Saturday, March 1, 2008
30 Teams in 30 Days: Tampa Bay Rays
A look back: The Rays overhauled their image by changing their name, logo and colors. Gone is the Devil from the name, gone is the green. Instead, the team will play as simply the Rays, with a logo that reflects the sunshine Tampa is famous for. Not that the Rays will see any, they still play under Tropicana Field’s roof. That’s supposed to change in 2012, but for now, it’s just bad baseball in a bad environment. Tampa was 66-96 last year, the worst in baseball. But the Rays do seem to have things going in the right direction, at least.
Positives on the field: Carl Crawford is established, B.J. Upton is on his way, Carlos Peña and Akinori Iwamura were great finds last year. The Rays can score. The offense is young and talented, speed is a weapon Tampa has in abundance and the problems caused by Elijah Dukes and Delmon Young are no longer Tampa’s. Evan Longoria is a potential star of the future at third base, and with the signing of Cliff Floyd, the Rays have options in the outfield. There’s a lot to like here.
On the pitching side, Tampa has strong arms in Scott Kazmir, James Shields and new acquisition Matt Garza. Those three will form the base of Tampa’s rotation for years to come—if the Rays can hold onto them. In the bullpen, Troy Percival showed he can still close, and Al Reyes and Dan Wheeler can do the job if he falters.
Positives off the field: The Rays have the new stadium planned. That will be welcome in Tampa, especially on the waterfront. Plus, they’re keeping baseball at the site of Al Lang Field if the projected site is where it’s built. Al Lang is full of history and should always host baseball.
(Semi) Negatives off the field: It’s a small thing, but the Rays must move spring training out of Al Lang Field to accomplish this. They’ll head to Port Charlotte, a good and bad thing. It’s good because it allows the Rays to expand their market and puts another team along I-75, good for fans in Southwest Florida. It’s bad because Port Charlotte will be overrun with Red Sox fans three or four times when Boston makes the 30-mile trip north from Fort Myers.
Negatives on the field: The Rays are still just kids. They aren’t ready to compete in the AL East with big-money clubs Boston, New York and Toronto. All three of those teams have payrolls of $100 million or more. The Rays counter at about $45 million. On the field, most of these players are under 25 with little Major League experience. It takes time to adjust. Tampa has a deep farm system, but those players won’t be ready to help yet.
After the Rays’ three strong pitchers, the talent drops off tremendously. Andy Sonnastine and Edwin Jackson, the projected No. 4 and 5 starters, combined to go 11-25 last year. That’s a problem. Three pitchers will not win in the AL East.
Outlook: The Rays’ youth will help them build something for the future, but will hurt them this year. But there are several good pieces in place. Tampa is building something here, something that looks like it could be worth paying attention to in the future. Will it pay off immediately? No, it won’t. The big three are too far ahead for Tampa to get a quick fix. But that’s not what the Rays want anyway. All they want this season is to build a competitive team that can win 70 games or more. They should do that this year, and could sniff .500, finally getting out of last.
Projected finish: 4th in AL East. Season opener is March 31 at Camden Yards against Baltimore. Rays home opener is September 8 at Tropicana Field against Seattle.
Fan of the team?: Check out Rays Bay, a Tampa Bay Rays blog.
Spring base: Progress Energy Park, home of Al Lang Field, St. Petersburg, Fla. The team plays its games in the Tampa Bay area, other locations on the West Coast of Florida and a few games down I-4 towards Orlando.
Come back tomorrow: Tomorrow the road trip heads to Canada and visits the Toronto Blue Jays, the new money in the AL East.
My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Switchfoot.