The Rays found there much-needed Designated Hitter on Wednesday when they signed 33 year-old veteran Luke Scott to a one-year deal (with a 2013 club option). The former Baltimore Oriole played mostly in the outfield, but also contributed at the DH position. Scott is clearly going to have to get used to playing DH, because that’s the reason the Rays signed him.
The left-handed slugger had an off-year last season, but it was mostly because of an injured shoulder which cost him him over half the season. Before the injury, Scott was one a steady rise from 2007- 2010. In 2007 Scott batted .255 with 18 home runs and 64 RBI’s, in 2010 he hit .284 while smashing 27 homers and 72 RBI’s. Scott holds a career batting line 0f .264/.349/.494. The numbers show what kind of offense Scott is able of producing, which is is something the Rays have been lacking in recent years. If Scott can recover from his surgery and return to his slugger form, the Rays will be a very dangerous team in 2012. A veteran power bat in the middle of the lineup may have been the difference between an American League pennant and an early playoff exit for the Rays in the past two seasons.
Back in December, a columnist from the Tampa Bay Times wrote an article stating that the Rays are just a single bat away from winning the pennant in 2012. Although the idea seemed a bit too optimistic at first glance, Rays fans started to adhere to the thought. I personally believe that the statement is not only true for the 2012 season, but it probably could apply to last season as well. Hopefully, the Rays will take another dip into free agency to pick up a hard-hitting first baseman. Reports say the Rays are still in play to bring back Carlos Pena or Casey Kotchman to play first for the Rays in 2012. I think it’s likely that the Rays will sign one of the two, which should have Rays Republic very excited. Both are terrific defensively and did great jobs contributing to the offense during their time in Tampa Bay. Adding Kotchman or Pena into the middle of the lineup along with Scott would definitely have the Rays headed in the right direction.
The last subject that emerged arousing the Luke Scott acquisition, regards ex-Rays DH Johnny Damon. By signing Scott, the Rays essentially parted ways with the 38 year-old veteran. Since both Scott and Damon’s main position on the Rays is DH, it’s very unlikely Damon will be re-signed. Damon’s very aware of this, and expressed some frustration in his comments on Wednesday. He started by saying “It’s an unhappy day”. He continued by talking about how he thought the shortstop and catching spots were bigger offensive issues than the first base and DH positions. I don’t know if I can agree with that statement, but I must say that Damon makes a great point when reminding us that “Those positions were hitting under .200” last year. Damon also told reporters that he loves to play for the Rays, and wanted to reach his 3,000 hit goal with the team. It’s easy interpret Damon’s comments as whiny or unappreciative, but I look as it as an honor for the Rays and sympathy for Damon. The fact that a player with a great career like Damon wants so badly to spend his last years with the Rays, should say something. Damon, a man who’s witnessed so much in baseball over his years, seems to respect the Rays more than any other team. I also feel bad for the guy too. Damon was a great example for the Rays clubhouse, and is one of the most unselfish players in Major League Baseball. It would be nice to see Damon get that magical 3,000th hit one day for the Rays, but let’s just hope Luke Scott can help us forget about it.
Here we are in late December and the Rays still have some work to do for the offseason. With Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon testing free agency, the Rays are in need of a first baseman and a DH. New names have emerged among Hot Stove rumors that the Rays may be interested in to bolster their offense. Of course, the Rays are also in pursuit of help in the bullpen. They have already picked up Burke Badenhop and Josh Lueke via trade, and sources say they are looking for more relief pitching. With the plentiful young talent that the Rays have, the trade market will probably be the way to go this winter. Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb, and even David Price have spotlighted Rays trade rumors lately. Although the Rays have been quiet in the midst of all the Hot Stove action, it shouldn’t be too long before they strike. When it comes to the offseason, the Rays are silent but deadly.
Star outfielder Carlos Beltran brings some new excitement to Rays rumors. The 34 year-old veteran had another great offensive season last year, and was elected to his sixth All Star Game. Despite battling a nagging knee injury throughout the season, Beltran still managed to hit .300 and knock in over 84 runs. According to the most recent update on Beltran’s status, many teams are interested in getting the free agent. Unfortunately for the Rays, the St. Louis Cardinals continue to show strong interest in Beltran. The Cardinals obviously have more money to spend if they want him, but the Rays are right behind them if they lose interest for some reason.
Anthony Rizzo of the San Diego Padres is another name that has recently headlined Rays rumors. With the recent Reds-Padres blockbuster trade, the Rays have a golden opportunity to snag the minor league first baseman. Yonder Alonso, who was part of past Rays trade rumors himself, was sent to San Diego in a five-player deal. Now that the Padres have Alonso as their first baseman, Rizzo becomes an immediate trade possibility. A recent Tweet from CBS’s John Heyman reported the predictable news; that the Rays and Cubs are both expressing interest in Rizzo. Being a larger-market team and having first base questions themselves, the Cubs could really get in the Rays’ way here. Hopefully, Chicago will find someone else to fill in at first base (maybe Prince Fielder), and the Rays will have their shot at Rizzo. I believe that Rizzo is the guy to get for the Rays this offseason. Although he’s only played one season in triple-A, his terrific stats show he could be ready for big league success. With the Cubs seeking a star first baseman, I think it’s very possible that this deal might work out.
Luke Scott was one of the biggest bats amongst the notable non-tenders. Scott is not really a star-type player, but he can hit. He has power, and has established himself as a consistent 20-homer guy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rays aggressively go after Scott this winter. After an underachieving 2011 (mostly because of constant injury problems), Scott will probably not be a hit with the big market teams and won’t be asking for a large salary. A combination of this and his impressive power is what makes him very attractive for the Rays. I definitely would not be shocked if the Rays reel in Scott sometime in the following months.
Joel Zumaya is another player that can’t be scratched off the list just yet. The Rays are looking to get at least one more arm to add to the bullpen, and Zumaya is looking for a job. There’s a chance Zumaya might work out in Tampa Bay. The 27 year-old fireballer has been busy this offseason, throwing in front of hundreds of scouts. The Rays were one team to participate in the Zumaya showcases, a source reported about two weeks ago. The chances of getting Zumaya have gradually decreased as the offseason has progressed, though. The recent injury to Detroit Tigers’ reliever Al Alburquerque, makes Zumaya’s former team a very possible candidate to re-sign him.
Jose Mijares is one non-tendered reliever that may attract the Rays. The 27 year-old left-hander pitched four seasons for the Minnesota Twins, and served as their ‘lefty specialist’ out of the bullpen. The Rays were in need of a lefty for their ‘pen coming into the offseason, but they took some stress off the issue after acquiring Josh Lueke. Still the Rays would like to maybe add another experienced lefty in there for a bargain deal.
As the first two months of the Rays’ offseason comes to a conclusion and the Winter Meeting pass, the Rays have made progress on their Winter to-do list. Entering the offseason, the Rays had some work to do in order to address areas of need. First base, bullpen, catcher, and the DH spot were all holes that needed to be filled coming into the winter. There also were, and still are, big names at risk of leaving the team. Johnny Damon, Joel Peralta, Kelly Shoppach, and Casey Kotchman are all on the free agent list. James Shields, Kyle Farnsworth, and B.J. Upton are others that may not be playing for the Rays next year.
The first mission the Rays had this offseason was to deal with their three club options. Kyle Farnsworth, Kelly Shoppach, and James Shields were all asking for multi-millions for 2012. With the team’s ace and closer on the line, the Rays accepted both Farnsworth’s and Shields’ option. Kelly Shoppach, however, was declined and is now testing free agency.
The acceptance of Shields’ and Farnsworth’s options highly increased their chances of staying with the team next year. It was a huge sigh of relief for Rays fans everywhere to hear that their “Big Game” James is safe, unless traded. As for Farnsworth, he was a big part of the Rays’ bullpen in 2011. Keeping Farnsworth is essentially one less step in the bullpen’s rebuilding process. In Shoppach’s case, I guess the Rays just didn’t see any reason to overpay him after an awful 2011 season. Although considering the Rays’ catching situation, I was a bit surprised with the choice.
The Rays’ issue behind the plate was the main focus of their next offseason move. With Shoppach likely not returning in 2011, the Rays went out to look for catching on the free agent market. They found themselves a low-priced and experienced veteran in Jose Molina. It was a move that needed to be done, and took a lot of stress off the issue. After signing Molina, the Rays still weren’t done dealing with their catchers yet. Suddenly out of nowhere, the Rays acquired reliever Josh Lueke from Seattle in exchange for John Jaso. The trade was the biggest surprise of the Rays offseason so far. Being a catcher, nobody expected to see Jaso go anywhere. The trade forecasts that the Rays are probably looking for more catching in the following months. Already rumored names have emerged, such as 40 year-old Ivan Rodriguez.
Catcher isn’t the only position that the Rays have been targeting. With Kotchman and Damon free agents, the first base and DH roles are questionable for Opening Day. The Rays made their first efforts to find a first baseman last week, when the picked up Juan Miranda. Miranda was one of four minor leaguers who were invited to Spring Training by the Rays at the Winter Meetings. The 28 year-old Cuban native has played five professional seasons, showing scouts everywhere his raw power. He hasn’t had much success in his previous MLB stints, but the Rays see a bright future in his big bat. There’s been some trade rumors of other first basemen that the Rays may pursue, but Miranda is the only deal they’ve done so far. The other three players who received the Spring Training invitation along with Miranda, were Matt Mangini, Ricky Orta, and Johnny Nunez. Like Miranda, I believe the Rays made a great move signing Mangini.
The third/first baseman hit an impressive .336 in Triple-A Tacoma last year. I think he can also help give the offense a boost, even though he doesn’t have the power that Miranda has. Ricky Orta and Johnny Nunez are two young relievers that the Rays picked up as part of their bullpen rebuilding process. The Rays reportedly have been seeking more bullpen arms. Veterans that are more likely to contribute to the team in 2012. Joel Zumaya, Luis Ayala, and Andrew Bailey are all names that have come up in rumors lately. With the DH and first base positions a problem now, many overlook the Rays’ bullpen issue, which is also vital in the club’s success. The Rays are definitely better off seeking hitting during the winter. Being so deep in starting pitching, the Rays will probably be able to make something work for next season.
The most recent news of the Rays’ offseason is the contract extension of Matt Moore, which also happened at the Winter Meetings in Dallas. The rookie southpaw guaranteed his contract for a minimum of five years (up to 8 years including options) for $14 million. The contract extension was great news for Rays fans, and another clever offseason move by Andrew Friedman.
It’s a nice feeling knowing that a pitcher like Matt Moore is here to stay for a while. Hopefully, other young stars such as Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson will follow in Moore’s footsteps. Those are two guys that the Rays need to get a grip on, and a contract extension should be in the conversation this offseason. Besides handing out four Spring Training invitations and locking up Matt Moore, the Rays were pretty quiet at the Winter Meeting. With all the big-market action happening in Dallas last week, the Rays probably see a better chance to strike later in the winter. I believe the team’s main goal before spring should be to re-sign Casey Kotchman and Joel Peralta, as well as find at least one more good hitter. At the end of the day, DH and catcher are the Rays’ two main priorities. As of now, Jose Lobaton/Robinson Chirinos is the Rays’ second catcher, and Sam Fuld is the Opening Day DH. Obviously, there’s still plenty of work to be done. The Rays have made forward progress in the first two months of the offseason, but luckily there is another two and a half months to make things right.
Two Rays were honored in the BWAA’s MLB awards this offseason; Joe Maddon and Jeremy Hellickson. Also part of the baseball award season, is MLB.com’s team awards. The MLB.com team awards include Breakout Player of the Year, Player of the Year (top non-pitcher), and Pitcher of the Year. The Breakout Player award went to Hellickson, who added that accolade to his prestigious 2011 ROY award. I wouldn’t describe Hellboy’s fantastic season as a ‘breakout year’ exactly, as his 2010 previewed great things to come. James Shields’ unbelievable season was a picture perfect example of a great breakout year though. But with how the MLB.com team awards work, it is unlikely that one player wins multiple awards. The Player of the Year Award was the most anticipated of the three, and was won by Ben Zobrist. The choice for the award was mainly between Longoria and Zobrist, as both put up the best offensive production during the season. Zorilla’s consistency and ability to serve as baseball’s best utility man separated him from Longo’s great glovework and powerful bat. I strongly agree with the decision to honor Zobrist as the Rays’ top player in 2011, after such a terrific season. All season long I felt as if Zobrist was one of the most underrated players in the game, considering how much he contributed to such a successful team. The third team award acknowledges the ace of the Rays talented young pitching staff. Obviously, the 2011 Pitcher of the Year award went to James Shields, who also finished third in the Cy Young Award voting. The stats did all the talking for ‘Big Game’ James, as 11 complete games and a 2.82 ERA were simply impossible to argue with.
The MLB.com awards were not the only official team awards passed out this offseason. The Tampa Bay Chapter of the BWAA gives out three team awards of their own; MVP, the Outstanding Rookie Award, and the Paul C. Smith Champion Award. The MVP award went to Shields, which was definitely the right choice. Many people tend misinterpret the Player of the Year Award and the MVP award, and get them mixed up. Since the MLB.com team awards also acknowledge the best pitcher, the Player of the Year award basically refers to the best player that’s not a pitcher. In the BWAA team awards there is the MVP Award and no Pitcher of the Year award, giving pitchers an opportunity to win the team MVP. That’s exactly what happened in the Rays’ case this year, as Shields deservingly took home the team MVP. The third BWAA team award is the Paul C. Smith Champion Award. This award is handed to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of true professionalism on and off the field. The award was given to Johnny Damon, who I believe represents this award perfectly and was the obvious choice. Johnny Damon not only is a great clubhouse guy and person, but also a real winner on the field. His tremendous effort and hustle displayed on the diamond day after day is what makes him such a great baseball player, and keeps him still playing the game he loves. Those are all the Rays’ team awards for 2011, but that’s not all the accolades for Rays players this fall. The J.G. Taylor Spink Award (Minor League Player of the Year) was won by Rays’ phenom top-prospect Matt Moore. Moore earned the extremely high honor by putting up ridiculous numbers (in AA and AAA combided), including a 1.92 ERA.
The Rays’ award isn’t season over, MLB.com’s GIBBY Awards (Greatness in Baseball Yearly) feature 5 nominated Rays. Click here to vote today!
To see my choices for the 2011 Rays team awards click here.
It’s this time of year again. Four full months of waiting to hear that sound of the crack of the bat. Before the Rays and their young stars take the field in March, the Rays have some work to do. There are some tough choices they know that they must make this winter. Here are the top five main questions on the Rays Hot Stove:
What’s B.J. Upton’s fate? Let’s start with maybe the biggest topic on the Rays Hot Stove. B.J. Upton has been in the mix of baseball rumors since last year’s Trade Deadline. Today, he’s known as one of the premier trade pieces in the league. With Upton up for arbitration again, it is very possible that he could be traded away. Keeping Upton, who hasn’t reached his potential in the last few years, would mean paying him about $7 Million in 2012 (experts predict). The debate here is wether he is worth keeping or not, and who can he be traded for. Upton has underachieved so far in his career, but many believe that the best years are ahead of him. What I think the Rays should do, is only trade Upton if they know they can get someone good for him. The Rays could really use this opportunity to use B.J.’s phenom-talent to their advantage on the market.
One good thing about possibly losing Upton, is that the Rays good outfield depth will be able to replace him in centerfield pretty well. Desmond Jennings is probably the top candidate to take over there if Upton is gone. Even with all this, B.J. Upton’s terrific defense in CF will be dearly missed. Whatever the Rays decide to do with B.J., I’m very confident that Andrew Friedman will make sure there will be incoming talent if Upton is leaving Tampa Bay. It will really be interesting to see how this one plays out.
Will “Big Game” James stay? James Shields was really the team’s MVP this year, leading a terrific pitching staff with a 2.82 ERA and 11 complete games. After an incredible Cy Young- caliber season, Shields will have a high price tag for the 2012 season. The Rays seem like they’re going to make some efforts to keep Shields on the roster, as they just recently have picked up the club option on him. Shields will be making $7 million next year if he stays. His situation is similar to Upton’s in some ways. Like Upton, he won’t be testing free agency this year and is a potential blockbuster-trade piece (the highest trade value on the team). When it comes to James’ situation, I think it will most likely end up as a win either way. I think that trading Shields is the best opportunity to fill in the offensive holes they need. A trade to the Marlins for Logan Morrison and other good hitters is a big rumor at the moment. Centerfielder Grady Sizemore is another possibility up in the air.
I think trading Shields may be the best choice for the team here. Last year’s Matt Garza trade was a great example of how this could effect the Rays. If Friedman can pull another one-sided trade like that out of his magic hat, we could be looking at a really well built team in Tampa. Last year the Rays acquired Brandon Guyer, Chris Archer (top prospect), Sam Fuld, Russ Canzler (AAA MVP), and more just for Matt Garza (who did nothing this year). Not only did that not hurt the great pitching rotation, but it even boosted the offense and fielding. If Shields is traded, the Rays still have Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Alex Torres in their future. When you have four arms like that in your farm system, you can easily replace an ace down the road. Overall, the Rays have a real tough decision to make in the following months. I believe it’s a matter of how much the organization trusts their young pitchers. If they think that the young guns can ultimately replace Shields, than they should trade him. On the other side of things, if Shields stays on the team it’s also great news. I’m pretty optimistic that only good will come out of this one.
What will result in Kotchman’s and Damon’s free agency? What a terrific comeback year it was for Casey Kotchman in 2011. After stunning everyone with a great year, the Rays are really looking forward to re-signing Kotchman who is a free agent. Kotchman will obviously be asking for a raise here, as last year’s offseason contract was virtually nothing for a MLB first-baseman. To me, it’s a no-brainer to re-sign Casey. The Rays are truly not going to get a better deal on a first-baseman than this slick-fielder. Besides that, Kotchman is a perfect fit for the club. He’s a hometown boy that completes a terrific infield, plays with heart and hustle, and hits more for contact rather than power. Sound like Tampa Bay Rays player to me. Johnny Damon is a whole different situation. Also a free agent, Damon will be payed more than Kotchman if he stays on the team next year. Even though I think Damon suits the team well and is a great clubhouse-guy, he’s simply not as valuable as Kotchman. For an American League DH, Damon is not really up to par. Johnny is in the final years of his great career and is not a contributor in the outfield anymore; and not much either on the basepads like he was. At the end of the day, I think what the Rays should do is let Damon walk. The newest member of the free agent group, who just joined yesterday, is Dan Johnson. Johnson hasn’t played much baseball in his years in Tampa, but he’s probably hit two of the biggest clutch hits in the franchise’s history. Yesterday, the Rays designated Johnson for a minor league assignment. Dan declined it, and now he’s a free agent. I was a bit surprised to hear this because the Rays don’t exactly have the first base depth like most teams. Johnson’s future in a Rays uniform doesn’t look good at all, and I have to guess that he unfortunately won’t be a Ray anymore.
How will the bullpen be addressed again this offseason? The Rays bullpen is still a work in progress. Last year’s pretty good ‘pen surprised a lot of people, as almost none of the relievers had any high expectations. This winter, Friedman’s going to have to do a lot of arranging once again with insecure relievers. Juan Cruz and Joel Peralta are both free agents, and closer Kyle Farnsworth was just recently exercised his 2012 option. First I’ll start with the pair of free agents. Let me make it simple and clear: Let Cruz go, sign Peralta for a multi-year deal. Cruz didn’t do a bad job last year, but the Rays need to build their ‘pen with young arms. Peralta is a great young reliever, who I believe has the best future out of any of the Rays relief pitchers. With the potential I see in him, I think there’s a good chance that he’s the future closer.
Farnsworth is a different story, and is more at risk for leaving the team. The Rays did pick up the club option for him, increasing the chances of him staying. Farnsworth will be paid $3.3 Million next year. The Rays have a tough choice in deciding wether that’s worth it or not, and I’m not really sure on this one myself. Farnsworth is not exactly a young player and ended last season with injury problems. Re-signing Farnsworth could be a big risk, even after the terrific season he had in 2011. With Farnsworth, I think it’s mostly a matter of his health status. Whatever the Rays chose to do, I still think they need to search the market this winter for some available relievers. The main source for bullpen relievers will be the farm system though, as the Rays have some good arms up in Durham. If the Rays can utilize their minor league pitchers well in the bullpen, I don’t think there will be too many issues next year.
What will be done to fill in open holes? Besides the bullpen, the Rays do have some other areas of need to tend to this offseason. Probably the biggest issue is the catching situation. Unlike Farnsworth and Shields, Kelly Shoppach was declined his 2012 option. Even though Shoppach was the team’s best defensive catcher last year and got some big clutch his down the stretch, I don’t think the Rays are willing to pay him $3.2 Million next year. With Shoppach gone, the Rays could have some serious catching issues. John Jaso, Robinson Chirinos, and Jose Lobaton are all options. Unfortunately, all three of them still need a lot of developing to do defensively. Out of the three, only Jaso can frankly hit at the Major League level.
With the Rays farm system not abundant in catchers, it looks like turning to the free agent market or making a trade will be necessary here. The second area of need is first base. If the Rays re-sign Kotchman it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. But besides Casey, there isn’t anyone that is a true everyday first-baseman. Sean Rodriguez can play there, but that’s not the guy you want playing first base everyday. The free agent market isn’t really an option for the Rays to pick up a first-baseman. That’s why I think signing Kotchman is pretty much necessary. The third main area, is Designated Hitter. The Rays haven’t had a solid DH for years, and have always had issues at that spot. Once again the free agent market is not much of an option. Some names like David Ortiz are probably too expensive to afford. If the Rays lose Johnny Damon (their 2011 DH), than they might have to deal with makeshift Designated Hitters throughout the season.
There are a handful of future Hall of Famers playing in the MLB today. Some of them will be debated over wether their name should be in Cooperstown or not; and Damon is probably one of the biggest names in that category. Johnny Damon has done it all in his long and successful career. Just finishing his 17th year in the MLB, the 36-year old has won two World Series titles and was elected to the All Star Game twice. But the one word that really defines Damon’s career, is consistency.
Damon’s ability to play good baseball year after year if what makes him such an ideal player to have on a team. The stats definitely back him up in that department. Damon has never batted under .256 in his whole career, and he’s never had a season where he played 140 or less games (besides for his rookie year). He also has finished top 25 in the MLB in stolen bases (14 times), hits (10 times), and runs (11 times). Clutch is another word that describes Damon well. In both his championship seasons, 2004 and 2009, Johnny had some big clutch hits to help his respective teams succeed in the postseason. This part of his game is something that really helps him in his Hall debate. On the other side of things, his stats are pretty much the only thing weighing him down. A .286 average and 231 homeruns are not your typical Hall of Fame stats. This is why reaching every milestone possible will be important for Damon’s chances. A big one was achieved this year, as Damon became the 11th player in MLB history to hit at least 500 doubles, 100 triples, 200 homers, and 2,500 hits. He joined some great HOF names on that list; including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, George Brett, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, and more. Even with this incredible feat, Johnny may need another milestone to get him into Cooperstown. Everyone knows exactly what that is; the magical 3,000 hits. Out of all the active players in the league right now, Damon is the closest.
When he (hopefully) starts the season next year, he will stand at 2,723 hits. 277 hits away, Damon and his fans hope it will take just two years to reach the magical number with time running out. At the end of the day, I think it’s going to take that milestone to get his jersey hung up in Cooperstown. As for Damon’s future, it seems questionable in a Rays uniform. At almost 37, Damon is entering free agency. The way he plays with such hustle and heart, it looks like he can easily get through two years. Whatever team he’s on, I am confident he will be able to reach the milestone if he stays healthy. But man, wouldn’t it be nice to see him hit number 3,000 with the Rays.
The Rays Rant is evaluating every Rays player of 2011. Well at least the ones that played a decent amount of time in the big leagues this year. I will also be handing out the following team awards: Team MVP, the Team Leader award, Defensive Player of the Year award, Team Batting Champion, Stolen Base leader, Team RBI King, All-Star, the Impact Player award, the Rookie of the Year award, the Heart & Hustle award, and the Team Player award. Here are the grades and evaluation of the 2011 Rays:
Alex Cobb– When Alex Cobb was called up in the middle of the season to replace the injured Wade Davis, nobody really knew what to expect from him. He quickly showed that he was another Ray rookie talent, and was excelling at the Major League level. It seemed as if he was on a roll, until he required season-ending surgery. I big blow to the pitching staff, but still a bright future ahead. Grade: A
Juan Cruz– The Rays signed Juan Cruz in the offseason as part of their efforts to rebuild the bullpen. When they got Cruz, they were really just trying to get lucky. And very lucky they were, as Cruz went 5-0 in relief for the season. Cruz really was a surprise after the previous two years, which included a horrible 2009 and a 5.1 inning 2010. Grade: A-
Wade Davis– As expected, Wade Davis made the young 5-man Rays rotation. Like the other four guys, Davis looked bright coming into the season. But 2011 ended up being a bit of a frustration for Wade, as he put up better stats the previous season. His ERA climbed .38 points higher, but his 11-10 record with a 4.45 ERA was still pretty decent. Grade: B-
Kyle Farnsworth– Farnsworth was probably the Rays best offseason move. With no bullpen that meant no closer, and the Rays were out to find one. Just like almost every other reliever on the Rays impressive bullpen, Farnsworth didn’t really have high expectations coming into the season. The 36 year-old Farnsworth had the best season of his long career. Grade: A+
Jeremy Hellickson– The surging young right-hander had a tremendous season this year, and was probably the second-best starter in the rotation. His 2.95 ERA is one of the best in the league, and he is a very strong candidate for the ROY award. Grade: A+ Award: Rookie of the Year award
J.P. Howell– Recovering from a horrific shoulder injury, J.P. and the Rays were thrilled after over a year on the sidelines. But it quickly became clear that Howell wasn’t the same, and he ended the season with a 6.16 ERA. Grade: D-
Jake McGee– McGee has been a young bullpen arm that the Rays are excited about. He still is a developing player though, and let up a lot of runs in 2011. Still his 5 wins was pretty good. Grade: C+
Matt Moore– Matt Moore is all he’s hyped up to be. The fireballer southpaw showed terrific stuff in his first month in the MLB, and lead the Rays pitching staff in the postseason. Moore is probably the most exciting rookie in the baseball, and my pick for ROY next year. Grade: A+
Jeff Niemann– Niemann is in a recovering process, after coming back from a major career-setback last year. Everything was looking great for the surging Niemann until he injured his shoulder. This season, Niemann has shown that he is on the right track, with an 11-7 record and a ERA just over 4. Grade: B
Joel Peralta– Peralta had an impressive season as the Rays setup man, and was part of a very smart offseason move. Joel is a big part of the Rays future in the bullpen, and will likely (and hopefully) be a Ray next year. Grade: A-
David Price– Price had extremely high expectations coming into the season. Considering all of that, 2011 may have been a disappointment. After a Cy Young caliber 2010 with a 2.72 ERA and 19 wins, Price finished 2011 with a losing record and an ERA of 3.49. Most think it was just an off-year for the phenom lefty, and he will continue his ace ways in the future. Grade: B Award: All-Star
Cesar Ramos– Being the only left-hander in the ‘pen, Ramos had one of the biggest jobs on the team. He just barely did it good enough. He had problems with the longball, letting up 19 dingers in the season. Grade: C+
James Shields– Shields had an unbelievable season, finishing with a stellar ERA of 2.82 and a remarkable 11 complete games. Shields was really the third-best pitcher in the AL this year, just behind the ridiculous seasons of Verlander and Weaver. Grade: A+ Awards: Team MVP, All-Star
John Jaso– Overall a disappointing year for Jaso. His average dipped to .224 and his defense behind the plate was sloppy. Grade: C
Kelly Shoppach– Quite frankly an embarrassing season for the backstop, hitting .176. The highlight of his season was some clutch homers, but besides that it was just one big disappointment. Grade: D-
Reid Brignac– Another big disappointment for the Rays, Brignac wasn’t able to do anything offensively. He hit .193 and knocked in only 15 runs. His great defense at shortstop was what kept him in the league. Grade: D
Elliot Johnson– Another Rays shortstop hitting in the .190’s. Johnson was still able to get some big hits, and his defense and running game was pretty good. Grade: D+
Casey Kotchman– One of the biggest surprises in MLB this year. Here’s a recent article I wrote about him for a full evaluation. Grade: A+ Awards: C0-Defensive Player of the Year award, Team Batting Champion
Evan Longoria– Just like David Price, Longoria had very high expectations coming into the season. Many experts even picked him to be the AL MVP in their preseason predictions. Considering the player he is, 2011 was a bump in the road. Injuries were a big part of it, as he played at least 20 games less than he would have. He still was able to rack up 99 RBIs and 31 dingers, but his .244 average was really the only disappointment. But it won’t be a season that Longo will forget, as he got the biggest hit in franchise history. Grade: B+ Awards: Co-Defensive Player of the Year Award, Co-Impact Player of the Year award, Team RBI King
Sean Rodriguez– The only part of Sean’s game that wasn’t good in 2011, was the hitting. He finished the season with a .223 average. His defense was great and he really helped the Rays with his high baseball IQ. Grade: B- Award: Co-Heart & Hustle award
Ben Zobrist– Every team in baseball wishes they had a player like Zorilla. The best utility man in baseball also knows how to hit, knocking in 91 runs and hitting 46 doubles. What makes Zobrist amazing, is how he defends every position he plays so great. Almost anywhere you put him, he’ll field above-average. Grade: A Award: Team Player of the Year award
Johnny Damon– Closing out on a great career, Damon has shown he can still play. He’s really a perfect fit for the Rays; the way he plays with his heart and hustles on every play. A .261 average and 73 RBIs is not too shabby for a 37 year-old. Grade: B Award: Co-Heart & Hustle award
Sam Fuld– The young left fielder will always be known for his fearless defense in the outfield. His hitting is something that is still developing though. Here’s a past article about him and his legend. Grade: B- Award: Co-Defensive Player of the Year award.
Desmond Jennings– When the Rays called up phenom Desmond Jennings this season, it was huge boost for the team. Every part of his game was great, including his power (which surprised everyone). His season started off with a bang , and that’s when everyone knew what kind of player he was. Grade: A+ Award: Co-Impact Player of the Year award
Justin Ruggiano– Ruggiano has been in the Rays organization for a long time, but hasn’t seen too much big league playing time. His time came in 2011, and he gave the team a bit of a boost with some clutch hits. His defense in left was also impressive. Grade: B-
B.J. Upton– In maybe his last year in a Rays uniform, Upton once again repeated some of his same issues. His average was once again low (.243), his strikeout total was very high, and his baserunning was also not so great. On the bright side of things; Upton knocked in 81 runs, was great in center field, and lead the team in stolen bases with his great speed. Grade: B Award: Stolen Base leader
Matt Joyce– Last but definitely not least, it’s the big bat of Matt. Joyce was one of three Rays elected to the All Star Game in Phoenix. After a terrific first half, Joyce’s second half wasn’t nearly as good. What impressed me about Joyce this year, is how he met his goals. Coming into the season, Joyce worked hard to improve his running and fielding game; which hadn’t been up to par last season. He committed just 3 errors (with 8 assists) this year, and only 1 caught stealing. Grade: B+ Award: All-Star