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Playing Pepper 2012: Tampa Bay Rays

Posted on March 26, 2012 at 2:30 PM
Filed Under: Playing Pepper | Tampa Bay Rays
In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad.  Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.

Tampa Bay Rays
91-71, second in the AL East, lost in four games to Texas in the ALDS

The only team that could really understand what the Cardinals went through last September was Tampa Bay, who made their own "storming the hill" move to make Game 162 such a meaningful occurrence.  Unfortunately, Evan Longoria's home run that sent them into the postseason didn't give them as much of a push as the Redbirds, as they bowed out quickly.

With another year of seasoning for some of these players and another wild card to give them a chance at October, there has to be a large sense of optimism around Rays camp.  With that in mind, I talked to Yossi Feins, who writes for The Rays Rant, and Sarah Tyson, of the Aerys Sports blog Cowbell Clankers.  You can find Yossi on Twitter at TheRaysRanter and Sarah at SarahSeesSports. We talked about the phenom and the disappointment, so keep reading to see what these two have to say!

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C70: What was your opinion of the team's offseason? 

RR: Overall, I think the Rays had a good offseason. Grade wise, I think they're deserving of an A- after the Rays' front office once again got the job done with a tight budget. I look at it this way; the Rays added more offense this winter while keeping the great pitching from last season. They also have the full season of Matt Moore, which could also help their starting rotation. I recently wrote an offseason recap article evaluating every single move by the Rays this offseason. 

CC: Overall, they did a great job. 

Second baseman Jeff Keppinger looked like a nice pick up from the get-go and he's put up good numbers this spring. 

They worked on the bullpen, which was one of the biggest questions going into the 2011 season. Burke Badenhop was a nice addition and as my dad said, a team needs a ground ball guy. 

I believe that when you have a chance to get a member of the Molina family as your catcher, you get him. With the loss of John Jaso and Kelly Shoppach, the Rays needed an experienced catcher and I'm glad Jose Molina filled that spot.

Welcoming Carlos Pena back has been enjoyable. He's still a good fit for the organization, on the field and in the clubhouse. The Rays know exactly what they will be getting with Pena, and that's comforting. 

Then there are the contracts. The Rays fared well financially and in many cases were able to avoid arbitration, but I'm talking mostly about Maddon and Moore. Tampa Bay locked up skipper Joe Maddon for three years which means it'll be a while before I have that terrible feeling in my gut about a possible departure. Southpaw Matt Moore signed a 5-year deal, with three years of options, so the Rays' rotation will be stacked for at least several years to come. 

My only concern after the offseason ended, and to this day, is that the Rays might not have the big bat they needed to get. Luke Scott could fill that void, but only if he's healthy. For a guy who missed the majority of last season with a torn labrum, that's a pretty decent sized if.

C70: There's been a lot of talk about Matt Moore, even though he has just three career starts. Will he live up to the hype this year or is it more of a long-term process? 

RR: I think he'll both live up to the hype this year and have long-term success. Health is really the key thing for Moore at this point in his career, as he clearly has the stuff to compete in the big leagues this year. Moore's expectations are so ridiculously high, so it's hard to say he's going to wow a lot of people like he did last season, but I still doubt he's going to disappoint. 

CC: I love the guy and haven't hesitated to say so. My dad, a former pitcher and baseball coach as well as a contributor to my site, and I have had several conversations centered around Moore. 

If he can stay healthy, he can live up to the hype pretty quickly. His body doesn't look stressed or strained while pitching; he has a fluid motion. He's also able to regroup quickly after a bad pitch. Add to that the fact that he seems to have a good attitude and I think he's as ready as a 22-year-old can be for the bigs.

C70: Seems like last year there was a lot of talk about B.J. Upton getting moved. How surprised are you that he is still on the roster? 

RR: Not surprised at all. The Rays made a smart decision by hanging on to Upton, a player that has a been a vital part of the team's offense in the past years. Although he has struggled and failed to meet many expectations, the offense simply does not function as well without him. The Rays are trying to add to their mediocre offense, not give away key players. That's why I couldn't understand the sense behind trading B.J., even though his contract will expire after the 2012 season. The Rays should be looking to trade their surplus of starting pitching, rather than the team's stolen base leader. Thinking ahead though, a B.J. Upton deadline trade is actually very likely. The Rays will be sure to bring in good offense in exchange. 

CC: During the last few offseasons, I've felt a sense of deja vu with the B.J. Upton trade rumors so I'm not terribly surprised that he's still on the Rays roster. The organization clearly likes Upton and I put a great deal of faith in GM Andrew Friedman and his team. It doesn't look like Upton will be back to 100% by Opening Weekend following his collision in the outfield with Desmond Jennings, but I hope his recovery doesn't take too much longer than that. I'd like to see him have more months like his September of 2011.

C70: Is there a prospect that will make an impact on the team this season? 

RR: I believe there are multiple guys who can help out the Rays in 2012. Besides Matt Moore, of course, Brandon Guyer could contribute to the outfield as a call-up later in the season. Guyer is a toolsy outfielder that can really fill in at any position there, but his impressive bat skills are what the Rays could use most out of him. Chris Archer, one of the Rays' several talented young arms, could also make a big league splash this season. Archer made major progress through the minors last year, finishing the season at Class-AAA. Unless there are multiple injuries, there's no spot for Archer in the rotation, but he could help out the 'pen. Alex Torres is another prospect pitcher that may be bound for the bullpen this year as well. Torres has eight innings of big league experience in the 'pen from last season, and will probably see a lot more playing time in 2012. I actually wrote an article about exactly this topic back in mid-January called 'Prospects Who Could Make an Impact for the Rays This Season'.

CC: Since we're talking about the Rays, the odds are in the favor of a prospect impacting the team this year. Catching prospect Steven Vogt was just cut, but he put up nice numbers with the MLB club this spring (.323 AVG, .382 OBP, .484 SLG, .866 OPS) and we know the Rays are willing to keep an extra catcher around. 

If Reid Brignac's foot injury, called a plantar fascitis type of thing by manager Joe Maddon, acts up over the season, Hak-Ju Lee could get a chance at shortstop. Third base coach Tom Foley even wore a jersey with "FO-LEE" on the back of it so the coaches definitely like Lee. Sean Rodriguez will very likely be there on Opening Day, but I don't think the Rays foresee keeping Rodriguez at short on a daily basis.

C70: Where will the team finish in their division and what are you most excited about for 2012? 

RR: I predicted the Rays to win the AL East by a Head-to-Head matchup tie breaker over the Yankees in my recent Season Predictions article. Many seem to agree that it's a bit of an over-optimistic prediction considering the Yankees stacked roster, but it's hard to say it can't happen after the magic we witnessed last season. I think the Rays are a better team in 2012, and are ready for serious pennant run. I truly believe the Rays have a good shot at winning it all this year, and that's definitely what I'm most excited about as the season approaches.

CC: I'll say they'll finish no worse than second. Tampa Bay's pitching staff is stellar but the offense needs to find a groove. I know it's only spring, but so far, they've been outscored 114-67. 

I'm excited to see guys like Matt Moore and Desmond Jennings truly become major leaguers and, of course, I can't wait to see what Maddon has up his sleeve. That man does not disappoint.

Thanks to Yossi and Sarah for their thoughts on the club.  I'm always interested to see what the young guns down there in Tampa are doing and it'd be great to see them knock off the big boys yet again!

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