Manager Joe Maddon has been back on U.S. soil for a week after his European vacation and headed to Tampa Bay, set to formally complete his three-year contract extension this week and start preparing for the season.
Already, he has started scribbling down lineup possibilities, given the offensive additions of 1B Carlos Peña, DH Luke Scott and INF Jeff Keppinger. Naturally, he will ponder many, many others between now and opening day, and more from there.
"My thoughts are that my thoughts aren't clear," Maddon said. "I've got my ideas, but I've got to see it, I've got to talk to the guys, got to see where they're at, how do we feel, how do they feel. But it's going to be interesting putting the group together on a nightly basis."
Listening to him now, it sounds as if the biggest question is at No. 2. LF Desmond Jennings and 3B Evan Longoria seem set at Nos. 1 and 3, respectively, but in between is a decision between CF B.J. Upton, who starred there after a September move (.356, five homers, 1.106 on-base-plus slugging percentage in 23 games), and 2B/RF Ben Zobrist, a good fit tools-wise whose switch-hitting ability would provide balance, breaking up what otherwise would be three straight right-handed hitters.
"I do like to go back and forth, right-left, everybody knows that," Maddon said. "But we've got to look at this and see if anything makes more sense one way or the other."
Scott, a lefty hitter with a high on-base percentage, could be a possibility at No. 2, but Maddon, for now, sees him more in the middle of the lineup. If Peña slots into the cleanup spot as expected, Upton or Zobrist would make sense at fifth, followed by Scott and Matt Joyce (against right-handers), then the catcher (Jose Molina or Jose Lobaton/Robinson Chirinos) and shortstop (Reid Brignac or Sean Rodriguez).
Against left-handers, Keppinger will be in play (potentially at second, with Zobrist replacing Joyce in rightfield) and Rodriguez could be moved up.
"It's always about balance," Maddon said, "trying to create this balance among the group that not only helps you at the beginning of the game, but as the game's in progress, how based on (the other team's) strengths in the bullpen how can they match up against us."
In any sequence, after scoring the fewest runs (707) in the AL East last season, he likes what he sees:
"Just look at the names, it's really intriguing. The one thing I do know is that going down to the 9-hole, we're going to have a nice lineup."
RAYS RUMBLINGS: As first "reported" by LHP David Price in a TV interview, Longoria had minor surgery early in November to remove the occasionally painful Morton's neuroma condition in his left foot. … Joyce changed agents during the offseason, joining five other Rays represented by the Levinson brothers' ACES firm. … ESPN's Keith Law ranked the Rays farm system second behind the Padres, saying they could be tops based on the ceiling of their prospects, but also that there is a looming gap. He had LHP Matt Moore No. 3 and SS Hak-Ju Lee 12th on his top 100 prospects list, six Rays overall. … Maddon ran into one Rays fan during two-plus weeks in Greece, Italy and Spain, a young man from Taiwan who approached him in Barcelona's La Sagrada Familia church. … Though Sun Sports' new road pregame shows will be hosted from a Fort Lauderdale studio, Todd Kalas will still travel for all games. … Shannon Magrane, daughter of former TV analyst Joe Magrane, is still alive in the American Idol competition. … Baseball ops assistant Shawn Hoffman faces Red Sox video coordinator Billy Broadbent in round two of the MLB Network's Baseball IQ show at 9 p.m. Thursday. … Former radio pre-/postgame host Rich Herrera is joining SiriusXM's MLB Network Radio channel, hosting Saturday nights, filling in on other shows.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]abay.com.