Greetings! Speaking of fantastic organizations...
Projected Starters - Jose Molina/Jose Lobaton (C), James Loney (1B), Kelly Johnson (2B), Yunel Escobar (SS), Evan Longoria (3B), Matt Joyce/Wil Myers* (LF), Desmond Jennings (CF), Ben Zobrist (RF), Luke Scott/Shelley Duncan (DH)
Somehow, someway, the Rays always get it done in the lineup. "Projected" starters is never more real than with Joe Maddon, and I have no clue who is playing from day to day and where they're playing (I'm looking at you, Ben Zobrist) every day. The lineup is anchored by two "stars", and they are Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist. Longoria is one of the best third basemen in baseball, and he's a 5-6 win player over a full season. I reference the full season because he's been unable to play one over the last two years. If he's healthy and plays 150 games, I expect 30+ homers with great defense and an OPS around .900, but if he misses half the season (as he did in 2012), all bets are off. Zobrist isn't a guy that most people consider a star, but he is one. He has a season with a ridiculous 8.7 WAR on his resume, and in the past four seasons, that metric has never been lower than 3.9. He's good for 20-25 homers, 15 steals, and plus-defense at several different positions. I love that guy. After that, the most important player in the lineup is clearly Desmond Jennings. We've been hearing about him for years, and now he has the CF job all to himself for the first time. Jennings is a five-tool guy who managed to be a 3.5 WAR player last year even while hitting .246 with a sub-.700 OPS. He's a plus-defender and he'll still 30 bases, but they need him to hit and hit in a big way this year. The rest of the lineup is a giant platoon. James Loney and Matt Joyce will mash against righties, Luke Scott and Shelley Duncan will mash against lefties, and the Kelly Johnson/Yunel Escobar middle-infield duo is uber-interesting. One interesting story to follow is the pending call-up of Wil Myers. Myers was the key prize in the James Shields trade, and if he's called up early in the year, he could be one of their best power hitters from day one.
Projected - David Price, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb, Jeff Niemann/Chris Archer/Fausto Carmona (Roberto Hernandez)
Here's the strength of the Rays. David Price is an elite #1 starter. He's got three straight years with 200 innings, he's a high strikeout guy (career 8.30 K/9), and a career ERA of 3.18 with a bump to 2.56 in last year's stellar campaign. You don't have to get very far down the list of starting pitchers before you get to Price, and he's a monster. Matt Moore is (another) Rays uber-prospect entering his 2nd full season. In 2012, he pitched at 22/23 years old and finished the year throwing 177 innings with a 3.81 ERA and a ton of K's. Somehow, this was considered a "disappointment", but I think Moore makes the leap this year. Throw in a 3.01 ERA after the All-Star break, and he's one of my top sleepers. Hellickson and Cobb are both solid, mid-rotation guys, and while Cobb has the higher ceilling, Hellickson is much safer. He's defying all logic in being outrageously effective with a low K-rate, but I think he can maintain at nearly that level. The final spot is a battle between Jeff Niemann (safe), Chris Archer (huge upside but young), and the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona (I have no idea). I bet Joe Maddon makes the right choice.
Projected - Fernando Rodney (closer), Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, Roberto Hernandez/Chris Archer, Kyle Farnsworth, Cesar Ramos
Ha. Fernando Rodney finished with a 0.60 ERA last season in 74 innings. FERNANDO RODNEY!!! Finished with a 0.60 ERA over a full season! I have no idea what happened (other than a reported mechanical change), but that is absolutely amazing. If he matches anywhere near that level, he's an elite closer, and there's no doubt. After that, I really like both Peralta and McGee as high-strikeout options (both with K/9 over 11), and each could be a viable closer option if Rodney falters. It's always a mix-and-match bullpen, but they have talent.
I'm high on the Rays, and I trust their organization over just about anyone's. With the level of pitching talent/depth, it gives them a certain level of safety, and they could easily win more than this projection if the bats come together with health (Longoria) and the late-season emergence of Wil Myers. At any rate, they'll be directly in the thick of things in the AL East, and I like them a lot.
89-73, 2nd in AL East