At Home Plate: Aside from blockbuster, Rays’ offseason rather strange

When the Tampa Bay Rays made a huge splash in sending James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals for a trio of top prospects in mid-December, it seemed that would be the first of a few major transactions the team would make.

But with spring training underway, that was really the only significant trade the team made this offseason. The Rays added several players, but many are surrounded with question marks.

The trade with the Royals netted power-hitting outfield prospect Wil Myers and pitching prospects Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi. The pitchers may crack the big league roster, but Myers will likely start the season in the minors.

The Rays really had no shot of re-signing James Shields, so to get this collection of prospects is excellent.

Evan Longoria (Photo by Keith Allison, used under Creative Commons License)

Evan Longoria (Photo by Keith Allison, used under Creative Commons License)

Looking at the team’s other signees, however, the Rays will be relying on a few reclamation projects and castoffs to attempt to compete in the toughest division in baseball, the AL East.

The team signed James Loney to replace Carlos Pena and will slide Desmond Jennings to center field to replace B.J. Upton. That’s a lot of offense the team is losing, but a healthy season from Evan Longoria could close that gap.

The Rays also will have a new middle infield combination of Kelly Johnson, who seems to be on a different team every year, and Yunel Escobar, whose attitude has clouded his baseball talent his entire career.

These moves seem to be stopgaps as the team waits for its top infield prospects like Tim Beckham, Hak-Ju Lee and Reid Brignac to continue their development. But for now, the Blue Jays, Yankees, Orioles and Red Sox look strong heading into the season.

The one aspect the Rays will rely on is starting pitching. Despite the loss of Shields and Davis, the Rays will still have AL Cy Young award winner David Price and a collection of electric young arms including Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb.

Throw in the prospects acquired in the trade and another top prospect, Chris Archer, and Tampa Bay can win games solely based on pitching.

The Rays are also rolling the dice on a few signees trying to make a comeback. A minor-league deal for Juan Carlos Oveido (formerly Leo Nunez) was really just for some bullpen depth, but the team committed $3.25 million to Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona.

Hernandez only made three starts last season and lost all three. With the abundance of young pitchers, it’s strange the Rays would invest that sum of money in such an unknown.

Like the deals for the middle infielders, Hernandez is viewed as a stopgap for the youngsters to gain some more experience.

So while the Rays had a busy offseason, the deals were more focused on the short-term than the long-term. But knowing the Rays, they’ll be right in the thick of things when the games matter in September.

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