As the Rays prepare this week to open spring training, one phrase you will hear a lot, in assorted iterations, is that their problems are good ones to have.
They'll say that about the quality of arms in camp, with a strong rotation backed by the formal unveiling of the next wave led by LHP Blake Snell. About the abundance of outfielders and first base/DH types, citing the benefits of injury protection and banking on James Loney, the likely odd man out, to be a good soldier to facilitate a deal.
And especially about how they have so many ways to deploy their new offensive weapons.
And sometime during the seven weeks until the season opener, manager Kevin Cash will have to decide on his primary batting order, or orders, based on a lefty or righty opposing starter.
Going into camp, the only thing certain is 3B Evan Longoria will hit in his preferred No. 3 slot. Pretty much everything else is open.
Take the leadoff spot. Given Cash's preference for right-left balance, they'd probably want a right-handed leadoff hitter.
So that could be 2B Logan Forsythe, LF Desmond Jennings or RF Steven Souza Jr. Or, if they want to platoon, it could be 1B Steve Pearce or OF Brandon Guyer vs. lefty starters, then flipping vs. a right-hander to lefty swinging SS Brad Miller. (CF Kevin Kiermaier is not being considered.)
Similarly, the revamped middle of the order could feature Longoria, lefty Corey Dickerson and either Forsythe or Souza, followed potentially by lefty Logan Morrison vs. a righty.
So though there only might be a few jobs open in the bullpen, the Rays still have a lot to figure out.
"We feel," Cash said, "like we're in a really good spot going into spring training."
WILD PITCH: A creative, if not desperate, idea to return baseball to Montreal was floated last week in the French-language La Presse newspaper: buying half the Rays and splitting home games between Canada and Tampa Bay. The idea of "shared custody," said to be circulating "behind the scenes" among Montreal interests, would provide some up-front savings in acquisition cost but is fraught with problems, including the 50 percent reduction in game-related revenue. Also, no one has consulted MLB, the players union or the Rays, who are committed to finding a stadium solution in St. Petersburg or Tampa. But, c'est la vie.
PROSPECTING: Baseball America had the Rays 13th in its organizational talent rankings (up from 17th last year) and four prospects in its top 100: Snell 12th, SS Willy Adames 46th, RHP Brent Honeywell 65th and 1B/OF Jake Bauers 78th. … ESPN's Keith Law ranked the Rays' farm system 14th overall (up from 23rd) with Snell 14th on his top-prospects list, RHP Taylor Guerrieri 35th, Honeywell 64th and SS Daniel Robertson 85th. … Five Rays made Baseball Prospectus' Top 101 prospects list: Snell 21, Honeywell 52, Adames 54, Guerrieri 84, Robertson 88.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Interesting there are three promotional giveaways featuring Kiermaier and two each for RHP Chris Archer and mascot DJ Kitty but only one for Longoria and none for any other player. … Sports Illustrated has the Rays 18th in its power rankings. … Hat tip to ex-Rays C Toby Hall for another successful celebrity golf tournament benefitting Tampa Bay area youth causes. … Among other ex-Rays, RF Wil Myers is slated to play first base for the Padres this season and RHP Andy Sonnanstine will rep the team in the May 28 Hall of Fame Classic game in Cooperstown. … Among bay area products to watch in other camps: INF Sherman Johnson of Alonso High and FSU with the Angels. … Longoria tweeted that his Ducky's sports lounge will have a Trop location. … With Charlie Haeger on staff as a pitching coordinator, the Rays signed a second knuckleballer to a minor-league deal: Jeff Howell, a 33-year-old converted catcher.