In recent discussions some people have expressed their doubt as to whether next season the Rays can withstand the loss of Crawford, Pena, Soriano, and others and still make the playoffs in 2011. I don't think it's that far-fetched, nor shocking. I'd be more surprised by being out of the race than in it, come the final month of the season. We may not be "favorites" but in a division with Boston and New York, when is anyone else a "favorite"?
That said, since good things apparantly come in 10, here are 10 reasons why the Rays will still contend next year:
10) Aging Red Sox - there are chinks in the armor and even though they could address them in free agency, they still face rotation questions, catching questions, a hole at 3B if Beltre doesn't resign, replace Mike Cameron, etc. It may be hard to keep up with the Yankees for the division crown, but the wild card is still very much up for grabs.
9) J.P. Howell - if he can return healthy (and that's a big if) the iceman can provide a huge boost to our bullpen. Once again having one of the best late inning relievers in the AL cannot be understated.
8) Few Holes to Fill - the Rays can internally replace LF (as much as you can possibly replace someone like CC) with Jennings, leaving only DH, 1B and bullpen as their major needs. Compared to many potential contenders, that's not a lengthy list.
7) Some money to spend - While the Rays may not be able to afford to resign CC, Pena, or Soriano, it doesn't mean they won't have some money to spend. There will be reasonable DH options available in the off-season (Jorge Cantu, Jason Kubel, Dan Uggla, David Ortiz, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn,etc) and they should be able to find something at least average. It's been a long time since the Rays have even had "average" at the DH spot.
6) Matt Joyce - Joyce could be a big piece if he can provide the type of pop and production the Rays hoped for when they acquired him. The rest of this year will go a long way to see if he can help add some offense to a team sorely needing it. If Joyce plays well, Upton could become trade bait in the offseason. Whether agree or disagree with Upton's value to the team, he could become another resource used to help the Rays, whether on the team, or help the Rays the way Delmon Young did through trade.
5) Joaquin Benoit - it may be a foregone conclusion that Soriano is pitching elsewhere next year, the Rays may have his replacement already on the team. The Rays cannot risk too long of a contract for someone a history of shoulder problems, but Benoit could move into the 9th inning with the return of Howell. Benoit has fit in well and he still would cost less than a different free agent closer. Resigning Benoit and Balfour would keep the pen still as a strong suit--and both of them would cost less than what Soriano will make next year.
4) Pitching, pitching, and more pitching - The reason why the Rays can sustain their ability to contend is because of their pitching depth. The Rays have not had to worry about journeyman pitchers vying for their 4th and 5th spots in their rotation. There has been no Albie Lopez, no Jim Parque, or any other desperate, pitching-starved nonsense. Niemann, Shields, Garza, Price, Davis, Hellickson...and Matt Moore, Nick Barnese, Jake McGee. As long as the Rays have pitching, they will be able to contend year in and year out.
3) David Price - Price is emerging as the ace everyone hoped he would be. We have seen how Josh Beckett dominated the playoffs and helped two different teams win the World Series. Price can be this type of pitcher. And he's still developing. The Rays will be able to go as far as Price leads them.
2) Matt Garza - this is not a knock on Garza, but he represents the most likely Ray to be traded in the off-season if they do not make a rotation move this deadline. He's young, he's under team control for two seasons, he has vast potential, and he represents the best way the Rays can add an impact bat. His cost is going to continue to go up through arbitration and the Rays could slide Hellickson into his place. Garza could perhaps net the Rays their next first baseman (Texas Justin Smoak or Mets Ike Davis) or maybe a powerhitting outfielder (Nelson Cruz).
1) Andrew Friedman - all this man does is keep the Rays in contention. He still has too many resources at his disposal (although i'm sure if you gave him a piece of lint and the spare change in your pocket, he could find a way to trade it for a Rolls Royce...or at least a Matt Joyce)
There are some if's, but none as big as some other contending teams are facing. It may seem like the Rays are moving back with the upcoming loss of CC, Pena, and Soriano, but the Rays are replacing with Jennings, Hellickson, Howell, and whatever else Friedman can pull out of his derrier.
Shocked if the Rays contend in 2011? It would be shocking if they didn't.