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MLB News & Fantasy Baseball Analysis: Tampa Bay Rays Hot Stove

After ending 2013 in a defeat to the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay fans and fantasy owners should be optimistic about the Rays' chances of returning to the playoffs in 2014. Departing from what was seemingly annual turnover, the Rays will return seven everyday players to their lineup. Tampa has been quite successful under GM Andrew Friedman, and since 2008 they boast six consecutive winning seasons with four playoff appearances during that span. Friedman has excelled under the payroll restrictions in Tampa, managing to thrive on a series of shrewd front-office decisions. With Evan Longoria coming off a healthy season in which he set career-highs in games played and at-bats, AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers in his first full season and returning a stacked starting rotation that should feature former AL Cy Young Award Winner David Price and the 200+ K potential Matt Moore, the Rays boast several top fantasy options.

Heading into 2014, Tampa will field a lineup nearly identical to the one that made the playoffs last season. The usual offseason tumult to which Tampa has become accustomed has been largely replaced by roster stability. Going into 2014, major questions revolve around the Rays pitching staff, notably ace David Price. Price, 28, is arbitration-eligible and will make around $13M this season-- that is, if Tampa decides not to trade him. He is not a free agent until 2015, but the Rays are unlikely to sign Price to a long-term deal. Trading Price would mean a much heavier workload for Moore, Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson. Price is a five-time All-Star for the Rays and he threw 200+ IP in three of the last four seasons.

EvanLongoriaReturning to anchor the infield corners are 1B James Loney and perennial All-Star 3B Evan Longoria. Longoria, the Rays' cornerstone, dodged major DL stints for the first time since 2010. He hit 32 HR in ‘13, his third season of 30+ HR.  Loney had a bounceback season in 2013 after struggling the year before while splitting time between Los Angeles and Boston. He hit 13 HR in ’13, equaling his highest mark since a career-best 15 in 2007. Loney still does not provide a typical power bat at 1B, but his production in ‘13 (.299, 33 2B, 75 RBI) was solid and could improve. He will not hit 30 HR, but he supplies a nice OBP, .348 in 2013, if power is available at another position. His numbers may improve in ’14 because, barring injury, Wil Myers will play from Opening Day. With Myers batting ahead of Loney and Longoria behind, the gap-hitting 1B will benefit from some nice protection in the lineup.

The other main acquisitions this offseason for the Rays were the resigning of CF David DeJesus and a trade with Cincinnati that brought back C Ryan Hanigan. Dejesus posted 29 2B in ’13. Hanigan hit a career low .198 and is known as a defensive specialist.

The part of the pitching staff to most likely face turnover is the Rays bullpen. Closer Fernando Rodney is a free agent this offseason and is unlikely to return given his contract demands. With the departure of Rodney all but certain, the Rays acquired former closers Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo to compete to fill the opening. Rodney’s impending departure leaves a gaping hole at the end of the game as he posted 37 SV in ’13 and 48 in ’12. Neither Bell nor Oviedo has posted 20+ SV since 2011.

Another potential departure is DH/LF Delmon Young. The Rays have taken a wait-and-see approach with the 28-year old who could provide some depth at DH and in the OF. With Hanigan getting the bulk of work behind the plate and veteran Jose Molina returning, ALDS hero Jose Lobaton will likely be traded with the Rays looking for bullpen or bench depth in return.

2014 is likely to be an exciting year for Tampa baseball. While the team will contend with the usual suspects (Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles) in the always-competitive AL East, the Rays will be an exciting, productive group. The possibility of another breakout season from 2013 ROY Wil Myers, monster production from team-leader Evan Longoria and stellar pitching from David Price, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb make 2014 a must-watch year for baseball in Tampa.