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Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Updated: January 12, 10:56 AM ET
Burrell adds to Rays' offensive depth

The Tampa Bay Rays won 97 games in the 2008 regular season and made it to the World Series, in spite of a lineup filled with guys who go into 2009 seemingly capable of doing a lot more.

Carl Crawford: Injuries limited him to 109 games in 2008, and he gave his worst regular-season performance since his rookie year, hitting .273 and generating an OPS of .719.

B.J. Upton: Nagged by a shoulder injury the whole season, Upton really didn't hit well until the postseason, after he got some badly needed rest; he hit almost as many home runs in the postseason (seven) as he did during the regular season (nine). His regular-season slugging percentage of .401 in 2008 was more than 100 points lower than his 2007 percentage.

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Carlos Pena: Before landing on the disabled list in June, Pena was hitting .227 with five homers and 19 RBIs -- and he finished well in the second half.

Aki Iwamura: He got off to a slow start, hitting .220 in April.

Evan Longoria: He won the American League rookie of the year award, hitting .272 with 27 homers and 85 RBIs. But he also missed a month and finished the season having played in just 122 games.

So with each of them, there will be great expectation for improvement, and now that the Rays have made the very underrated acquisition of right fielder Matt Joyce and have signed Pat Burrell, their offense -- merely functional in 2008, finishing 13th among 30 teams in runs scored -- could be dynamic, with all the elements of a dominant lineup.

The Rays have power, with Pena, Longoria, Burrell and Upton, and with Joyce and Crawford capable of hitting 15-20 homers. They have great speed, with Iwamura, Upton, Crawford and Jason Bartlett; Tampa Bay led the majors in stolen bases in 2008, despite an off year from Crawford, and more importantly, constantly pressured opponents with the way the players ran the bases.

The Rays have patience -- they finished third in the majors in walks last season, just behind the Red Sox and the Cubs, and now they add Burrell, who usually kicks in 100 walks a season. Joe Maddon will have a lot of ways he can structure his lineup, but even if you are hitting sixth, seventh or eighth in this batting order, you are going to have a whole lot of chances to drive in runs, because of the depth of the Rays' attack. Here's one way they might stack up:

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2B Iwamura
CF Upton
1B Pena
3B Longoria
LF Crawford
DH Burrell
RF Joyce
C Dioner Navarro
SS Bartlett

The Red Sox have AL MVP Dustin Pedroia and first baseman Kevin Youkilis, and David Ortiz might well bounce back. Mark Teixeira should greatly augment the Yankees' lineup. But it is reasonable to think Tampa Bay might field the best offense, coupled with the best defense and perhaps the deepest rotation, in the AL East. A lot will ride on how effectively the Rays can plug the back end of their bullpen.

The Rays did what they needed to do, writes Martin Fennelly. Their payroll now will push $60 million, Marc Topkin writes.

Burrell's value to the Rays might go beyond numbers, writes Gary Shelton.

Around the majors with Buster Olney Insider