Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Will David Price start the season with the Rays?
Price is the organization's top prospect, but he needs to refine his changeup to give him the three pitches he needs to be a front-of-the-rotation starter. There's no reason to rush him since Jeff Niemann or Jason Hammel could hold down the fort in that slot while Price spends the first month or two at Triple-A Durham. Plus, Niemann and Hammel are each out of options, which could buy the Rays some time regarding what to do with each of these right-handers. Price could easily convince Tampa Bay he's ready this spring because the talent clearly is there.
2. Will B.J. Upton be healthy by the end of Spring Training?
3. Who will win the right-field job?
Upton arrives at Spring Training after having offseason surgery on his left shoulder. Given the fact that the Rays open the season in cold-weather cities -- Boston and Baltimore -- chances are he won't show enough while in Port Charlotte, Fla., to make the Rays rush him. However, Upton is young and resilient, meaning his recovery time could reflect this fact. The bet here is that he doesn't join the team until the first homestand.
The Rays will carry five outfielders, and they will have Carl Crawford, Upton, Gabe Kapler, Gabe Gross and Pat Burrell, which means it's likely that Matt Joyce, Fernando Perez and Justin Ruggiano are headed to Durham. One of the three might be with the team at the beginning of the season since Upton is projected to be on the disabled list, but that shouldn't be for long. If Upton is healthy, look for Kapler and Gross to split time in right field.
97-65, American League champions
Projected batting order
1. 2B Akinori Iwamura
.274 BA, .349 OBP, .380 SLG, 6 HR, 48 RBI in 2008
2. LF Carl Crawford
.273 BA, .319 OBP, .400 SLG, 8 HR, 57 RBI in 2008
3. CF B.J. Upton
.273 BA, .383 OBP, .401 SLG, 9 HR, 67 RBI in 2008
4. 1B Carlos Pena
.247 BA, .377 OBP, .494 SLG, 31 HR, 102 RBI in 2008
5. DH Pat Burrell
.250 BA, .367 OBP, .507 SLG, 33 HR, 86 RBI in 2008
6. 3B Evan Longoria
.272 BA, .343 OBP, .531 SLG, 27 HR, 85 RBI in 2008
7. C Dioner Navarro
.295 BA, .349 OBP, .407 SLG, 7 HR, 54 RBI in 2008
8. RF Gabe Gross
.238 BA, .333 OBP, .434 SLG, 13 HR, 40 RBI in 2008
9. SS Jason Bartlett
.286 BA, .329 OBP, .361 SLG, 1 HR, 37 RBI in 2008
1. Scott Kazmir
, 12-8, 3.49 ERA in 2008
2. James Shields
, 14-8, 3.56 ERA in 2008
3. Matt Garza
, 11-9, 3.70 ERA in 2008
4. Andy Sonnanstine
, 13-9, 4.38 ERA in 2008
5. David Price
, 0-0, 1.93 ERA in 2008
Closer: Troy Percival
, 28/32 saves, 4.53 ERA in 2008
RH setup man: Dan Wheeler
, 3.12 ERA in 2008
LH setup man: J.P. Howell
, 2.22 ERA in 2008
The new guys
The veteran slugger comes to the Rays as their top free-agent acquisition of the offseason. He gives Tampa Bay a much-needed power bat from the right side and should fit in well as the team's designated hitter. This is a good situation for Burrell since he won't be counted on to carry the team, only augment the lineup's overall power.
A free-agent signee, Nelson worked 54 innings with a 2.00 ERA for the Marlins last season. He should be a critical piece to bolster the team's bullpen for the 2009 season. Rays manager Joe Maddon has always favored having four pitchers he can hand the ball over to in the late innings with the score tied or with his club ahead by one run, and Nelson can be one of those guys.
The Rays added to their outfield depth by signing the veteran outfielder. He upgrades the lineup against left-handed pitching, can play all of the outfield positions and he gives Tampa Bay insurance in the event Upton is not ready for Opening Day. Kapler played in 96 games for the Brewers in 2008, hitting .301 with eight home runs and 38 RBIs.
Joyce came to the Rays from the Tigers in exchange for right-hander Edwin Jackson. Tampa Bay is not certain what the immediate future holds for its newly-acquired outfielder. One thing is certain; the left-handed-hitting Joyce has a large upside if he can realize his potential. He is an above-average outfielder with a strong arm and he has some power. While the Rays hope the trade will impact the team in 2009, they are looking to the future with Joyce, which is the only way for the club to remain competitive in the American League East.
Though he is not a big name, the Rays filled a bullpen need by signing the veteran left-handed specialist. Shouse, 40, went 5-1 with a 2.81 ERA in 69 games last season for the Brewers and was particularly effective against lefties, whom he held to a .180 average.
The veteran right-hander was signed to add depth to the bullpen. He has pitched in parts of five Major League seasons for the Diamondbacks, Braves and Orioles. He went 3-3 with a 4.02 ERA in 45 appearances for Baltimore in 2008.
He is a right-hander the Rays selected from the White Sox with the 19th pick of the Rule 5 Draft. During the 2008 season, he combined to go 5-2 with a 3.29 ERA and one save in 49 appearances while pitching for Double-Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. In 79 1/3 total innings, Rodriguez struck out 88 batters, walked 33 and allowed 54 hits, holding opponents to a .191 batting average. Following the season, he pitched for the Peoria Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League and made 13 appearances, going 1-0 with a 4.26 ERA and 14 strikeouts. This was his first season as a reliever.
Prospects to watch
The young southpaw is the organization's top prospect and could leave camp as part of the team's starting rotation. The left-hander is the total package, with a high pitching intellect and an arsenal of pitches to complement his savvy. Whether he begins the season with the Rays or not, he should have a major impact on the 2009 season.
The speedy outfielder showed off his speed during a brief stint with the club at the end of the 2008 season and during the playoffs; he also showed surprising power. A switch-hitter, Perez will most likely start the season at Durham since the Rays think enough of him to want him playing every day rather than being a reserve.
A quality shortstop in the waiting, Brignac has a nice bat and has come on in the field. Having him at Durham gives the Rays the kind of depth any organization would like to have. He's an injury away from being the team's starting shortstop or perhaps even second baseman.
On the rebound
The slugging first baseman had surgery in January to repair tears in his lower abdominal muscles. The injury is not expected to keep Pena from starting the season, but it was enough of a setback to keep the first baseman from playing on the Dominican Republic's team in the World Baseball Classic.
The young center fielder's numbers dropped in 2008, and for good reason, since he had to deal with unspecified left shoulder damage. He chose to gut it out for the remainder of the season before having surgery in November to repair the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. He is expected to start the season on the disabled list, but he could surprise this spring and be ready by Opening Day.
A submarine-throwing right-hander, Bradford had right elbow surgery on Friday to remove loose bodies. Now he will likely miss the first two months of the season, but once he returns, there's no reason to believe he won't be completely healthy.
A longtime Rays fan favorite, Baldelli signed with the Red Sox during the offseason. Baldelli began the 2008 season on the 60-day disabled list with what was diagnosed as a mitochondrial disorder and missed the first 116 games before returning to play in 28 of the Rays' last 46 games. Baldelli has since learned that he has channel-opathy, a non-progressive, highly treatable disease, which makes feasible the chances of his playing more often. However, Tampa Bay opted to go in another direction by trading Jackson to Detroit for right fielder Joyce, and the club then signed Burrell.
Miller signed with the Cardinals after going 2-0 with two saves and a 4.15 ERA over 68 relief appearances for the Rays in 2008. The 10-year veteran has pitched in at least 60 games in each of the past six years. Miller was on the mound Sept. 20 vs. Minnesota when Tampa Bay clinched its first postseason berth. He was a member of the Rays' active roster throughout the postseason, making six appearances. Miller was brought in primarily to face left-handers and he did well, making 19 appearances in which he faced just one batter and he retired that batter 16 times.
Gomes signed a Minor League contract with the Reds after the Rays did not tender him a 2009 contract, thereby making the outfielder/DH a free agent. Gomes spent parts of six seasons in the Major Leagues, all with Tampa Bay. His 21 home runs as a rookie in 2005 are a career high, and stood as a club rookie record until passed by Longoria in '08.
The right-hander was traded to the Tigers for Joyce after going 14-11 with a 4.25 ERA for the Rays in 2008. Over parts of six Major League seasons, Jackson is 25-30 with a 5.15 ERA. He was acquired from the Dodgers in a five-player trade on Jan. 15, 2006. He established a career high in innings pitched (183 1/3) and tied his career high with 31 starts last season. In short, he gave the impression he was moving closer to realizing his vast potential.
Floyd signed a deal with the Padres after hitting .268 with 11 home runs and 39 RBIs with the Rays in 2008. There were doubts that Floyd would even be back for the 2009 season after he suffered a labrum injury to his right shoulder diving back into second base during Game 2 of the World Series. At that point, Floyd said if the injury required surgery, he would retire. But Floyd didn't need surgery and instead treated the injury with therapy.