By Elizabeth Cadicamo
To quote Hall of Famer Roger Hornsby, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” This quote rings very true to die-hard baseball fans.
As the 2014 season came to an end, Tampa Bay was unsure what the future would hold for the Rays in 2015. After all the acquisitions were made and over half of the team was traded this past off-season, these 2015 Tampa Bay Rays have a very different look than what Rays fans are used to seeing.
To start off, Tampa Bay is starting over with a brand new look, beginning with the Front Office after Andrew Friedman stepped down to accept his position as President of Baseball Operations with the Los Angeles Dodgers. This forced the Rays to find new General Manager and President of the Team, Brian Auld. The Rays also lost Joe Maddon, the very well-liked Rays Manager for 9 years, who was known for his looseness and team-building novelties such as bringing penguins and a 20-foot python into the clubhouse. The Rays now have the youngest manager, not only in baseball, but in all four major sports, Kevin Cash, who is a Tampa-native with no managerial experience; however, Cash has played professionally for twelve seasons with six different organizations. The Rays have also acquired several new position players such as catcher Rene Rivera, outfielder Steven Souza, and infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, who are players many are saying to watch for this season. Despite the many changes, the players, fans, and staff in the Rays organization have a new outlook and are very optimistic about this 2015 season. After speaking with Rays Radio announcer, Dave Wills, he said, “I feel like we hit the “refresh” button. Gonna miss Andrew and Joe, but I am excited about the changes. Sometimes change is good.” This seemed to be the overall reaction amongst most people surrounding the Rays, and everyone is really embracing the change.
The Tampa Bay Rays are known for their powerful, top notch pitching with one of the best pitching rotations in all of baseball, along with their stellar defense, which has saved games on a regular basis. The one problem area every year for the Rays has been their inconsistent offense. The offense just has not been able to bring in enough runs to win games, but with all the trades that happened in the off-season, this could be a thing of the past. After interviewing Tampa Tribune Sports Writer, Roger Mooney, who has covered the Rays since their inaugural season in 1998, he said, “Most of the player moves were predictable. I did not expect Wil Myers to be traded, but after it was done, I can see why Matt Silverman made the deal. The Rays received a good package in return, including a front line catcher that they needed and another young outfielder. The Rays are more athletic than they were in 2014, which should help them manufacture more runs. That’s the plan, anyway.”
As to whether the Rays will be contenders this season? Roger Mooney went on to say, “The rotation should be the team’s strength, assuming the pitchers continue to develop and Matt Moore has a positive impact when he returns in late-June or early-July. The bullpen should be fine, and I think the defense will be solid. The question is the offense, as it is every year. The Rays will need Desmond Jennings to pick up his game, James Loney to remain productive, Asdrubal Cabrera to hit like he did earlier in his career, Kevin Kiermaier to become more consistent, and Steven Souza to resemble the hitter he was last year at Triple A. A typical year from Evan Longoria is needed.”
If everything comes into place, the Rays really could be the team everyone watches out for just like they were in 2008 when they went on to the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies while having the lowest payroll in baseball, proving that small market teams really can compete with highest paid teams in Major League Baseball. According to Rays Radio Announcer, Dave Wills, who covers the Rays on a daily basis, “I think the Rays will compete. Pitching and defense will give them a chance every night. If the offense picks it up a couple notches, it could really be a fun season!”