Results tagged ‘ Alex Cobb ’

5 Bold Predictions for Rays’ Second Half of the Season

The second half of the 2013 regular season is underway. Five and a half games out of first place in the AL East and three games behind in the Wild Card race, the Tampa Bay Rays have plenty of work to do these next three months.

Without further delay, take a look at my five bold predictions for the second half of the season.

Good pitching will return to Tampa Bay

After posting historically good numbers in 2012, the Rays’ pitching staff was surprisingly mediocre in the first half of the season. Reigning Cy Young award-winner David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Roberto Hernandez and most of the bullpen struggled in the first half.

However, things appear to be turning in the right direction going into the second half. Jeremy Hellickson has been sharp in his last three starts, Matt Moore looks to have returned to his early-season form and the bullpen has been excellent as of late.

Also, David Price is returning to the rotation tonight and Alex Cobb—who led the rotation earlier this season—should return after the All-Star break.

Matt Moore will have excellent second half

It’s been a roller coaster ride of a season for Matt Moore so far. The phenom southpaw was outstanding in April and May, but had three straight bad starts in June before returning to form in his last three starts.

Moore’s fastball velocity has been down all year, but he’s done great work with his offspeed stuff and is still unhittable when he commands his pitches. He really looks poised for a huge second half.

The Rays will trade either Ryan Roberts or Roberto Hernandez before the deadline

As usual, I don’t expect GM Andrew Friedman and the Rays to make a lot of noise at the trade deadline later this month, but I do expect to see one small trade.

Ryan Roberts is definitely a possibility. With Wil Myers now in the majors, the Rays don’t really have a spot for Roberts on the roster, especially with the offense performing so well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him dealt for some relief pitching help.

Roberto Hernandez is another potential candidate. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the year, and there are a few teams in the league that could really use his services. With Chris Archer, Alex Colome, Alex Torres and Jake Odorizzi, the Rays could certainly afford to trade Hernandez.

Wil Myers will make big push for AL Rookie of the Year

With just 14 games played, it may be a little early for the “Wil Myers for Rookie of the Year” talks, but it’s something to keep an eye on in the second half.

Myers’ transition into the big leagues has been a pretty smooth one, as he’s swung the bat well posting a .345 wOBA. As of right now he’s not one of the top candidates, but I think he’ll prove in the following months why he was considered the top hitting prospect in baseball.

The Rays will clinch a playoff spot

Can the Rays return to the postseason in 2013? It won’t be easy with Red Sox, Orioles and Yankees in the same division, as well as the Athletics or Rangers as likely serious contenders for a Wild Card spot.

If the “Tampa Bay Rays pitching” returns—which I think it will—and the offensive remains productive, I believe this team will be playing in October.

Tampa Bay Rays First Quarter Grades

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It hasn’t been an ideal start to the year for the Tampa Bay Rays. With one quarter of the season already behind us, the Rays currently stand at an even 20-20.

The’ve really underachieved overall as a team, as things simply aren’t falling into place for them just yet.

With a strong offense and a struggling bullpen, it’s looked like 2009 all over again so far for Tampa Bay. They missed the playoffs and finished the season with just 84 wins that year, so Rays fans hope their team is not going down a similar path.

After the first 40 games of the 2013 season, here’s a graded evaluation of the Rays’ offense, starting rotation, bullpen and defense.

The Offense

The Rays currently have the third best offense in Major League Baseball with a wRC+ of 108.

Evan Longoria and James Loney have both enjoyed red-hot starts to the season. Longoria has posted a .417 wOBA and Loney is leading the league in batting at .367.

Kelly Johnson and Sean Rodriguez have both been pleasant surprises. Johnson’s posted a 119 wRC+ and Rodriguez has looked like a much-improved hitter, putting up a .326 wOBA in 60 plate appearances.

Below’s a chart of every player’ wOBA compared to their preseason projections (Fangraphs’ ZIPS projections):

Overall Grade: A-

With statistically one of the league’s best offenses, I thought the Rays deserved a high grade here. The difference between an A- and an A+ for me was the first two weeks of the season where the offense was anemic. Since late April, however, the lineup has been scorching hot.

The Rotation

“Disappointing” is the best word to describe the Rays’ starting rotation at the first quarter mark. Tampa’s starters have posted a collective 4.05 ERA (16th in MLB) and a 4.22 FIP (18th in MLB).

Shockingly, the starting pitching struggles have stemmed from the rotation’s front two: David Price and Jeremy Hellickson. Price—who’s now on the 15-day DL—is 1-4 with a 5.24 ERA through nine starts and Hellickson is 1-2 with a 5.25 ERA through eight.

There has been two bright spots in the rotation, however, as youngsters Matt Moore and Alex Cobb have both shined. Moore is an impressive 7-0 with a 2.44 ERA and a 9.56 K/9, while Cobb is 4-2 with a 2.89 ERA and a rotation-leading WAR of 0.9.

Roberto Hernandez has been nothing more than decent in his first seven starts. He’s 2-4 with a 4.43 ERA, but he’s actually looked pretty encouraging. His career-high 8.65 K/9 rate, 3.43 SIERA and 3.45 xFIP are possibly signs of a comeback year for Hernandez.

Overall Grade: C-

The Bullpen

What was expected to be one of the better bullpens in baseball as turned out to be somewhat of a disaster. Tampa’s ‘pen ranks fourth worst in the league in ERA (4.67) and sixth worst in FIP (4.04).

Closer Fernando Rodney has been suprisingly lousy so far, blowing three saves in 10 opportunities to go along with a 5.28 ERA and a pair of losses. Jake McGee (8.80 ERA), Kyle Farnsworth (6.52 ERA), Jamey Wright (4.24 ERA) and Brandon Gomes (5.40 ERA) have all struggled as well.

The Rays have held leads in 34 of their 40 games this season, and have blown countless leads late in games. The bullpen is simply going to have to improve if the Rays want a shot at competing in October.

Overall Grade: D

The Defense

As expected, the Rays are one of baseballs’ strongest fielding teams. They’re tied sixth in the league in UZR at 8.6. Other notable numbers include Tampa’s 9.7 RngR, -0.3 ErrR and -1 DRS.

They have the best defensive corner-infield combo in the game with Evan Longoria and James Loney, Longoria, as usual, has been nothing short of amazing this season, leading the team with a 3.8 UZR as he continues to play like a Gold Glove caliber third baseman.

In the outfield, Desmond Jennings has done a fine job adjusting to centerfield, posting a 3.2 UZR. Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce haven’t done a very good job in the corners, but Fuld still covers plenty of ground and Kelly Johnson has bolstered the outfield defense a bit.

Johnson’s also played very well at second base thus far, owning a 0.8 UZR at the position.

At shortstop, Yunel Escobar has proven to be the defensive upgrade he was signed for. He gives the Rays the adequate-fielding everyday shortstop they haven’t had since Jason Bartlett in 2010.

As for the Rays’ catching tandem, both Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton have been below average in terms of throwing out runners and blocking pitching. It’s obviously a big minus for the overall defense, but it doesn’t erase the fact that Molina is the best framing catcher in the game.

Overall Grade: B

Jose Molina’s Hidden Value

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When the Tampa Bay Rays signed veteran catcher Jose Molina to a two-year deal worth $3.3 million following the 2011 season, they actually got much more than what the 37-year-old’s numbers show.

If you look at Molina’s 2012 stats—81 wRC+, 0.8 WAR, 4 rSB and a -4.22 RPP—he doesn’t seem like a very valuable player at all on paper. His career stats aren’t much better either.

However, where Molina’s value lies is in a part of catching that isn’t calculated: The art of framing pitches.

Although he may not be the superstar that his younger brother Yadier is, framing pitches is one thing that Jose does better than both of his brothers. In fact, he’s probably been the best at it in all of baseball over the past years.

His pitch-framing wizardry has made a significant impact with the Rays as well as other teams he’s played with throughout his 14-year career. Tampa had the best pitching staff in the MLB in 2012, ranking first in ERA, FIP, strikeouts and strike percentage. Molina, who caught 102 games for the Rays last year, more than likely had something to do with this historic success.

Here’s some examples of Molina’s special talent:

As you can see, frustrating opposing batters and making umpires look bad is something that Molina has a knack for.

Molina’s excellency in framing pitches does not only make him a valuable catcher, but it also can contribute to a pitcher’s success.

Fernando Rodney is one pitcher that comes to mind. With Molina behind the plate for over half the innings he pitched last season, Rodney’s called strike percentage went up 4.44% from the previous season (without Molina). There were obviously multiple factors that played a part in Rodney’s career year in 2012, but Molina was probably one of them.

Two more examples come from when Molina was with the Yankees; Mariano Rivera and Mike Mussina both in 2008. Rivera had arguably the best season of his great career with Molina catching most of his innings. His CLDSTR% increased 4.36% that year from 2007.

Molina was also behind the plate for all but 10 innings pitched by Mussina during his impressive 20-win season. Mussina, who was pitching the last year of his career at age 39, saw his CLDSTR% go up 3.86% from his disappointing 2007 campaign.

Now in 2013, what I’ve observed is that Molina’s glovework helping out sinkerballers Alex Cobb and Roberto Hernandez. Both starters are dependent on throwing quality pitches low in the zone. With Molina catching, that strikezone widens a bit, which Joe Maddon has clearly taken into consideration.

Cobb is off to a great start to the season, while Hernandez—despite some ugly numbers—is having an encouraging start with some positive signs towards a turnaround year for him. Molina has caught most of the time for Cobb and Hernandez, while Jose Lobaton has received more playing time with David Price, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson on the mound.

In conclusion, Jose Molina is living proof of how much a catcher can positively affect a pitcher and even an entire pitching staff. He may not be good at blocking balls or even throwing out baserunners (at this point in his career), but framing pitches is one asset he’ll likely never lose as long as he’s in the league.

Cobb Impressive as Rays Beat Orioles 4-1

The Rays got back to their winning ways Saturday afternoon, defeating the O’s 4-1 in Port Charlotte to improve their Grapefruit League record to 6-3.

Alex Cobb started for Tampa Bay, and looked very sharp in his outing. He allowed just one hit while striking out five batters without a walk through his three scoreless innings.

Fernando Rodney and Brandon Gomes followed up with one scoreless inning each. Gomes found himself in a bit of trouble after allowing two hits, but escaped the jam with the help of two big strikeouts.

Prospect Alex Torres also contributed to the bullpen’s effort, tossing two scoreless innings late in the game.

On the offensive side of things, Rays fans enjoyed their share of power in this ballgame. All four runs were scored on long balls; Yunel Escobar with a two-run blast and Ryan Roberts and Sean Rodriguez with the solo shots.

Evan Longoria returned to the lineup, making his second start of the spring. He finished the day 0-2 with a walk and a run.

Click here for a full boxscore of yesterday’s game. And here’s a boxscore of the Rays’ 5-4 loss to Toronto on Friday and of their 11-2 loss on Thursday to the Tigers.

Rays News and Notes:

  • The Rays made their first round of cuts this spring.
  • Evan Longoria’s baby has been released from the hospital.
  • Rays prospect Leonardo Reginatto is making noise in the World Baseball Classic with Team Brazil. The 22-year-old, who has spent the past two seasons with Class A- Hudson Valley, is 4-7 with two RBI and two doubles after his first two games of the tournament.

Ranking the Rays’ New-Look Rotation in the Tough AL East

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Tampa Bay Rays fans have been spoiled by great starting pitching over the past few years. Although the rotation has had a bit of a different look each season, the overall result has been positive year after year.

The secret to the Rays’ starting pitching success is homegrown talent, which is the reason why many are expecting the Rays’ rotation to have yet another excellent season in 2013. No organization develops young pitchers into quality major league starters like the Rays do.

In 2013, Tampa is faced with a new challenge: Replacing James Shields—an ace who provides the team with over 200 innings.

With Shields, the Rays had the best rotation in all of baseball last season. Without him, it’ll be very tough to be as dominant.

The starting five will be led by Cy Young Award winner David Price, followed by Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb. The fifth spot in the rotation will be competed for by four pitchers—Roberto Hernandez (formerly known as Fausto Carmona), Jeff Niemann, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi.

The Rays have eight starters in the mix that would make the starting rotation on almost all MLB clubs, and not many teams—if any—can say that.

Tampa Bay is not the only team in the AL East that’ll show off their arms in 2013, though, as the division will only get tougher this year. There are some exciting new starting pitching additions—most notably on the Blue Jays—that aren’t going to make Rays hitters’ lives any easier.

Without further delay, here’s my ranking of the five AL East rotations.

5. Boston Red Sox

Starting pitching has been by far Boston’s biggest weakness in recent years. They struggled mightily in the department last year, posting a 5.19 ERA and a 4.69 FIP.

The rotation will have to make up for the key loss of Josh Beckett, but will get some help from offseason acquisition Ryan Dempster. The Red Sox will also be without Vincente Padilla and Aaron Cook this season, so starting pitching depth will probably be just as bad as it was last year.

Projected Opening Day Rotation

1) Jon Lester

2) Clay Buchholz

3) Ryan Dempster

4) Felix Doubront

5) John Lackey

As you can see, there’s a pretty wide range between this rotation’s ceiling and floor of potential.

If the front three pitch to their potential with some sort of consistency, the Sox could have a pretty good trio of starters. On the other hand, none of these starters had a good season in 2012 besides for Dempster, and even he fell apart after being traded to Texas mid-season and making his American League debut.

In addition, Boston’s rotation is an injury or two away from being in a very difficult situation due to their shallowness in the organization starting pitching wise.

The Red Sox really did not due enough this offseason to address their starting pitching issues. The only starter they signed is 35 years old, and is a lot more likely to go on a decline rather than improve.

If I’m GM Ben Cherington right now, I’m making a serious run at veteran Kyle Lohse, who still remains on the free agent market. Another option is trading away a bat for some young starting pitching talent.

4. New York Yankees

Like the Red Sox, starting pitching has been far from a strong point for the Yankees in the past years.

However, they have a great one-two punch in ace C.C. Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, who both had excellent seasons last year. Both do a great job eating up innings (posting 200+ each in 2012) and racking up wins (combined for 31 in 2012).

Andy Pettitte joined the staff later in the season, and did a nice job putting up a 2.87 ERA through 75.1 innings pitched.

The Yanks didn’t get much production from Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, though.

Projected Opening Day Rotation

1) C.C. Sabathia

2) Hiroki Kuroda

3) Andy Pettitte

4) Phil Hughes

5) Ivan Nova

The only two pitchers in this rotation that Yankees fans can really expect to have good years are Sabathia and Kuroda. Pettitte was very impressive in his comeback last season, but his age and recent injury history make him a big question mark.

The biggest concern for the Yankees regarding starting pitching is their depth, which is scary shallow. The only pitcher backing up the starting five is David Phelps, and they don’t have any good farm talent that can help them in the near future.

Michael Pineda would be a big part part of this rotation, but he won’t join the team until later in the year due to the same injury that shelved him for the entire 2012 season.

3. Baltimore Orioles

Starting pitching was definitely not one of the Baltimore’s strong suits during their Cinderella 2012 season. They depended heavily on their outstanding bullpen, which managed to get the job done when the rotation didn’t.

This year the Orioles’ staff could see an upgrade with the acquisition of Jair Jurrjens.

Projected Opening Day Rotation

1) Jason Hammel

2) Wei-Yin Chen

3) Chris Tillman

4) Miguel Gonzalez

5) Jair Jurrjens

The Orioles have a rotation that could have five solid starters. All of the front four above posted an ERA south of four last year.

As for the fifth spot, it will be competed for by seven different pitchers, and I’m predicting that Jiar Jurrjens wins the job. Jurrjens didn’t play much in 2012 due to injury, but we all saw the kind of damage he’s capable of doing after an ace-like 2011 campaign.

If he returns to full health this season, AL East hitters could be facing yet another menace on the mound.

Depth-wise, the O’s are actually in a pretty good state. Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter could all fill in case someone in the starting five gets hurt or struggles. Phenom prospect Dylan Bundy could also contribute later in the season if needed.

2. Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays did more than any team in baseball to bolster their pitching staff this offseason, adding three big-name pitchers in Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.

Toronto fans have to be excited about their rotation this season, especially after having such a weak one last year. The Jays’ rotation was the AL East’s worst in 2012, finishing the year with a 4.82 ERA.

Projected Opening Day Rotation

1) R.A. Dickey

2) Brandon Morrow

3) Mark Buehrle

4) Josh Johnson

5) Ricky Romero

What Toronto has is a rotation of four pitchers (Dickey, Buehrle, Johnson and Romero) who have all been stars at some point in their career not so long ago. Even Brandon Morrow has shown he has star potential, and seems to be heading in that direction after an impressive 2012 season.

The front four of the starting five are expected to be solid in 2013, with Ricky Romero probably being the biggest question mark. Romero came into the 2012 season with sky-high expectations as the team’s ace, but ended up having an atrocious year going 9-14 with a 5.77 ERA (MLB worst for starters with 20-plus starts).

If he can return even close to his 2011 form, nobody should be surprised to see the Jays emerge as the new Beasts of the East.

The Blue Jays’ rotation does have some depth to it as well, with J.A. Happ, Brett Cecil and Brad Lincoln serving as security starters.

1) Tampa Bay Rays

Numbers really tell the story of the Rays’ starting rotation in 2012. Tampa’s staff led the league in ERA (3.34), strikeouts (900) and opponents’ average (.234).

Projected Starting Rotation

1) David Price

2) Jeremy Hellickson

3) Matt Moore

4) Alex Cobb

5) Jeff Niemann/Roberto Hernandez

As I said before, it’s going to be tough for the Rays’ rotation to repeat their amazing performance from last season, especially without James Shields.

Although they may not have their workhorse anymore, what the Rays do have now is Chris Archer, Roberto Hernandez and Jake Odorizzi—who are all major league quality starters that they didn’t have in the beginning of last season.

With such great depth, Tampa Bay should be able to make up for the loss of Shields, and will likely put out one of the league’s best rotations once again.

Rays Down Red Sox 6-3

The Rays came through with another Grapefruit League victory Monday afternoon, defeating Boston in Port Charlotte by a score of 6-3.

Alex Cobb got the start for Tampa Bay, and didn’t look sharp in his two innings pitched. Cobb allowed two runs on four hits and one walk in his spring debut.

A trio of relievers expected to make the Opening Day bullpen, on the other hand, strutted much better stuff. Jamey Wright, Cesar Ramos and Jake McGee combined for four scoreless (and hitless) innings.

The Rays got the job done offensively as well. Yunel Escobar and Ryan Roberts both hit two-run doubles early in the game. Ben Zobrist tacked on another run with an RBI single in the fourth inning.

Prospect Hak-Ju Lee remained hitless, going 0-2, and committed both of the teams errors on the field.

Here’s a full boxscore of yesterday’s game.

Projections for the Rays’ Opening Day Roster

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With spring training now in full swing and the first games nearing, the Rays’ 2013 roster appears to be coming together.

Tampa Bay has made their share of roster moves and put their final touches on signings this month. Now all that remains are spring training battles that will take place next month before Opening Day.

If one thing’s for sure, skipper Joe Maddon will likely have some tough choices to make when deciding who makes the cut.

Without further delay, here’s my prediction of what the Rays’ Opening Day roster will look like.

Starting Lineup

C: Jose Molina
1B: James Loney
2B: Kelly Johnson
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Yunel Escobar
LF: Matt Joyce
CF: Desmond Jennings
RF: Ben Zobrist
DH: Luke Scott

Barring any injuries, this will more than likely be the Rays’ starting nine for Opening Day. There aren’t really any battles for starting spots in the lineup.

The 2013 lineup will feature a few changes. James Loney will be replacing Carlos Pena at first, and recently-signed Kelly Johnson will take over second instead of Ben Zobrist who will start in right field. Also, the Rays will finally have an everyday shortstop with Yunel Escobar in lineup.

Another thing worth noting is key loss of B.J. Upton, who will be replaced in centerfield by Desmond Jennings.

Bench

C Jose Lobaton
INF Sean Rodriguez
UTIL Ryan Roberts
OF Sam Fuld

Ryan Roberts, Sean Rodriguez and Jose Lobaton making the roster seem to be sure locks for the Opening Day lineup, but it will be interesting to see who wins the battle for the backup outfielder spot.

Sam Fuld, prospect Brandon Guyer and veteran slugger Shelley Duncan will all vie for the job this spring.

I predict Fuld edges out Guyer and Duncan, and there are a couple reasons. He has the most experience with the Rays out of the three, and Maddon likes the plus speed and defense he brings to the team—two things Guyer and Duncan can’t offer.

Starting Rotation

1. LHP David Price
2. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
3. LHP Matt Moore
4. RHP Alex Cobb
5. RHP Jeff Niemann

Joe Maddon has already made it clear that David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb will all be in the rotation to start the season.

The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation will without a doubt be the fiercest spring training competition in Port Charlotte. Jeff Niemann, Roberto Hernandez, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi will all fight for the spot.

It’ll be a difficult decision for Maddon, and it’s really going to come down to spring training performance.

Bullpen

Closer: RHP Fernando Rodney
Set-Up Man: RHP Joel Peralta
Middle Relief: LHP Jake McGee
Middle Relief: RHP Kyle Farnsworth
Long/Middle Reliever: RHP Roberto Hernandez
Lefty Specialist: LHP Cesar Ramos
Groundball Specialist: RHP Jamey Wright

Besides for Jamey Wright, we can expect to see all the names above in the ‘pen for Opening Day.

With right-handers Josh Lueke and Brandon Gomes also looking for a spot on the roster, Wright will likely have to pitch pretty well this spring to make the cut.

Another notable name in my bullpen projection is Roberto Hernadez. The 32-year-old veteran, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, would serve as a long/middle reliever if he were to lose the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation.

5 Things on Joe Maddon’s Spring Training To-Do List

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As the MLB offseason gradually comes to a conclusion and spring training nears, Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays know exactly what their priorities are this spring in order to put the best roster possible on the field for Opening Day.

With a handful of new names on the team this season, Maddon will have his share of tough choices to make when roster cuts and decisions come around in late March.

Here are the five main things that will be on Maddon’s spring training to-do list.

Put the Rotation Together

The Rays are heading into another season with a terrific starting rotation, which is both very deep and talented.

The three frontline starters are clear at the moment: David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore. After that, Alex Cobb, Jeff Niemann, Chris Archer, and possibly even the newly-acquired Jake Odorizzi and Roberto Hernandez are all options to be the back two starters in the rotation.

Spring training performance is obviously going to play a large factor in deciding which pitchers make the rotation. Still, though, Maddon is going to have some very tough decisions to make before finalizing the roster at the end of March.

Construct Bullpen

Tampa has the keys for another successful bullpen in 2013. GM Andrew Friedman did his job picking up all the essential arms needed, now all Joe Maddon has to do is put the ‘pen together for Opening Day.

Right now the sure locks are Fernando Rodney (who will most likely take over the closer role), Joel Peralta, Jake McGee and Kyle Farnsworth. Lefty specialist Cesar Ramos and former starter Roberto Hernandez are other possible candidates, along with recent acquisitions Juan Carlos Oviedo and Jamey Wright.

The Rays are going to have only seven relievers on their Opening Day roster, so one of those eight won’t make the cut.

We can expect to see some great bullpen competition this spring in Port Charlotte, and it should be very interesting to see how the new veteran arms impact the team.

Figuring out the Second Base Situation

One position on the diamond definitely not lacking depth for the Rays this year is second base. Tampa Bay recently signed Kelly Johnson to a one-year deal to be their starting second basemen, but they still have two other second basemen on the depth chart without Ben Zobrist (who will reportedly still play “a lot” of second base).

Ryan Roberts and Sean Rodriguez are still on the roster, and there are a few things that Maddon can do to make this work.

It’s likely that Rodriguez—assuming that he makes the 25-man roster—will play very little second base and be used more as a backup shortstop/pinch runner. Ryan Roberts would backup Johnson at second, but also be used at third and as a pinch hitter.

The Rays seem to be already planning on having Johnson fill in a little in the outfield as well, so Zobrist will probably get his share of playing time at second too.

Deciding What to Do With Wil Myers

Top prospect Wil Myers will be the Rays’ biggest storyline during spring training, and should bring a pretty good amount of attention to Port Charlotte.

As of now, the starting outfield looks like it will be Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist. The one outfield bench spot is up for grabs, but the Rays won’t want to start their No. 1 prospect’s season on the bench at the young age of 22.

Unless Myers goes on an absolute tear this spring, he’ll be starting the season with Triple-A Durham. But if he shines bright enough in the Grapefruit League, don’t be surprised to see Maddon stick him in the Opening Day lineup.

Ordering the Lineup

In recent years, the Rays have put out maybe the most inconsistent lineup in all of baseball. It seems like Joe Maddon manages to put together a different lineup every single game and has tried out ever possible order and combination possible.

Don’t expect to see much different in 2013. However, Maddon will still be on a mission to find which players he’s going to put in different parts of the lineup and what kind of pattern he might try to experiment with in April.

5 Things the Rays Should Try to Do at the Winter Meetings

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With Day 1 of the MLB Winter Meetings already behind us and Day 2 now in progress, Andrew Friedman and the Tampa Bay Rays have shown that they’re not going to hesitate to pursue players on the free agent or trade market. After being involved in a flurry of rumors on Monday, it looks as if the Rays could be pretty active this week in Nashville.

With a handful of possible trade possibilites on the table and multiple teams contacting the Rays, here are five things the club should try to do over these next few days.

Trade Jeremy Hellickson or James Shields

The chances the Rays trade either one of the two talented starters seem very likely at the moment. As important as these two top-tier arms are to the Rays’ rotation, trading one of the two (not both) would make a lot of sense for a couple of reasons.

Tampa has a surplus of starting pitching and is in serious need of offensive help, and both Shields and Hellickson are currently at very high value on the market. In addition, if the Rays were to trade Shields, it would be one less huge salary to pay (that they can hardly afford anyway).

Trading either Hellickson or Shields (or David Price) is really their only way of acquiring a star-quality player or top prospect caliber talent this winter. Knowing that Rays will probably trade one of them should make the next couple of days pretty exciting.

Not trade David Price

The Rays have made it clear that they’re willing to trade away Cy Young award-winner David Price for the right offer, taking into account the 29-year-old phenom’s upcoming pricey contract issues. In a recent article on ESPN.com, columnist Buster Olney points out the fact that Price may very possibly be traded sometime in the next year as the Rays are probably not going to be able to afford him eventually.

Although his value may be at its career peek right now, I think dealing Price this offseason would be a mistake. The Rays could use the offensive boost, but the core of the franchise is still pitching and defense, and trading away a player like Price would potentially be too big of loss for the team.

Put Alex Colome, Alex Torres, Alex Cobb and Wade Davis on the trade block

Believe it or not, the Rays could actually enter the 2013 season with a much better better offense without trading one of their three top starters. Being so deep in the starting pitching department, the Rays have major-league ready starters that aren’t even being used to their full potential and a handful of talented pitching prospects that they could afford giving away.

If the Rays can keep the same ridiculously good starting rotation they had this year and at the same time put together a better offense for next season, they’re going to be one very serious contender in 2013.

With prospects like Colome and Torres, and MLB-ready starters like Davis and Cobb, the Rays have the opportunity to do so.

Acquire Asdrubal Cabrera or Jason Kubel

The shortstop position has been a weak area for the Rays for two years now, and picking up a star shortstop like Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera would be a very nice solution to the problem. The 27-year-old is one of baseball’s best offensive shortstops, posting a wOBA of over .330 and a wRC+ of over 110 for the past two seasons.

The Indians are looking for three to four— preferably four—prospects in exchange for him (per the Cleveland Plain-Dealer). The Rays have the pieces to make a deal like this happen, and Cleveland could really use some young starting pitching talent.

Over in Arizona, Justin Upton has been the main talk in Diamondbacks trade rumors so far this offseason, but now sources are saying that they may be shopping OF Jason Kubel instead. According to Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com, the Rays are one of multiple teams that could be a possible suitor for the veteran slugger.

Kubel had himself a very nice 2012 season, posting a .352 wOBA while hitting 30 homers and 90 RBI. Not only would Kubel add depth to the Rays’ outfield, but he would also be a perfect fit for the DH role.

Sign a catcher

One big area of need to address on Tampa’s roster is without a doubt at the catcher position. The four catchers that the Rays used this this year combined for an RBI total of just 65 without one reaching a wOBA as high as .290. Defensively, the four weren’t very good either.

The two main catchers on the roster (who were the team’s two catchers in 2012 as well) are Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton. Molina had a poor season offensively last year, but did well throwing out baserunners and framing pitches, essentially helping out the pitching staff throughout the year. The main problem with Molina is that he’s 37, and can’t really provide the Rays with many innings.

Therefore, the team’s backup catcher is a crucial role. Lobaton is in that position right now, and he’s not the kind of guy the Rays would [or at least should] like playing 65+ games for them. Lobaton posted a .222/.323/.317 line last year with very little power while throwing out just 16% of would-be base-stealers.

Whether it’s via the trade market or free agent market, the Rays really need to sign a backstop this winter.

Tampa Bay Rays Season in Review

The 2012 season may not be one to remember for Tampa Bay Rays fans. Despite winning 90 games in baseball’s toughest division, they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Considering the high expectations put upon the Rays coming into spring training, many look back at the season as a disappointment.

One word that could used to describe the Rays in 2012 is ‘unlucky’. Not only did they have to play through injury after injury throughout the entire season, but they also saw the Baltimore Orioles and the Oakland A’s both have shockingly great seasons in the same year`, ultimately costing them a spot in the postseason.

Even with all these obstacles, Tampa Bay still could have very possibly made the playoffs. They lost a handful of games that could have been one and had their fair share of awful offensive performances as well.

Let’s take a look back at the Rays’ season as a whole; evaluating what went wrong, what went right, and which players are worthy of team awards.

 

The Offense:

Just like it has been in the previous years, offense once again was the team’s biggest weakness in 2012. The numerous injuries were obviously a huge reason for the Rays’ lack of production, but even some names in the lineups—such as Carlos Pena, Luke Scott and Desmond Jennings—underproduced causing the Rays major problems scoring runs throughout the season.

Relative to expectations and projections for Tampa coming into the season, the Rays actually only slightly underproduced offensively. A thorough article done by Jason Hanselman at the TheRaysWay.com evaluates how well the Rays hit compared to preseason projections by looking at every players wOBA and wRAA. Below is a table: 

What the Rays saw this year is just how shallow their offensive depth is in their organization. Unlike in previous years, they dealt with a large amount of injuries in their lineup and constantly had to call up replacements. As you can see from the numbers, those replacements couldn’t give the Rays any kind of boost that was needed and the injuries would prove to sting as badly as feared.

Team Stats:

Runs: 18th (697) in MLB

Batting average: T-27th (.240)

wOBA: T-16th (.311)

RBI: 17th (665)

Walks: 1st (571)

Stolen Bases: T-5th (134), T-2nd in AL

Team Leaders (500+ PA’s):

BA: Ben Zobrist (.270)

wOBA: Ben Zobrist (.365)

RBI: B.J. Upton (78)

HR: B.J. Upton (28)

wRC+: Ben Zobrist (137)

SB: Desmond Jennings/B.J. Upton (31)

* Evan Longoria and Jeff Keppinger both had under 500 PA’s this season

 

The Pitching

The Rays pitching once again was every bit as good as advertised, and more in 2012. The staff’s ridiculously good season was one of the best in modern baseball history and the best in the majors this year. Tampa’s pitching (including bullpen) led all of baseball in ERA (3.19), FIP (3.51), opponents batting average (.228) and strikeouts (set the AL record team record with 1,383).

The Starters:

David Price – The Cy Young hopeful enjoyed his best season yet thus far in his impressive young career, winning 20 games while posting a 2.56 ERA through 211 innings at the top of the Rays’ rotation. Justin Verlander, who also had an outstanding year, is the only pitcher that stands in the way of some hardware for Price this November. Both make great cases for the award and it should be fun to watch who prevails in the voting. The Rays saw the flame-throwing southpaw continue to develop as an ace in 2012, maturing with his pitch selection as well as with his command. The future looks extremely bright for him.

James Shields – In what could be his last year with the Rays, Shields had himself another successful season with Tampa Bay. He again proved to be one of the most efficient and consistent starters in the league, posting a 15-10 record with a 3.52 ERA through 227.2 innings pitched. He also recorded the most strikeouts of anybody in the rotation (223) while walking the least batters out of the four starters with 150+ IP. Even with all the great pitching talent in the organization, the Rays will no doubt miss Shields next year if he doesn’t return.

Jeremy Hellickson – After taking home the AL Rookie of the Year award last year, Hellickson did a nice job avoiding a sophomore slump in 2012. He hit some rough patches during the season but overall had himself a fine year, posting a 3.10 ERA through 177 innings pitched.

Matt Moore – After a sensational first impression in the big leagues last year as a mid-season call-up at the young age of 22, the top prospect phenom experienced a bumpy roller coaster ride in 2012. As Moore has done in his past years in the minors, he struggled early in the season, posting an ERA in the high 4′s for the first two months and then struggling again late in the season posting an ERA north of 5 in the last month. As expected, fastball command was his biggest issue throughout the year. Overall it wasn’t a bad season at all though, and he’ll likely become a ace-type pitcher very soon with some minor adjustments.

Jeff Niemann – Unfortunately injuries absolutely ruined Niemann’s 2012 season, and it wasn’t the first time in his career either. As he started to heat up in the month of May, he was hit hard by Tampa’s injury plague, taking a hard liner to the leg sidelining the big right-hander for months. He wouldn’t even pitch as much as four innings after that, as a shoulder injury in his first start back in September ended his season for good. Niemann would end the year with a 3.08 ERA through eight starts (38 innings pitched).

Alex Cobb – Just as he did in 2011, Cobb was called up to replace the injured Niemann and did a fine job doing so. He would pitch as much as 136.1 innings by the end of year, posting an 11-9 record with a solid 4.03 ERA. We’ll likely see Cobb continue to contribute to the back end of the Rays’ rotation in the years to come.

Chris Archer – Another top prospect arm, Archer experiences his first taste in the big leagues in 2012. He made four starts for the Rays and posted a 3.80 ERA, showing off his high potential with some impressive major league caliber stuff.

Bullpen:

The Rays’ top-notch rotation was followed up by a bullpen that was one of baseball’s best as well. The ‘pen posted an AL-best ERA of 2.88, a MLB-best FIP of 3.19, AL-best K/9 of 9.33 and an MLB-best opponent’s average of .205. Featured in Tampa’s bullpen was baseball’s best reliever: Fernando Rodney. The flamethrowing closer set the all-time MLB record among relief pitchers for ERA  with a 0.60 mark while recording 48 saves out of 50 opportunities (although only one BS was his fault). The ‘pen was also strengthened by Wade Davis, who did a nice job in his transition from starter to long-reliever. Jake McGee is another name worth mentioning. The young fireballer displayed his sky-high potential by posting a 1.95 ERA with an 11.87 K/9 as a middle reliever.

 

Pleasant Surprises:

  • Jeff Keppinger – When signed by the Rays as somewhat of an extra infielder, nobody thought Keppinger would put the impressive offensive numbers that he did. The 32-year-old veteran hit .325 with a .352 wOBA and 128 wRC+ in 418 plate appearances.
  • Fernando Rodney – Not only was Rodney the most pleasant surprise with the Rays this year, but he was also the most pleasant surprise in all of baseball. After struggling in the past couple of seasons with the Angels, Rodney revived himself in Tampa Bay in 2012, earning him the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award. His historical season also earned him a much-deserved Deliverman Award (acknowledging the league’s best reliever).

     

Disappointments:

  • Carlos Pena – Pena was brought back to Tampa Bay in order to give the Rays consistent run production in the middle of the lineup, but miserably failed to do so this season. The veteran first baseman hit .197 (an MLB low) while knocking in a career-low (for full seasons) RBI total 62 and a career-low home run total of 19.
  • Luke Scott – Like Pena, Scott was acquired in the offseason for the same reasons except for DH duties. He too failed to put up the offensive numbers expected from him, posting a .229/.285/.439 line with just 55 RBI. Injuries were issue as well, and caused him to play just 96 games all season.
  • Sean Rodriguez – Sadly, Rodriguez was the Rays’ best choice for the starting shortstop role at the beginning of the season, and he proved to be probably the worst overall in the league. Offensively he struggled mightily, ending the year with a wOBA of .269 and a wRC+ of 71. Defensively he wasn’t much better either, as he committed a team-high 11 errors.

     

Team Awards:

Team MVP: Ben Zobrist

Best Pitcher: David Price

Best Offensive Player: Ben Zobrist

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