Is the Tampa Bay Rays Sun Setting?

The baseball world is in a quandry when it comes to assessing the 2011 version of the Tampa Bay Rays. Early in the hot stove league action it was pretty much assumed that the Rays would be battling it out with Baltimore for last place in the AL East after free agency gutted one of the top bullpens of the 2010 season.

There are still plenty of doubters, although I’ll remark that many seem to live in the Boston-New York nexus and therefore could be counted as part of the wishful thinking crowd, however the naysayers aren’t the sole voice in the discussion. While I wouldn’t consider it a partisan crowd, the Rays have at least some admirers willing to look through their “Rays colored glasses” and see another crafty off-season of player maneuvers by Andrew Friedman and the Tampa brass.

Adam Markowitz at DB Sports says the Rays are rebuilding, even though as he puts it they are still a top ten team. What I found interesting was his assumption that “after years of picking on the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, it is becoming incredibly apparently that, without a miracle, the Goliath’s have finally towered over the David’s definitively.”

Markowitz goes on to say that the Tampa Bay rotation “underachieved” last year and that the trade of Matt Garza was for “a box of baseballs.” Needless to say I think the Orlando resident contradicts himself in his own article. If the Rays pitching staff under achieved last year, what happens if they bounce back to achieve?

For a counter to Mr. Markowitz’ views, Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com explains why people shouldn’t be so quick to count the Rays out of the AL East. He notes, as all of baseball knows, the difficulties the Rays have had in putting butts in seats, but I’ll say that it was more the effect of an unemployment rate in double digits and one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country that were the bigger issue, not the interest of the local fans by any stretch.

This quote from Theo Epstein, the Red Sox GM who seems cut from the same cloth as Andrew Friedman, (even if that cloth is made of Vicuna compared to Friedman’s Egyptian cotton) from Castrovince’s column is worth noting as well. Epstein, fresh off a buying binge that even made Yankee fans salute, cautioned on the Rays. “I think the demise of the Rays is greatly exaggerated,” Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein told ESPN.com the other day. “Even before [the Damon and Ramirez additions], we never erased them at all from our radar. I think they’re uniquely positioned to lose some really good players and keep their status as one of the best teams in baseball, given the strength of their farm system and the players they have ready to step in.”

In another of what will certainly be a plethora of analysis regarding the Rays this season, Kevin Queliz tells us why they will win 90 games and still not be a factor. He may be right, especially with the off-season Epstein had in signing lucrative deals for Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Bobby Jenks, but the Yankees still have their work cut out for them with a questionable rotation after C.C. Sabbathia and Phil Hughes that had them reaching deep into the free agent pool with signings of Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Mark Prior.

The commentary is equally mixed regarding the Rays signing Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, but I’m firmly in the “glass half-full” camp.

I am a huge believer in the intangibles of any game. Nothing screams intangibles more than a 12-time All Star who wants to prove to the world that he still “has game.” Manny Ramirez said in his press conference ““I’m here, like I said, because I love the game, I love to compete. It doesn’t matter how much money you make, If you love the game, it doesn’t matter. What you want is a chance to prove to people that you still can do it. So for me, it was not about the money, I could have gone some place else.”

Give me a motivated Manny, the crazy smart shenanigans of baseball’s most eccentric and eclectic manager and the savvy front office that has consistently defied the naysayers over, well, the Yankee’s signing Freddy Garcia, Mark Prior and Bartolo Colon don’t exactly overwhelm. While the bullpen is potent, especially with the recent signing of former Rays closer Rafael Soriano, they still need to get to the 8th and 9th innings for Raffy and incumbent closer Mariano Rivera to be relevant.

Topics: Andrew Friedman, Andy Friedman, Bartolo Colon, Carl Crawford, Freddy Garcia, Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, Mark Prior, Matt Garza, Tampa Bay Rays, Theo Epstein

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