While so much can happen in this off-season (two key times to watch for...GM Meetings in December, and bargain-bin shopping after big FAs sign) the Rays can be better next year regardless of how this off-season unfolds. With Turkey day coming fast, here are some early thoughts for thanksgiving why the '09 product of the Rays will be better than the '08 version:
1. Carl Crawford will product more to his career norm of .293 and 50 SB. The 27 year old outfielder, along with Upton and Perez (if he gets a shot to start in RF) should produce well over 120 SB's and wreak havoc on pitching staffs. Upton showed us this post-season how an baserunner can take over any given situation.
2. B.J. Upton will have two shoulders. It was amazing to see Upton put together the season he had, despite working with only one good shoulder. In fact, it may have helped him become a better hitter.
3. The Rays will have the real Scott Kazmir. Whoever that imposter was last year, a healthy Kazmir gives the Rays four potential aces. Pitch counts aside, unlike his first few seasons with the Rays, Kaz doesn't have to feel he has to do it all himself. If Kaz can tap into his potential, or at least be the pitcher he was the two seasons before last, the Rays pitching staff can go from solid to dominant.
4. All of the AL will get to know Mr. David Price. The Rays have had some hyped players make their way to the big leagues. C.C, Kazmir, Upton, Baldelli...none of them had the combination of makeup and talent that Price appears to possess. It's unbelievable Price is this good this early in his career. A formidable Rays rotation will be that much more dangerous in '09.
5. Longoria version 2.0. A healthy Longoria that has had his taste of the majors and playoff baseball, and saw with his own eyes what it takes to succeed in the bigs. He is in a very good position to build off of his Rookie of the Year campaign. What could Boston's Dustin Pedroia and Phillies Ryan Howard have in common with Longoria? How 'bout an MVP to put on the mantle next to the ROY in just their second season?
6. Our 23rd, 24th, and 25th players are better than your 23rd, 24th, and 25th players. A main reason for last year's success can be attributed to the solid depth on this team. Riggans looks like he's becoming a solid backup catcher. Aybar proved he can handle as big of a load as the Rays need, evidenced when Longoria went down late in the season. Baldelli, if resigned, could be one of the better 4th outfielders in the game. Zobrist came through well last year for the Rays and can play nearly every position on the field. The quality of arms waiting in the minors (Davis, Niemann, Hellickson, Thayer, Salas) is added insurance in case of injury.
7. *If* the Rays can add a DH the offense will not just have speed, but some power to go with it. A solid DH gives the Rays the type of offense that can compete in the AL, especially the AL East.
8. *If* the Yankees strike out and cannot add Sabathia, Lowe, or Burnett. It sure wouldn't hurt if the Yankees or Boston cannot make any major upgrades to their teams.
What do you think? Do you agree with the points above? Are there others? A better team does not mean more wins, but the Rays should be equipped to try to duplicate last year's success and try to get back to the big dance. It would be nice if the Rays could trade E-Jax for offensive help and hang on to Niemann and others for a mid-season upgrade depending upon injuries and how the first half of the season unfolds.