The Tampa Bay Rays: 2008 AL Champions.
Almost three months later and I still have trouble comprehending that.
So what does the number one team in the Superior Circuit do to improve over an improbable yet impressive ’08 season? The answer: some pretty smart moves.
The (still don’t call them Devil) Rays began their off-season by cutting ties with DH Cliff Floyd, who didn’t exactly have a banner year in ’08 (.268 BA, 11 HR, .349 OBP).
Later they pulled a trade with Tigers, sending Righty Edwin Jackson to Detroit in exchange for OF Matt Joyce. This was a move of necessity, as regular RF BJ Upton is still recovering from shoulder surgery and looks to not be ready in time to start the 2009 season. Joyce played in 92 games last season for the Tigers and looks to be a long-term solution, as he’ll more than likely be starting out at Triple-A Durham in order to make further adjustments and fully prepare to eventually take over in Right. For a short-term solution the Rays signed OF Gabe Kapler to a cheap-as-free one-year, $1 million contract. Kapler will fill in quite nicely till Upton can return then provide a quality player for skipper Joe Maddon to call on off the bench.
If the Rays had one major problem last year it was the lack of offense. Their best signing of the off-season thus far to fill that gap is OF Pat Burrell, who signed a two-year, $16 million deal. Burrell played Left for the Phillies, won a World Series against the Rays and must have liked the cut of their jib, because he’ll be DH’ing for them in ’09. He’ll be a vast improvement in the middle of the lineup over Floyd, and DH is where he should be playing, because his defense is...um…let’s go with spotty.
In terms of pitching, the Rays didn’t really fix what wasn’t broken. They rewarded RHP James Shields with a four-year guaranteed contract with three consecutive one-year options. The deal could be worth up to $38 million for Shields, and the options are a great way to protect themselves long-term if he turns out to be a bust. They also signed reliever Joe Nelson, giving them reliable insurance in case something happens to current closer Troy Percival (the team’s only player over the age of 35).
All in all, the Rays had a great young team that needed some tweaking, and they tweaked what was necessary. They improved the team’s depth, slightly upgraded the bullpen (their biggest weakness), rewarded the best of their already sick starting five, and with the addition of Burrell and a full year from Evan Longoria, look for the Rays to once again compete and succeed in baseball’s toughest division.
By AJ (feel free to call him Devil) Paiotti
MLBcenter.com Guest Writer
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