After being crowned the AL East Division Champions in 2010, the Rays’ excitement was quickly diminished by the long list of players they would lose to free agency. Two of the organization’s biggest stars, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, were on the list, including six pitchers. Panic set in, as the Rays needed to fill their roster with power to stay afloat in the AL East.
With B.J. Upton and five other players on the free agent market in 2013, the Rays have many important decisions to make this offseason as well. However, this offseason and the 2011 offseason draw some parallels.
In 2011, Rays first baseman Carlos Pena was a free agent. He signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs, but in 2012, signed a one-year deal with the Rays. Pena is a free agent again, and the Rays must find another first baseman since Pena proved to be a disappointment during the 2012 season.
While the Rays worry about finding a replacement for center fielder B.J. Upton, their biggest worry in 2011 was replacing left fielder Carl Crawford. After being drafted by the Rays in the amateur draft in 1999, Crawford made his major league debut in 2002. That same year B.J. Upton was drafted in the amateur draft.
As the Rays scoured the market in 2011, they found Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth, who would bolster their bullpen. Kyle Farnsworth acted at the Rays’ closer in 2011, although manager Joe Maddon was reluctant to actually label Farnsworth as a closer. Farnsworth had 25 saves in 63 games with a 2.18 ERA that season. Although Farnsworth did not see much action in 2012, due to an elbow injury and Fernando Rodney’s breakout season as the new closer, Farnsworth was the insurance the Rays pitching staff needed in 2011.
The Rays signed reliever Joel Peralta to a two-year deal worth $6 million on November 5, reported Tampa Bay Times reporter Mark Topkin. By signing Peralta and accepting starter James Shields’ club option last week, the Rays have a loaded bullpen for the 2013 season and do not have the worries about pitching that they did in the 2011 offseason.
However, the Rays must still find a first baseman and another outfielder, with B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena presumably not returning. The rumor mills are swirling about the Rays trading starting pitchers Jeremy Hellickson or James Shields in exchange for someone who could strengthen their offense. While Hellickson or Shields would be greatly missed, remember that if one of the pitchers is traded, unlikely stars can result from trades. Outfielder Sam Fuld was one of the five minor league players the Rays received in 2011, when trading starting pitcher Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs. Sam Fuld had an explosive start in 2011 with his spectacular diving catches in the outfield grabbing fans’ attention. And while his offense struggles, Fuld’s tenacity in the outfield is what characterizes the Rays’ style of play.
Despite the bleak outlook during the 2011 offseason, the Rays found a way to turn their offseason woes into a successful season. By dramatically clinching the AL Wild Card slot in the regular season’s final night, the Rays reminded us during that night and the whole season that they always find a way to win. Whatever happens during this offseason, be open to possibilities. Who knows what is in store for 2013.