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Orioles, Red Sox moves may make AL East life harder for Rays

Tales | A sale to a deep-pocketed ownership group in Baltimore, and the builder of Series-winning teams returning in Boston, don’t bode well.
 
Orioles shortstop Jorge Mateo (3) and leftfielder Austin Hays (21) celebrate beating the Rays 5-3 at Tropicana Field last July.
Orioles shortstop Jorge Mateo (3) and leftfielder Austin Hays (21) celebrate beating the Rays 5-3 at Tropicana Field last July. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Feb. 4

ST. PETERSBURG — Life in the American League East is always challenging for the Rays.

And now seemingly more so, as two of their rivals took what appear to be significant steps toward stability and long-term success.

The Orioles announced a sale agreement to a deep-pocketed ownership group with impressive connections, including icon Cal Ripken Jr. And at what seems a low price, a reported $1.725 billion, given projections for other teams and expansion franchises.

As if to preview how things will be different without the Angelos family involved, the O’s went out the next day and traded for the front-line starter they desperately needed to defend their division title, getting Corbin Burnes from Milwaukee.

And they did so with little impact on their consensus-best farm system, acquiring Burnes (and his $15.6 million salary in his last year before free agency) without surrendering a top-five prospect.

After winning the AL East with a roughly $70 million payroll (less than the Rays, more than only the A’s), they are set to defend it for less than $100 million and are well positioned going forward, including a new 30-year stadium deal done in December.

Theo Epstein, who as Red Sox general manager was the architect of two World Series championships, is returning to the organization as a minority owner and part-time senior adviser to its parent company, Fenway Sports Group.
Theo Epstein, who as Red Sox general manager was the architect of two World Series championships, is returning to the organization as a minority owner and part-time senior adviser to its parent company, Fenway Sports Group. [ ELISE AMENDOLA | AP ]

Lesser but still important, the Red Sox also made a huge addition.

Though Theo Epstein is 50 and his only playing skills are on guitar, he could have a massive impact turning around a team that has finished last in three of the previous four seasons, rejoining the Red Sox as a minority owner and senior advisor.

He won’t have the hands-on role he did in building drought-breaking teams in Boston (2004, plus another title in 2007) and Chicago (2016), but Epstein is sure to provide needed direction. Also, he is close with new Red Sox baseball operations chief Craig Breslow, having hired him originally in Chicago, and is likely to provide mentorship and strategic advice.

Though Yankees fans are concerned the team hasn’t done more (such as signing a top starter like ex-Ray Blake Snell), trading for dangerous Juan Soto while also adding Alex Verdugo, Marcus Stroman and Trent Grisham should still make them better. And ownership/management is talking a good game about doing whatever necessary to rebound from an 82-80 season they called “awful” and “a disaster.”

The Blue Jays are a bit of a question mark, having done little of significance to improve since Shark Tank star Robert Herjavec got off the infamous private plane rather than Shohei Ohtani.

As of Friday, fangraphs.com had the teams projected to finish in this order: Yankees (.549, which is 89 wins), Rays (.532, 86), Orioles (.529, 86), Jays (.524, 85), Red Sox (.503, 81). The average of several prominent over-under betting lines looks like this: Yankees (93.5), Orioles (91.5), Jays (87), Rays (84.5), Red Sox (79.5).

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Uniform changes

Junior Caminero (1) will no longer be No. 1 for the Rays; he's switching up to a different uniform number.
Junior Caminero (1) will no longer be No. 1 for the Rays; he's switching up to a different uniform number. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

• Infielder Junior Caminero, who said upon his unexpected September callup he chose uniform No. 1 “because I am No. 1,” has switched to No. 13 (which became available with Manuel Margot traded). Among newcomers, Richie Palacios will wear No. 1, Jose Caballero 7, Jonny DeLuca 21, Ryan Pepiot 44.

• As a result of industry-wide changes by Nike, Rays uniforms will have a slightly different look: The break in RAYS on the front moved slightly, names on the back will be smaller and lower, there is a small collar and thin trim on the sleeves, and numbers are perforated.

• The league’s official online store, mlbshop.com, is displaying top-end Nike jerseys, for three players: Randy Arozarena, Yandy Diaz and, surprisingly, Wander Franco, whose future with the team remains uncertain pending legal issues.

• The Rays will unveil their City Connect jerseys sometime during the season.

Rays Tales

Dave Wills, the longtime radio announcer who passed away March 5 at age 58, will be inducted into the team Hall of Fame during a pre-game ceremony April 14, his family said. Expect another induction, likely a former player, later in the season. … In October, Arozarena was excited to be name-dropped in a new song by Bad Bunny. Last week, he met up with rap star Travis Scott, hung out and signed a jersey for him. … Pete Fairbanks ranked third on MLB Network’s Top 10 Right Now list of relievers, and Issac Paredes ninth among third basemen. … Caminero was third, shortstop Carson Williams a surprising high No. 13, infielder Curtis Mead 47th and first baseman Xavier Isaac 62nd in Kiley McDaniel’s top 100 prospects list for ESPN.com. The Rays’ farm system was ranked seventh overall. … Baseball America also ranked the Rays seventh, but noted the lack of pitching prospects. … Defensively-limited Harold Ramirez wrapped up his winter ball season in Venezuela playing centerfield, which seems interesting. Ramirez and Paredes (Mexico) were with teams that qualified for the Caribbean Series in Miami, but passed on playing to get some family time in advance of spring training. … The Rays’ schedule of promotions and giveaways should be released before the Feb. 17 Fan Fest. ... At his State of the City address, St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch said he remained confident in the Rays’ stadium plan/agreement and “we will keep working to bring this deal home.” ... Three Rays games will be part of Fox’s Saturday regional coverage (May 4 versus Mets, Aug. 3 at Astros, Aug. 10 versus Orioles) and three are on FS1′s Monday slate (April 1 versus Rangers, June 10 versus O’s, Aug. 26 at Mariners). No Rays games made the initial schedules for ESPN Sunday and TBS Tuesday night national coverage. … Franco is due in a Dominican Republic courtroom Thursday to attend testimony from the minor girl he is alleged to have had an inappropriate relationship with. … Legendary FSU coach Mike Martin, who died Thursday, was a big influence on manager Kevin Cash, who played for him 1997-99: “Instrumental. His success speaks for itself, but as much as anything what I learned from him was how to practice and how to prepare. Repetition was everything.” ... Former Rays great Evan Longoria, now 38 and a veteran of 16 seasons, is still weighing his options for 2024. … Caminero, Paredes and Pepiot, acquired from the Dodgers in the Tyler Glasnow trade, made Jim Bowden’s list for The Athletic of 40 young players/prospects to see this spring.

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