Previewing the 2011 MLB season, we’ve already named the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Sox the top World Series favorites. We’ve already looked at the NL Central and NL East and this week we will analyze the AL East teams not based in New York or Boston, starting with the Tampa Bay Rays; Tuesday: Toronto Blue Jays.
Off-Season Moves: This off-season was one that dramatically changed the makeup of this team. The Rays lost left fielder Carl Crawford, first baseman Carlos Pena, and closer Rafael Soriano to free agency. Those three were “replaced” by outfielders Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez (both pictured at left), first baseman Casey Kotchman and rightie Kyle Farnsworth, none of whom represents anything other than a downgrade. The Rays also traded away shortstop Jason Bartlett and right-hander Matt Garza, each for a number of players who likely won’t factor much into this season.
Strengths: Despite losing Garza (15-10, 3.91), the rotation looks to be the strongest aspect of this year’s Rays. Leftie David Price (19-6, 2.72, pictured below) is the staff ace and a bona fide superstar. Price will likely be followed by righties James Shields (13-15, 5.18), Jeff Niemann (12-8, 4.39), Wade Davis (12-10, 4.07) and Jeremy Hellickson (4-0, 3.47). That rotation doesn’t have a single player over the age of 30 and an average age of 25.6. Those five had a combined 3.96 ERA last season, which would have been good for 12th in the majors and first in the division.
The Rays finished tied for sixth in the majors with a .986 fielding percentage and shouldn’t see much of a dropoff in that category this year. The biggest disparity will likely be in left field, where Damon had a .964 fielding percentage as opposed to the .994 of Crawford.
Weaknesses: Tampa Bay finished 2010 in the top-5 in triples and runs scored and finished first in stolen bases. They were in the top-10 in doubles, RBI and on-base percentage. The problem is they lost Crawford’s 30 doubles, 13 triples, 100 runs, 90 RBI and .356 OBP. His replacement, Damon, brings significantly less production in every category except doubles (36) and OBP (.355). They also lost Pena’s 28 home runs and 84 RBI.
The Rays hit a combined .247 last year — tied for fourth worst in baseball. They dropped Pena’s .196, but also Crawford’s .304. Between those two losses and the additions of Ramirez (.298) and Damon (.271) the Rays should hit for a higher team average, but not a lot higher.
Summary: The Rays lost a lot this off-season, most notably Crawford to Boston and Soriano to the Yankees. It sounds odd to say a team that just signed a 37-year-old Damon and 38-year-old Ramirez is rebuilding, but they are. They’ve got talented young players in third baseman Evan Longoria, center fielder B.J. Upton and Price, but they’re going to need big contributions from some young unproven players such as catcher John Jaso, infielder Sean Rodriguez and Hellickson. The AL East was a tough division that got tougher, so matching last season’s 96 wins isn’t going to happen. I’m predicting 85 wins and a third place finish in the division.Google+