After such an amazing season in 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays vastly disappointed during the 2009 season, despite finishing with a record over .500 for just the second time in franchise history.
However, the Rays knew they still had one of the best teams in baseball, they just needed a few more pieces.
With the emergence of Ben Zobrist, the Rays no longer had a need for 2B Akinori Iwamura. So, they exercised his player option, and then immediately dealt him to the Pittsburgh Pirates for RHP Jesse Chavez.
One of the main problems that plagued the Rays during the 2009 season was their struggles closing out games. Despite this Stuart Sternberg told the media they would not be adding an expensive closer to their bullpen.
Then, a week later, the Tampa Bay Rays traded the aforementioned Jesse Chavez to the Atlanta Braves for an expensive closer, RHP Rafael Soriano.
The Rays also looked to address the hole that had opened behind the plate with Dioner Navarro’s horrid 2009 campaign. So on December 1st, 2009 the Rays traded a player to be named later — Mitch Talbot — to the Cleveland Indians for C Kelly Shoppach.
The rest of the off-season for the Rays would be spent adding minor pieces, but they had their starting roster pretty much set following the acquisitions of Shoppach and Soriano. The Rays addressed their needs in the backend of the bullpen and behind the plate, they were now just hoping for a turnaround from their Designated Hitter and a few others, giving them a recipe for contention.
Tampa Bay kicked off the season with a walk-off victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Opening Day and excelled for the rest of April, finishing the month with a 17-6 record, the best in all of baseball.
Everything seemed to click for the Rays, with the exception of Pat Burrell, who continued to struggle as the Rays DH. Ultimately, the Rays decided to cut their losses and released Pat Burrell on May 19th, eating the rest of his remaining salary.
Meanwhile, the Rays signed Joaquin Benoit to a minor league deal prior to spring training. Benoit had missed all of 2009 due to shoulder surgery, allowing the Rays to swoop in with a minor league contract. The signing would turn out to be one of the best deals in franchise history, as Benoit made his way back to the big leagues at the end of April and didn’t surrender a run over his first 13 appearances, securing the set up job in the back of the Rays bullpen.
Benoit joined Rafael Soriano and the two quickly became the most dominant 8-9th innings guys in the game, effectively ending games for the Rays and with the starting rotation pitching solidly deep into games, the Rays were looking incredibly good.
Meanwhile, during the annual June draft, the Rays held the 17th overall selection and with it, they took a High School OF, Josh Sale. A few selections later at 31st overall, the Rays drafted C Justin O’Conner to cap off the first round. Several other notable Rays 2010 draft picks include Ryan Brett, Jesse Hahn, and Derek Dietrich.
The Rays would also select OF Kevin Kiermaier in the 31st round of the draft.
Heading into the trade deadline, the Tampa Bay Rays had the 2nd best record in all of baseball, trailing just behind the New York Yankees for first place in the American League East. The Rays were nearly a complete team on all sides of the game, however, they were took looking for additions to help the team.
Popular trade target from the past year, Cliff Lee, surfaced in rumors, as did several sluggers as the Rays looked to increase their production from their DH spot, which had been a huge disappointment, ever after Pat Burrell’s quick release. At one point, the Rays were considered the favorites to land Cincinnati Reds slugger, Adam Dunn, but nothing would come to fruition and the Rays would pass the deadline having only added a middle relief pitcher, Chad Qualls.
Regardless, the Rays were able to overtake the New York Yankees by the end of the season and finished the year in first place in the American League East with a record of 96-66, best in the AL and second best in the majors behind the Philadelphia Phillies. However, they were a little worse for the wear as both Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford finished the year nursing injuries. This was a tough pill to swallow for the Rays, as Longoria and Crawford were the 2nd and 3rd best players in the majors in 2010 in terms of fWAR.
During the American League Division Series, the Rays met up with the Texas Rangers, the team that managed to acquire Cliff Lee at the trade deadline. The acquisition of Lee would turn out to be huge as Lee dominated the Rays during the five game series.
During the first two games at Tropicana Field, the Rays offense fell flat and they were outscored, 11-1. Once the series went to Texas the Rays rebounded and evened the series thanks to clutch hitting and strong pitching performances. Unfortunately, they returned to the Trop to face the Cliff Lee juggernaut. He shut down the Rays in a complete game performance, eliminating the Rays from the playoffs and ending their season.
Despite the disappointing finish, 2010 was an incredible year to be a Rays fan. Longoria and Crawford were two of the best players in baseball. On July 26th, the Rays would have their first ever no-hitter with Matt Garza on the mound against the Detroit Tigers in an exciting contest. Several top prospects emerged on the team with Desmond Jennings, Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac, Jake McGee, and Jeremy Hellickson all making appearances in 2010.
John Jaso emerged as an exciting offensive player although his catching ability was wanting. Ben Zobrist proved that 2009 wasn’t a fluke as he produced another fantastic year for the Rays, playing a multitude of positions.
David Price became the team’s ace, while James Shields took a step back. Matt Garza again was solid for the Rays, while prospects made up the rest of an exciting Rays rotation.
The 2010 season marked the end of an era in Rays history as much of their core was about to depart via free agency or trades. Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, and Matt Garza would all be on different teams in 2011.
With the majority of the team’s core departing, many wondered if the Rays would enter a rebuilding phase.
No one could have anticipated what was to come in 2011.