This is one of a series of posts in which we grade each team’s wily hot stove maneuvers and tragic offseason blunders.

BJ Upton will man CF full time this season.

This should be the first year the Rays officially become a “trendy pick” to reach the playoffs. Of course, they won’t make the playoffs. But it will be trendy to pick them, nonetheless.

Moreover, the Rays are a feel good pick. They’re so…unthreatening. They’re all young, and they like to run and some of them have fun names like Rocco, and they leave cute voice mail messages, like “you dead, dawg.”

So I think we’re all pulling for the Rays this year, even if they still have a ways to go before they can seriously challenge the Sox and the Yankees.

The Rays entered the offseason with one glaring need: pitching. And they addressed it. Tampa’s team ERA last season was 5.53, so GM Andrew Friedman traded last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up Delmon Young to the Twins for SP Matt Garza, who should serve as an able number three starter, behind ace Scott Kazmir and up-and-comer James Shields, who the Rays just signed to a four year extension. Everyone knows Kazmir is a strikeout machine, but Shields is the real deal, too, posting a sub-4 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 2007. The remaining two SP spots will be filled out by two from the group of Andy Sonnanstine, Edwin Jackson, Jeff Niemann, Jason Hammel or J.P. Howell.

The Rays also addressed their bullpen, signing Troy Percival to a two year deal. He’ll be the team’s closer, while Al Reyes, who came out of nowhere last year to post solid numbers, will be the set-up man. Dan Wheeler will also provide a proven bullpen arm.

On the offensive side, the Rays added Cliff Floyd, who will play a little right field, and a little DH, and generally mentor the kidos. By trading Delmon Young, the Rays lost a promising young player. But they also lost a guy who’s rock-bottom OBP was a drain on the team last season. He’ll be replaced by a rotation of Cliff Floyd/Rocco Baldelli/Jonny Gomes. If Baldelli is healthy, he’s going to emerge as the permanent RF. But as we’ve learned over the years, a healthy Rocco is not a given.

Jason Bartlett will man short this season, but probably not next season. He’s just a place-holder until Reid Brignac is ready, probably in 2009. Here’s what ESPN’s Sean McAdam has to say about the other Rays’ infieders:

Evan Longoria, the team’s top pick in 2006, is expected to be the starting third baseman, though he may not open the season there. When he arrives, Akinori Iwamura will shift to second base. Expect more young pitchers to arrive, including Jeff Niemann and, eventually, David Price, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft.

Obviously, the best is yet to come for the Rays, and it’s coming from the team’s farm system and it’s coming soon. The worst? That’s already gone. The Rays sent troubled OF Elijah Dukes to the Nationals for a 20 year-old southpaw starter named Glenn Gibson, who probably won’t contribute this season. But the karma benefits of a Dukes-less team should help the Rays in 2008.

Acquisitions: Cliff Floyd, Troy Percival, Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, Willy Aybar, Eduardo Morlan

Losses: Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes, Brendan Harris, Casey Fossum, Jae Seo

Projected Lineup and Rotation:

C – Dioner Navarro

1B – Carlos Pena

2B – Akinori Iwamura

SS – Jason Bartlett

3B – Evan Longoria

LF – Carl Crawford

CF – B.J. Upton

RF – Cliff Floyd/Rocco Baldelli/Jonny Gomes

DH – Cliff Floyd/Rocco Baldelli/Jonny Gomes

SP – Scott Kazmir

SP – Jamie Shields

SP – Matt Garza

SP – Andy Sonnanstine/Edwin Jackson/Jeff Niemann/Jason Hammel/J.P. Howell

SP – Andy Sonnanstine/Edwin Jackson/Jeff Niemann/Jason Hammel/J.P. Howell

Setup: Al Reyes

Closer: Troy Percival

Offseason Grade: B

This isn’t the year the Rays win the East. But next year could be. And in general the future is very bright. Tampa Bay has the best farm system in baseball. And, this summer, they again have the number one pick in the amateur draft.

Hot Offseason Action Index

10 Responses to “Hot Offseason Action: Tampa Bay Rays”

  1. Sarah Green says:

    Rocco Baldelli has to be one of the best names among active players. It so clearly harkens back to the names of great ballplayer names of yore. I really hope he lives up to it, one day.

    Also, every time I read about “Evan Longoria” I get a weird picture in my head of Depserate Housewife Eva Longoria in a Rays uniform trying to field a bad-hop grounder.

  2. I think Orel Hershiser has to rank up there as one of the greatest baseball names ever. Other really good ones:

    Candy Maldanado

    Coco Crisp

    Champ Summers

    Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown

    Curtis Pride

  3. Also:

    Joe Nuxhall

  4. Sarah Green says:

    Those are good ones, Danny O. But, after the really baseball-y names, there are the weird names (Rollie Fingers—sounds like a riverboat gambler) and the amusing names (Rusty Kuntz) and the vaguely copyrighted names (Milton Bradley) and the just really weird names (anyone with a first name of Boog). Then there are all the names that sound like female porn stars (Storm Davis, Vida Blue, Spanky LaValliere).

  5. What about Heathcliff Slocumb, for a combination of Byronic hero with down-home cookin’?

    Or the interesting mental image conjured up by the Cleveland Indians radio announcer in the late 1940s who would intone “And the Lemon is winding up . . .”

  6. Sarah Green says:

    Those are good ones. I should have also added “Boof” to the “Boog” category. Also “Mookie.” Or really, anyone with a double-O in his name.

  7. I would submit Oddibe McDowell, Bump Willis and Tuffy Rhodes as cartoon character names. Joey Devine and Royce Ring would fit in nicely in the porn star division.

  8. Sarah Green says:

    Those are excellent additions, Melissa. And let’s not forget Butch Huskey—a great name for a tough roller derby broad. Also, how much fun is it to say “Billy Joe Robideaux”? Sounds like he should be part of Rollie Fingers’ gambling ring. Or maybe a lounge singer in Vegas.

  9. Anyone else thinking BJ Upton is going to have a terrible regression to the mean? I think I saw somewhere that he had .400 BABIP.

  10. Nick Kapur says:

    Yes, it’s true, Rich. His BABIP was a ridiculous .393 last year, and that is just unsustainable. I am not at all sold on BJ Upton yet, for that reason.

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