AL East previews: Tampa Bay Rays

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Record in 2014: 77-85 (fourth place, 19 games back)

Key additions: Stephen Souza Jr., acquired in a three-way trade from the Washington Nationals, was one of the minor leagues' top performers in 2014 and could be the Opening Day right fielder for the Rays. Catcher John Jaso returns to bolster their depth behind the plate, and free agent Asdrubal Cabrera earned the starting shortstop spot with a strong spring. Cabrera hit .241 with 14 home runs last year between the Cleveland Indians and the Nationals.

Key losses: Veteran utility player Ben Zobrist, dealt to the Oakland Athletics in January, had an OPS of .699 or higher in each of the past seven seasons, and his versatility was invaluable. Outfielder Wil Myers, American League Rookie of the Year in 2013, went to the San Diego Padres in the trade that brought Souza to Tampa Bay after an injury-filled sophomore season. Jeremy Hellickson, the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year, was 1-5 with a 4.52 ERA in 13 starts last year and was sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks in return for prospects.

X-factor: Chris Archer

The Rays lineup and bullpen is typically a patchwork of young players and undervalued veterans, but Archer is the latest in a line of young power pitchers and the Rays will rely on him to carry the torch in the post-Joe Maddon era. In his first full season as a starter in 2014, Archer posted a 3.33 ERA in 32 starts, and he has a 3.39career ERA in parts of three seasons. Starters Jake Odorizzi and Alex Cobb missed parts of spring training, and Matt Moore is out until midseason, so Archer's role could be even more important this year.

Outlook: In their first season under new manager Kevin Cash, the Rays will go as far as their young arms take them. The rotation could be the division's best, but the early questions surrounding Drew Smyly and Cobb don't bode well for their future. The Rays could challenge for the division and post a win total in the high 80s if it all breaks well, but they'll more likely be among the glut of teams around .500 in the division.

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