With less than 72 hours before Pitchers and Catchers officially report(many pitchers have been working out with teammates and others for more than a month), it's not a surprise to see some giddiness and excitement for Spring Training/Opening Day to get here.
Like a Rick James-like smack in the face, the Rays offseason plans were far from what many RAYS fans were used to. Stu, Andy, Matt, Gerry and all the other members of the Rays front office staff made it apparent that there's big changes in the Rays' future and it's going to all start in 2008.
We made earth-shattering trades(trading one of our future "franchise" players, Delmon Young, for more important and needed "pieces" key to future success), Free Agent signings (most thought we'd be outspent in any Free Agent we pursued), long-term contract extensions(Shields and Pena). We've made it apparent to players that we've pursued that we know we're close to being able to compete, while spending about a 10th of what other(napoleon complexed) teams spend, and they'd be used and be a part of "something special". Players are buying into it, it appears, too.
As a fan, who has seen some of the best and worst that the Rays have offered in the past, I've got ideas or things to keep an eye on or keep in mind for the 2008.
Using the old "Something old, something new, something blue" phrase that is usually associated with marriages (a great metephor for what goes on with a team and it's fans), I'll use it that outline for my ideas.
For the 2008, the Rays' team motto should be one that Rays fans may have some memories of.
"YA GOTTA BELIEVE!"
Before I even started being a full-time blogger, David Bloom had a blog called "Ya Gotta Believe". The Rays 2003 and 2004 teams weren't all that great, but they showed some early indication that a few players on those teams were worth watching the keys to the future of the team. Back then, Carl Crawford, Aubrey Huff and Rocco Baldelli were the starts. Crawford remains to be a star and Rocco hopes to regain the fame and acclaim that he had before he went down with a rash of season-ending injuries.
"Ya Gotta Believe" is a great way to look at the Rays right now. We may not have a huge collection of "war torn" veterans who have more playoff experience in their pinkies than the Rays' current veterans do combined, but we've probably got the most young and upcoming stars than any other team in baseball.
Look at everything our youngsters have said in newspaper quotes and interviews, they feel something positive is going to happen and it's that belief that fans should be excited about. Do you hear any Jason Bay-like "We've got a long ways to go, to reach .500" quotes? Hell, fans and players believe that .500 is a "reasonable goal". We've yet to even hear the "Wow, did you hear what he said?" goals of the Rays and it's players.
It's the belief that we're going to win, we don't care what others are doing and we're going to give the state of Florida a team that fans can hang their hats on. The Marlins seem comfortable into becoming the team that many national types believe that the Rays would be, y'know "Build a player before he becomes too expensive to keep.". Our front office and ownership still has it's critics, due to jersey gaffes, money quotes and for some personnel choices, but not everything is going to go swimmingly immediately.
While 2008 seems to be a possibly good year for the Rays, there's reason to be very optimistic regarding the long-term future of the Rays. Our farm system, right now, is deemed the best in all of baseball and seems that it won't get any worse anytime soon. Evan Longoria, David Price, Jake McGee, Wade Davis, Reid Brignac and Desmond Jennings are all considered top prospects in all of baseball by some publications.
While it's not really a surprise to see such a high amount of great talent, due to the Rays lack of success in his decade-long past, you've got to realize that Pittsburgh and a few other teams have been in our same position and have only wasted their picks.
Our collection of high-end talent helps the team's chances of improving the team more in both the short-term and long-term. With the graduations of our pitching prospects, the "groaners"(people that make you groan whenever you see them pitch) of the pitching staff will disappear. With the newfound confidence of the current team, we shouldn't really expect the team to rest on it's laurels and those aforementioned top pitching prospects will fade to obscurity and go from "boasts" to "busts". We've got cocky kids, kids who use chips on their shoulders about talent, size and character issues that scouts and other teams used to diminish their upsides.
Guess what baseball, the Rays have the #1 again. Many people compare farm systems to "cupboards", but the Rays' is more like a bomb shelter and it's starting to get overfilled. Don't be surprised if the Rays stock up on positional players as greatly as they stocked up on pitchers in 2007's draft. Positions like Catcher, Second Base and Shortstop, which we have very little depth at, may be loaded up like we were recruiting for an army.
With our bomb shelter runneth over, the Rays may soon become a huge pain in the ass to teams trying to make trades. If we think we'd be better trading for a player with a very team-friendly contract than signing a player to a contract, who will stand in our way from getting that player? Boston has made it a habit of using it's talented farm system to prevent trades from happening with the Yankees. We could choose to do that in the future and acquire a veteran player of a high-end talent rather than our rivals doing so.
The only remaining green in Tropicana Field in 2008 will be the Fieldturf that they play on and the few remaining "retro" jerseys that Rays fans may be wearing. We've seen the jerseys, the hats(which I own 2 of myself) and we've been told this weekend that there's going to an increase in blue paint all over Tropicana.
The only time we may not see an annoyingly large amount of blue hues is when Baltimore is in town, which with the Bedard trade processed, and Baltimore will be seeing and singing plenty of "blues" this season.