I’m sure you’ll be reading about green diamonds and blue skies from all the major media outlets, but as pitchers and catchers report today it is but a tease. Nearly half the team showed up yesterday to feel the sun on their face, swap off-season stories, and get ready to get their bodies prepared for the grind of a long season. We still have a couple of weeks until the rag-taggiest of games start up, and longer than that for full-fledged, honest-to-goodness baseball, but there’s something about seeing familiar faces doing something that we took for granted a mere four months ago. Hope springs eternal is one of the catchphrases that you grow accustomed to hearing this time of year if you’ve been around long enough, but it makes one wonder how much is pyrite being pulled out of the hill and how much is The Good Stuff?
The Rays off-season pretty much went about as one would have expected. In November we knew more about who wouldn’t be here in 2011 than about who would be coming aboard the The Good Ship Rays. The only question was how many picks we were going to get as we said goodbye to longtime friends and those we had just started to become acquainted with. Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena had been integral parts of the team over their duration in the sunshine state. Durable Dan Wheeler is taking his medicine show of flyballs and low-BABIP tonic on the road north with Mr. Crawford. Meanwhile, his bullpen brethren are scattered to the wind, much like Charlotte’s spawn after the hatching of all her hard work. Though she lay quiet in an attic somewhere you can faintly here on the breeze,
“So long Joaquin.”
“Mind your manners Randy.”
“Better luck next time, Chad.”
We had a good idea that the Rays would be sending Jason Bartlett packing, as they did in a trade that took roughly seven months to complete. The young arms picked up in the deal for our grey-bearded, superfluous shortstop may prove to be the next batch of terrors that Mr. Joe Maddon can release after the clock strikes midnight on our starting pitcher.
Dave H will agree that when dealing with hand-me-downs it’s best to get them when they’re brand new. We all knew that the Rays would most likely be looking to deal a pitcher as they did with Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammell, Mitch Talbot, and Scott Kazmir over the last handful of years. Dealing from a strength to fill a weakness is the best way to complete a trade as it takes away very little from the current situation, while filling a more readily apparent hole. That pitcher turned out to be thrower of no-no’s, game seven’s, and folk hero Matt Garza. The hope is that we took the best out of him and are handing him on as used up meat for the less fortunate. Whether he continues to pitch well in his new digs or not is irrelevant as it looks like the Rays have acquired several new trophy wives that we can wear out and pass on down the road.
The Rays approach to building a bullpen is much akin to the Redcoats lining up as many idiots with terrible guns as possible and letting them all fire at once. Through attrition, luck, and a dash of guile enough guys will stay alive to continue to fight tomorrow and on into the season. Here’s a list of all the relievers that the Rays have handed a musket to:
Joel Peralta, Kyle Farnsworth, Andy Sonnanstine, Jacob McGee, Cory Wade, Jonah Bayliss, Dirk Hayhurst, Juan Cruz, Rob Delaney, Richard De Los Santos, R. J. Swindle, Mike Ekstrom, Cesar Cabral, Matt Bush, Dane De La Rosa, Brandon Gomes, J. P. Howell, Cesar Ramos, Adam Russell, and Albert Suarez
Roughly seven brave souls will come out of that group to start the season finishing games. It’s going to be bloody, but that’s why we have five catchers on our 40-man roster, so that we can catch our small army of relief tryouts.
While the starting staff is showing relative continuity, the lineup should continue to be a-maze-ing. Get it, because you don’t know… eh forget about it. Joe Maddon will continue to put nine guys on the field that give us the best chance to win. A wise man once said, “Many hands make the work light.” It’s refreshing to root for a team where the ego’s of each player are small enough that the manager can sit guys for a day or bring them off the bench when the odds are a bit better and not have to read a bunch of complaints in the local rag. Guys like Evan Longoria, B. J. Upton, and Ben Zobrist will be playing every single day. Their defense is too good to not have out there and they each can play premium defensive positions. John Damon gives the Rays a guy that might need a break here and there, but between his average defense and not huge platoon splits he’ll find himself in the lineup more days than most. I think you can count on Manny Ramirez playing that same role of in there at DH just about everyday. That’s five positions that will be filled just about everyday, which leaves four spots for some mix of Matt Joyce (RF/LF), Sean Rodriguez (2B/RF), Reid Brignac (SS/2B), Dan Johnson (1B), Kelly Shoppach (C), John Jaso (C), and some mix of Elliot Johnson (Util), Felipe Lopez (Util), and Sam Fuld (LF/CF/RF) for the last two spots. As you can see, the positional flexibility of so many of the Rays up-and-comers is what really allows Joe Maddon to move pieces around to put the best team on the field day-in, and day-out.
We’ve talked numbers all over the place, but whether the Rays win 81 or 101 games you’re going to see some exciting baseball over this season. Much like the image below, if you drill down far enough or get caught up in the nittiest of grittys, then you’re always going to have something to complain about.
A 162-game season is going to be wrought with many great moments, and even more frustrating times where we don’t get a call and it costs a game or the seemingly impossible happens and everyone plays awful for a week and we end up getting swept by the Royals or something that should be extremely uncommon. Don’t let it get your blood pressure up, because we will live to fight another day. The Rays are going to win more than they lose in 2010, there should be no doubts about that. So enjoy the wins, and try not to lose your mind over the losses. As the great Raymondo (R.I.P.) once uttered, “Blaming Barty for the loss is like saying we lost cause they ran out of peanuts to sell.”