Know Thy Enemy: The 2004 Tampa Bay Devil Rays

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays (covered here) have been a lesson in obscurity these years since their inception – pulling off crazy moves by (still) GM Chuck LaMar, most notably trading Bobby Abreu for Kevin Stocker.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays showed signs of life last year under new manager Lou Pinella, who has a history of turning around teams. This team is no different, as the Devil Rays are clearly better than ever before. Pinella has them drawing interest. Drawing interest creates money and options, which allows Pinella to have what he calls the deepest bench he has ever had.
However, a deep bench will not make up for a poor rotation.
DH Aubrey Huff is a very dangerous hitter, the twin of Jay Gibbons, but could have more ceiling than Gibbons. Huff can also play 1B, 3B, and RF. He will be the top power hitter in this Rays lineup, and will be a vital cog in the future of the Rays.
C Brook Fordyce/Toby Hall are two no-hit/no-walk catchers who must pick up the slack of not being able to hit by being solid defensive players and game-callers. While the Devil Rays wait for someone to plug the catching hole, it is the responsibility of those two to groom the pitchers for maturity as a pitcher for the Devil Rays to expect to win with the pitchers they have.
1B Tino Martinez/Robert Fick are two first basemen who never got fair shakes the last couple of years. Tino strugged in Saint Louis, mainly because he was the fall guy. Martinez is still capable of being on a World Series type team and should bring much-awaited veteran leadership and an aura around him because he has won many times. He should be a leader, while Fick will struggle to get a shot. Even though his yearly statistics don’t make him a candidate for a back-up, that’s what he is. Somewhere, sometime, Fick should get a shot. Fick is capable of over 20 homers. He could be the best #6 hitter on any team.
2B Julio Lugo was released by the Astros last year and latched on with the Rays, realizing his offensive potential in Tampa. Will Lugo keep that offensive potential? Will he slug 20 homers? He is 28 this season, and could become a very solid contributor at the plate, perhaps challenging Orlando Hudson for the title of “Best AL East Second Baseman”.
3B Geoff Blum/Damian Rolls are two people in the same mold as the catchers. Hitting is not their strong suit, so fielding will hav eto be. It would be a good idea to move Huff to third permanently, and have Fick/Martinez alternate between first and third. Then Rolls could go back to his solid role as super-utility. Blum is a bench player at best, contrary to what Jimy Williams thinks.
SS Rey Sanchez used to play for the Red Sox, and was very good defensively and had an above-average year hitting for the Sox in 2002. He’s in Tampa Bay this year, and should provide good defense, but not good hitting. Catching, third base, and shortstop all need to be upgraded. Is it possible that they will sign Orlando Cabrera in the off-season?
LF Carl Crawford/Eduardo Perez shore up left field for the Rays. Crawford, in the words of many, is a future batting champion. He has very good speed. The only thing seperating him from stardom is his lack of OBP, but you can get around it if you are as good as Vladimir Guerrero. Is Crawford as good as Vlad? Maybe, save for the lack of power.
CF Rocco Baldelli is a young (22) outfielder who is currently better than Carl Crawford. He also possesses speed, good defensive skills, and can swing a bat. He will be the cornerstone of the franchise along with Huff for years to come.
RF Jose Cruz Jr. has a very good arm in right field and should add some needed veteran leadership. He is not too bad either with the bat, and should wind up with a solid year.
SP Victor Zambrano/Jeremi Gonzalez/Mark Hendrickson/Doug Waechter/Paul Abbott comprise, what I think, is a horrible rotation. Save for Waechter, no one is promising and young. Abbott or Hendrickson will eventually lose their jobs to Damian Moss. Zambrano and Gonzalez are good pitchers – good end of the rotation pitchers. This is what will keep them back most of the year, and be the cause for their expected finish in fifth place. Again.
RP Danys Baez/Lance Carter/Trever Miller/John Halama/Chad Gaudin/Jorge Sosa/Damian Moss comprise what could be called a strong bullpen at the end of the game and a weak one to actually get to the end of the game. Danys Baez (25 with CLE) and Lance Carter (26 with TB) combined for 51 saves last season. Baez should have a fair shake at reaching the 40s, due to his millions that the Devil Rays will pay him. He is only 26 and should finish his introduction to the masses this year. Carter should be a top-notch setup man. After that, however, the quality drops off. Halama is a #5 on a bad team. Can he adjust to relief? Trever Miller is a virtual unknown, and Sosa has been showing flashes of potential while at other times stinking the place up. Moss deserves to be in the rotation, but will have to prove his mettle as the last man in the ‘pen of six. Gaudin is a young, diminutive pitcher who has a lot of heart and talent. (Fun fact: Gaudin’s height and weight are the same as mine).
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