ST. PETERSBURG -- Carlos Pena is coming off a season in which he was voted the Rays' most valuable player, won American League comeback player of the year and Silver Slugger awards and earned a three-year, $24.125-million deal.
Carl Crawford has a second All-Star appearance on his resume, and a new conditioning regime that has him in even better shape. Scott Kazmir — though sidelined now — has an AL strikeout crown and the momentum of an 8-3, 2.39 second half. James Shields will make the opening day start with a new contract that could last seven years. Evan Longoria is projected to be a top candidate for the AL rookie of the year award, and B.J. Upton for greatness.
But who among them — and others, in and out of uniform — is the most valuable to the organization? Who has the most impact?
There's plenty of talk about RPI with all the college basketball going on, but with opening day eight days away, we present a different form of RPI: our first Rays Power Index.
|1|| B.J. Upton
| He could be the best player on the team right now, and he is on the verge of being known as one of the best in the league. Plus he's (still) only 23 and under Rays control for at least five more seasons. With all he can do in the field, on the bases, at the plate (and the protection he provides Carlos Pena) — and with legitimate talk about a 30-30 season, an All-Star selection
and a potential Gold Glove — his absence would create the single biggest void. And that says plenty about how much his presence means to the team.
|2|| Scott Kazmir
|There are all kinds of intangible benefits to having a legit ace, starting with the confidence it breeds each afternoon in the clubhouse. There's also this: Over the past three seasons, he's seven games above .500 (33-26) on Rays teams that were nearly 100 games under (at 194-292). And this: consider how vastly different the rotation looks with Kazmir, 24, sidelined right now. And this: The Rays have his rights for only two more seasons after this one.|
|3|| Carl Crawford
|Even with all the team's improvements, Crawford, 26, remains the closest thing the Rays have to a sure thing, the one player with whom they can pretty confidently know what they're going to get: a .300 average, 10-plus homers, 80-some RBIs, around 50 steals. And that's saying something. Quite a lot, actually. He'd be No. 1 if the Rays had him under control past 2010.|
|4|| Evan Longoria
|He's not likely to be on the opening day roster this year, but he could be for the next 10. Or at least the next six. He has the power at the plate, smooth glove in the field and "the look." People in and outside the organization agree he's headed for stardom; it's just a matter of when he gets there. And when he starts.|
|5|| David Price
|Or Jake McGee (LHP). Or Wade Davis (RHP). The Rays have been lauded for the way they've stockpiled blue-chip pitching prospects, led by this trio. While they safely project all three to be big-league starters, they are planning on — in need of — at least one to hit it big as an ace and an All-Star.|
|6|| Andrew Friedman
|Principal owner Stuart Sternberg controls the money and scouting chiefs R.J. Harrison and Carlos Alfonso provide the pool of talent, but Friedman determines the direction and weighs the constant battle between what's best for the present and the future.|
|7|| James Shields
|He won 12 in his first full big-league season and, at 26, is good enough to keep getting better and better. And with that new option-laden deal that could last through 2014, that's what the Rays are hoping.|
|8|| Michael Kalt
|Forget B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena; as the point man on the new stadium project — with all the good it would mean to the future of the franchise — Kalt could hit the biggest homer of the year.|
|9|| Carlos Pena
|If he comes anywhere close to last season's numbers, his new contract looks like a good deal for all parties. But if Pena, 29, were to drop off considerably, a lot of those positive vibes could disappear amid chatter of previous big-money contracts gone bad around here.|
|10|| Ron Porterfield
Head athletic trainer
|On some days, when there's a line outside his room, he'd be No. 1 on this list. With all the talk about depth, the Rays still need their best players on the field as often as possible. An emphasis on injury prevention and openness to new technology and ideas could make him their MVP.|