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  1. Rays

Analysis: Which Rays departures will hurt most?

Andrew Friedman, the Rays’ primary architect, is arguably the team’s biggest offseason loss.
Published Feb. 22, 2015

After a winter of massive change from top to bottom, the Rays will tell you they are better for it, and there is some truth to that.

They will tell you the franchise is in good hands with Matt Silverman in charge and Kevin Cash in the dugout, and there is some truth to that. They will tell you their team on the field can surpass last year's 77 wins and the organization is better stocked with prospects for the future, and there is some truth to that.

But if they tell you they won't miss those who have departed, well, that's not the truth.

Arguably the most recognizable face in the organization, manager Joe Maddon, is gone. The leader of the baseball operations staff, Andrew Friedman. Two-time team MVP and All-Star Ben Zobrist. Two of the past four American League rookies of the year, Wil Myers and Jeremy Hellickson. Two of their top 2014 home-run hitters, Sean Rodriguez and Zobrist. Five starting position players and a key reliever.

With Monday's first workout for pitchers and catchers serving as the baptism for the new regime, we rank which losses will have the most impact:

1. Andrew Friedman, executive vice president

No, not everything he did worked out, going back through the Tim Beckham/Buster Posey draft, the Josh Hamilton Rule 5 decision, the Pat Burrell signing. More recently, the Wil Myers deal didn't turn out as planned, and there was an obvious decline in the farm system.

And his replacement — who used to be his boss — Matt Silverman has already stepped in and stepped up, showing a willingness to be decisive and make bold moves. So it's not like the Rays are leaderless.

But Friedman had a way of getting things done and a knack for getting principal owner Stuart Sternberg to stretch the tight budget. He tirelessly explored every option, analyzed the best information and not only assembled the roster but influenced how manager Joe Maddon used it. In short, he, more than any other one person, made the Rays what they were.

2. Ben Zobrist, infielder/outfielder

Yes, Zobrist appeared in decline, specifically in terms of power and range on the infield. And turning 34 in May didn't bode well for a reversal.

But so much of what he did well was hard to quantify and even more difficult to replace. Zobrist was ready to go every day, he played hard and played hurt, he served as a calming influence, a veteran presence and a symbol of the franchise turnaround.

Beyond that, what made him so valuable was his unusual versatility. Being able — and, as important, willing — to shift between the middle infield and outfield not only day to day but sometimes in-game not only showcased how special he is but made the team exponentially better, allowing the Rays to essentially operate as if they had an extra man.

3. Joe Maddon, manager

Maddon has become the face of the franchise, and from the public perception, his loss might seem the most significant.

Certainly he had tremendous influence in establishing the culture and creating the winning atmosphere that led to the franchise's stunning turnaround and run of success. His consistent personality, laid-back approach and few-rules style limited drama in the clubhouse and created a relaxed atmosphere. While his perpetual positivity sometimes seemed over the top, players appreciated not being criticized publicly. What seemed like gimmicks and motivational tactics — such as dress-up trips and bringing animals or guests into the clubhouse — served to take the focus off the players.

But some of the actual managing — the platooning, defensive shifting and unconventional maneuvering — was done at the direction of the front office. And there have been whispers that Maddon's methods were getting stale to some, that his go-to moves were losing their effectiveness. Even he has acknowledged nine years might have been enough.

In a way, Maddon's absence will be the simplest to gauge based on the success, or lack thereof, of replacement Kevin Cash. But in a more complex way, it might be the most difficult to measure.

4. Joel Peralta, reliever

Why is losing a nearly 39-year-old middle reliever with a 4.41 ERA such a big deal? Because Peralta did so much more than pitch — though for four years he got many of the toughest outs the Rays needed.

The bilingual Peralta was a bridge from the coaching staff and front office to Spanish-speaking players throughout the clubhouse, including high profilers such as Fernando Rodney and Yunel Escobar.

He was a mentor to young relievers and an example-setter to all in how to be a professional.

5. Dave Martinez, bench coach

Though Maddon got the attention and the accolades, Martinez did much of the important behind-the-scenes work in the clubhouse.

With respect from the players for his long career, he served as the primary conduit — in English and Spanish — between players and manager in times of good, bad and controversy.

Plus, he was many players' choice to replace Maddon. (Though technically still in the organization as an adviser, former first-base coach George Hendrick also leaves a void for his clubhouse work as a motivator.)

6. Sean Rodriguez, infielder/outfielder

Similar to Zobrist, Rodriguez will be missed most for his versatility as the rare guy who can play anywhere on the field. But also for his fiery nature, his all-out aggressiveness and his total disregard for his body.

7. Wil Myers, outfielder

Though his immediate absence doesn't seem significant given his poor 2014 performance, trading him might have been the boldest, thus riskiest, move Silverman made. That's because of the chance that Myers, a) learns to take the game more seriously, and b) reaches the potential to be the middle-of-the-order impact bat the Rays expected when they made a big deal to get him from the Royals two years earlier.

8. Yunel Escobar, shortstop

As good as he was in 2013, the decline in Escobar's play last year (coinciding — hmm — with the Rays giving him a contract extension) and concerns about his attitude (especially with Maddon and Martinez gone) make this a classic example of addition by subtraction. Uncertainty over his replacement, however, could make this a bigger void.

9. Matt Joyce, outfielder

A classic example of a player whose salary ($4.75 million) exceeded his value to the Rays, who obviously never felt he could hit lefties as well as he thought he could nor remain consistent enough to put together a full season.

10. Jeremy Hellickson, starting pitcher

Two rough seasons and elbow surgery had diminished his role and his value, though not his salary, now $4.275 million. The acquisition of Drew Smyly and ascension of Jake Odorizzi left him, at best, the placeholder until Matt Moore returned.

11. Ryan Hanigan, catcher

The Rays had high hopes in acquiring him from Cincinnati to be their starting catcher and signing him to a multiyear deal. But that changed when he spent two stints on the disabled list and didn't play as well as expected behind the plate.

12. Cesar Ramos, reliever

There wasn't anything special about how Ramos pitched, primarily in long relief. But what made him valuable was he could pitch just about any time, and in any situation.

13. Jose Molina, catcher

Hmm, what are you going to miss most: the .178 average, the two extra-base hits, the four — total — runs scored in 247 plate appearances or the lack of hustle on the bases and behind the plate (though due in part to a sore knee that needs major surgery)? There was the pitch framing, though.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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