Every day in spring training until we're finished with the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team that we visit in Florida and Arizona. Next up are the Ben Zobrist(notes) and the Tampa Bay Rays, who are a long year removed from reaching the World Series.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
2009 RECORD 84-78/3rd in AL East
* * *
FIVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE RAYS:
1. Will the roster be as it stands be the roster on opening day? Maybe, but Friedman has a lot of depth and flexibility. Ben Zobrist, the second-best bat in the lineup, can play second base, shortstop, or the outfield. Do the Rays really want to keep Dioner Navarro(notes) after he has lost the starting catching job to Kelly Shoppach(notes)? Also, if Matt Joyce(notes) wins the right field job, Fernando Perez(notes) or Gabe Kapler(notes) could be moved.
2. Will the starting rotation reach 1,000 innings? The Rays led the league in '09 with 970 innings from their starters, so it's certainly possible. Evan Longoria(notes) says the quintet of James Shields(notes), Matt Garza(notes), Jeff Niemann(notes), Wade Davis(notes) and David Price(notes) is the best group, one through five, in the league.
3. What difference will Soriano make as the closer? As Joe Maddon pointed out, the Rays rocky bullpen wasn't the only problem with the team's performance late in games. Across the board, Maddon says, the team must stop giving away runs. However, if Soriano gets outs and inspires confidence, it will trickle down.
4. What's up with B.J. Upton(notes)? The drop in the quality of his play has been evident, whether you looked at statistics or the field. Apart from a blistering 2008 playoff run, he hasn't hit in the past two years and a lack of hustle or absent-mindedness, whatever, seems noticeable. He says it's all in the past. Upton would seem to be a great trade candidate, but his value has taken a hit because of performance.
5. What else can Evan Longoria do? Whatever is possible for a third baseman to do, Longoria can achieve it. He's probably got the best tools at the position — offense and defense — since Mike Schmidt. "He's unique to himself," Maddon said. "The combination of speed and agility at third with his ridiculous bat potential and then combine it with his personality and makeup, he's kind of unique."