Commentary

Rays built for sustained success

Originally Published: November 10, 2008
By Sean McAdam | Special to ESPN.com

The Rays had a storybook season, going from last place to first place in the American League East and winning the AL pennant. To find this sort of dramatic turnaround from one season to the next, one has to go back to the Atlanta Braves in 1991.

Tampa Bay finished ahead of far richer rivals. The Rays' roster is mostly homegrown, the result of some shrewd drafting and smart player development. Fan support was slow in coming, but by the time the Rays beat the Red Sox in the AL Championship Series and moved on to the World Series, the region was squarely behind the franchise, which, until this season, had never won more than 70 games in a season.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
GM: Andrew Friedman
Manager: Joe Maddon
'08 record: 97-65, 1st in AL East
Tampa Bay Rays '08 payroll: $43.4M, 29th MLB
Runs scored: 774, 9th AL
Runs allowed: 671, 13th AL
OPS: .762, 7th AL
ERA: 3.82, 2nd AL
Fielding percentage: .985, T-2nd AL

Primary needs

Troy Percival is under contract for another year, but at age 39 and after three stints on the disabled list this season, he can't be counted on. The Rays could pursue a free-agent closer such as Francisco Rodriguez or Brian Fuentes, but it's more likely they will find a more affordable option.

They also could use more power, but that's likely to come from within as young stars B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria continue to mature.

Free agents

OF Eric Hinske, OF Rocco Baldelli (option), LHP Trever Miller (option), OF Cliff Floyd (option)

Baldelli's future is uncertain because of some physical issues, but the Rays would welcome him back on a more affordable deal. Floyd brought leadership and experience and also could return, although likely in a reduced role.

Trade bait

Edwin Jackson won 14 games for the Rays in 2008, but given the depth of the rotation and the emergence of some prospects, he might not have a guaranteed spot in the rotation next season. Jackson is still under control for several seasons and has value.

Farm aid

Former No. 1 pick David Price will claim a spot in the rotation next season and could make an immediate impact. Shortstop Reid Brignac, a second-round pick in 2004, could be ready to contribute, but after Jason Bartlett brought some stability to the position this season, the Rays can allow Brignac to develop on his own timetable.

Outlook

"Bright" seems to be an understatement. Management smartly has locked up a number of core players (Longoria, Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Carl Crawford), so free-agent defections are a long way off. The biggest challenge is securing a new ballpark, which soon will be necessary for steep arbitration increases and retaining young stars.

Sean McAdam of the Boston Herald covers baseball for ESPN.com.