Rays fans have a lot to look forward to

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So, yeah, that amazing September comeback didn’t result in a whole lot of October excitement, but the Rays should only be stronger in 2012.

This was supposed to be something of a rebuilding year for Tampa Bay after the losses of Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena and the decimation of a bullpen that was could have been considered baseball’s best in 2010. The Rays, though, managed to hang tough and win 91 games to make it into the postseason.

There will be no similar exodus this winter. The only significant players not under control for 2012 are Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon. That doesn’t mean everyone will be back — B.J. Upton could be traded and the Rays may figure it’s not worth exercising Kelly Shoppach’s $3.2 million option — but the Rays shouldn’t have to cut corners this winter.

The Rays will also get a full season from Desmond Jennings next year and perhaps one from Matt Moore, depending on how they want to play it. They could stick with their rotation of James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann at the start of the season, allowing them to finesse Moore’s service time a bit. Or they could trade a starter for a shortstop and plug Moore right in. He’d likely be one of the AL’s top lefties right away.

Either way, the Rays will be a big-time threat. Depending on how the winter plays out, the American League’s three best teams on paper next year could all play in the East.