Springtime Storylines: Did the Rays lose too many guys?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season. Next up: A team that always has to try 2% harder, the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Big Question: Did the Rays lose too many guys?

It’s hard to say otherwise, isn’t it?  Gone are Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, Rafael Soriano, Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit and Jason Bartlett. It was a pretty mass exodus.

That said, not all of those departures are critical. A couple of those guys — Pena and Bartlett — didn’t contribute a whole heck of a lot in 2010, and their replacements — Dan Johnson and Reid Brignac — don’t represent a ton of falloff.  Likewise, I’m of the mind that Jeremy Hellickson will be an improvement over a somewhat overrated Matt Garza.

But losing Carl Crawford will be a toughie. To say Johnny Damon is a step down from Crawford defensively is criminal understatement. There is no escaping the fact that losing a player the caliber of Crawford — to a division rival no less — could be a mortal wound.

And actually, the defections from the bullpen seem to be the most critical loss for the reigning AL East champs. Kyle Farnsworth, Jake McGee, and Adam Russell all have their charms, but to suggest that the bullpen will be anything other than a profound weakness seems like unwarranted optimism to me. I know Rafael Soriano. I watched Rafael Soriano pitch. You, Mr. Farnsworth, are no Rafael Soriano.

So what else is going on?

  • While the bullpen seems like a nightmare, you have to like the rotation. Neither David Price, James Shields nor Jeff Niemann are dominant pitchers, necessarily, but all are workhorses, with Price an ace.  I think Shields will bounce back from a rough 2010 and while Wade Davis was a bit sketchy at times last season, he was a better pitcher in the second half, and that bodes well.  Hellickson may be the key to the group, though. One expects rookie pitchers to struggle, but I just have a feeling that he’ll bring more to the table than your typical rookie pitcher.
  • Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon are the big imports this year. I’m somewhat optimistic regarding both of those guys. Ramirez was hampered by injuries in 2010, but when he played he was still effective, even if his power was down.  He has seemed energized this spring and has something to prove back in the AL East so I expect good things from him, even if it’s not as good as vintage Manny.  Likewise Damon’s falloff in Detroit was not as sharp as it may have seemed. He went from a lefty hitter’s haven in Yankees Stadium in 2009 to a tough park for him in 2010 which killed his power numbers, but he should provide some decent production. At least on offense.
  • I predict a B.J. Upton breakout every year. I’ve yet to have my predictions vindicated.  I shall nonetheless, once again, predict a B.J. Uption breakout year.  Please feel free to remind me of my folly come October. Thanks.
  • While the Rays are going through a ton of changes this year, the fact that Joe Maddon is in charge may mitigate some of the disruption.  He’s a smart guy who is not married to any one strategy and, because of that, will be far more willing to make changes on the fly if and when the best laid plans of the winter go astray.

So how are they going to do?

Not well enough. Ultimately there are just too many holes to fill. For the Rays to make noise, every uncertainty — of which there are a lot — will have to break in their favor.  Manny and Johnny need to flash something akin to their production of old. Three of their starters will have to show improvement from last year, one — Price — will have to more or less maintain his production, and a rookie starter will have to excel in the AL East.  Finally, a bullpen of misfits will have to coalesce into something grand.  That’s a tall, tall order.

I think they’ll be respectable and, if the Yankees suffer some sort of disaster, they can compete for the wild card.  But I think the long haul of the season will be too much for them and I predict a third place finish.

Rockies place Carlos Gonzalez and Tyler Anderson on the disabled list

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The Rockies announced on Monday that outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and pitcher Tyler Anderson were placed on the 10-day disabled list. The club activated reliever Chad Qualls from the disabled list and recalled reliever Jairo Diaz from Triple-A Albuquerque.

Gonzalez, 31, is dealing with a strained right shoulder. He’s in the midst of his worst season, batting .221/.300/.348 with six home runs and 20 RBI in 277 plate appearances. Gonzalez is a free agent after the season and has been commonly brought up in trade discussions, but his latest injury and underwhelming season will make it difficult for the Rockies to get anything meaningful in return this summer.

Anderson, 27, has inflammation in his left knee. He dealt with a knee problem earlier this season, so the injury seems to have been reaggravated. The lefty has an ugly 6.11 ERA with a 63/23 K/BB ratio in 63 1/3 innings this season.

Qualls, 38, went on the disabled list earlier this month with back spasms. He had previously been dealing with forearm inflammation, so it’s been a rough year for the veteran. He is carrying a 4.60 ERA with a 9/5 K/BB ratio in 15 2/3 innings.

Diaz, 26, hasn’t appeared in the majors since 2015. He has appeared in only eight games at Triple-A as he opened the season on the disabled list after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. So far, Diaz has allowed three earned runs on seven hits and two walks with nine strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings.

Zach Putnam underwent Tommy John surgery

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White Sox reliever Zach Putnam underwent Tommy John surgery last week, CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes reports.

Putnam, 29, had been on the disabled list since late April with a right elbow injury. He was cleared to begin throwing last month but was shut down after experiencing more elbow discomfort earlier this month. Putnam had surgery on his right elbow last August to remove a bone fragment as well, so it was an issue that had been nagging him for more than a year.

Putnam appeared in only seven games this season, giving up one run on two hits and a walk with nine strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings. The White Sox won’t be able to count on him until the middle of next season at the earliest.