Rays Beat: Linking You To Rays Content

With the Rays' promising young pitching staff and an explosive lineup, featuring stars Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton, and possibly top third base prospect Evan Longoria, if you were to stick the Rays in the NL Central right now, perhaps the Rays would be in the thick of the playoff race all year--in '08.

Similar to Buster Olney's blog on ESPN.com, this post will link to you the latest baseball coverage across the web, specifically focusing on the Tampa Bay Rays.

James Shields (AP)

James Shields and the Rays have agreed to a seven-year contract, which reportedly could reach close to $45-million. This was definitely a great move for Tampa Bay, and I was surprised that it was Shields' agent who contacted the Rays about securing a long-term deal. The new Tampa Bay baseball ops regime is doing an excellent job of locking up the organization's young talent. With Kazmir, Shields and Garza, the Rays now have one of the best young front-three pitching trios in all of baseball. Even better, however, the group is under the Rays' control for the time being, and with several other promising starters--Wade Davis, Jake McGee and David Price--not far away, too, Tampa Bay could become a force in the American League East by the turn of the decade.

I failed to mention it here, but the Rays did the right thing by signing Carlos Pena to a three-year, $24-million deal. Pena, who finished second in the AL with 48 home runs and a .1038 OPS in '07, was certainly rewarded for producing one of the most prolific offensive seasons in Rays' history. It was definitely a risk for both parties (as Pena could fail to live up the hype, or he could be giving away serious potential earnings), however. But since he is such a solid defensive player at first base, and given the current state of the market for similar offensive production, I honestly believe it was the Rays who got the better end of the deal.

The deal is official by the way, as Pena passed a physical on Friday.

If you were to stick the Rays in the National League Central right now, with that evolving pitching staff and an explosive lineup--featuring stars Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Pena, and perhaps top third base prospect Evan Longoria--Tampa Bay would be in the thick of the playoff race all year. Yet, in the division in which baseball's two biggest financial powers call home, the playoffs seem a bit out of reach for right now. Playing .500 baseball, and supplanting the Baltimore for fourth place (which should be a lock considering the poor decisions made by the Orioles' baseball operations department over the years) and perhaps even surpassing Toronto, are not of the question.

By spring training 2009, there could be a dramatic power shift in baseball's best division. New York, which will always have the luxury of being able to spend money, is also grooming a promising young rotation. Top prospects Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes appear to be ready to make an impact, though are still an unproven bunch. What sets Tampa Bay apart, however, is the starting pitching depth in its minor league system. Price, for example, appears ready to explode upon the scene, perhaps at the end of 2009. Although he has not made a professional appearance, look for the former Vanderbilt southpaw to dominate low-level competition in the minors this summer. It should be interesting to watch the division evolve, and, with so much talent on the rise in the Rays' farm system, it is undoubtedly the most exciting time to be a Tampa Bay fan in the franchise's 10-year history. The Rays still have their work cut out for them, regardless. The combination of the new tandem of Steinbrenner's taking office, officially, and Boston's excellent management structure, plus with the financial benefits that both teams derive from playing in two of the game's largest markets, it will never come easy for an AL East team located in St. Petersburg, FL. If there is ever a time to start believing in the Rays, though, it is today.

In Dayn Perry's piece on the top ten candidates who seem destined for a breakout year in '08, Rays' right-hander Andy Sonnanstine, who has not received a whole lot of attention this winter, was listed as number ten.

Andy Sonnanstine (AP)

Perry on Sonnanstine:

With guys like Scott Kazmir, James Shields and Matt Garza in the Tampa Bay rotation, it's easy to forget about Sonnanstine. However, he's impressive in his own right. Sonnanstine boasts a low arm angle, an array of pitches, and an ability to change speeds. None of his offerings wow scouts, but in four minor-league seasons he logged a 2.56 ERA and a stellar strikeout-to-walk ratio of 6.2 to 1. Last season in Tampa, Sonnanstine struggled in terms of keeping runs off the board, but he did strike out more than three times as many batters as he walked. Given his command skills, Sonnanstine is one to watch in 2008.

Definitely an interesting take--Sonnanstine does whatever it takes to get hitters out, but, as Perry mentions, many scouts worry about his stuff. With his command, though, it should be interesting to see whether or not he can not only crack the back-end of the rotation out of spring training, but stay with the Rays for the entire season, as several other young pitchers will be pushing for jobs.

From what I have heard and read, Edwin Jackson, who has overpowering stuff at times, is the favorite headed into March for the number four spot in the rotation, with Sonnanstine currently listed on the Rays' depth chart at number five. The Jackson to Seattle rumors were without merit, by the way. Jason Hammell, J.P. Howell, Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot all have an outside shot in spring training, too. Regardless of what the opening day rotation looks like, as many pitchers mentioned above could fill long-relief roles in the bullpen, the Rays now have some valuable trade bait, thanks to their tremendous pitching depth in the minors.

I certainly hope Perry is correct, though.

Other interesting Rays' content from around the web.

Rays Digest columnist Ted Fleming shares an interesting take about how many pundits finally seem to have hopped on the Rays' bandwagon in his latest column.

Tampa Bay pitching prospect Derek Feldkamp is ready for the season to start, writes Brian Calloway of the Daily Telegram, a local Michigan paper.

The Rays have lost money over the past two seasons, writes Aaron Sharockmann of the St. Petersburg Times. The organization, which reportedly incurred losses that surpass $20-million, is close to getting back on its feet, though.

Also worth mentioning: Eric SanInocencio has been doing a heck of job over at MVN, and had a great week covering the Rays and their farm system.

His article on the most important Ray, according to numerous other Rays' bloggers, over at Rays Anatomy is a must read.

He also wrote an excellent column that was featured on Baseball Digest Daily.

And for those looking for info on the Rays annual Fan Fest, click here. The event is scheduled for February 23.

To contact Tyler Hissey, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.

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