“I can build a winning baseball team with under a $60 million salary”. No that’s not a quote from Tampa Bay Rays general manager Andrew Friedman, however it could be.
Each year the Tampa Bay Rays seem to squeeze the most out of the money they spend on players, albeit it is usually a very low amount, comparatively speaking.
I happen to be a devoted Rays fan and can tell you that year after year I think to myself, this isn’t going to work this year. In fact, last year I took a phone call from a ticket sales associate at the Ray’s office. He was hoping to sell season tickets and I took the opportunity to vent my frustration at the fact that the Rays essentially had to rebuild their entire bullpen. I did not buy season tickets and I did not trust what Andrew Friedman and his crew could accomplish. I was wrong.
And year after year I am proven wrong. So going forward I’m going to trust what Friedman says and trust in the moves he makes. Manager Joe Maddon takes the players Friedman acquires without a hint of backtalk and makes it work. That’s why following the Rays in 2012 will be fun and above all else entertaining.
Since the Maddon and Friedman alliance started, the Rays have always been competitive. That is a given. However in 2012 the Rays are not only expected to field a competitive team, but are expected to compete for an American League championship. The Rays pitching staff is as good as there is in major league baseball.
James Shields, David Price, Matt Moore, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and Jeremy Hellickson make up the front six. That’s right, those six will compete for five jobs this spring. Barring injury any combination of that staff will keep the Rays in many ballgames. While a bullpen will look slightly different, Kyle Farnsworth will again handle responsibilities as the closer. Update , Farnsworth on the DL and Fernando Rodney is closing games
Carlos Pena returns at first base for the Rays providing solid Gold glove type defense and power at the plate. Evan Longoria looks to be healthy and fit this year. The real battle this spring among position players is at shortstop and who will be the utility infielder. Read Brignac and John Rodriguez will settle the shortstop issue this spring. However look for Elliott Johnson and Jeff Keppinger to be in the mix as well.
Perhaps the most important acquisition that Friedman made this off-season was that of Jose Molina at catcher. Expect him to catch 75-100 games barring injury. The more games he catches the better off the pitching staff and the defense will be. He can be a difference maker.