Carl Crawford – gone. Carlos Pena – gone. Matt Garza – gone. What was a team that had to cut costs to do, when two of their best hitters left via free agency and one of their best pitchers got traded? Especially when they started off the season 1-8? Make the playoffs, of course. The Tampa Bay Rays went 91-71 to take the Wild Card (on the last day of the season), and though they were knocked out of the first round, just making it into the post-season is quite the accomplishment.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Ben Zobrist’s power and BABIP came back, allowing him to post another season that should get him at least some down-ballot MVP votes (.269/.353/.469 doesn’t look that impressive, but it is for a good-fielding second-baseman). Evan Longoria missed some time at the start of the year, but was still great when on the field (despite a .239 BABIP dragging his line down); .244/.355/.495 with 31 home runs and the gold glove. BJ Upton had another solid season (.243/.331/.429). So did Matt Joyce (.277/.347/.478). And Casey Kotchman (.306/.378/.422). Desmond Jennings hit well after getting called up (.259/.366/.449). James Shields (2.82 ERA) and David Price (3.49 ERA) provided one of baseball’s better one-two punches at the top of the rotation.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Manny Ramirez didn’t hit much at the start of the year (.059/.059/.059 in 5 games), and then retired after testing positive for PEDs. Neither Kelly Shoppach nor John Jaso did much out of the catcher’s spot. Wade Davis’ ERA continued trending in the wrong direction (up to 4.45). The bullpen wasn’t particularly good either (only the Twins’ was definitely worse).
Joyce had some upside going into the year, but almost surely produced at a level above expectations. Kotchman didn’t seem to have much upside going into the year, and he definitely produced at a level above expectations. Sam Fuld, of course, caught many by surprise with his early season Superman imitations. The 10 home runs from Jennings in only 63 games were unexpected given he had only 29 total from 2006-2010 in the minors. The often mocked Kyle Farnsworth picked up 25 saves with a 2.18 ERA. And, of course, the team’s epic comeback down the stretch to pass Boston and make the play-offs was definitely unlikely when they were 8 games out on September 6th.
Getting practically nothing from your Opening Day clean-up hitter (Ramirez) sounds like it could be bad. Jeremy Hellickson posted a 2.95 ERA, but didn’t exactly dominate like some expected given his top prospect status (just 5.6 K/9, for example). Reid Brignac’s disappearing power (ISO fell from .130 to .028) wasn’t exciting either.
James Shields might be on the trade block, though keeping a very good (and relatively cheap) starter for one more year isn’t the worst thing in the world – and Matt Moore and Alex Cobb will likely get more prominent roles in the rotation. The oft-rumored BJ Upton to Washington trade may go down at some point as well.
First-base is probably open, and shortstop could be up for grabs. The bullpen might need to be patched together a bit, and the usual task of finding good cheap pieces to fill out the roster is always going to be a consideration.