Another active offseason, another anticipated summer.
Consistency has become the Tampa Bay Rays’ calling card of late, and calculated moves this winter will make Joe Maddon’s team one of the most fascinating to study in the American League East.
Consider the largest splashes:
— Third baseman Evan Longoria signed a $100 million extension through 2022 in November;
— General manager Andrew Friedman dangled All-Star pitcher James Shields and another right-hander, reliever Wade Davis, as trade assets for the Kansas City Royals to snap up in a December deal that could alter the direction of both franchises; in the process, the Rays gained four prospects — including prized outfield talent Wil Myers — from what’s considered one of baseball’s deepest farm systems.
— Later in January, veteran second baseman Kelly Johnson, formerly of the Toronto Blue Jays, added depth by agreeing to a one-year deal.
Where will the action lead? Earning the club’s fourth playoff berth since 2008 should be the goal, after missing the postseason for the first time since 2010 last fall. The Rays won at least 90 games for the fourth time in five years, but they finished three games behind the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers for wild-card spots.
Another active winter? More anticipation?
It’s just another flip of the calendar for one of major league’s savviest franchises.
Key acquisitions: 2B Kelly Johnson, SS Yunel Escobar, OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi, 1B James Loney
Key losses: RHP James Shields, RHP Wade Davis, OF B.J. Upton, 1B Carlos Pena
How much will the Rays miss James Shields?
His absence will be felt. Revisit the regular-season innings that Shields gave Tampa Bay over the past six campaigns: 215 in 2007 and ’08, 219.2 in ’09, 203.1 in ’10, 249.1 in ’11 and 227.2 in ’12.
It’s little wonder that Friedman called dealing Shields and Davis the most difficult trade he’s made. Left-hander David Price’s emergence is well-documented — he earned a career-low 2.56 ERA last season while winning the American League Cy Young Award — but he and the rest of the staff must fill the void left by Shields’ departure.
The hole will be large, because Shields offered touch as well as endurance. He struck out a career-high 225 hitters in 2011, and he followed that effort by fanning 223 last season (Price finished second on the team with 205).
Tampa Bay still has skill on the hill. But adjustment will be required.
What can the Rays expect from Evan Longoria?
Longoria received a well-earned extension in the offseason, and it signified his growth as well as the maturation of the franchise under Friedman and owner Stuart Sternberg. Selected by Tampa Bay with the third overall pick of the 2006 draft, the three-time All-Star has cracked at least 118 hits during seasons in which he has played at least 122 games. The production positioned himself as an impact player for years to come in a Rays uniform.
Still, he sustained a setback last season. A left hamstring injury limited him to 74 games, 48 fewer than he played as a rookie in 2008, his previous career low.
Will he remain healthy? (He underwent surgery for the hamstring in November.) How will he manage the psychological pressures of signing the extension?
We’ll discover the answers soon.
How much of an impact will Wil Myers make?
The acclaimed prospect’s Tropicana Field debut will happen sometime, if not to start the season then perhaps soon after. The Rays gave up considerable depth within its rotation in acquiring Myers and other prospects, including Odorizzi. Still, Myers will receive the brightest spotlight among those involved in the trade, at least at the start.
Tampa Bay has reason to be excited about him. He was considered the minor league’s top hitter among many last season, earning a .314 average with 37 home runs and 109 RBI in time split between Class AA Northwest Arkansas and Class AAA Omaha.
There are many traits to like: his athleticism, his potential for power and a sound IQ in the batter’s box for a 22-year-old.
Who got the best of the swap between Tampa Bay and Kansas City? Time will tell.
The New York Yankees, the defending AL East champions, locked in key talent but have uncertainty surrounding a fading star. Pitchers Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda were re-signed, as was reliever Mariano Rivera and outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. But what will become of third baseman Alex Rodriguez? Allegations of PED use involving a South Florida clinic have placed the franchise in a difficult spot.
The Baltimore Orioles look to continue momentum a year after earning their first postseason berth since 1997. Manager Buck Showalter (five years) and general manager Dan Duquette (four years) received extensions in what was a relatively quiet offseason in Charm City.
The Toronto Blue Jays’ winter was anything but tame, after the AL East’s fourth-place finisher a season ago made bold moves. Shortstop Jose Reyes and infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio were among the high-profile names gained in the Miami Marlins’ salary dump. They also acquired NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets. Manager John Gibbons was hired to replace John Farrell, who went to the Boston Red Sox.
The Boston Red Sox look to flip the page from the dysfunctional Bobby Valentine era. Hiring Farrell should produce a less combustible clubhouse environment. The signings of outfielder Shane Victorino, first baseman Mike Napoli and pitcher Ryan Dempster also are efforts to recover from a dreadful 69-93 campaign.