Sunday, April 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

How much will Rays miss these eight?

PORT CHARLOTTE

Call them Eight Men Out.

As pitchers and catchers reported to spring training Tuesday, the Rays were missing eight regulars from last year's team that came within a few errors, several runs and one healthy Evan Longoria hamstring of making the postseason for the fourth time in five years.

How well the Rays replace those eight could determine if they make the postseason in 2013. The eight range from invaluable to insignificant, from irreplaceable to irrelevant. Let's look, in order of importance, at the Rays' Eight Men Out and if the Rays have enough to bridge the gap into the playoffs.

1. B.J. Upton

Many Rays fans are glad Upton is gone. They didn't like this attitude. They questioned his effort. They wondered if his production matched his abilities. But, what's the saying about not missing something until it's gone?

"A lot of times he was maligned, but those people don't understand what he did for us on a daily basis and how good he was,'' Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

This isn't just about his solid numbers — the team-leading 28 homers, 78 RBIs and 31 steals. This isn't just about his defense, which might be the best among major-league centerfielders. It's also about the security that Upton gave Maddon practically every day when Maddon filled out his lineup card.

"The thing about B.J. that often went overlooked was this guy played every day,'' Maddon said. "Presence matters. The fact that you show up every day and want to play and you play at the level he plays and put up those kind of numbers, it's very difficult to replace.''

Upton was good enough, healthy enough and willing enough to play at least 144 games in each of the past five seasons.

And, while we're at it, let's not dismiss his numbers. Run down Upton all you want, but he will not be immediately replaced.

Nevertheless, Maddon said, "We feel good about, obviously, Desmond Jennings. He's on the verge of becoming that same kind of player.''

Let's also not forget the addition of shortstop Yunel Escobar, a career .282 hitter. If you consider all the shifting around, Escobar, in effect, takes Upton's spot in the lineup.

2. James Shields

Shields threw nearly 17 more innings than Cy Young winner David Price. Certainly, the Rays will miss Shields' 15 victories and 223 strikeouts (also more than Price), but most of all, they will miss his leadership and innings pitched, which took strain off the bullpen.

Maddon's hope is the starting rotation can eat up 1,000 innings — an average of 200 innings per starter. That means Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson need to add about 30 innings to last year's total. Alex Cobb needs to add about 50. Jeff Niemann needs to get healthy or Roberto Hernandez needs to turn back the clock or Chris Archer needs to develop at a rapid rate in order for either to get to the 180-inning range.

That all sounds like a bit much, but Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said, "We think collectively, among that group, we'll be able to do that.''

3. Wade Davis

Long relievers tend to get overlooked, but Davis appeared in 54 games and threw 70 1/3 innings with a 2.43 ERA. The Rays hope maybe Hernandez or Jamey Wright, who had a similar workload to Davis but gave up about a run more for every nine innings, will step in for Davis.

4. J.P. Howell, Burke Badenhop

Guys like Howell and Badenhop are taken for granted. Howell appeared in 55 games. Badenhop appeared in 66. Both were effective and will be missed. However, the Rays are confident they have replacements.

"At the end of the day,'' Maddon said, "we're going to very pleased with our pitching staff, both starting and relieving.''

6. Carlos Peña

Sometimes Peña was so bad (.197 batting average and a gazillion strikeouts) that you forget he belted 19 homers, which, believe it or not, was third on the team. Replacement James Loney doesn't have Peña-like power, but he puts the ball in play and doesn't strike out much. Let's face it, no one is going to miss the player Peña had become in recent seasons.

7. Jeff Keppinger

Batted what would appear to be an impressive .325, but it was a soft .325 — 100 of his 125 hits were singles. He knocked in only 40 runs, meaning he had little pop. He scored only 46 runs, meaning he had no speed. He was fine if you're cool with station-to-station baseball, but he won't be missed as much as you might think.

8. Elliot Johnson

Great guy. Serviceable sub. Because of Longoria's injury, Johnson was forced to play way too much and the more he played, the more of a liability he became. New utility man Kelly Johnson strikes out a bunch, but has some power.

Final analysis

Aside from the new additions, the Rays can replace their losses if other players step up. The Rays need way more from Matt Joyce and Luke Scott. They need a little more from Moore and Hellickson. They need the same from Price, Ben Zobrist and closer Fernando Rodney. They need Longoria to stay healthy. They need rookie Wil Myers to have an impact. Friedman admitted Tuesday he could add another player or two.

"We did lose some really important people,'' Maddon said. "But, moving forward, the group we've brought in is a very versatile group, whether it's pitchers who can do a variety of different things, as well as position players. It's an interesting group and a versatile group. … I feel good about it.''

I'm starting to question if he'll feel good about it in three months.

     
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