The little market team that could, the Tampa Bay Rays keep chugging up the nasty American League East hill towards another 90 win season.This offseason GM Andrew Friedman tried to provide fuel for his engine by trading for the Minor League player of The Year, Wil Myers.
Friedman employed his stock market strategy of selling high when he swapped pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals for a package of prospects centered around Wil Myers. Shields and the 200 quality innings he consistently provided will be sorely missed down the stretch this season.
To acquire a prospect of Myers quality, the Rays had to part with talent. Myers may start the season in Triple A, but will certainly be starting in a corner outfield position by midseason. In 2012 Myers hit 37 home runs with a batting line of .313 BA/.387 OBP/.600 SLG between Double-A and Triple-A. He is rated Baseball America’s #4 Prospect entering 2013.
As usual, Friedman added undervalued players who seemed to slip through the cracks. Yunel Escobar, a solid major league shortstop, was acquired in a trade for mid-level prospect Derek Dietrich. Starting 1B James Loney was signed for the bargain bin price of $2 million and will bring his slick glove and career .282 BA/.339 OBP/.419 SLG to Tropicana Field.
The Rays kept the back end of the bullpen together this offseason. Closer Fernando Rodney, had 48 saves, a 0.60 ERA and a crooked cap, had his team option exercised insuring another season as a Ray. Valuable setup men Joel Peralta ($6 million two years) and Kyle Farnsworth ($1.25 million one year) will also be back with the Rays in 2013.
The steady leadership of Friedman and manager Joe Maddon have given the Rays more bang for their buck than any team in the past decade. Lineup mainstays Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist should produce enough to keep the Rays in games. But the Rays true strength lies in their pitching that led the AL in ERA at 3.19.
AL Cy Young winner David Price went 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA in 2012. He will be joined in the rotation by fellow homegrown talents Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson,Alex Cobb and Jeff Niemann. Roberto Hernandez (nee Fausto Carmona) and Chris Archer, a product of the Matt Garza trade, will also be in the running for a rotation spots.
Life can be precarious for a small market team. One bad signing or misguided trade can doom a small market team for years. But Friedman has been adept at flipping players like Garza at the right time and acquiring solid prospects that produce at the major league level. The Rays also excel at plugging in low priced, but productive players like Luke Scott and Loney in their lineup.
The little engine that could will need to climb a steep hill again in 2013. After years of battling the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East, the Blue Jays and Orioles have now emerged as legitimate contenders. The Rays lineup is not overwhelming, but the rotation and bullpen, along with Joe Maddon’s steady hand, will keep the Rays in the hunt all season. And don’t be surprised to see the Tampa Bay Rays emerge from the fray and appear in the postseason again in 2013.