PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays open their 13th spring training today with the most talented team they've ever had and the confidence — despite the competition — it can turn out to be among their most successful.
"My expectations," manager Joe Maddon said, "are to get back to the playoffs."
To do so, of course, they have to survive the seasonlong battle with the Yankees and Red Sox, who both made major roster additions.
Maddon isn't too worried.
"I really don't concern myself with that," he said. "I'm looking at our names and what we can do to get better. And I really think that we have gotten better. I like our group.
"I feel very strongly about our names versus the other names on these teams. I feel very good about it, actually. As we get back to playing the game fundamentally, consistently better, it really does not matter to me in a sense, or bother me, who is playing for these other teams."
PERSONNEL: The Rays remain interested and in the running for free agent OF/1B/DH Russell Branyan, who is also considering Cleveland. They are not, despite reports otherwise, considering reliever Chan Ho Park.
CHECKING IN: All 27 pitchers and eight catchers (including INF Joe Dillon) are expected to participate in today's first workout. … Most have checked in at the Charlotte Sports Park with Thursday's late-afternoon arrivals greeted by principal owner Stuart Sternberg, who was outside the team offices talking to reporters. ... Executive VP Andrew Friedman said head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield's precamp medical report was his briefest in memory with no "major" issues. ... Latest early reporting position players included OF Matt Joyce and nonroster 1B Ryan Shealy.
TGIF: The Rays are seeking to boost disappointing Friday night attendance with Friday Fests. Each game will feature free T-shirts to the first 10,000 fans, postgame fireworks and parties, food and drink specials and prize giveaways.
The Rays have promotions for 42 of their 81 home games, expanding their successful Saturday night concert series to 10 dates. Acts scheduled to play will be released by the end of the month. And they'll continue Sunday's family oriented themes.
CF B.J. Upton and RHP James Shields are two big-name players not featured on the promotional schedule, but the Rays say they are included in the T-shirt series.
Ticket update: The March 19 spring training game against the Yankees is sold out.
FANFEST: Highlights of the autograph schedule for Saturday's FanFest at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg include Evan Longoria and Upton signing from noon to 1, Carlos Peña 1 to 2, David Price 2 to 3, and Maddon and Don Zimmer 4 to 5. (See tampabay.com/blogs/rays for the full schedule.) Admission and parking are free. Autographs are free for season-ticket holders and kids 14 and younger; for others, a $20 donation benefiting Haitian relief. Among players not attending: Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist and Pat Burrell.