by user Xinoph

With a new ownership and a new attitude, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays seem to be finally on track to at least think about having a winning season, if not getting there this year. With a combination of talented veterans like Aubrey Huff and Julio Lugo, both of whom were the subject of intense trade rumors this off-season, and up-and-coming young players, the Rays have found some direction - in many ways a first for the franchise.

Indeed, the theme for this year is "Rebuilding", and owner Stuart Sternberg has made that quite plain in public. The current high moral in the organization, coming both from the new ownership and the strong finish last season, seems to be realistic rather than hopeful. The team's rebuilt farm system will begin contributing very talented players soon (it has already begun to), and the new management seems more able to cope with their small-market fan base.

Still, it will be a number of years before they are ready to compete in the rough-and-tumble world of the A.L. East. At times the division seems to closely resemble the Cold War: two warring superpowers wiith a variety of friends, allies, and enemies who are manipulated by both sides. Indeed, it doesn't seem particularly likely that any team - let alone the perennial last-placers - will be able to overtake Boston or New York.

The Rays have a number of holes to fill. Their infield has a good mix of veterans and young talent, but their outfield leaves quite a bit to be desired, with veteran Aubrey Huff as the shining star in right field. Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli are both solid players - one in his fifth year, the other in his third - but getting a superstar outfielder would do a lot for the team. They haven't had a true superstar since Wade Boggs retired, and getting that consistent contribution and media notice would be a huge benefit for the organization.

The weakest area for the Rays has to be starting pitching, however. Scott Kazmir, Mark Hendrickson, Casey Fossum, Seth McClung, and Doug Waechter simply don't stack up as a rotation against the rest of their division. Not only have the Yankees and Red Sox reloaded, but the Toronto Blue Jays have assembled a talented starting rotation that may enable them to compete for second place if everything breaks their way.

The best the Devil Rays can hope for this year, it seems, is to surpass the Baltimore Orioles and finish fourth.


Wed 3/1/2006 5:24 PM

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