Tampa - Welcome to Spring Training, Rays style for 2013.
My overall preseason prediction is one of an acute uphill climb for these lads.
Winning the East will be most challenging, more so this season than last, or the year before, or the year before that.
With the Yankees as perennial post season pursuers', we welcome the Blue Jays and Orioles to the party.
Toronto apparently is all in this season, the Yankees are in just about every season, and the Orioles are acting like woodpeckers that can annoy you to the point of screaming.
Putting all that aside, the Rays can only control themselves.
By all accounts, and I never short change GM Andrew Friedman. He is the best in the business or making due with a chicken salad budget.
This year's money pie will be about the same as last year, around $60 million.
Key losses, one by trade, the other by free agency, are Outfielder B.J. Upton and Pitcher James Shields.
B.J.'s spring fling now includes Lake Buena Vista with the Braves, and James is headed to the Royals camp in Surprise, AZ.
Say goodbye to the Rays top hitter last season in Jeff Keppinger. Carlos Pena's leadership is gone.
Oh, let's not forget the bullpen where Wade Davis is no longer, or Burke Badenhop and J. P. Howell.
I'm getting depressed right now writing this.
Let's begin with pitching, shall we.
Well, Shields deep outings game after game will be missed. My guess is Alex Cobb will be his replacement in the starting rotation, all be it in the 5-hole behind AL Cy Young Award winner David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Jeff Niemann.
Price is priceless. Hellickson had issues getting past six innings. Moore was either very good or very shaky, and Niemann didn't even post due to injuries.
There is no way one can make up for the loss of Shields, at least not this season, which clearly indicates this rotation will be weaker than the one a year ago.
Should that be the case, we now move to the next area of importance-relief pitching.
I like the fact the Rays kept their late inning guys intact in Joel Peralta, Kyle Farnsworth, Jake McGee and Fernando Rodney.
What can really be a plus here is if Roberto Hernandez relives his glory years.
Unless the starting rotation eats up more innings, the entire bullpen is going to be tested.
The good news is there appears to be depth.
To the outfield:
B.J., as we said, is gone. Desmond Jennings will take over in centerfield. Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and Sam Fuld will platoon the corners out there.
Don't care what you say about B.J., his presence on base will be sorely missed.
Desmond, you need to bring it up a notch or two.
Around the horm:
3 rd base will be occupied by Evan Longoria for a very long time.
Yunel Escobar comes into the fold via trade and is a brilliant defensive player at short. His bat is shaky.
James Loney will occupy 1 st base.
2 nd base is anyone's to name. Kelly Johnson? Sean Rodriguez? Ryan Roberts? Occasionally Zobbie.
Behind the plate is veteran Jose Molina. His sidekick will be either Jose Lobaton or Chris Gimenez. My money is on the later.
Finally-DH- Luke, may the force be with you. (Luke Scott)
Now all we can do is wait and see. WE can only hope the Rays " Spring" into action.