I've loved watching the Rays over the years. Now it seems like they're gutting the team. Everybody's gone. Are we going to be able to recognize anybody on the team by Opening Day? Looks to me like the Rays are headed back to becoming the Devil Rays. What do you think?
-- Tom L., Tampa, Fla.
First, I acknowledge the fact that the Rays have had a lot of change this offseason, starting with the losses of Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman. Some favorites have gone elsewhere as well, like Joel Peralta, Wil Myers and Jeremy Hellickson. Nevertheless, I like the way this year's team is shaping up. If healthy, the rotation will be strong. I'm eager to see Kevin Kiermaier in year two. In addition, I've heard good things about Steven Souza, who the Rays got in the Myers trade. In short, I think they have shored up some of the deficiencies they showed as a 77-win team. The group they have right now is capable of contending. On top of that, the Rays have managed to bolster the depth of their farm system with their offseason moves. If you're a Rays fan, now is hardly the time to jump ship.
Friedman always seemed to make the right moves as the GM of the Rays. Now that he's gone, can Matt Silverman get the job done? He's been the president of the team, so he's been dealing with stuff other than what goes on between the lines. Do you think when all is said and done, Friedman's loss is going to be the biggest of the offseason?
-- Henry P., Tampa, Fla.
Friedman is a sharp guy, and he made a lot of quality moves as the team's executive vice president of baseball operations. But I'm here to tell you: Silverman is one sharp cookie, too. And it's not like he's stepping into a totally new situation. Silverman understands what's going on, because he's been with Friedman while moves were made in the past. In addition, Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander, whom Friedman groomed, have assumed higher positions and now assist Silverman. Based on how Silverman has boldly gone about his business this offseason, he appears to have the mettle for the job. I think it's going to be business as usual.
Who do you think the Rays' outfielders will be on Opening Day? I like a Brandon Guyer and David DeJesus platooning in left, Desmond Jennings in center and Kiermaier and Souza right. Your thoughts?
-- Mark H., Clearwater, Fla.
At this stage of the offseason, it's tough to handicap the outfielder race, or even who will be in the race. You have to wonder how healthy it would be for either Kiermaier or Souza if they had to sit some rather than play every day. Guyer has the size to hit for more power, which he did on occasion last year. So, do the Rays trade either Jennings or DeJesus, or both? Those two will be making the most money. Also, Mikie Mahtook is coming on strong from Triple-A Durham. Finally, Ben Zobrist could be in the equation as well. He's been rumored to be on the trading block, but he's still a part of the team right now. The nice thing if you're the Rays is the fact that it's January, and you have the outfield depth from which to make a decision.
When I look back at last season, I still wonder how a team that looked so good on paper finished with just 77 wins. Did you think there was a lack of effort? Was there dissension on the team? Is there any way what's left of last year's team can become a contender?
-- Bob P., Sarasota, Fla.
I did not witness a lack of effort and I did not see any dissension, though admittedly, there's a lot that goes on within a clubhouse and on the field that the media is not privy to. In my opinion, the single biggest problem was the early injuries to the starting staff. Hellickson went down in January, Matt Moore followed with season-ending Tommy John surgery and Alex Cobb topped that off with a left oblique injury that kept him sidelined for a significant portion of the first half. To me, that's what really got the train chugging in the wrong direction. I think this year's team instantly becomes a contender if Cobb, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly and company are healthy. Moore should be back by late June, early July. So that's a pretty solid staff. In talking to Odorizzi recently, he expressed a desire for the starting staff to chip in 1,000 innings. If the starters do manage to pull that off, I truly believe you will see the Rays in the playoffs at the end of the 2015 season.
I like the way this year's team is looking, but I have grave concerns about what the Rays are going to do while Jake McGee is recuperating from elbow surgery. Can Grant Balfour or Kevin Jepsen step up to close? Balfour wasn't exactly a lock last season.
--Todd F., St. Petersburg
McGee is really good, so not having him is a significant loss for the team. The hard-throwing left-hander was about as good as a closer can get in 2014. In talking with McGee, he said that what he went through -- having "loose bodies" removed from his left elbow -- was similar to what Hellickson went through last season. Based on the fact that McGee had his surgery a month earlier than Hellickson, and the fact that he's a reliever and does not have to be stretched out, he's optimistic he can return quicker than Hellickson did. In the meantime, the Rays will lean heavily on Brad Boxberger, Balfour, Jepsen and, perhaps, Ernesto Frieri. Others such as Kirby Yates, C.J. Riefenhauser, Steve Geltz, Jeff Beliveau and Brandon Gomes could also be a part of the equation. So, yes, not having McGee is a tough thing to deal with, but if all goes well, the Rays might just have what it takes to cover his spot while he's gone.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.