It was more of the same for the Devil Rays this season: another influx of talented young players, capped by another last-place finish. The organization's progress -- at least as measured by the American League East standings -- remains almost nonexistent. On the positive side, there exists some stability. Manager Joe Maddon has been given an extension and the front office, led by general manager Andrew Friedman, continues to exhibit patience.
The Devil Rays' everyday lineup is homegrown and essentially set, but some tweaking is necessary. Most obviously, the team would like to upgrade at shortstop -- either through trade or free agency. A veteran starter to act as a mentor for an otherwise young rotation would be a positive, as would some bullpen depth. The Tampa Bay bullpen was the worst in the American League.
There are a few short-term options on the free-agent market at short, including Omar Vizquel, Juan Uribe and David Eckstein. All the Rays need is someone to keep the position warm until Reid Brignac is ready, probably in 2009.
Tampa's rotation is young and gifted, anchored by Scott Kazmir and James Shields, with Andy Sonnanstine gaining valuable experience in the second half. But the Rays could use a veteran starter to set the tone -- someone like, say, Jon Lieber or Russ Ortiz.
A veteran utility man could also provide some depth in the middle of the infield.
The Rays' surplus of outfielders provides some depth from which to deal. Rocco Baldelli, who has missed most of the last two seasons with an assortment of injuries, is now a spare part -- ticketed for DH and fourth outfielder duties -- but must play to re-establish his value. Troubled Elijah Dukes is an enormous talent, but has next-to-no value because of a string of off-field problems.
The Rays would deal Carl Crawford, signed to a long-term affordable deal, but they would have to be knocked over with a return package, including one front-line starter.
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.
The Rays continues to assemble plenty of quality young players, but aren't making any headway. The emergence of Sonnanstine and Shields last season will help the Rays stay more competitive, but this is a tough division and ownership doesn't seem ready to spend the money necessary to challenge the big-market competition. The Rays announced last week that they intend to boost payroll by as much as 20 percent, but such an increase will take them to about $35 million -- a laughably low figure in the AL East. Look for management to continue to show patience with the prospects, but can the same be said of the franchise's miniscule fan base?
Sean McAdam of The Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.