A lot has already been said on who the Rays have lost—from LF Carl Crawford, to SS Jason Bartlett, SP Matt Garza, Carlos Pena and pretty much their entire bullpen.
But it's more important to look at who's there, versus who is not there, especially since those present are the ones who will determine if the Rays will be winning or losing this season.
The Rays' quiet confidence, held by general manager Andrew Friedman and skipper Joe Maddon, rests on their starting pitching.
The Rays return the AL Cy Young runner-up in David Price (19-6, 2.72 ERA), along with Jeff Niemann (12-8, 4.39 ERA) and second-year starter Wade Davis. Veteran James Shields saw his ERA soar above 5.00 last year, but induced a career-high amount of strikeouts, finishing in the top 10 in the AL in swing-and-misses.
The problem for Shields last year was with the home run. His stats indicate he should be better in 2011. But even if he isn't, few teams have as good and reliable a No. 5 starter (career 4.25 ERA, over 200 IP in last 4 years).
And the Rays trot out their next big thing this season in right-hander Jeremy Hellickson. Having the early-season AL Rookie of the Year in Hellickson gives the Rays one of the best starting fives in baseball.
On offense, the Rays scored over 800 runs last season, despite many of their hitters having down seasons. Even with the defections, the Rays offense looks strong, with the additions of the ex-Idiots in Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. Add in a full season of RF Matt Joyce and a healthy 2B Ben Zobrist, and the Rays very well could duplicate their offensive numbers from a year ago.
The question is: Can they lock down as many games?
The Rays lost all but one of their bullpen members from the start of last season. The Rays will go with a closer-by-committee approach, using relievers such as Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Adam Russell and Jake McGee.
Farnsworth struggled with his first stint in the AL East as a member of the New York Yankees. But Farnsworth has added a cutter to his repertoire in the last two seasons and has seen extremely positive results.
Over the last two seasons, Farnsworth's numbers have compared very well to former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks, now a member of the Boston Red Sox bullpen.
If the Rays can mold this new bullpen together, and the highly talented Jake McGee could become the closer before long, the Rays have all the other pieces needed to compete again for another AL East division title.