Quick: Name the Tampa Bay Rays' general manager. [[tapping foot]] Times up. His name is Andrew Friedman and it is a mystery why he is so little known. We all know Ken Williams, Brian Cashman, Theo (who doesn't even need a last name) and now we know Alderson. But the best of the bunch in the last three years has been Andrew Friedman who has transformed the Bay Rays from a perennial punchline to a powerhouse. Now Friedman has his work cut out for him. 2010 was in many ways, the last hurrah for the particular bunch that made them successful. As Peter Gammons points out, eleven of the twenty-five players on the Rays' roster last year are free agents, including the entire bullpen. Crawford won't be back. Pena shouldn't be back. And so it will be one of the most fascinating stories of this off season as to what the Bay Rays can and will do to keep their competitive edge.
The good news is that there is still a good core of young talent. Longoria is already the best third baseman in the league. Wait...and then what? The Fan just came up short in his thinking because there really isn't a superstar on the team besides Longoria. B. J. Upton has been nothing but frustrating in his recent few years for the Bay Rays. Bartlett went from being one of the best shortstops in the league two years ago to being one of the worst last year. Zobrist went from god-like in 2009 to league average in 2010. Jaso is serviceable and has great baseball instincts. Matt Joyce showed flashes of brilliance and could be in the superstar category soon. Sean Rodrigeuz was just okay. But the team didn't have a DH worth writing about and again, Crawford and Pena are gone.
Wait, there is another superstar! His name is David Price and he really blossomed last year. But what of the rest of the rotation? Garza is a puzzle. He either throws no-hitters or gets lit up like a Christmas tree. Shields did not have a good year. Niemann was good and then he wasn't. Wade Davis wasn't good and then he was. But the feeling here is that the Bay Rays' rotation will be just fine. The Fan sees it as: 1. Price, 2. Daves, 3. Garza, 4. Hellickson and 5. Niemann. That could be a fantastic rotation. So that is the least of the Rays' worries.
The bullpen, as mentioned are ALL free agents. The Bay Rays can probably afford to sign three or four of them. And then what? Soriano will probably move on and he was so solid for them as a closer last year. It was the first time ever that the Bay Rays had a lock on the ninth inning. It seems difficult for them to revert back to their closing history of 2009 and before. But, if building a bullpen is as easy as a lot of smart people think it is, no need to worry. Friedman will think of something. Perhaps the Nefti Feliz clone, Alex Colombe, could be the closer.
The thing about the Bay Rays is that they are fantastic at drafting players. Need another pitcher? Hellickson came up last year and pitching brilliantly in four starts. The Bay Rays messed him up a bit by putting him in the bullpen after that, but hopefully, there won't be a long term problem with that. Need another pitcher? How about Matt Moore or Alex Torres or...the list is endless.
Look for the Bay Rays to give Desmond Jennings a chance to be an every day outfielder. Jennings, to quote a scout, is "toolsy." He's a center fielder by trade, but with Upton, he may have to move to left or vice versa. Zobrist should play right and the Rays have to hope that he becomes what he was two years ago again. Upton needs to find himself. The Fan still believes he will, but time is running out. If Jennings, Upton and Zobrist man the outfield, two of the three at least should have good seasons.
If the Fan was the GM--and thank goodness, that will never happen--Bartlett would be traded for prospects or another part player. Reid Brignac is a better fielder and can be a 15 homer guy in time. Rodriguez should build on his rookie season. He shows flashes of being really good, but if that doesn't work out, they can always put Zobrist there and find an outfielder. Zobrist could also play first or rotate there with someone else.
John Jaso really impressed last year. His patience at the plate and his base running presence (not steals though) found him in the lead off spot last year. Shoppach wasn't much of a back up and of course, Dioner Navarro walked out on the team after being left off the post season roster. That probably seals his fate with this team. Bottom line, the Rays could use another decent catcher. The nice thing about needing a catcher is that you can get a pretty good one for just a few mil and change. Buck would be a nice addition that wouldn't break the bank.
And man, do the Bay Rays need a DH or what? Holy cow, that position has been a stinker for them. If they could get one of the big bruisers on the market for $5 or $6 million, they should certainly do that. Perhaps even Magglio Ordonez would be a good option if he is healthy. Anything has to be an improvement. Anything!
The Bay Rays have their work cut out of them. Crawford was one of the best players in the league. Guys like that are hard to replace. A lot has to go right for this team to be as good moving forward. Can they find bullpen help? Can more young players step up and do as well as those that have in the past? Can Garza and Niemann find some consistency and put a solid year together? But again, Friedman is one of the best and there is no way you can count them out. The scary part for this team is that depending on how their young players do, they could finish anywhere from first to fourth.