.
Projected Replacement: Dan Johnson
.196 BA, 28 HR, 84 RBI
Carlos Pena came to the Rays in 2007 and has been blasting home runs all over Tropicana Field ever since. In his tenure with the Rays he hit 144 HR, but struck out 630 times. That is what the Rays will miss most and least about him. The strike out issues and the low batting averages will be easy to replace, but aside from Evan Longoria, the Rays have no one that will hit that many home runs.
Most of the time the Rays play small ball to produce runs, but when Pena came up to bat it seemed like the outfielders were ready to run back to the warning track. He was the most vocal Rays player in the clubhouse and is a great player to have in an organization.
Dan Johnson probably won't step in to be the clubhouse leader, but he can produce solid numbers. His .198 batting average and 27 strike outs came in only 111 at-bats, and mimic Pena's stats, but Johnson has shown that he can be a capable hitter.
With another full spring training knowing that he will be the first baseman if he performs well will motivate him. He could raise his batting average over .200 and push it being closer or over .250. If that can happen, the Rays will take the batting average and accept the loss of home runs.
Projected Replacement: N/A
1.73 ERA, 45 Saves, 57 SO, 0.80 WHIP
Rafael Soriano set the Rays franchise record with 45 saves in 2010. They never really had a closer of his caliber and they benefited from it.
The loss of Soriano and not having a true closer replacement hurts the Rays. They don't have the same offense, so it will be more important for the bullpen to keep them in games and to close them out. Soriano had his best season of his career last season, which was his first with the Rays after he spent a couple of years as the Atlanta Braves set-up man.
He has electric stuff and showed it on the mound every night he pitched. He was relatively quiet in the clubhouse, but when he was called in to close out a game you can see the intensity he brought to the team.
The Rays most likely will not find a replacement for him this season. Moving forward though, they will have to invest in a closer. They can draft and cultivate one in their farm system or search for a bargain in the free agent market.
Projected Replacement: Johnny Damon/Desmond Jennings
.307 BA, 19 HR, 90 RBI, 47 SB
Carl Crawford came into the league with the Rays in 2002, after being drafted by them and going through their farm system. For so long he has been the face of this organization and many feared this time will come when he had to get his big pay day. Crawford deserves to get the big money and Rays fans have to understand that. He has given everything to get to this point in his career and has endured some bad teams.
This past season he posted career highs in home runs and RBI, which appealed to the Red Sox and showed that he is still one of the premier players in the league.
The Rays are losing a complete hitter and outfielder. His speed is rarely duplicated across the league and the Rays who have been known for their speed on the base paths, might have a hard time replacing that. Crawford has been one of the most feared base runners in the league and in 2009 he put up 60 stolen bases. B.J. Upton will have to step up to make up for the loss of stolen bases.
Crawford cannot be replaced by anyone on the Rays current roster. They can just fill in the position. Desmond Jennings was supposed to be the Crawford look alike with his speed, but the signing of Johnny Damon might have put that on hold. Jennings will get his playing time, but to me he hasn't shown anything at the major league level. Damon will help give Jennings a little more time to develop and ease into his role.
Damon batted .271 with eight home runs, and 51 RBI in 145 games with the Tigers in 2010. Those numbers don't look like a whole lot, but he is capable of putting up better numbers than that. With his experience, his leadership will be welcomed by the Rays who will have someone else roaming left field for the first time in a while.
Good-bye Carl Crawford, we will miss you.