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October 5, 2011

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Tampa Bay Rays

by Ben Lindbergh, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fadewhether in September (or before), the division series, league championship series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski, and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.

Today we look at the Tampa Bay Rays. It's time to kiss 'em goodbye.

Projected 2012 Lineup
A full season of Jennings will make this lineup a lot more potent, but they still have a big hole at first base and DH, which are spots most teams get a lot of offensive production from.

Batting order
LF: Desmond Jennings
CF: B.J. Upton
3B: Evan Longoria
RF: Matt Joyce
2B: Ben Zobrist
1B: ?
DH: ?
C: John Jaso
SS: Sean Rodriguez

Rotation
SP: David Price
SP: James Shields
SP: Matt Moore
SP: Jeremy Hellickson
SP: Jeff Niemann


Bowden's Bold Move
The Rays two biggest long-term needs are catcher and first base and they could use either Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann as trade bait to solve those issues. The Rays will target clubs that have multiple top prospect catchers, such as the Toronto Blue Jays with Travis D'Arnaud and J.P. Arencibia, as well as the Cincinnati Reds, who have both Devin Mesoraco and Yasmani Grandal. Among the first base prospects on their trade target list are the Reds' Yonder Alonso, who is blocked at the major league level by Joey Votto, and Brett Wallace of the Astros, who was a disappointment in 2011 but is still considered a future No. 5 hole hitter. Logan Morrison of the Marlins, who could be moved from left field to first, is also a possibility, since the Marlins are looking for starting pitching, as is Mike Carp, who is behind Justin Smoak in Seattle.

The Rays should look to trade Davis to the Reds as the centerpiece of a package that would net them Alonso and/or Grandal. Davis has a 4.22 ERA in almost 400 career innings in the AL East, and his numbers would look a lot better in the NL Central. If that doesn't work out, then a deal with the Blue Jays for first baseman Adam Lind or D'Arnaud could be made.

The Rays need to trade for inexpensive offensive that they control and they have the pitching depth to make it happen. Jim Bowden

Hopes and Fears
Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 96-66

The coda to the season, being the first team eliminated from the playoffs, is ultimately unsatisfying, but the Rays can still be proud of the 2011 team. Generally written off after an extremely poor start, the Rays were an elite team after the first week of the season. Kotchman and Johnny Damon are both free agents, but the rest of the core remains intact for 2012. Some may say that the Rays lucked into Kotchman, but as long as the team is willing to continue to make low-risk, high-upside moves, the team should be able to at least adequately replace him. As usual, the Rays have a surplus of starting pitching thanks to the latest products of their pitching factoryMoore and Alex Cobband should be able to address weaknesses with trades in the offseason.

Worst-case scenario: 79-83
The offense isn't as deep as the pitching staff, and while it'll be nice to have Desmond Jennings for a whole season in the majors, the lineup is unlikely to be good enough to compensate if the Rays finally roll snake eyes and are unlucky with the pitching next year. Even having seven legitimate major league starters is no guarantee; the Boston Red Sox didn't expect to be starting Kyle Weiland or Andrew Miller down the stretch either. The Rays are a tightly-run organization and are equipped to deal with nasty surprises, but they're not invincible. Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory

Organizational Future
The Rays have long been a model for drafting and player development, but now that they're good and not drafting at the top anymore, the superstar pipeline might be running thin. Matt Moore (who to be fair, was an eighth-round pick) is the best pitching prospect in baseball, but the system falls off quickly from there, as the last three draft have failed to produce, with the ugly performances this year by 2010 first round picks Josh Sale and Justin O'Conner especially glaring. For the first time in a long time, this is not one of the best systems in the game, and the Rays could be challenged to remain competitive in baseball's toughest division. Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

16 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Manufactured Runs: The... (10/04)
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Premium Article Kiss'Em Goodbye: Bosto... (09/29)
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Premium Article Kiss'Em Goodbye: New Y... (10/07)
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The Lineup Card: 10 Pl... (10/05)

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