Needs and Luxuries: Tampa Bay Rays

Up next in our Needs and Luxuries series, the Rays.  Here’s how they’re set up.

C – Dioner Navarro
1B – Carlos Pena
2B – Akinori Iwamura
SS – Jason Bartlett
3B – Evan Longoria
LF – Carl Crawford
CF – B.J. Upton
RF – Cliff Floyd/Rocco Baldelli/Jonny Gomes
DH – Cliff Floyd/Rocco Baldelli/Jonny Gomes

SP – Scott Kazmir
SP – Jamie Shields
SP – Matt Garza
SP – Andy Sonnanstine/Edwin Jackson/Jeff Niemann/Jason Hammel/J.P. Howell
SP – Andy Sonnanstine/Edwin Jackson/Jeff Niemann/Jason Hammel/J.P. Howell

Setup: Al Reyes
Closer: Troy Percival


The ’07 Rays ranked 8th in the league in OBP and 4th in SLG.  How can they find the needed OBP improvement?  Delmon Young‘s sub-par OBP is gone, replaced with the Gomes/Floyd/Baldelli rotation.  Let’s consider any Baldelli contribution as gravy and just look at what Gomes and Floyd will provide.  Gomes had a .322 OBP last year and owns a career mark of .335.  He draws plenty of walks, between 9-13% of his plate appearances.  To become an above average Major Leaguer he is going to have to make better contact and get his batting average up.  Floyd had a fine .373 OBP in ’07 and has a .359 career mark.  I think the planned three-man RF/DH rotation is a fine idea for a team not quite ready to contend.  It would be very interesting to see the Rays bring Bobby Abreu back next winter though.   

Navarro was insanely bad before the break in ’07 but had a solid .815 OPS after.  He’s just 24 in February.  Another improvement should come with Iwamura spending all year at second base.  More of him plus Longoria’s projected .350 OBP instead of Ty Wigginton push this team’s OBP even higher.  No more Josh Wilson, more games for Upton, and the addition of Willy Aybar are other sources of OBP.  The ’08 Rays are primed to reach base more often.

While the metric isn’t perfect, the Rays’ 5.20 starter ERA tells you something.  However, hope is on the way.  The rotation is already fronted by sub-4 ERA beasts Kazmir and Shields.  New addition Garza should remain above average.  Then the goal is to find the best of Hammel, Jackson, Sonnanstine, Howell, and Niemann.  While these aren’t household names there’s a lot of talent in that group. The pitching pipeline is stacked with five-star prospects David Price and Wade Davis plus a four-star Jacob McGee.  The "need" for ’08 is to let young pitchers get their big league reps in.  The Rays don’t need a veteran free agent stealing valuable innings – instead save the money and bring in a difference-maker for ’09. 

The Rays’ bullpen was league-worst in ’07, but they’ve already taken steps to address it.  The last piece of the puzzle may be to find a lefty like Trever Miller.  But this ‘pen will be much improved with Percival, Eduardo Morlan (acquired in the Delmon Young trade), a full year of Dan Wheeler, and the starting pitching runoff (Niemann could be interesting). Maybe the big move for a Lidge/Nathan/K-Rod makes sense next winter.


Let’s see here.  The best farm system in baseball (aided by all the losing) has the Rays overflowing with young talent.  Pitching, hitting, you name it.  Oh, and they have the #1 pick again this summer (read about some options for that here).  You can never have enough pitching, so the Rays should probably just keep all the arms.  A healthy Baldelli would be an interesting trade chip.  Bartlett or Iwamura could become expendable if Reid Brignac makes strides. 

The other luxury for Tampa Bay is payroll flexibility. They have no bad contracts. They could make a couple of big-time signings in the winter of 2008-09 and still have one of the lowest payrolls in the game.  ’08 is where the Rays finally crack .500.  ’09 is where they start showing the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays that they’re not messing around, and reach the playoffs for the first time.  This bandwagon is picking up steam. 

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