Oct 8, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson (58) and teammates react in the dugout during the ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox of game four of the American League divisional series at Tropicana Field. Boston Red Sox defeated theTampa Bay Rays 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Imagine if, at the start of the season, one knew that the Rays would lose David Price, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb for an extended period of time. That Jeremy Hellickson would not only regress, but would wind up being demoted to the Charlotte Stone Crabs for a mental break during the end of August. That Fernando Rodney, and the Rays bullpen in general, would be a possible weakness over the first two moths of the season. Chances are, one would have expected that the Rays would have ended up far from the postseason, and would have been looking forward to 2014.
Yet, that is why these games are played on the field. Chris Archer was brought up and showed that he was ready for the major leagues, emerging as one of the Rays most reliable starters down the stretch. The offense, which was expected to consist of Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and a number of question marks, far exceeded expectations, and carried the Rays throughout much of this season. James Loney tapped into his potential and proved that a change of environment really may have been all that he needed. Wil Myers made an instant impact when called up and inserted into the lineup, leading American League rookies in RBIs and on base percentage while finishing second in home runs and batting average. Not bad for playing just over half a season.
With everything that the Rays seemingly had going against them throughout the season, their postseason run could be considered quite impressive. Had the Rays not been able to withstand the onslaught of injuries to their rotation and had fallen out of contention, it would have been understandable. Instead, the Rays were able to overcome adversity and gain one of the Wild Card berths. Even though they fell to the Red Sox in four game, this season should be considered a success.
Now, heading into 2014, the Rays find themselves at a bit of a crossroads. With Loney, Luke Scott and Jose Molina as free agents, the Rays could find themselves needing to fill out at least a third of their starting lineup. Rodney is likely gone after this rough season and playoff implosion, and the trade rumors surrounding Price are about to begin swirling once again. Much like Matt Garza and James Shields before him, Price is two years away from free agency, and that has been the point where the Rays typically have looked to move players that they have felt they cannot afford to keep.
In fact, what happens with Price may well be the key to the Rays hopes in 2014. Moore and Cobb have displayed flashes that they may be top of the rotation starters, yet neither has displayed the same consistency that Price has had over much of the past four seasons. Can either pitcher step up and fill that role should Price depart? Likewise, the return for Price could go a long way towards shaping not just the future of the Rays, but the present as well. Myers was a big part of the Rays run to the postseason after they got off to a rough start. Is it possible that the Rays could once again acquire an impact prospect that would be able to provide the same spark midseason?
The Rays have done well to keep themselves as playoff contenders virtually every year since 2008. The moves they make this offseason could go a long way to determining whether or not that streak continues, or if they take a step back to potentially compete again in a couple more years.