Friday 24 February 2012

2012 Previews: Tampa Bay Rays

I think this is the perfect combination of pitching, hitting, defense, and coaching. Andrew Friedman is a god among men.

The Majors
Simply, I love this team.  The organization just keeps churning out amazing pitcher after amazing pitcher.  Price, Shields, Moore and Hellickson is right up there with PHI and LAA as the best rotations in baseball, whoever they opt to stick in as their fifth starter.

The thing is, as good as the rotation is, the offense is probably going to be the best it's been in franchise history.  Evan Longoria is probably the best player in baseball (certainly in the argument), and there just doesn't seem to be any weak spots around him, thanks to the way this club is managed by Joe Maddon.  I'm amazed that other teams aren't doing the same thing as the Rays are, in terms of building their team with a bunch of guys who can play multiple positions, giving the team as many lineup options as possible, so as to maximize the amount of times batters come up with the right lefty/righty splits.  I don't necessarily think that this the most talented team in baseball, but they squeeze out more value with what they have than any other club.  Despite not really having any big time power hitters beyond Evan Longoria (Pena, I guess), this team is full of guys with 20HR power, and they all get on base.

The Minors
This is a consensus top-3 system, and is easily top-5 even if you don't consider Matt Moore a prospect anymore.  I kind of wonder if Andrew Friedman would even bother using an extra $30MM if he had it sitting around.  Most players hit their peak at ages 27-29, which also happens to be when they're becoming expensive.  If Friedman continually moves players as they get worse and more expensive (as opposed to retaining them for more money), he can rebuild his farm system over and over and over again, while the players he moves are still valuable.  The fact that there is a giant pile of prospects in this system at all times is a security net that allows him to keep costs down, run an efficient team, and keep his club constantly moving towards the peaks of their careers.

Now that Type-B free agent compensation has been removed, teams are going to have to get a little more clever, and maybe trade players earlier in to their service clocks in order to get large returns.  Friedman was kind of doing that before the new CBA anyway, once people realized that he was just hogging relievers who were close to Type-B status for draft picks.  He's very much ahead of the game, zigging when other zag, so to speak.

What else do I have to say?  I think this is the best team in the AL East, and the second best team in baseball.  A lot of people are pointing to the Red Sox, saying that their record last year was well below what it should have been, thanks to the 0-7 start, and the September blowup.  Let's not forget that the 2011 Rays started 1-8, ultimately winning 91 games.  I think they're better than they were last year, and the competition (NYY and BOS) are either the same, or slightly worse.

Projection: 1st in the AL East, 96-66

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