SI.com 2003 Spring Training 2003 Spring Training


Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Spring Cleaning | Man on the Spot | Impact Rookie | Arrivals and Departures | Spring Schedule
2002 Finish: 55-106, 5th, AL East, 48 GB 2002 Payroll: $35,882,301 (30th)

 
Projected Lineup
LF Carl Crawford
2B Abernathy/Anderson
1B Travis Lee
DH Aubrey Huff
C Toby Hall
RF Ben Grieve
3B Jared Sandberg
CF Rocco Baldelli
SS Rey Ordonez
Projected Rotation
LHP Joe Kennedy
RHP Victor Zambrano
RHP Dewon Brazelton
LHP Nick Bierbrodt
RHP Parque/Standridge
CL Lance Carter
 

By Ryan Hunt, SI.com

Say this for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays: For the first time in their fledgling five-year history, they have a real identity.

Call them the Lou-sers.

All jokes aside -- and for this franchise, that's saying a lot -- Tampa icon Lou Piniella, who was hired by the Devil Rays in November after a compensation deal with the Mariners, won't bring instant victories to Tampa Bay. But he will bring credibility, respectability and real promise for the future for the first time to the back-to-back 100-game losers.

In the short term, though, the most asked question concerning the Rays probably will be, when does Piniella chuck his first Tropicana Field base? Piniella better hope his patience came with him from Seattle along with prospect Antonio Perez in exchange for Randy Winn.

He inherits a team that lost a franchise-worst 106 games last season. To make matters worse, it must replace 17 wins, 88 starts and more than 550 innings from his starting pitching staff after Tanyon Sturtze, Paul Wilson, Ryan Rupe and Wilson Alvarez were let go. But with a major league-worst 5.29 ERA, perhaps they can't get much worse.

Offensively, the team's only All-Star last season -- Winn -- is gone, but Tampa Bay just can't get rid of Greg Vaughn, whose .163 average in 2002 made the newly acquired Rey Ordonez look like Ichiro. And Ben Grieve, who like Vaughn is in the final year of his contract, continues his Joe Charbonneau impression after his once upon a time Rookie of the Year season of 1998.

But Piniella has been in this position before. He took over the Mariners in 1993, eventually turning them into an AL West power. These Rays, though, don't have a Randy Johnson or Ken Griffey Jr. to lean on. With a promising under-24 sextet of Joe Kennedy, Dewon Brazelton, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton -- and "older" talents like Aubrey Huff (26) and Toby Hall (27) -- perhaps the 59-year-old Piniella is eventually the piece who will tie it all together.

When six of the guys who started for Tampa Bay on Opening Day last season are gone, having a lot of question marks entering Spring Training is a given. At the top of the list: How in the world are the Rays going to replace their only All-Star? Winn's breakout season of .298, 14 homers and 75 RBIs at the top of the Tampa Bay order won't be easy to replace, not to mention his spot in center field. With the signings of Ordonez and Travis Lee, the infield defense should be markedly improved. But the bullpen remains a big mystery. Esteban Yan and his 19 saves are gone, leaving Lance Carter and his two career saves as the favorite to take over the closer role.

How confident are the Devil Rays in Joe Kennedy? They will send the 15-game winner to the hill on Opening Day to face Pedro Martinez and the Red Sox. Did we mention that's Kennedy's career victory total? Indeed, Tampa Bay will lean on the 23-year-old southpaw who has made all of 50 career starts to anchor a starting staff that predominantly will have even less experience. But Piniella has seen first-hand what the young lefty is capable of. Kennedy pitched a four-hit shutout against the Mariners last season in Safeco Field.

One-third of the Devil Rays' dream outfield made it to the Trop last season (Crawford). Ready or not, the second installment may get his on-the-job training in 2003. Baldelli, the Rays' No. 1 pick in 2000 and last season's Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year, is the leading contender to replace Winn in center field -- even at 21. The Rhode Island native exploded last season, finishing with .331-19-71 with 26 steals in a multicity tour of the minor leagues from Class A to AAA. But is Rocco truly ready? Baldelli, who had a meager .237 average in his first two pro seasons, didn't draw a single walk in 96 at-bats in Class AAA Durham. The Devil Rays expect big things from Baldelli in the future -- and the future just may begin March 31.

Arrivals: 2B Marlon Anderson (free agent from Philadelphia), C Jorge Fabregas (free agent from Milwaukee), 1B Travis Lee (free agent from Philadelphia), SS Rey Ordonez (from New York Mets in trade), LHP Jim Parque (from Chicago White Sox in trade), RHP Steve Parris (free agent from Toronto), 1B Lee Stevens (free agent from Cleveland), RHP Bob Wells (free agent from Minnesota), 3B Chris Truby (free agent from Detroit), IF Jay Canizaro (free agent from Minnesota), RHP Blake Stein (free agent from Kansas City), OF Ryan Thompson (free agent from Milwaukee).

Departures: LHP Wilson Alvarez (free agent signed with Los Angeles), IF Russ Johnson (traded to New York Mets), RHP Tanyon Sturtze (free agent signed by Toronto), RHP Paul Wilson (free agent signed by Cincinnati), OF Randy Winn (trade to Seattle), RHP Esteban Yan (free agent signed by Texas), RHP Ryan Rupe (released, signed with Boston), LHP Steve Kent (released, signed with Seattle), 1B Steve Cox (sold to Japan), IF Andy Sheets (sold to Japan), C John Flaherty (free agent signed with Yankees).

Lou Piniella never has lost more than 88 games in a season. The Devil Rays haven't lost fewer than 92. Even with all of Piniella's credentials, a career-worst winning percentage is probable in 2003. Getting to 70 wins and out of the AL East basement for the first time in franchise history would be a remarkable step forward. And with all the youth and inexperience on the roster, it probably would be the finest managerial job in his career.


 


 
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